“Intro (prod. Cyht)” sets the stage: an unknown narrator gives a brash description of the story’s setting, Nightmare Park, before giving way to Chasey the Illest‘s troubled and introspective words, where he immediately questions why things have to be the way they are in the world that the artist resides in. By establishing a realistically fictitious approach to the mixtape, Chasey gives himself the freedom to fully embody the message of his music without being confined by the details.
Through the 17 tracks on Nightmare Park, Chasey continuously outdoes himself with clever and meaningful lyrics, delivered through a sharp flow that has obviously come from a lot of practice and a lot of passion. Many of the all too familiar themes that come up in honest, vulnerable hip hop are present, but through the unique lens of a singular human vessel, contributing to the sea of personal stories that turn cold statistics into living, breathing examples of how our society fails so many.
Check out our conversation with Chasey below:
B: So first, tell us your name and what you do
CTI: My name is Chasey the Illest, I’m 20 years old, I’m from the west side of Detroit, and I’m an underground artist, I’m a rapper. I don’t like saying rapper, cuz I do more than rap, it’s kind of like rap-singing. I call it an artist because, to me a rapper just be rapping, but artists put stories together, they focus on their words, they try to paint a picture in your mind.
B: Do you remember the first album that you purchased or downloaded?
CTI: Hell yeah, honestly it was Big Sean’s Hall of Fame. I had never purchased a CD before, that album was the first one, and I ran that up I really played that all the time.
B: Tell us about how you started in music, and your journey up to the point of getting ready to release this latest project.
CTI: I started off rapping because one day, I had to be like 11 or 12 but I still remember it like it was yesterday. I went downstairs, my Dad was doing spring cleaning or whatever, and somehow I decided I was going to write a book. So I wrote like the first line, maybe it was a little more than a line, but then I immediately erased that and was like nah, I’m gonna write a song. The rest is just history from there, and I still have that first rap that I ever wrote.
Since then I’ve dropped one EP, I also dropped a throwaway tape but that’s gone and deleted so I don’t really count that, so just that EP is really what I’ve released since I started. This latest mixtape, Nightmare Park, actually started as two different mixtapes before this, with totally different concepts and everything. So when I finally figured out what I wanted to do, I just ran with it, and honestly it’s unbelievable how it all fell into place.
B: If you had to summarize the project in a few sentences, what would you say?
CTI: Nightmare Park is about me showing you how to get out of your nightmare, showing you don’t have to stay in the darkness forever. It can feel like that, but you can definitely get out of it, but it’s going to take some effort. I had to learn that the hard way.
B: What were the inspirations behind the project, and what are some of the details that influenced how it all manifested?
CTI: I guess the project started because, my first project was called Spilled Memories and Splattered Dreams, which dropped when I was 17 years old. It was Friday the 13th, which is scary, but I dropped that in 2016. It was an EP, I think it was just 8 tracks, and it was just about my life and the darkness in my life. Just how everything was happening. So then I thought, Nightmare Park should be me getting out of that, it’s almost a follow-up in a way.
B: Tell us about the process, in terms of who you were collaborating with, making the music, etc.
C: Yeah, so like I said I started this project over like two other times. After the second time, this producer from San Diego hit me up. It was crazy because he messaged me on Soundcloud, but on the app you can’t check your messages and at the time I would rarely check my soundcloud on my computer. So finally like a month later I see the message from this guy, his name is Flexbeato, and he sent me some beats and said he wanted to collab, and I’m like “ok here’s just another person tryna sell me some average-ass beats,” but anyway I finally listened to his catalogue and it was incredible. So I got back to him, and I ended up buying the beats that became “Crystal Clear” and “Life Sentence,” so from there we just been together the entire time, we just have good chemistry.
So he made like 7 of the beats on the tape, and then my cousin Itz J is an 18 year old producer, and he made “Battle Cry” and “Open Caskets.” Then I got a friend, Uncle P, and he made “Mental Breakdown.” Then a producer I discovered through other musicians that he had worked with, his name is Cyht, produced the intro as well as “Rivers.” Some of the others I just got off of Youtube, which I really didn’t want to do at first, but at the end I just said fuck it and wanted it to be released into the world, so I grabbed some beats that I was really feeling and made it clear to everyone that because of that decision, it’s definitely a mixtape rather than an album. There’s one from MF Doom on there, and another one from Capital Steez, r.i.p. “Letter to You” was actually my first radio freestyle, which is why the quality is so bad, we recorded it off my camera and in the end I just liked how raw it sounded.
B: Is there anything that you think people should know about the message or the structure of the project?
CIT: When I’m talking about nightmares, I’m not talking about going to sleep and having a real bad dream. The nightmares that I’m talking about are both physical and mental. Mind you, Nightmare Park is a hood that I made up, it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, hispanic, asian, etc., if you’re in a hood, you’re in nightmare park. You could be going through abuse, loss of a loved one or of a relationship, or paranoia, anxiety, overthinking, all that.
So for example, “Mental Breakdown,” the interlude, that was me finally losing it. The song itself is about these two dudes, the main dude and his sidekick, robbing a store for their gang initiation. In the moment they realize that they’re really not about that life for real, so they try to, they running from the police thinking we should’ve never done this shit, and when they finally think they got away, the main dude gets back to his house and sees the cops there, with his mama on the porch, and his little brother in the window. Everybody sees that shit, and he knows he should’ve never done that shit, so the whole narrative follows that progression.
The songs that follow that are things that you might do after a mental breakdown. “Battle Cry” is basically fighting a war that you’re going through, but also crying out for help. I feel like a lot of the times I rap, and I only really tell the truth through that medium. In my regular life I keep a lot of it to myself, but in the music I let it all out. And sometimes it feels like people aren’t really listening, because they’ll tell me shit is cold, but I’m like “do you really hear what I’m talking about though?” Other songs are talking about relationships, and about the different stages of that, and how I’ve experienced and processed everything that has happened.
And then “Grateful,” that’s just one big shout out to everyone that was a part of this process. I felt like it was a great way to end the album, showing gratitude for all of the people that made this possible, and connecting the project to my real life and to the artists that I look up to that have done the same.
Check out Nightmare Park below, and look out for more coming from Chasey the Illest and the talented collaborators that he has assembled.