Several cardboard boxes are resting upon both the leather interior and black carpeted floors of Chilla Pertilla’s white Lexus truck, each containing copies of his latest release, Werkin: Volume 2–#Overtime. The CEO of EMAG Media Group reaches past the parcels for a black camera bag. He unzips it, pulling out a high-powered camera. He preps it, next taking a few practice snaps. “Ready,” says the Muskegon, MI native born Corey Blackman, before entering the building for a face-to-face with Grand Hustle mogul T.I.
Pertilla is always ready, be it to sell thousands of CDs to his fans, relax in a lounge with Black Thought of The Roots, or teach young artists from around the country how to improve their recording sound quality to industry standards. Throughout his career the underground legend responsible for such beloved hits as “Paper Planes,” “Blast Off,” “Ten or Better,” and the iconic anthem “Load Unload” has prepared himself for every opportunity the recording industry could provide. Only he’s done it without major label say-so. Pertilla produces, engineers, directs videos, markets, graphic designs, and teams with some of the top DJs in the nation. Much like the lake his home city rests upon, he hopes to change the recording industry tide for his once prosperous state.
Chilla Pertilla took a break from Werkin to speak exclusively with SoulTrain.com.
SoulTrain.com: I’ve read you mention when people meet you they assume you’re from a major metropolis. So tell us, what do you enjoy most about being from the small city of Muskegon, Michigan?
Chilla Pertilla: I enjoy Lake Michigan. Growing up on the largest fresh water lake in the U.S. has its advantages. It’s almost got a west coast feel to it as far as being right on the water.
SoulTrain.com: The national news can attest, like the west coast, your neck of the woods can be a pretty gritty environment to live in.
Chilla Pertilla: Well, our story is not too different than our west coast peers, it’s just our place has died with our automotive industry. And we’ve had the highest unemployment in the country! So I’ve seen it all. I just thank God that I made it.
SoulTrain.com: At one point you were operating out of Atlanta. How did living in Georgia differ from living in Michigan?
Chilla Pertilla: It’s really two different worlds, like total north and total south. The dialog is different, the way people perceive you is different. To me they’re both home, but the differences have really grown.
SoulTrain.com: While you were in the south were you worried about what was happening back north?
Chilla Pertilla: My music always gave me something else to focus on and a way out, but I still did. I really wished people like our police would open their eyes just a little to see what life is like for the youth there.
SoulTrain.com: In some of your earlier songs you mention being shot when you were younger. What lead to this?
Chilla Pertiila: It wasn’t over nothing–no money, no female. It was just that fake territorial thing the young men do. Our local newspapers covered it heavily. And it’s been actually reported that the guys from my neighborhood were human hunters. But you know it’s all hype.
SoulTrain.com: Travel agents and advertisers love to hype sights. When there is mention of the United States’ natural wonders, why do you think no one mentions Lake Michigan right off?
Chilla Pertilla: I think that natural beauty has taken a back seat to other top attractions, so Michigan always gets overlooked.
SoulTrain.com: Do you think Michigan hip-hop has received the same amount of neglect?
Chilla Pertilla: Most definitely, but it’s just a hip-hop thing. A lot of places don’t get mentioned; Michigan is just one of the places. But we’ve got cities like Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, and we can’t forget Chicago across the lake, so we’ve been a major influence in the game. A lot of artists are really from Michigan, they just don’t say it. But you’ve got artists like me, Willie The Kid, and a few others who rep where we’re from.
SoulTrain.com: Your story of success is different than most. You’ve achieved critical acclaim, wealth, and fame without breaking into major radio or signing with a major label, yet in several circles you’re considered an industry icon. But why didn’t you push for more, especially when you could have done it away from a place as challenging as your home state?
Chilla Pertilla: My mind has been rooted in hip-hop since Sugar Hill Gang days, so I really live and breathe this. I’m not in it just for success. Rap is my therapy, so I’m going do this for Michigan, and the whole world, regardless of fortune or fame, independent or major.
SoulTrain.com: What does it feel like to have national exposure – be it in magazines, online, or on record?
Chilla Pertilla: It’s a good feeling. It really just helps spread the word about my movement, so I love the press. And building a relationship with them is just part of the job. The first time I received national exposure was in 1997 on E-40 and B-Legit’s Southwest Riders compilation, which went platinum. There was an ad campaign for every major magazine thanks to Jive/Zomba. Then I made it on the cover of The Groove Spot Online Hip Hop Magazine in ‘99, and I’ve been doing it ever since in some form or another.
SoulTrain.com: Did you always believe you’d accomplish as much as you have?
Chilla Pertilla: Truthfully? Yes. I was the best MC in town at an early age, so I knew I must be raw overall. I never got beat in a battle and it’s still the same for anybody who want it! I’m going to melt any fake rhymes they come with off the bat! I always set my standards high. When I started out I put myself against hip-hop’s best. Most of the time, I had to hit the drawing board.
SoulTrain.com: Besides pitting yourself against the best artists of the time, what else did you do to sharpen you skill?
Chilla Pertilla: Reading. Doing that is the key to becoming a great MC and in life. Reading is how we feed our brain, especially if you’re a child from inner city! Sometimes books are the only real mental stimulation available.
SoulTrain.com: Okay Chilla, which is being most polluted – people’s perception of Michigan hip-hop or your state’s water supply?
Chilla Pertilla: Both. The water level is at an all-time low in the lake, and it’s seemed like hip- hop was following the same trend. There a lot of MCs who want to turn Michigan to lil south or lil east coast, but stay true to who you are and where you’re from. That’s what pure hip-hop is.
SoulTraian.com: Which is more important – the preservation of Lake Michigan’s natural beauty, or the final breakthrough emergence of hip-hop from your state?
Chilla Pertilla: I’m a diehard MC, so I have to say hip-hop. At least we own that. No one will ever give us the lakes–not even Lake Erie!
For more on Chilla Pertilla visit Facebook.com/pertilla, YouTube.com/user/CHILLAPERTILLA, and follow him on Twitter @ChillaPertilla.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and feature writer for City Locs, is an award-winning entertainment and news journalist and columnist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of XPOZ Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Hear/Say Now Magazine, Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, Real Detroit Weekly, and MLive.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker. Also visit ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.