It’s a Thursday at the top of the afternoon and Chaz French is sprawled out in the middle of the floor in his hotel room in Austin. It’s SXSW and the emerging hip-hop artist is enjoying his growing limelight.
“They’re laughing at me because I was knocked out on the floor,” he explains, only half paying attention to our phone conversation. Laughter tinkles in the background. “I had a looong night. I drank a lot last night. It’s South by Southwest. It’s cool for me to do that. It’s nothing wrong, and I work hard enough to where if I want to walk in the house and sleep in the living room, I can,” he says, laughing. “They can judge me all they want.”
For the DC-born rapper, Texas holds a special place in his heart.
“That’s where I was homeless,” he says. “Plus, I just love the people. It’s a lot of good people out there and they don’t force it.”
Chaz’s rags to riches story of survival was vividly poured into his 2014 debut project, Happy Belated and continued with 2015’s These Things Take Time, where the raw lyrics fuse with melody and lightened perspective. The music is cinematic when it comes to details, touching when it comes to the curveballs of life and turnt up when, as Chaz says, it’s time to address “ratchet sh-t.”
As the father of two builds his presence bar by bar and through each performance, he says he will never forget where he’s been and where he plans to go. His tagline, “Struggle what made us,” is the through-line of his storytelling.
In this JET interview, through off-topic comical conversation, Chaz chats about his art and how it came to be.
JET: You chose to be homeless. How did that enhance your perspective on life and how has it affected your music?
Chaz French: It was definitely a choice. I didn’t have to be homeless or go without. It was more of, “If you don’t believe in me, I’m going to show you. I’m going to do whatever it takes even if that means I have to go without.” I feel like that was some of the best moments of my life. I was so carefree and open. I was more honest then. We would go days without eating. That’s just what we chose to do but I learned so much about myself during that time. I learned the whole aspect of sacrifice. I learned the meaning of really doing it on your own. What’s crazy is at that time, I wasn’t even really making music. I feel like I went through that so that I can make the kind of music I’m making now. It was amazing BUT I would never do it again. (Laughs). Now, you’d be surprised at how good it feels to open the refrigerator and get some food or get something to drink. Being able to wear different boxers everyday. I don’t take anything for granted at all.
JET: Was music a part of your goal before you made that life choice?
Chaz French: Yeah. I always knew I wanted to do music. That’s part of the reason why I stopped going to school and decided to be homeless. I grew up playing the drums in church, so music has always been a part of my life. It made me feel good. It’s the only thing I’ve even been committed to fully. Music never gave up on me. That’s my first baby mama.
JET: That commitment paid off. The raw passion is felt in your music. Between Happy Belated and These Things Take Time, you can tell that you’re in different places, but the intense emotion is still present. What’s your artistic goal when creating music?
Chaz French: I just want to make people feel again. I want people to be visual, listen and even taste my music if they can! That’s what it’s about.
JET: The inspiration behind your music starts with Jean-Michel Basquiat. When were you introduced to his work and how does the visual aspect intersect with your artistry?
Chaz French: His art is amazing, but it was everything outside of that. I got hipped to him late. It was a girl I was dealing with at the time and one day she was watching his biography, Radiant Child, and I was like whoa! This is me! He was so full of life and that’s what attracted me to his work. Then, when you look at his work it was so him. A lot of people look at his work as something a child would do. But I remember he was like, what people don’t know is that I can actually really draw and do work that people really want me to do, but this is what I want to do. I mean, (with) anybody like that, how can you not be inspired?!
JET: I dig it! With your first project, Happy Belated, the intro had a very cinematic feel with the way you described your experiences being homeless and the struggles you endured. Was there ever a moment of reluctance in being that vulnerable the first time out?
Chaz French: (Laughs) I wish I could put that intro on all of my projects. But, nope! I feel like that’s the whole purpose of music. Bringing something, not even different, but just being you. When people hear your music, the real music lovers, they want to feel a part of your life and want to feel like they really know you better than anyone else because they’re going through the same sh-t. I know that story on the intro, there’s 100-plus people that’s been through that. I’m just blessed with the talent to be able to explain it and put it in words and into a different art form. Why not tell people everything I’ve been through and where I want to be? I will never lie to my fans because I will never lie to myself. Even if it gets me far, it won’t last for a lifetime. I want to make music that people can listen to 10 years from now and say damn, this matters.
JET: These Things Take Time is a different energy, but you still get the raw lyricism and honesty. Can you talk about the space you were in when creating this project?
Chaz French: I was just in a happier place in my life. Even now, I’m just happy. If I want to sing and harmonize, I will. But still with records like “Remember,” I’m never going to forget that the struggle is what got me to where I am now. I’m going to get on people’s nerves with the whole talk of struggling. People forget where they came from and you can’t. And I’m talking about the situation of where you came from. So sometimes I want to rap about ratchet stuff and then sometimes I want to sing about my heart being broken. That’s what it’s about as long as it’s staying true to who I am.
JET: What’s up next for you? What’s happening with the next project?
Chaz French: My next project, I want it to be like Happy Belated and These Things Take Time put together. But I want it to be like my most soulful project. Third time is a charm. So right now, I’m just recording as much as I can and coming up with new ideas. Still trying to stay true to Chaz French and my fans. At the end of the day, I do it for the people. So this next project, I want to tell people what they don’t hear everyday. I would hope somebody tells you that they love you, everyday, but if not, I’m going to be the person to tell you. I’m going to be that person to tell you ‘thank you’, ‘you can do it’. I’m going to check up on you on this next project. That guy that’s just checking in.
Watch Chaz’s latest visual for ‘IDK’ below:
Follow Chaz’s journey, here.