Connecticut’s own Christian Webster, 27, better known by his stage name, Chris Webby, is probably Connecticut’s most well-known name in Hip-Hop. Hailing from Norwalk, Chris Webby took the internet by storm in the late 2000’s rising to fame with singles like “La-La-La” in 2009, and his critically acclaimed mixtape Webster’s Laboratory in 2011. Chris Webby has been prolific since his meteoric rise, releasing 13 projects and over 200 individual tracks, with his formal debut studio album coming in the form of 2014’s Chemically Imbalanced. Known to crash DatPiff with his mixtape releases, Chris Webby is one of the game’s more notable independent artists, only briefly signing to eOne Music before starting his own label Homegrown. Chris Webby started as everyone’s favorite party-rapper, combining a comedic wit with clever lyricism – while those aspects are a mainstay in his style, he has since grown to be one of the more outspoken voices on the harmful effects of drug culture and the plight of kids in suburban areas.
As an emcee with almost a decade of experience championing humor, fun, lyricism, and working smart in the internet age of Hip-Hop – I reached out to Chris Webby to get his opinion on Connecticut Hip-Hop, the current state of Hip-Hop, and his rapid growth as artist as he continues to defy the labels put upon him.
Peter Anchel: You’ve always been a mainstay in the Connecticut Hip-Hop conversation. As one of the most popular artists from CT – what does that mean to you?
Chris Webby: It’s something I’ve always identified with for sure. I think people from Connecticut, they take the whole Connecticut thing too seriously sometimes – everyone is always super concerned about being the hottest in Connecticut or something like that. You always gotta represent where you’re from and I’m from CT through-and-through, I think its an interesting state to be from. There’s a crab bucket mentality that I noticed coming up, but I think that’s changing. There’s a scene developing around the Hartford and New Haven areas that shows that progress. Definitely love the food too, haha.
PA: I recently spoke to Apathy from the Demigodz Collective on the same topic – I know you guys have collaborated in the past; but coming up did he have any influence on you?
CW: Dope! He’s a personal friend of mine – talking Connecticut Hip-Hop I grew up looking up to him for sure. I was huge into underground Hip-Hop when I was coming up, he was down with Jedi Mind Tricks –they had their group Army of Pharoahs – I grew up listening to him and he bar-for-bar is one of the dopest. That’s one of the crazy things about this game - growing up looking up to him and now we’re cool and I’ve known him for years. The Connecticut mind state is usually so aggressive and guys aren’t usually trying to collaborate. But when I was coming up I remember hitting him up and paying my respects and he was open to working. And that’s important because I feel like especially with Northeast rappers and White rappers especially, its like people want to pit them against each other in these gladiator matches.
PA: That definitely raises a question when it comes to your career – going into the late 2000’s with murmurs of Macklemore, Asher Roth’s popularity – where do you stand on the White Rapper conversation and that phenomenon’s development? How has it effected you?
CW: As far as that goes, I was definitely grouped into the new generation of White Rappers at first. It pretty much went Asher Roth, myself, and that kid Sam Adams from the Boston area. And that was the ‘next generation of White Rapper’ that came up around 2008/2009. Ever since there’s been more that popped up, more than that, and then a LOT more. And I’ve been often been grouped that way in conversations with other people because of skin color, instead of musical content. And I mean, that’s how humans have always worked – bundling people together by ethnicity, skin color, nationality. Its unfortunate, but you can’t get mad at it. You’ve just got to set yourself apart as an artist.
PA: It’s definitely different then say, comparing Queens or Brooklyn rappers to each other though.
CW: Exactly, these [White Rappers] are guys from all over the country with no connection to each other. People who share a style and a place, that makes sense. But at this point I’m past the conversation, I’ve been in the game 7 years I’m past the show up and prove yourself phase. I’ve been grinding a long time and people know who I am apart from that argument.
PA: You’ve always presented your origins in the suburbs proudly, something of a rarity in Hip-Hop as an urban music. Did you run into any problems because of this?
CW: Yeah, I felt like some people felt a certain way because they didn’t see me around the usual spots. I am from the suburbs , and originally that was something people were afraid to be embracing if it was the truth. And my whole thing is that I’ve never been afraid to be who I am. I’m from a middle-class family my mom is a teacher, my dad teaches guitar lessons. I think certain people have an incorrect image that I was born this rich kid with a silver spoon shoved up my ass, that had his parents funding his entire career - which is far from the truth. Just because you’re from the suburbs doesn’t mean you don’t have your own problems. I think the suburbs do have their own problems and that’s a story that needs to be told. A lot of Hip-Hop consumers are from the suburbs. It wouldn’t be relatable to hear from the son of a One-Percenter banker, but hear about how a lot of people live is important. We’ve heard the hood tales many many times. But has someone accurately depicted the ups-and-downs of being a normal middle-class kid?
PA: What would be those problems and goings-on that you feel are are a part of the suburban experience?
CW: One thing is college loans. Kids go to college and can’t afford the education they just got, ending up broke. Another huge thing is rampant drug use is tearing the suburbs apart. It’s a country-wide thing but Connecticut has been hit so hard by opiates, Xanax. If you know my music, you know I rapped a lot about drugs – growing up and switching gears, I speak on them with a different angle really realizing that a lot of this stuff isn’t all its cracked up to be. If you don’t have an addictive personality and can have fun, I don’t have a problem with that. But this is an epidemic sweeping across the nation that needs to be talked about.
PA: It’s clear you’ve grown up a lot, moving away from drug-fueled content and breaking out of the “frat rapper” or “drug rapper” box.
CW: That label, the ‘frat rapper’ label has always rubbed me the wrong way. I went to college for a year and a half… just because I got kicked out and I was partying does that make me a frat rapper? I was partying a lot sure, but its one of those labels that puts you in a limited box. That’s not a box I want to be in. I’m out here selling mixtapes out of my trunk and doing this my own way authentically, I’ve been grinding for seven years; ‘frat rapper’ doesn’t respect that hustle.
PA: You’re definitely someone whose rise I’d associate with the internet-age. You capitalized greatly on the rise of YouTube, internet mixtapes, and social media. How did that format substantiate your come-up? How has it changed?
CW: My whole thought on the internet age is that there are good aspects and bad aspects. The reality is that it’s how I rose to power, so at the end of the day I could say all these bad things about it – but would I be where I am today without the internet? Probably not. Because it used to be such a harder industry to crack into. Now with the internet you have a platform to project your self on, there’s a lot of people with talent and opportunities to get out there, and they very well would not have all of that without the internet. But, it also gives everybody that platform. And not everybody should be a rapper. So there’s been this mass overpopulation of rappers since. Luckily for me, I was on the cusp of that beginning age of the internet and when Youtube was getting popular for music. Like, I was on MySpace. I remember when they first made Facebook Artist Pages, that gave me a chance to get in on the ground floor and build those things organically from the start. But now, there’s just so many people doing it. Its gotten to a point where to be a “DJ” or a “Rapper” doesn’t mean much nowadays. To me, in order to qualify that you need to be able to sustain yourself from this job. Rapping is a beautiful thing, but a lot of people try to do it.
CW: And its cool, if you’ve got a dream then dream big, and I dreamt big. Every artists life is a few years of delusion where you think you can do something that everyone is telling you, you can’t do. And if you don’t truly believe in yourself and try, you’ll never know. But some people need to learn eventually we need doctors, we need mechanics, we need things like that in the world. Not everyone can be a rapper. I’m a rapper through and through, I’ve put thousands of hours into this. When you do this professionally this is all you do, and I don’t think people realize that. Like, social networking now is pretty much a job. I have to be on Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat – its crazy how many things I have to be on top off. A lot of plusses and minuses to the internet man, for sure.
PA: You release free music a lot – any philosophical reasoning behind that?
CW: I’ve got 13 projects, and 9 of them are free. It’s crazy how much music I’ve put out. Point A would be that there’s not a lot of money in selling music. To make money off music is a lot of more difficult than it once was. When I was coming up people bought iTunes singles and albums, but now its all Spotify and streaming-based stuff. Nowadays you have to have real dedicated fans to go out and buy your stuff. Everyone else will find a way to listen to your stuff without having to pay. The way I see it, giving music out for free makes people happy and allows people more access to your music. It also allows you to use any sample you’d want, and I love to use dope samples – for example ‘La-La-La’ my first big song had a heady sample that I love.
CW: Point is if you want to make a living in this industry you have to look beyond the music. The way I make money to fund my career is off of shows and merchandise, at the end of the day that’s what keeps the lights on. I do make money off my music, but its not the check that I look to keeping my career alive. Free music has a wildfire effect to attract those other opportunities to sustain yourself, and at the end of the day man you just want people to be listening to your music. To me, its never been about the money, I just want as many people to hear what I’m doing and free music is a stepping stone to that goal.
PA: What do you value in Hip-Hop?
CW: Authenticity and skill. Those are two things that I grew up caring about. When I was in a cypher with other people, I knew when they had bars and they were a real person - that they were who they said they were, not putting on a front. That’s what I appreciate and respect. All I used to do was rapping, rapping with everyone I knew who rappers and jumping into cyphers. You could always tell the ones who have worked on their craft, had an image or something about them that was special and occurred naturally. Some people just have that spark and realness. Hip-Hop has always revolved around authentic characters. You need your ODB’s, you need your DMX’s, you need those genuine personalities. Back in the day you had all these different roles filled – the loose cannon, the boss, etc. Nowadays there’s just too many rappers and not enough roles – and I feel in the minority of people looking for that authenticity. Now I turn on the radio and I don’t even know what I’m listening to most of the time.
PA: Who has influenced you? What was your ‘Hip-Hop moment’ when you realized this is what you loved?
CW: Coming up, I started listening to Hip-Hop in elementary school in ‘98/’99. Obviously, the rise of Eminem was something that shook the entire country and took the world by storm. It was the first time a white guy came out, and was arguably the best in the game. That changed the dynamic, and allowed young impressionable kids like me to think that it was possible to be a rap artist. When he was first coming up when I was in the 4th grade it was insane, it was Eminem-mania. It was original, it was something that had never been done before. The shock value - see now shock value is an impossible thing to attain, now kids watch beheading videos like its nothing – back then, we didn’t have access to the internet so some the things he was saying and said he was doing? Literally had never been done before. Parents wouldn’t let kids listen to or even find the album. Kids had to team up to find the one kid who had it and burn it onto a cassette so everyone else could have it –it was a big deal. Parents really cracked down cause it was all over the new. That played a big role in me trying to rap, and being interested in Rap. I’d also give a big shout out to DMX, people forget he was the man. A great unorthodox style. Also Ludacris brought dope flavor from the South, and more importantly he brought humor into it. He had dope bars, but he was also funny. Album-wise Dr. Dre’s 2001 was really the album that got me fully immerse. That’s my favorite album till this day. I had it Edited, and I would listen to that album over and over again on my WalkMan. It was a different time, when you bought a CD and listened to the whole thing. You didn’t peruse the internet and casually listen to this and that, you bought an album and that was what you were going to listen to fully. After streaming and all those digital services came out? The value of music depreciated. The whole attitude towards music has changed. I’d love to go buy CD’s but there’s nowhere to buy them anymore, I even find myself on Spotify. If you don’t like the first couple songs, you can just move on to the next thing. People forget music is art, there’s a lot of work and love put into it. Now it’s a luxury people have come to expect.
CW: I also grew up on things like The Rolling Stones, Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix – Classic Rock, my dad playing guitar, constantly being exposed to music in the house instilled music in me and made it all I know. I find myself as an artist taking pieces of those musics and their elements to expand myself. For example, I’m getting my dad to play guitar on some songs to make them more full. I feel like you can’t just listen to Hip-Hop to make the music I’m making right now. Everything I’ve been exposed to informs the artist I’m becoming now. Hip-Hop in its purest form is great, but music is music – you can’t make timeless music by just rapping. I mean you show up on Sway on the Morning, you’re expected to rap and that’s what qualifies you to be there. But I feel like the more genres you understand and know how to take pieces from the better your music will be, and the more depth it will have.
PA: Your art is growing, you as a person are growing – what have you gone through that has gotten you to this point? What are you dealing with now?
CW: I’ve been going through various things in my career, and I like to document the bad along with the good. Because, by my estimation, a musician who is too happy will not make the best music they can make. Whenever something bad happens in my life, I see it as an opportunity to make better music. It gives me new material, it gives me stuff to talk about. I always prefer the more introspective, personal, and honest songs from artists that I listen to. Those are the songs that I gravitate towards. And I would say when I make those types of those are the ones that keep the fans around. They may not be the ones that they play at the house party, but they’re the songs that other people are going to identify with even though I’m talking about my life. It gives people an opportunity to mirror their life to mine, and that’s the kind of thing that builds a bond between artists and fans.
CW: I used to rap about partying, being put in a box, how certain aspects of that are unfair. At this point I have other things to talk about now. Now its being this deep in the game and realizing I need change some stuff up. For a long time I was just playing the role of rapper and performer, when in reality I should have been on top of way more things. Let me step into my role as a businessman and get on top of that like I should have done a long time ago. But it doesn’t always tend to be in an artist’s nature to do that initially. Now I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you want to get something done right, then you do it yourself. I’ve been realizing that more and more. I have different problems now, and I think its important to talk about them. I could just present things as “everything” as all good, but its not. I’m not financially set for the rest of my life, I still have a lot of work to do. And at times that’s frustrating when I’ve seen other people come up during my run in Hip-Hop – blow up, become way more successful. And its not jealousy, its just realizing: they’re good, I’m not, and I have a lot of work to make it that way. I have to make sure that at the end of the day that’s what I attain. I love this job, and as fun as this job is, I’d rather not have to do it for the next 40 years. It’s borderline impossible to do that. I can’t say its only a young man’s game, people like 2 Chainz and Yelawolf have proved otherwise. But, I just still have more work to do than I would have liked to do seven years into the game. But I do believe this path has been carved out by destiny and this is happening how exactly its how its supposed to. While I haven’t blown up to the point where you’re part of Hip-Hop history – I still haven’t attained that – but because I’ve had to work this hard and this much I’ve become a better artist. I’ve released more songs than many will in their careers, so now I have to dig deep. And having to dig even deeper has made me a better artist. If I had blown up at 22, 23? That could have been detrimental – now I’ve been around, I have a better understanding. All of the opportunities I’ve had, the things I’ve been able to observe – partying on Justin Beiber’s yacht, rolling joints for Yung Jeezy and T.I. while they work on their collab album, I just got off of a 50-city Tech N9ne tour - all of these experiences have been me learning and taking it all in. After all of that? I am more ready now than I have ever been.
PA: So what are your hopes for this latest project Webster’s Laboratory II? What were your feelings going into it?
CW: I think personally, and an artist will always say their newest music is their best music and you have to have that mentality to keep going – but I truly believe this is my best body of work. That has been reiterated to me by both my fanbase, and the people I have around me that I trust for an honest opinion. I wanted this to be free because I want to remind people and show new people what I’m capable of. I’ve made a lot of infrastructural changes, and I feel like some of those changes had to be made because they were starting to effect my creative vision. I’ve always known more or less what I wanted to do, and now I’m going to do exactly that because I know more now than I ever did. I don’t need anybody in my kitchen telling me what need to do. I just need the producers I need, the engineers I need, and we need to get going because I know exactly what I need to do. I wanted to prove that to my fans and get everyone on board, because its been a while since I’ve dropped a project. Nowadays, if you haven’t dropped a project in a while people go “Where’s Webby?” you know? Back in the day you dropped something you were good for two years. Nowadays if you haven’t dropped a project in 6 months people say you’ve fell off, its crazy! Webster’s Lab II dropped 5 years after the release of the first Webster’s Lab to commemorate the fan’s support and dedication.
CW: This project acts as a firm reminder of why my fans have been rocking with me for so long, and a welcome mat for everybody new like “Hey, I know you’ve been hearing my name for a while. But this is what you should listen to, welcome to the party.”
Chris Webby’s new project ‘Webster’s Laboratory II’ is now available for free download on DatPiff: http://www.datpiff.com/Chris-Webby-Websters-Laboratory-2-mixtape.783073.html