She’s become a household name for that signature giggle on MTV shows Ridiculousness and Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, but LA-based artist Chanel West Coast never originally intended to become famous from mainstream reality television.
Back in the early aughts of Myspace, the 26-year-old was passionately hustling her hip-hop music page, where she rapped about an unfiltered North Hollywood upbringing—one packed with urban drug culture, a few jailed buddies and an ex-boyfriend/producer who was shot and killed. While the glistening glamour of TV fame took her off track for a few years, Chanel’s hungry once more to reestablish herself as the hard-hitting, platinum emcee from years past.
With a forthcoming full-length album in the works, we caught up with Chanel to discuss getting started in the music industry, taking advice from friend/collaborator Snoop Dogg and releasing a hip-hop project in an era when “cultural appropriation” is the hottest criticism. For a taste of what’s to come, listen to Chanel’s throbbing single, “Bad Things,”
You’re in the studio, right now. Have you been recording nonstop for this new album?
“Well, I just got so sick last week. I feel like I worked myself until I was sick. I’ve been on the go nonstop, recording my album and doing gigs all over the country, so I’ve been flying a lot. Eventually my body was like, ‘Okay you need to chill for a second.’” I actually like to be busy, which is how I ended up overworking myself into being sick. But I don’t mind it—I get really bored if I have nothing to do.”
When did you start making music?
“I’ve been doing music my entire life. As a little girl—3 or 4 years old—I was involved in performing arts: dance, choir, ballet, hip-hop dance teams and cheerleading. I did a bunch of talent shows and that’s where I really started performing and being on stage in front of people. When I was a teenager, I decided to use Myspace to make a music page and I was trying to get discovered by a record label. I ended up being discovered by Rob Dyrdek and wound up on his MTV show, Fantasy Factory. I took a completely different path than I thought I’d take, but it’s been great fun—I haven’t minded it.”
How has your music changed since the Myspace era?
“When I first started out, I was rapping really gangster, like on some hood shit. After I got on TV, though, I realized I had a commercial fan base of little kids watching me. That’s when I started to tone it down, but people don’t know me—they don’t know my life. They just know me from Rob’s TV show. When I started out, I didn’t sing at all; I only rapped because I’d been writing poetry as a little girl. Now, I’m singing more and there are a ton more pop elements to the music.”
Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in North Hollywood, which was a little bit nicer. It wasn’t the nicest of the suburbs, but it was definitely a nicer than the hood, hood. I did grow up with a lot of urban kids—a lot of ‘bad’ kids. My mom was a single mom, so she was always working and I kind of raised myself. I had a lot of friends who were selling drugs and I myself was involved in a lot of bad things. My ex-boyfriend, who was actually the first producer I ever worked with, him and a good friend of ours were both shot and killed when I was 17. I had a lot of friends who went to jail—you know, just typical LA life.”
How has this background affected your music?
“Through my music, I’ve wanted to talk about my experiences—talk about my life, so people can relate to me who’ve lived a similar life. But after being on MTV shows and all of the sudden having fans who are 8 years old, I’ve definitely switched up things I was saying in songs and decided to approach it with a more mainstream sound. That’s more the route I want to go now because it’s a little more positive for a broader audience.”
Will your forthcoming debut album have a specific sound?
“I’m a very diverse person in every aspect of my life, from style to the type of music I listen to. You can definitely hear that whenever you hear the songs that will be on my album. There’s a little bit of rock flavor on some songs and there’s a little more pop-dance flavor on others. Some songs are more trap hood beats—straight up 808’s. It’s a real good mix of everything I love in one.”
Will it have a specific thematic thread?
“There’s a lot more emotional, relationship stuff because I had a lot of feelings I needed to vent about. There’s definitely a lot more of that than party music. I put out my Now You Know mixtape and that was basically a time in my life when everything was about fashion and popping bottles. I’ve been through a lot in the past two years and I wanted to talk more about my life on this album. A lot of songs are deeper than before.”
What’s the most difficult hurdle you’ve faced in the music industry?
“When I first started rapping, there were no other white female rappers. Before Gwen Stefani, there was nobody. I was initially getting a lot of attention for that, but as time went by, a couple of other white female rappers came out. Then people started to know me for being on the MTV shows—I actually think the shows held me back because if I came out only as a white female rapper, it would’ve been easier than coming off shows where I’m always happy and laughing. Being on those types of shows, it’s hard for people to understand me as a rapper. Like, ‘Oh, what has this bitch been through? What the fuck does she have to rap about? She’s sitting here laughing and being goofy.’ People know that one side of me—they don’t see the struggles I’ve had. So that’s actually been one of my biggest setbacks.”
The music environment was so different during the Myspace era.
“I remember I used to add people on Myspace and put a little message saying, ‘White female rapper. Check out my music,’ and people would be like, ‘What? Look at this white blonde female rapper—let me check this out.’ They’d say, ‘I never thought from your pictures that I’d hear what I just heard on your page.’ I actually got a lot of attention, and then after Kreayshawn and Iggy Azalea came out, people started to think, ‘She wants to be like everyone else,’ even though I’ve been doing this for a really long time.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“It’s the simplest piece of advice, but just hearing it come from Snoop Dogg in his laidback tone of voice—him telling me to just ‘ignore the haters and do me.’ Hearing Snoop say that with his smile from being high, I was like, ‘Damn—I need to be like Snoop.’ He’s been in the business forever and he’s one of the happiest people you’ll ever meet. And it’s honestly because he does not give a fuck. I’m a Virgo and I go crazy getting stressed about my career, so after hearing that, I decided to take a lesson from Snoop and just chill out—stop caring what anyone thinks.”
Are you nervous to put out an album as a white rapper in a time when everyone is calling out cultural appropriation?
“There are a lot of people who don’t really know anything about music, but anybody who knows what’s up can listen to my music and hear that it’s real and authentic. I’ve heard that from several people. When you hear something, you can tell if it’s authentic—you can feel it. I’m not really worried; I think the music speaks for itself. There are a lot more things people can poke at Iggy for, like I don’t have a huge, huge butt. I don’t think I have to worry about as much stuff—I’m just trying to let the music speak for itself.”