An interview with Chaz French, one of the DMV's most promising rappers.
Chaz French was a complete unknown when he released his debut mixtape, Happy Belated, in April 2015. He followed that up with December's These Things Take Time, and the strength of those two projects have catapulted him to the forefront of the DMV rap scene and caught the ear of the likes of Pusha T. Indeed, the future is looking bright for the 24-year-old.
But things were not always so bright for young French; homelessness is just one of the many trials French was forced to overcome to reach where he stands today, and he draws heavily on these experiences as inspiration for his music.
We sat down with the amicable rapper to learn more about his musical journey and the making of These Things Take Time.
I understand you lived in Texas for some time. How long were you there?
Five years. It was great. I’m not from Texas, I’m from DC. I learned a lot about myself there. I grew as a person, as an artist. It helped mold Happy Belated. It was a hectic experience -- I was homeless there, I lost myself there. But then it made me into this guy (points to self with thumbs).
How old were you when you moved from DC to Texas?
I moved to Texas when I was 16 I think. And we were in Arlington. It’s like 20 minutes outside Dallas.
I read that Arlington is the biggest city in the country without public transportation.
No public transportation! It’s weird, like you have to know somebody to get around. But a lot of people have their own car there by the time they’re in 10th grade. So a lot of rich motherfuckers out there (laughs).
One of the main themes in your music is hardships you’ve faced. Did you ever feel that you truly hit rock bottom?
I remember, my mom was still paying my phone bill, and I knew it was over when she stopped paying my phone bill. And I was living with a friend quote-un-quote, when I could, because his dad was out of town and his mom always worked. So we always stayed there. But one day his dad came home unexpectedly. So by that time I had burned all my bridges with everybody. And I had nothing. Literally. No phone, no line of communication, nothing. It got to the point where my girlfriend at the time was like, “Chaz, you need to go home. Like, I don’t care about nothing that’s going on, I don’t care about what you’re telling me right now, what your excuse is, what your reasons for being out here, you need to go home.”
How old were you at that time?
At that time i was 19 or 20.
You don’t seem like a burning-bridges kind of guy. What do you mean by that?
At that time, I didn’t know who I was. Like, I wasn’t even doing music at that time. I was not rapping, I was just everyday, turnt up. Turnt up! Then I remember, I tried to get a job, and I got the job. And the day I was supposed to go, I was like, ‘Nah, fuck this, I’m not working.’ I was lost. I was out here like a possum.
Have you been back to Texas since?
For all of my projects, at the beginning of whenever I start my project, at the beginning of the month, whatever month it is, I want to go back to Texas, I want to go back to the roots. I want to do that with every project. I’m just gonna go back to the roots I don’t even have to record, I just want to go there. Be around it, be at the same spots where I slept at. Just be around certain people that was with me when I was going through the bullshit. I just want to see it.
When did you start rapping?
I started rapping when I was young. I was like 7. I started rapping in church. I grew up in church, and you know, I’ve always been musically talented. I started off playing the drums, actually. I remember I got in trouble and I had nothing to do in the room, so I just started rhyming. And ever since then, I started rapping. But I took it seriously in 9th grade. I did at a talent show at Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt, Maryland. And everyone went ham. Like all the girls were fucking with me. So I was like, "You know what, I could do this shit, forreal."
What was the first song you ever recorded?
(Starts laughing uncontrollably.) The first song I ever did was called “All I Do.” It was me, Eddie Vans, and my older brother, and this dude named Marcus. And we did it to Cassidy, the "Hotel" beat. And that was the first song I ever recorded. 9th grade. And we thought we was killing shit.
Were you killing shit?
No. (laughs) Noooo, we weren’t. I remember one time, we stayed up from 10 o'clock at night to 7 o’clock the next morning. We recorded 15 songs, and we didn’t even have a mic. Our friend had like a microphone on a headphone. And we recorded this shit on that. We didn’t even have a name for the project.
Did you always rap under the name ‘Chaz French?’
Whoooo!! I done went through a plethora of names. You wanna know my name when I recorded that album? Little Deuce. That’s what I do. Throw the deuces on these hoes. Little Deuce. And while he’s laughing, his name was Lil Joker. So we was like a deck of cards. Pick your hand.
What else you got?
Oh! This is a good one. Mr. Hollywood. That was 8th grade. And Charlie Rocks. That’s when I was homeless and shit, I was Charlie Rocks. Chaz French is my real name.
When did Chaz French happen?
I forgot how Chaz French came about. That’s my real name. But I forgot how… I think somebody was like, "go with Chaz French."
No, my real name is Chaz D’Angelo Gibson French. So, why not go with Chaz French? My music is real. and nothing is fabricated, so just be yourself.
When you were homeless, was there a turning point where everything clicked?
Yeah. When one of my girls said, "If you don’t take your ass home, this is over." And I was like, "Alright, bet." And it’s crazy, because instantly, when I got home, I literally came up with the name “Happy Belated” for the project. But the project didn’t come out for another, what, 3 years.
So when I got home in 2011, I instantly started working. Mind you, Happy Belated came out 2014. Like, I didn’t know that it would lead to this. But when I was home, I wasn’t writing, I wasn’t doing nothing, it was a bunch of fuckery going on. But I guess I needed that. That was the best time of my life I feel like, because it led up to this.
Those three years?
I was homeless for a year straight.
So you were living in a car, or...?
Anywhere I could sleep. I remember one time, we got evicted, and we put the couch on the balcony and slept on the balcony.
Were you recording Happy Belated at that time?
I was not. Happy Belated wasn’t even thought of at this time. There’s actually a whole nother version of Happy Belated that no one ever heard. And then my manager Dre, said, "Man, this shit is dope, but, there’s more to you than this." And I was like, "Juh?" ‘What’s your story? I don’t know your story. If you was to tell somebody who you are and what you’ve been through, what would you tell em?" And I literally did that shit in like 2 months.
So you scrapped it?
I scrapped it. We scrapped all that shit.
Tell me about your daughter.
She’s my whole world. She’s the best. She is literally the best. She’s me all over again. I think she’s a better version of me. She’s gonna be smarter, she’s gonna be wiser. She’s not gonna have to go through what I went through. She’s so smart for her age, and she teaches me a lot without even knowing.
What was it like when she was born?
It was amazing. I almost passed out, but it was beautiful. Fun fact for you -- her name is Akai, but it was supposed to be Chaz. But I have a son, and his name is LC, Little Chaz. He’s my other world. I got two worlds. (Akai is 2, LC is 7 months old.)
What do you do with them for fun?
Akai likes to dance. And she likes to listen to music. And she likes to ask questions. She likes to get on my nerves, she likes to fight, she likes “Minions,” “Home,” and “Frozen.” And she just started watching the black version of "Annie." She loves that, she can sing every song. She doesn’t need autotune, she can really sing.
How Does ‘These Things Take Time’ compare thematically to ‘Happy Belated?’
It’s Happy Belated x10. It’s just a bigger sound. With Happy Belated, we were all over the place. All of us were still figuring each other out, and figuring where we wanted to go. We just know that we had dope music. So it was a learning process. These Things Take Time was a learning process too, but we honed down on everything, as far as who we worked with, as far as sounds, as far as content. And we didn’t want to go too far left. We wanted to keep what we already built but take it to another level.
You made big strides in 2015. What are your goals for 2016?
I just want to become a better person, a bigger artist, I want to just keep building my blocks and keeping putting everything in order and understand that these things do really take time. But we definitely want to take everything to the next level and make it as organic as possible.
How would you describe your style in 5 words?
Me, unique, Godly, Donda, and touching.
Would that apply to your music as well?
Yeah. The music is just me to the fullest. I want people to listen to it and want to do something with their lives. Not even just music. I want them to be instantly inspired. If you’re at fucking work, flipping them fucking burgers, you’re gonna make the best burger in the world listening to this music. Whatever it is you want to do, and everybody says it, but I’m really applying that shit. Like I want people to know that it’s possible. But on the flip side, I want you to know that it’s a process. Patience is key. Patience is one thing that will never be perfected. But once you understand and accept that it’s a process with anything that you want to do, then things will manifest.