When you think of the big-name New York emcees, ideas of early Nas and Hova, Rakim, and The Notorious B.I.G. conjure dark, shadowy depictions of the Big Apple. Today’s New York, in its third term under Mayor Bloomberg, is brighter than one would imagine, considering the sluggish economy and everyday terrorism fears. It’s a new age for the city; the only problem is, it’s a faceless one, without a trademark sound or movement to market to the masses, à la Bad Boy circa 1996. It may be too early to predict who might break the streak, but certainly worth considering is Harlem-bred rapper-entrepreneur, Vinny Cha$e, a viable contender. Skewing recession-era material obsessions into equal portions humor and seriousness, Cha$e rides basslines with nonchalance and cultural breadth. He’s a refreshing addition to the game; having interests in fashion, fine art, and progressing the genre forward through acceptance. After signing a joint deal with Epic via his own label collective, Cheers Club, he’s dedicated to spreading the word. “Nevermind that, get money,” he rhymes on an operatic cut, “Nevermind That,” of his Golden Army mixtape. That’s exactly how he feels hip-hop should function: No hate, just business.
Interview is proud to exclusively premiere his new video, “Hustle,” below. Read on for our interview with Cha$e.
MARCUS HOLMLUND: What’s the background on your rap moniker?
VINNY CHA$E: The name’s based off of the show Entourage. I’m not a rapper that goes around rapping about Turtle or nothing like that… I use the name because I came out of an entourage myself. I was a part of Juelz Santana and Dipset’s entourage coming up.
HOLMLUND: We haven’t heard much from Dipset lately. Tell me about your time with them.
CHA$E: I remember I had just gotten out of high school. I didn’t graduate, I had dropped out, and I wanted to do something in the industry but I couldn’t rap for shit. So I started out with them doing videos and got around Juelz, and that’s what really exposed me to the industry behind-the-scenes. I wouldn’t say Dipset mentored me, but I definitely watched their blueprint. I was a spectator at first and with that, I could go and correct the mistakes that I thought they made. I want more longevity with my career.
HOLMLUND: How did you start rapping?
CHA$E: Before music, I was designing and really into fashion and all that. People had always told me I looked like a rapper; so, I decided to give it a try… I started rapping in private for like six months, trying to get it together, before I had anyone hear it. I was scared to let anyone hear it at first. This was maybe 2010. Not very long ago at all. It was really my boys, [Kid] Cartier and Kid Art, who pushed me to do it.
HOLMLUND: So far, you’ve released several mixtapes—do you have a favorite?
CHA$E: I’d have to say, Survival of the Swag. It was so organic. It was an in-house project that came together solely with me and my team. It was cohesive from the inside out.
HOLMLUND: You did a mixtape with Soulja Boy a few years back. I don’t think of you as being someone that’d work with him.
CHA$E: It was actually really strategic on my part. It was about two or so years ago, and I wanted to introduce good rap to “ringtone rap.” A person who downloads a Soulja Boy song isn’t necessarily looking for quality in music, and I wanted to expose them to that. It worked because it grew my fan base, and we remain good friends to this day.
HOLMLUND: What can we expect from your upcoming mixtape, Kings Landing?
CHA$E: It’s a serious collaboration between Kid Art, myself, and a bunch of other producers. It drops at the end of June. I can’t even tell you, as of now, what you’ll hear, because we’re still working on it and I won’t know until the end what it will ultimately sound like. I don’t just throw a bunch of tracks together—I like to take my time and take my listeners on a full ride, so, once everything’s complete, I go through and edit it down to what feels right. I consider it like an audio movie. [laughs] When you put your headphones, it should sound like you’re watching a movie with your eyes closed.
HOLMLUND: Do you remember the first rap you wrote?
CHA$E: It was a song called “Blackberry.” It was never released. I remember being really excited about it after recording it because it was like, “Wow, I just rapped!” [laughs] Whenever you hear a rapper talk about how they entered the game and had been rapping since they were six… with me, it was just a few short years ago. I was a businessman before I was a musician, you know. We have an intellectual spirit around our crowd [Cheers Club] that’s, without a doubt, different from anything out there right now. We’re a collective that’s just obsessed with creativity. Rapping is just one outlet we use to express ourselves. We’re a record label, a production company, a brand, we make our own films, clothing—it’s a creative suite, in a way. Everything is in-house. It’s like Warhol for the now.
HOLMLUND: The hip-hop Andy Warhol?
CHA$E: In a way, yeah. I mean, I live for Warhol, man. And not just the “Marilyn Monroe” Warhol that everybody knows. I like everything he did and how he did it. I like art in general—from Julian Schnabel to Banksy. I like conceptual art, street art… I’m the type of dude that walks down Prince Street and will buy a piece from somebody nobody knows ’cause of the way it makes me feel.
HOLMLUND: What inspires you most about New York?
CHA$E: Just walking down the street gives me so much inspiration. I mean, New York is pretty much the only place on earth that a billionaire and a homeless man can live within 100 feet of each other.
HOLMLUND: Do you remember the first artist that really got you into hip-hop?
CHA$E: I’d have to say Lil’ B. Not because of his music or his lyrical content. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what he’s saying, but when I saw that someone who said nothing could have so much of an impact. I had to give hip-hop a shot.
HOLMLUND: You signed with Epic Records recently, but you’re still an independent under Cheers Club—your own label. What does that set up for your collective in the future?
CHA$E: You’ll see a debut album from me at the top of the year. I got to say, it’s such a great deal for us, because all being friends in an industry with no friends, it was just amazing to ink a deal as a family, you know. I’m good friends with Aaron Reid, L.A. Reid’s son, and he introduced us to his father, who got really excited about us as a whole. The deal ended up being so fair, which is also crazy, because nothing’s fair in this industry. I’ve got to rep that to the end because other labels we went to were just trying to take our talent and pump their own name with it… that’s not what we’re here for.
HOLMLUND: How would you describe your collective’s overall appeal and sound?
CHA$E: It’s modern New York City hip-hop. My shit will never sound like it came out of Atlanta or down south; it’s New York, New York, you know. Present artists really haven’t being doing that, at least in New York… and that’s what we’re all about. We’re here to represent our current culture. It seems like today people are afraid to be intelligent when it comes to hip-hop, they just follow trends and that shit ends up being forgettable. We tend to back away from the trendy shit. I guarantee in two or three years, when people look back at something like the “Harlem Shake” dance craze, they’ll be embarrassed they did that. [laughs]
HOLMLUND: Speaking of the “Harlem Shake,” being from Harlem, how do you feel about it not actually being the actual Harlem Shake?
CHA$E: It’s bullshit. It really has nothing to do with the real Harlem Shake. It’s not about who made the track, ’cause in 2013 there are no color lines or any of that. It’s about that people think this Harlem Shake is the real Harlem Shake is just dumb, when a whole town of people have been doing the real one for almost a decade. It’s upsetting people don’t care about original shit. But, hey, there are worse problems in the world. [laughs]
HOLMLUND: You mentioned you started out in design and have a big interest in fashion. Where did that come from?
CHA$E: I think it really came from my grandfather. He was a tailor in Trinidad. My big interest is actually accessories. I’d love to continue designing in the future, because it’s something that I really love. It’s a different outlet for me to get creative with.
HOLMLUND: We’ve seen people like Marc Jacobs in your videos before. How did you guys meet?
CHA$E: I first met Marc when I wasn’t even close to doing music, actually. Just being from New York and in and out of showrooms and stuff, we just became friends. Made friends with Jeremy Scott, too. He’s a cool ass guy. Both of them are really influential to me.
HOLMLUND: How would you describe your personal style?
CHA$E: When it comes to style, I like clean things. Sophisticated, clean lines. But, I like doing thugged out things in clean things. [Laughs]
HOLMLUND: Being so design-conscious, you obviously know the fashion community is heavily gay. How do you feel about homophobia in hip-hop?
CHA$E: Honestly, what homosexuals do isn’t straight people’s business. I think it’s pretty whack that people care about what other people do in their private time. For example, if someone takes a shit and you’re not there to see it, what do you care? It’s the same concept to me. I know there are gays in hip-hop and most people may not know it, or they might not be “out” or whatever, but honestly, when it comes to hating on gays in rap—that shit’s old. No kid is born hateful. It’s the parents that teach their kids to hate, and slowly but surely rap will get out of hating on certain groups, ’cause frankly that shit’s not cool anymore. And frankly, it’s never been, in my mind. I can understand why people got mad when Azealia was calling people “faggots” on Twitter. We’re in a new generation now, and she should know she’s hurting people, most importantly her fanbase. I don’t think she’d be so cool with a white dude calling her the N-word, you know.
HOLMLUND: Speaking of Azealia, who from New York would you say is on the same page as you when it comes to “movement”?
CHA$E: Honestly, no one. I mean, with people like Azaelia Banks, she’s good, except I haven’t heard much from her other than her beefing with people. You never see her in the headlines for her music. I’m sure when she reads this, she’s gonna be beefing with me, too… [laughs] Out of the “new class” of New York hip-hop, I really believe I’m the only one really representing New York. I really put the city on my back. Everywhere I go, everything I do is New York City. To the fullest.
HOLMLUND: What about A$AP Rocky? I’ve heard people compare you two.
CHA$E: I can understand the comparisons, but, at the end of the day, in reality… I did all that shit before he did. My first video’s hook, which was for the song “Smoking,” went: Purple purple haze, Purple purple haze, and literally two, three weeks later, A$AP came out with a song that went: Everything’s purple, Everything’s purple. I was like, Okay, I’m gonna let that one go. But then I heard another track he did that sounded similar, and I was taken aback. I mean, at the end of the day, this is a digital world: everything has dates. I’m no hater, check the dates—it’s out there. I consider it funny because I know I’m the source for a lot of the shit coming out of Harlem right now. When people be like, “You’ve got a grill like Rocky,” I say, no—he has a grill like me. But, I’m not tacky. I’m not gonna go call him out on Twitter or WorldStarHipHop and all that. Eventually people will realize. I’m not a confrontational type of dude. It’s in black and white. The proof’s in the pudding. No matter what, I think both crews— Cheers Club and the A$AP crew—is good for Harlem, so, I can’t complain. We bring money to Harlem.
FOR MORE ON VINNY CHA$E, VISIT CHEERS CLUB’S WEBSITE.