Photo by Bryon Summers for Okayplayer
First Look Friday: Witness The Power Of The DMV's Own Chaz French
Rapper Chaz French had a stellar 2015, stunning the industry and music fans alike with his debut mixtape, Happy Belated. As an artist, the sonic-loving populace has taken to this young MC's galvanizing tales about his bouts against alcoholism, depression and survival in the rough and tumble Northeast D.C. area. But as a man, the person born Chaz D'Angelo Gibson French has rooted himself firmly as a growing pillar within his community and amongst his peers.
Never one to fabricate his backstory, we were given unparalleled access to shoot the 23-year-old lyricist at his mother's home. Opening up his doors to us here at OKP was an incredible moment for us, but to be such a candid interviewee also meant that Chaz French is poised for great things and showcases a well-rounded viewpoint. By having those attributes, plus armed with another level of talent and skill, Chaz French is creating a longevity around his career that no others in the DMV can replicate right now.
For those just getting familiar with the Happy Belated rapper, Chaz was raised in a religious household and had his faith tested in more ways than one. After dropping out of high school in his senior year, Chaz dealt with homelessness, the absence of having a father in jail and the challenges that came with eventually becoming a father himself. It is through those moments where Chaz shines and offers new listeners a genuine connection that has impacted the listener in a grandiose way.
A result of perseverance, persistence and power — Chaz French has shared his story with devastatingly personal detail — which has endeared him to a growing legion of fans that championing him as a new voice around the DMV. We are extremely proud and energetic to introduce to you, OKP-ers, the enticingly diverse Chaz French as this week's First Look Friday subject.
In the chat below, the 368 Music Group wordsmith discusses with us why the original Happy Belated was scrapped, where the DMV music scene is headed in the next five years and how he lost his songwriting virginity.
Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact on both sides of the U.S. What is it that the DMV is seeing and hearing that the world has yet to discover?
Chaz French: The DMV is getting to see my growth up close and personal. People in the DMV were my first fans, so they have witnessed my development from my first gig in DC to now. The DMV gets the more personal side of me because I live here, so they see me in my normal habitat doing everyday stuff. At the same time, they get to see me as somebody they know catch their dreams and travel the world.
OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they hone their skills and practice their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?
CF: My most cherished influences are Kid Cudi, Kanye West, Amy Winehouse, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Erykah Badu and Frank Ocean just to name a few. I cherish all of them because their music was the soundtrack to my life. Everything I went through, my struggles, pain and joy were set to the sounds of these artists. At the time, I really began to understand music and they were who I related to because of their honesty and vulnerability within their art.
OKP: A project like Happy Belated, which is very progressive and is paired with forward-thinking lyrical content, has placed you on the radar of music snobs who have a heavy presence in the industry. Can you talk about how life was for you while developing as an artist in the DMV? How did you react to your first bits of press?
CF: So the Happy Belated that ended coming out is actually the second version of that project. I had created an entire body of work that I was scheduled to drop the day after my first meeting with my now manager, Dre The Mayor. Dre told me that the music I had was dope, yet he knew from meeting me that there was a lot more substance to me than what I was putting in my music. We bumped heads on it at first, but he helped me to understand that I had one shot at a first impression with my audience, and I went back in and made an entirely new project fully exposing my life as it was.
At the time, my mom and I were at odds because she didn’t fully see the vision with the music, plus I had a kid on the way. I moved in with Dre and he helped me secure a job at a Car Detail spot, which was flexible enough that I could take off when needed for music. My back was against the wall and that project was my shot at changing my life and making away for my daughter, which is why I had to have her on the cover. I was shocked and humbled by the initial press looks. It was really surreal that people got my message as I intended it. I still feel the same way today when I get press. I guess it’s still weird to see my name on websites alongside artists I look up to.
OKP: Can you also talk about the importance of the music industry scene in DMV and where you see it evolving in the next five years?
CF: I feel like the DMV has a lot to offer, and the world is finally taking notice. It’s been a blessing for me that I began to drop my music when the public is looking for what’s next from this area. There are a lot of artists from here making noise on a national and even global level now. In the next five years, I think we can evolve into an entertainment hub similar to New York City, Atlanta or even Los Angeles.
OKP: These Things Take Time is billed as a look at the struggles we all go through, so how does songs like “Let God” and “It’s Over” fit into the album’s narrative? What has been the best experience so far as a recording artist?
CF: “Let God” and “It’s Over” were meant to uplift people deep in the struggle. “Let God” basically says just that, y'know?! Whatever you might be going through, just let go, give it to God and he’ll make a way to see you to the other side. On “It’s Over,” I was telling people that no matter what everything’s going to be OK. In the hook I say, “And now that I’m sober,” which refers to my battles with alcoholism that I was able to overcome, so if I can beat that you too can face your demons and get the victory.
>>>Read about how Chaz French lost his songwriting virginity on Pg. 2...
OKP: What are some elements that you’ve learned about yourself that comes out in the music?
CF: One of the things that I’ve learned about myself may not be so obvious in my music. Through the process of creating my first two projects I’ve learned that I don’t like big studios. I prefer to record in my house or a house studio, where I can just vibe or just drop something when I get an idea. I’m a person who has to be in the moment and I hate forcing anything, so it doesn’t mean I'm gonna come up with something great just because I had studio scheduled for today you know?
OKP: When did you lose your songwriting virginity? Can you talk about the first song you wrote and what it was about?
CF: I lost my songwriting virginity at like nine years old. Being that my mom is a pastor of a church and I spent a lot of time in there, the first song I wrote was a gospel rap song and of course it was about God [laughs].
OKP: How can your music speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond?
CF: I only speak on what I know and I never try to conform to the now. I don’t try to do what I hear others doing. I just stay true to myself and drop what my heart tells me to on the beat. I think there are people looking for the real and I’m talking directly to them in my songs.
OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you want to work with in the new year (2016) and why?
CF: Any of the artists that I mentioned earlier would be extremely dope. I would also like to work with J. Cole, Bryson Tiller, Adele, Miguel, MIA, Santigold, and maybe Flosstradamus to name a few.
OKP: You hold a lot of respect for Kanye West and Kid Cudi in your rhymes and in interviews, so what is it about those two that made such an impact?
CF: I think a lot of people look at Kanye West and Kid Cudi as cool dudes that are fashionable and do fly shit. For me it’s not about that. When I was going through some of my worst moments in life, they were all I listened to and I felt like they were making the music for me. They literally got me through my struggles. How could I not respect their passion and their vulnerability that made me be OK with who I was and what I was going through.
>>>Read about Chaz French's overall message to music fans on Pg. 3...
OKP: What is the overall message that Chaz French is trying to present in his music?
CF: Ultimately, I just want to inspire people to make the most of their circumstances and let people know that you can do anything you want with determination and dedication. The fact that I’m doing this interview right now is a testament to me not giving up. I been told by plenty of people who love me and that I love that music would never get me anywhere, but I’m proving them wrong everyday. I want my listeners to hear my words and get inspired to prove their doubters wrong and make it to the other side of their troubles.
OKP: Can you break down the inspiration behind “Ready” with GoldLink? Speak about the inspiration behind the creation, production and song lyrics.
CF: Really, we were in the studio just shooting the shit about girls and listening to beats. I played that and the hook popped in my mind. GoldLink went in the booth and dropped the first few bars and then we freestyled the rest of the song back and forth. It was all kinda random to be honest [laughs].
OKP: How do you see yourself changing the music industry for the better versus all the bad stuff that goes on within it?
CF: I don’t know how much I can change, but I won’t let it change me. I keep my day one circle tight around me, to keep me grounded and keep me focused on what’s important, which are the goals we've set from the gate.
OKP: Can you share any interesting stories that might’ve happened during the creation of "These Things Take Time" with us and the Okayplayer audience?
CF: Man, on the real, so much has happened during that process. Most notably, I had my Little Chaz on my birthday [laughs]. One of the dopest moments was working with Dot The Genius because I’ve always wanted to work with him for obvious reasons.
OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with Chaz French — what would it be and in what octave would it sound like?
CF: I don’t know what they might learn from just this chat because I am pretty much an open book in my music. For those who have never heard of me or my music, I hope they want to go and investigate more from here. I hope them motherfuckers are curious to get this real sound, y'know?!