Chaz French looks like a fun dude. Stylish and bearded, with a bright smile, he looks like the kind of guy you'd like to take a shot with, roll to the club with, chop it up with. Then you listen to his mixtapes, Happy Belated and These Things Take Time, both released in 2015, and understand that smile was earned through a hard-knock journey. But in an exclusive interview, he tells REVOLT that he wouldn't change any of it.
The 24-year-old rapper from northeast D.C. is candid about how after the lack of support from his family got so frustrating, he dropped out of school and moved to Texas, working odd jobs without a place to call home. Now he's closer to the release of his debut album, a father of two, and learning patience even as hunger emotes from his pen. French talks to REVOLT about raising kids in today's tense racial climate, flexing in the gym, working at Chuck E. Cheese, and how it's still #StruggleWhatMadeUs at all times.
Chaz, we see you on Instagram in the studio all the time. But where is the album?
Chaz French: Soon. Real soon. Before the summer’s out, hopefully.
Are there different influences for you this time around than on Happy Belated and #TTTT?
CF: Definitely. Definitely, and that’s, like — without saying too much — that’s definitely what the project is about: things that are happening now. My issues now, my struggles now, ‘cause it’s still the struggle what made us at all times.
On that note, you still use the hashtag #StruggleWhatMadeUs, even though to the outside eye it looks like you already made it. So what's been the biggest lesson thing you've learned as an artist?
CF: Pretty much it’s all about timing, and you can’t like look at other people’s come up and compare it to yours. You just gotta focus on you. ‘Cause it can be discouraging, you see other people, you ask yourself, Why is this not happening for me? Why am I not there yet? What do I have to do or what am I not doing? I know my music is dope. I know this, I know that, so what's gong on? It’s tough sometimes but that’s what comes with it. It's not an overnight thing; it’s a process.
Not that long ago, your life was completely different. You were homeless, in Texas, trying to break through. Walk me through a day in your life now.
CF: Typical day now is literally studio all day. Li-te-ra-lly. Like not even exaggerating. Unless I got my kids, but even then I still find a way to go to the studio. So that’s literally like my day, now, especially since I’m trying to make the best music possible. I’m trying to really bring it out and just work hard. Tryna get lost in my craft right now, so I think the best way to do that is to just stay around it, stay around music at all times.
On the song “We Made It” you say, "They say I’m losing it, I can’t hold my liquor, and I party too much." Is that still a true statement?
CF: No, I’ve been relaxed, staying in the gym. That’s what I call the studio — the gym. I mean, I turn up in the studio, have fun in the studio, get the vibes going, but that line is no more pertaining to me.
You talk about not getting support from your family to pursue music, and a lot of young people can likely relate to that. But do you feel like you made things harder than they had to be?
CF: Definitely. But I feel like I had to though. Like, who knows what my life would be like had I stayed in school and had I gone to college; we’ll never know. I feel like every decision I made, that’s what was supposed to happen. So I definitely made it more difficult than it should have been, but I feel like that’s what made my story. That’s what made me, you know — cliché — what I am right now. If I had never took those risks then Lord knows where I would be, I’d probably still be working somewhere.
What are some of the jobs you had before?
CF: I worked at Chuck E. Cheese, I worked at a grocery store called Kroger, I worked at Six Flags — I think everybody worked at Six Flags — I worked at this warehouse, and I worked at a car wash. I was still working at a car wash when I was recording Happy Belated.
Shut up! Were you just at work writing songs, like f*ck this?
CF: Exactly. That’s exactly what it was. I wrote “Came Down” and a couple other records at work.
You were raised in a Christian household, and I don’t know if this was for your mother, but I read that you were putting out gospel rap when you were first starting out:
CF: Yeah, that was definitely for my mom. (Laughs) that’s how I started though. So I mean, I still make gospel rap. Have you not heard These Things Take Time? That’s a gospel album. That’s a Fred Hammond album. (Laughs)
So would you ever put out an album that was straight up —
CF: I already did. Been there done that.
All right, then. (Laughs) Switching gears a bit, with all the tragedies going on, have you ever thought about how you’d explain all of this to your kids?
CF: Yeah, I mean ‘cause you can't hide it from them. Just give them the facts. Let 'em know what it is off top because then if they experience it and they don’t know what to do, then that’s my fault. Especially the fact that I’m alive and I’m around to actually see it, to witness it; they have to know. The hardest thing in the world right now is to have a kid. I don’t even think it's hard to explain it to him, I think it’s harder to let them be blind to it, and then they go out and they’re a part of the tragedy. Let 'em know straight up because you can't hide it from your kids because they gon' find out regardless. So I would rather warn them and know that I did my part as a parent.
And what does success look like to you, ultimately?
CF: Ultimately I guess it's when you just completely happy with everything that’s around you. When you’re truly happy. You can wake up and know that you don’t have to worry about nothing because you’ve done what you were supposed to do and you are the person that you envisioned yourself to be. It may have took some time, but now you’re that person that you always knew you could be.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.