Chaz French makes moves based on his feelings—a gift and a curse. The D.C. native’s feelings are partly responsible for him once being homeless in Arlington, TX, a long way from the comfort and love of his DMV home. However, Chaz’ feelings also turned him into the passionate rapper that he is today.
It’s a brisk, cool March day in New York City—just a few days before he’ll make some pretty impressive rounds at in Austin at SXSW—and the 24-year-old has come a long way (in a short time) from sleeping in cars, on friends’ couches and inside cheap hotels. No, the dark vanilla complexioned rapper isn’t flexing his show money with heavy neck and wrist wear. Instead, French is covered with novice enthusiasm and a willingness to share his story on wax, with the hopes of helping others like him who only have a dollar, a dream and momma’s prayers in their bank account.
“I make the type of music I make, so I can give somebody some type of hope,” French says. “Even if they never thought about getting out of the ‘hood, I want someone to be like: ‘Damn, it’s possible.’ I didn’t grow up in the hood all my life, but I’ve seen it and I’ve been around it, and I know that’s not what I want to be. So, I’m going to make music for what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen, and give people that little bit of encouragement.”
Rocking khaki-colored jeans, a pair of crisp red and white Air Jordan 1’s and black tee under a red checkered flannel, the 5’9” wordsmith strolled through VIBE’s office with his publicist and manager in tow, fully aware, yet deep in thought as he runs through his come-up, beef with his family and how being homeless helped him become the emcee that he is today; the same issues packed into his music.
On his latest effort, These Things Take Time, Chaz delivers tales of homelessness, impossible hope, and desperate screams for success. He slides across menacing production with passion and an aggressiveness that’s birthed in poverty as well as and a ravenous attitude as if he’s having his first meal in weeks. One can almost feel the leg and neck pangs that come with sleeping in cars, or smell the staleness that comes with lodging in cheap hotels and cars. Hearing Chaz’ intense background and experiences help explain why he’s sunk deep in thought. He’s pondering how to take his novice career to the next level, all while staying mindful not to fall back into the abyss of dejection.
“Every day is a struggle for an up and coming artist,” he says. “I have to grind harder than I did to even get to this point. I have to keep what I have, and I have to further it. And sometimes I’m not even busy, I just don’t want to talk. I’m just in a mindset to where even when I’m thinking, I’m working.”
With a very mature aura, and seeing the undimmed smile that flashes across his face when talking about his mom, it makes one wonder how Chaz ended up homeless. Well, it was his feelings and knowing what he wanted out of life. Being a rapper didn’t sit well with his family, especially since he wasn’t making the necessary moves bring his rap dreams into fruition. His family didn’t see his vision, so Chaz dropped out of school.
“When I was in school, I felt like everything that they were teaching me, I didn’t need,” French says. ” I knew what I wanted to do. Right now, I don’t use chemistry and biology; I don’t use none of that sh*t. To each his own, though. But this is me. And there is consequence to that. Your parents will be like: ‘Okay, you want to be grown? I’m not paying for sh*t. Pay your own phone bill. Buy your own f**king clothes.”
But don’t get it twisted. Chaz believes that education is important. To his credit, he did get a certificate of completion. “So to that guy, stay in school. Wait it out. Be patient, because [when] you drop out of school early at 16 or 17, you don’t realize how much time that is. I’m about to be 25-years-old, that’s a long time. I could’ve stayed in school, I’m just getting to where I am, and I still got so far to go. Don’t drop out of school, I was just ignorant in the mindset.”
Wanting to quit school to be a rapper is enough to upset any parent. That’s the impossible hope that comes as both a blessing and a curse. Chaz’ mother is no different, especially since he comes from a family of successful individuals.
“A lot of my cousins were athletes. They were on scholarships. They were like, ‘Why don’t you do what they doing?‘ And I’m like, ‘No, I want to be the rapper.’ It got to the point where if you y’all don’t support me I’ll get it on my own.”
In retrospect, Chaz, a father of two, understands why his mom worried about his career path. “Now that I have kids, I get it. At first I was just in the house writing raps all day. I wasn’t even recording. I was just writing raps and saying I wanted to do music. That’s not enough for someone to say, ‘Let me push you and take you serious.’”
Tired of beefing with family and armed with a “Chaz vs. Everybody” attitude, the then-wannabe rapper moved to Arlington, Texas with some friends. The rollicking teenager spent the next couple years of life in a molly-popping daze, bouncing from couch to couch, sleeping in cars and squalid hotels whenever he had the money to do so. After burning bridges in Arlington, and his then-girlfriend telling him to that he needed to go back to D.C., Chaz realized how lost he was.
“I’m glad I went through it,” he says, reflecting. “I may not have been where I’m at now had I not went through it, and had I’d stayed in school. I mean, we’d never know.”
Coming to his senses, Chaz found himself back in D.C. with the same rap dreams that he’s had since he was seven years old. Only this time, French took action. He hit the studio and put his feelings and life experiences on wax. After countless hours of grinding, Chaz made a name for himself with his 2014 mixtape, Happy Belated. This also garnered a relationship with hometown hero and MMG signee, Wale.
Now with his recent release These Things Take Time making rounds in the streets and on the ‘Net, Chaz’ buzz is getting louder, and has caused a bidding war with several unnamed record labels. Despite the roll he’s on, Chaz is far from satisfied.
“It’s a process,” he says. “I look at people like [J] Cole, Kendrick [Lamar], Jay [Z]. That’s what I want to be looked at as. So, I have to deal with whatever comes with me wanting to be in that light. But at the same time, I know that everybody’s come-up is different.“
Now that Chaz is making noise as an emcee, Momma French, who is Chaz’ biggest supporter, can clearly see her son’s vision. “My mom will do anything for me. If I needed my mom to pay my phone bill when I was 35 she would. I did a show in U Street with GoldLink, and my mom and my grandma were there in the first row. I think the conversation was like, ‘I always knew what you wanted to do, but sometimes you got to see it to understand it and believe. Like okay, this is what my son wants to do.’
“When I came off stage, she cried,” he continues, “And said this is what you want to do for the rest of your career. I cried. We both cried. I’m emotional.”
For a man that shows such emotion and passion in his music, crying is okay. Because once the tears are gone, you see things clearly.