It’s been years since 23 year-old rapper Chrisbaby played a show without his rollerblades. Skating on stage makes him feel like he’s “flying,” and helps to get the attention of his audience members — who he says will watch, at the very least, “to see if I fall.”
In the past three years he’s brought skates to shows all along on the West Coast, including his opening acts for artists such as Fat Nick, Chuck Inglish, Duckwrth, and Ugly God. Along with Chrisbaby’s veganism, his interest in meditation, and his tendency to wear his pants inside-out, his rollerblades are part of what makes his music distinctive.
Chrisbaby Ferrera grew up in Walnut Creek with his mom, who moved the two of them there shortly after having him at the age of 15. It was Chrisbaby’s longtime best friend Isaiah Mclane who connected him to Oakland’s Youth Radio in high school, the organization that first introduced him to the downtown music scene. As a graphic design teacher at Youth Radio, Chrisbaby began to work more closely with Isaiah on music, performing at open mic nights and First Fridays when he got the chance to.
“I couldn’t be me without Isaiah,” Chrisbaby said of his entry into rapping. “He’s the most inspirational person in my life.”
When Chrisbaby was kicked out of high school and his home in Walnut Creek — and forced to live out of his car — Isaiah took him into his grandmother’s house in Berkeley. They lived there together for nearly two years — a time they both see as having been pivotal for their personal and artistic lives. “We didn’t have dads,” Isaiah said, “so we taught each other things.”
Living with Isaiah got Chrisbaby into veganism and meditation, and helped him focus on “being good with who I am.” With Isaiah’s influence, Chrisbaby has come to appreciate vulnerability and mindfulness in his music. “We’re bringing our insides out,” Chrisbaby said, “as vegans who are working on our insides.”
In 2017 Chrisbaby and Isaiah completed what they refer to as the “50-Day Challenge,” where they produced a song together every day for 50 days — a project they worked on concurrently with a feature film for production company Please L00k, set for release this April. During that period they spent all of their time working, surviving off dried mango from the bulk bags at Safeway. With a wide range of influences — including Parliament, Big Sean, B.o.B., Bon Jovi, and Sublime — the two of them used the 50 days to explore a variety of sounds in their music. The 50-Day Challenge advanced their commitments to music, and informed their independent musical efforts in the years following.
On Jan. 10, Chrisbaby released his first complete album, Dream Boy. As an amalgam of songs from the past two years of his career, Dream Boy shows “all sides of my talent,” Chrisbaby said. With the support of producers like Vj Gabi, Scotty Bay, and Bakary Burner, Dream Boy‘s tracklist is honest and articulate, and highly elevated from the iPhone voice memos where the songs began. While most of the tracks have cloud rap beats and hard-hitting vocals, others are more melodious. The album lays bare a certain evolution in Chrisbaby’s music, which has progressed toward more of a vulnerable sound since early bangers like “Dick Swang.”
In “Miles Hall,” Chrisbaby gives voice to the tragic June 2019 police shooting of his friend Miles, the only other black boy he’d known in his childhood in Walnut Creek. Though he still likes making songs that are fun and danceable, he wants his sound to resonate emotionally, too. “I want to make music that makes people bang their hands on the steering wheel,” he said.
Since his album release, Chrisbaby has been tending to some of his other creative enterprises. In addition to music, he’s been freelancing graphic design and music engineering projects, modeling for a company called Lobo Creations, and developing his own clothing line: hand-sewn hoodies made out of Apple Bottom jeans. He and Isaiah have been spending more time apart the past couple years, particularly since Isaiah entered a relationship, and they no longer live together at his grandmother’s. “When Isaiah loves, he loves hard,” Chrisbaby said.
Despite having taken a bit of space, Chrisbaby and Isaiah continue to be each other’s “biggest inspirations,” and they’re excited about collaborating again on music — potentially with another 50-Day Challenge this upcoming year. Taking time apart has challenged Chrisbaby to be more of a self-starter in his artistic work, and they’re both excited to return to their music with a sense of independence. Isaiah already has plans for them in 2020: This year, he wants them to give better credit to the women who have supported their music, including their good friend Mikaylah Hickman, and to celebrate the female rappers who surround them — especially those, like Stoney Creation, who continue to perform at male-dominated cyphers.
Chrisbaby’s dream for his and Isaiah’s music is that it helps “change the narrative kids are listening to.” As someone who grew up feeling out of place, Chrisbaby wants to help make a “lane” for kids who listen to his music and broaden their sense of what’s possible for them. He credits his mom, his brother, and Isaiah for helping to inspire this goal in his music. Like all his favorite anime, they’ve given him a reason “to be the best hero.”