Creative inspiration can come from anything and anywhere. For rapper-producer Chris Borelli, it came from a tough upbringing—and ended up on top playlists around the world.

Kodiak: Take us back to the beginning. How did music come into your life?


Chris Borelli: It started when I was 11, when I was placed into the custody of social services and was put into foster care, and there was a piano in the house. No one pushed me. No one tried to talk me into it. It was just there and I started to play—and a whole world opened up in front of my eyes.


Kodiak: An instant connection?


Chris: Exactly. Music was a relief and an outlet. A way of expressing myself. It was very pure, very honest.


Kodiak: Your foster parents taught you to play?


Chris: Well, they became my adopted parents—they adopted me. They’re my parents now. But I’m mostly self-taught. I’d hear music and then try to re-create it by memory. Eventually I was able to start improvising. Just seeing what worked, what felt right.


Kodiak: That’s amazing. Your music still has a very improvisational feel.


Chris: Thank you, yeah, that’s still how I work. I could sit down and play for weeks—experimenting with chord structures. It came out as very gospel, soulful type music. I’d put three notes together and think, “Okay, that sounds pretty good.” And I’d experiment. For years I’d just experiment.


Kodiak: How did that evolve into rap?


Chris: Singing was the piece that connects them. I sang all through middle school and high school. Ballads, mostly. I was like the John Legend kid [laughs]. I was in choirs, a lot of choirs. And I gave a jazz band a try, but learned that playing in a band wasn’t my thing. It was all stepping stones. But when I got to college, my roommate was a rapper and he became a mentor to me. Still one of my best friends.


Kodiak: Did you take it right to the stage?


Chris: Not right away. We’d meet up in the basement of academic buildings—some people with drums, some with guitars—and we’d just make music and rap. It made me hungry for exploring it and taking it as far as I could and bringing something new to it. 

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Kodiak: Let’s talk about that. What’s your unique approach to rap?


Chris: I established really early on that I wouldn’t curse in my rap. It’s not based on something moral—it’s that my music is a reflection of who I am as a person. I want to challenge myself to express myself fully without the shortcuts that cursing brings. I say potent things, have potent ideas, but express them fully. I dig deep and get personal. Very raw, very direct.


Kodiak: You come off as such a mellow, chill, easygoing person. Are people surprised when they hear your music?


Chris: Absolutely. People hear that energy and passion and they’re surprised. I use my voice and my tone and have learned to communicate my feelings and emotions as effectively as possible.


Kodiak: But you don’t seem angry about your past—about your rough upbringing.


Chris: I don’t feel mad or upset about how life was for me, because everything that happened led me to where I am now. Being able to walk away from your past and push forward—that really helps you get through the other things that come your way in life.


Kodiak: And here you are, thriving—filling seats, earning fans and expressing your ideas.


Chris: It’s all about overcoming obstacles and following your own journey. Keep pushing, keep working hard, keep evolving.