Discovery: Chaz French

By
Photography Arkan Zakharov

Published March 23, 2016

CHAZ FRENCH IN NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 2016. PHOTOS: ARKAN ZAKHAROV. STYLING: LANA JAY LACKEY. GROOMING: DILLON PENA USING LAURA MERCIER AT HONEY ARTISTS. SPECIAL THANKS: SLATE STUDIOS.

Filled with passion, soul, and authenticity, Washington D.C. born and based artist Chaz French released his debut album, Happy Belated, in 2014. A year later, he came out with  his follow-up These Things Take Time. Last month, he toured the East Coast and Canada with fellow “D.M.V.” (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area) artist Pell, and together, they put on energetic shows filled with inspiration, hype, and fresh new faces. Bringing a new light to an already existing culture, French, with his producer Kris Minor, is steadily gaining traction with the likes of Wale, GoldLink, Eddie Vanz, Phil Ade, and Saba.

Inspired by his family, most notably his son and daughter, as well as general life experiences, French focuses on spreading positivity through a self-portrait of musical dialect. Referring to his fans as family, he keeps the circle tight, and having written raps in his journal since the ninth grade, he has become an experienced storyteller and songwriter. The lyrics of “Remember,” a track produced by Izze, recount a powerful experience (“I remember back in the day / When Mackrey was packing a K, and we had no where else to stay / Lived in a hotel for 30 a day, had no way to pay / Spent everything we had on Newports and drinks, Mollys and weed / Lifestyle consisted of drugs and dreams / And no where to sleep or eat”), while those of “Questions” provide a more motivational standpoint (“You don’t know how strong you are / ‘Til you fall, ’til you pick yourself back up / Then brush it off”).

When the artist was in New York, he added us to his schedule and took some time to sit down and discuss growing up in D.C., touring with Pell, dropping out of high school, and more.

NAME: Chaz French

AGE: 24

BORN AND BASED: Washington, D.C.

THE EARLY YEARS: I wasn’t a bad student; I just wasn’t involved, I didn’t care. That was because I knew where I wanted to go: I wanted to do music and that’s all it was for me. I shared a ninth grade music class with a singer named Mya and the teacher that pushed her to do music was the same one that pushed me to do it. After that, I recorded a 15-track tape with my homies in my mom’s basement in Greenbelt, Maryland. Essentially, we recorded a whole lot of nothing, but people still comment on that shit.

After ninth grade I moved to Champagne, Illinois with my cousins, my aunt, and my uncle for three to four months because I was doing horrible. I actually started to do better, because I was surrounded by smart people and athletes. It was still about music—I only carried one notebook, my rap book, all I did was write raps—but when I moved there, I would actually go to school. I felt obligated because I was living with somebody else. I couldn’t do what I was doing at home. Then my parents moved me back to D.C. and we moved to Texas five months after that. I went to two schools there. All of that added up to four different schools sophomore year.

UPPERCLASSMAN: I did 11th grade twice. This was 2010; I was supposed to graduate in 2009. I remember one day I got in trouble for wearing rips in my jeans. I was the only guy wearing skinny jeans and Hot Topic graphic tees. I was that black guy in the school. They said, “You can’t have rips in your jeans, go to the office.” So I went and I remember I was listening to Kanye West’s Graduation. I’m sitting in there and I’m like, “If I’m wearing rips in my jeans, what’s the problem? It’s not like I’m showing my ass or anything,” so I got up, said “Fuck this shit,” and walked out. That’s the day I dropped out. There was this program where I could get my G.E.D. or my diploma and walk the stage. I still don’t have my diploma, however, I walked the stage. I’m a drop out who did a program and walked the stage. I did it for my mom. I wanted her to see me walk the stage.

ON HIS OWN: I was 18, maybe 19, and that’s where life went down hill. My mom moved back [to D.C.] and she wanted me to move with her, but I was in love with Texas. I asked my best friend if I could move in, and his dad loved me, so he let me. I lived there for a while, doing music, doing shows here and there. Then Eddie [Vanz] moved with me—it was me, Eddie, my producer, my homie, and another person. Eventually we got put out and that’s when I became homeless. My brother’s girlfriend got us a motel, we stayed there for a week, and we didn’t have any money to pay for the rest of it so they locked our stuff in there until we could pay. My homie’s father paid the rest of it.

We were moving house to house to house, and I moved home for a month, but my mom wasn’t supporting me; she wasn’t supporting the music, she wanted me to get a job. So me, being a prideful teenager, I moved back to Texas. I moved in with my brother and his girl, but then they got evicted, and it was back to the streets, back to sleeping in cars. We were staying anywhere we could. By that time I was in a serious relationship and one day she said to me, “You need to go back home.” I was losing myself; I wasn’t doing music. I respected her and myself enough to make the decision to go back to D.C.

TWO STEPS BACKWARD, ONE STEP FORWARD: When I got back home, everything fell into place. I went to Richmond, got a job, got studio time, my mom got me an apartment, and I met [the woman who became] my daughter’s mother. Things were moving, but then got stagnant again: I got put out of that apartment, moved in with my daughter’s mom, and then she was like “Chaz, I’m pregnant.” I was like “Oh, fuck.” That’s when it really clicked—boom, no job, no nothing. 

Two weeks after that, though, Raheem [DeVaughn] and Dre [The Mayor] called me [after Phil Ade introduced us]. From there it kept going up. My manager had told me about GoldLink, so I searched him and the first thing that pulled up was the “When I Die” video—that’s what inspired the song “Before I Die.” I hit him up on Twitter, and it went from there. My daughter was born, and found out I had a son on the way. People started finding out about me, people started coming up to me in the streets.

ON PEOPLE AND PLACES: I worked in L.A., went to Atlanta, went to Texas, and went to New York, getting different vibes from different places, but it’s more of where my mind is versus where my body is. I wanted to make an album specifically for my family. Happy Belated was so selfish; it was so me. These Things Take Time was a mix of me with the feedback I was getting from my family. My inspiration comes from my kids. It’s an obligation. I want to be able to spoil them. I don’t want them to go through what I went through. I want them to have it easy.

WITH MY MUSIC…I want to give people a way out. I want people to have something that they can sing along to but also be uplifted by. I don’t have fans; I have family. I want to spread positivity. I want people to be inspired by me. I want people to follow their dreams. I just want to help them. Like in the movie Rock Star, I want to be able to bring a kid on stage and give him his shot, and hopefully he can do that for somebody else one day too.

HIGH-END TO STREETWEAR: The first brand I owned was Rick Owens. My stylist from D.C. blessed me with my first pair of Ricks. A new brand I’m into is Rhude. I like how it’s distressed, but simple. Someday I want to get into his pieces. I was really into Margiela at one time—when I bought my first pair it felt like I paid rent. It just felt great. Pieces-wise I love flannels, specifically thick flannels. One day I want to drop my own flannel line. I love Vans, too. I’ve probably spent more money on Vans then I have on Jordans. Overall, I’m just going for a minimal look. Fashion is like music to me; it’s just a different way of expressing yourself.

LOOKING BACK: Now, I feel like I should’ve stayed in school and paid attention. There’s a lot of bullshit in high school, but I wish more people would graduate, I wish more people would take it seriously because you never know how much you need it until your my age. School is needed. I’m not going to ever say, “Don’t go to school,” but I’m also gonna say, “Follow your dreams and follow your heart.”

FOR MORE ON CHAZ FRENCH, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.