Vixen Chat: Shanell Talks ‘Midnight Mimosas,’ Life Lessons from YMCMB and Being a Musical Multitasker
Young Money is a troupe of many talents. Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj seem to be dominating the airwaves, but Shanell aka SnL is brewing up a movement on her own. The triple threat—she’s a singer, dancer and artistic director for the America’s Most Wanted tour—has been hard at work juggling her tasks. SnL is determined to make her mark in the music biz. While her debut album is still in the works, her latest mixtape Midnight Mimosas serves as a mere appetizer and a prelude for what’s to be expected in the coming months. Trust, this petite powerhouse has a lot in store.
Shanell took a break from her busy tour to chat with Vixen about her album’s direction, fantasy boos and what she wants to convey to her followers. —Stacy-Ann Ellis
What was your direction when you were crafting Midnight Mimosas?
Those who know me know that I like my mimosas whether it’s midday or midnight. And the same applies for my album, which I named Under the Influence. It doesn’t have to mean under the influence of a midnight mimosa, but just under the influence of love, madness, whatever. Midnight Mimosas was just to foreshadow what the album is going to be about. It’s R&B at its fullest. I’ve been known to fuse a lot of music but I wanted to take my first album and really give something that people can understand and relate to before I take them on a journey with my second and third album. Midnight Mimosas is true R&B; it’s fun music, it’s honest music. It’s summer cookout barbeque, pool party, bedroom. It’s all that.
Photo Credits: MTV, altpics.net, rapup.com
When you’re making your music, what comes first: the idea or the melody?
I’m definitely a very vibe-y person. I’m all about what I feel. So I have to hear the music and have a feeling. Most of the time, the feeling comes out in a sound, a melody. Then I’ll tell a story with the melody I like. I could put an album together right now of music and melody with no words.
What can listeners learn about you when they hear your album?
I’m not really making my album about me; I’m just trying to give people an escape. I listened to Michael Jackson, Madonna and Mary J. Blige and I never thought about it really being about them, just wherever they took me.
Fast-forward five years, what goals will you have checked off your to-do list?
I want to get a really large female following. On my twitter and Instagram that I have a lot of young girls that follow me because they need a leader, or an answer to whatever they might be going through and are too scared to tell somebody else. I want to create some kind of place, school, summer camp, organization that gives the support that they need just to be a woman in the world. It’s just so hard right now. The music right now is so male-heavy. It’s all about, “I wanna do this to her, I wanna make her do this.” It’s not “I love her and she’s my everything.” I want to create something sound for young females to be a part of.
How do you feel the music climate is in terms of the females? How do you think girls are progressing in 2013?
We’re not. I And I support any female artist. The breakthrough is going to be a little difficult because it’s just hip-hop right now, which is really male dominated, and it’s dominating the radio stations. I don’t know what’s going on, but I feel like every woman has a buck-er side to them. I don’t think we’re giving the industry that buck side. Yeah, we can be sensitive and emotional, but it’s like 'aye, open the door.' I got something to say.
Tell us a little about what it’s like being Wayne’s artistic director.
I try to make his show be true to who he is as a rapper and still be entertaining for the people that buy $150 tickets—I try to make sure I don’t discredit him as a rapper. I’m not trying to turn him into Usher, but I’m also not leaving him as the same old, same old. We’ve done an amazing job with the show, shout out to the lights and the sound and the pyrotechs and the videographers that I worked with hand-in-hand to make sure everything syncs. But it’s choreography, it’s clothes, it’s timing. There’s fire and explosions on the stage and you don’t want to blow no girl’s head off, so you have to make sure that she’s not in the same line as the fire that’s shooting across the stage.
I sing as well, so I have to go and put on my hat as a vocalist and make sure that my levels are right on my mic. Then I have to make sure Wayne is going to run and jump and slide on his ramps and he doesn’t fall and it’s not too slippery. And if it is too slippery, go back to the material that’s not too slippery. It’s a lot, but I have people that assist me. It’s an amazing experience and one that I’m going to use when my tour comes around.
Is your first love singing or dancing?
My first love is probably dancing, but one doesn’t [live without the other]. If I’m in the studio too long, I want to go on stage. If I’m on stage too long, I want to go to the studio.
Would you consider doing artistic direction for someone else?
No, no (laughs). I think it’s because I feel like Wayne has done a lot for me in my career and I would do anything for him in his career. But there’s a lot of work and dedication that you have to put into that. I wouldn’t have the same love and compassion if I were to do it for somebody else.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from being with Young Money?
I’m a theatre cat, that’s what I came from. But these guys are more straight from the streets with expressing themselves. They don’t like to rehearse—I rehearse everything. I couldn’t understand it. How can you get onstage when you haven’t been to rehearsal? But I see how the word “real” is really implicated into the whole Young Money situation. [Wayne has] forced me to do things where I’m like, I didn’t rehearse that. But I learned that when things are over rehearsed and over practiced, there can be less of a feeling. Sometimes you have to give people your honest and raw you, which is scary for most people.
How much does that realness contribute to your songwriting?
I’m full of energy and what I feel. In the studio, I can just go in there and cry. For me, what’s safe about it is that it’s recorded and it’s already happened. I just have to sing it. I only like to work with certain people in the studio.
How has your personal style evolved over the years?
There’s some stuff I see and I ask myself why did I wear that? But that’s the whole part of being an artist. You try new things and create from the closet. When all your clothes are dirty and all you have is this shirt and these jeans, you gotta make it work. I’m all for that. I have a lot of fun doing it.
Have you ever looked out into the crowd and seen a lot of girls wearing the nose earring combination?
Yes, but it’s a very bold statement. I’ve seen it in pictures, on Instagram and in the audience, but not as much as I’ve seen people do other things. It’s flattering and I get people that love it and people that hate it. Don’t be scared to be who you are and try different things, because you’ll be the next person that they follow.
What’s your favorite guilty pleasure food?
Pasta. Italian food. I love penne, but now to make myself feel better I do spinach fettuccine noodles.
Are you going to make any music with your sister, D. Woods?
We have a song called “Foolish Dreamers.” There’s actually a video that played on MTV Jams. I want to do a lot more with her but right now she’s doing a lot of theater. She went back to home base and she’s doing her thing there. Hopefully, we can record something before I finish my album.
Do you have any celebrity crushes that you’ve been keeping your eye on?
Even though he looks weird, my all time celebrity crush since I was little is Johnny Depp. My other celebrity crush is Common. He’s an amazing actor and rapper. I’ve never met him, but I’d probably be so lame.
Have you ever looked at Weezy any (special) way?
People have asked me, ‘aren’t you married to him?’ and ‘aren’t you having a baby by him?’ I’ve gotten all kinds of comparisons and relationships and divorces and fantasy children with him, but that’s just a dear friend of mine. We’ve known each other since before Tha Carter 3. We’ve been through a lot. I’ve cried on his shoulder, he’s cried on my shoulder.
If you weren’t singing, what would you be doing?
Probably teaching dance or theater or creating shows. I really liked biology a lot. I wanted to be a veterinarian until I knew that you had to cut open the little dogs. I can’t do that.
What’s your advice for young individuals trying to take their hustle to the next step?
You definitely have to step outside of what’s comfortable and do something that’s unlike everybody; even unlike yourself. To me, that’s what an artist is and that’s why an artist is an artist. They don’t do what the population does. They’re bold enough to make a statement that the population can’t. You have to step outside of your comfort zone and really pronounce yourself.