Photography & Styling: M O S E S™
Wardrobe: Life In Perfect Disorder
“I’m a white Jewish boy from the North Side of Chicago—I probably shouldn’t (by most people’s standards) be rapping and singing R&B songs,” says rising NYC-based artist Alex Chapman. “But at the end of the day, that’s who I am and I refuse to fight something just because it doesn’t fit with who people think I should be, or if they think I’m trying to be black.”
Having grown up religiously lip-synching to TLC and Mariah Carey on B96 radio, it’s no surprise that Chapman would eventually release an album that sounds like his debut full-length Progress Report: syrupy, underground R&B with aggressive hip-hop overtones and a generous dollop of sex.
The album opens with a monologue by actress Hari Nef, who gently professes a piece of her sexual past before Chapman takes over on “Bully,” unveiling the brutal dangers of loving him. This intimate exploration weaves throughout Progress Report, catching fire with alluring lines like, “Act shy, but I’m not with my hands,” for the Different Sleep-produced track, “Fly Me Out;” on the album closer, “Falling Down,” Chapman nonchalantly threatens, ‘If you ever hurt me, swear you’ll never see the light of day.”
This impressive confidence is something Chapman admits is much easier to unleash through his music than in his everyday life. “The only way I’m going to talk about [love] publicly is by creating a song that says exactly what I’m wanting to say,” he said. “The more I write, the more real it’s getting—I’m finally reaching my core and no long running away or hiding.”
We caught up with the (incredibly busy) trailblazer to talk about growing up in Chicago, dealing with ex-boyfriends and being his own worst critic.
What sparked the need to create this specific project?
“For this one, I felt like it was time to really do something that was a complete representation of myself. I wanted to prove myself as a musician and show the full scale of what I can do. So I started working on a project that I thought would allow that, which is why I named it Progress Report because it’s a representation of the progress I made as an artist while working on this album. But as far as writing goes, I’m like Taylor Swift if I was as corny as her—every song could have a boy’s name in it or as the title. I’m very emotional when it comes to that part of my life, so that translates pretty well into my music.”
Talk about the song, “Bully.” Does that represent you as a lover completely or is this just one side of your personality?
“No, definitely not. I think the interesting thing about homosexual, male-male relationships as far as I’ve experienced them is that there’s duality to every role I could play. You could be the bad guy and the good guy in a situation, and I feel like anything that could be done to you in a relationship, you could do to the other guy. It’s a different dynamic than heterosexual relationships. For that song, I have definitely treated guys that way as my own defense mechanism, but I’ve also been treated that way, too. That was interesting to me, writing about those relationships—I could see myself on both sides of the mirror.”
In terms of finding your sound, what has the process been like? Have you fully developed this or do you feel it’s in the early stages?
“I’d like to see this as the first day of my career, kind of. Everything built up to this moment where I feel like now, I know what I’m doing. There’s room to grow and I’ve already grown from the stuff that just came out—what I’m working on now is even better. I think I’m someone that always wants to keep progressing because I’m never really satisfied. Your growth as a musician runs parallel to your growth as a person. I don’t think I really knew who I was when I first started putting out music; I just knew I wanted to take a leap do it. Now I feel like I have more purpose in what I’m doing.”
Why did you want to start making music?
“When you talk about people’s genuine passions, it always goes back to your childhood. I was always dancing in front of the mirror to TLC, Mariah Carey and Toni Braxton. A lot of that has to do with growing up in Chicago and listening to B96—I would listen every night. They used to only play hip-hop and R&B, so that’s been in my soul for a while. I played guitar and I played in rock band ensembles; I played in classical ensembles and I started doing music management stuff, working with booking agencies and writing—it was almost like being an artist, but not quite there. I decided to make the move because it was something that I always had in my mind. The only person who’s been standing in my way is me.”
You have a well-rounded perspective of the music industry, from writing about it to management. How has this affected your artistry?
“As far as packaging, marketing and press goes, I try to tackle all of that after I make the music just because I don’t want the two of those things to get too intertwined. Now I’m starting to get more representation, which is nice because it really does make a difference as far as being able to focus on making the best art you can. I do think of things like, ‘Will this hit?’ and of course there has to be compromises, but you also want it to be something you’re happy with.
At the end of the day, you can have all these ideas, but it needs to be a product. You have to make it something that people can digest because that’s how the Internet is. You can’t send out something that doesn’t make sense because people might not look at it or there might be too much to look at. There are so many artists who’re well rounded in that way—who really understand the business. It’s just the way you have to be these days.”
You grew up in Chicago and moved to New York. How has that influenced your music?
“There’s something about Chicago music—a certain swagger and realness to it. Sometimes New York can be frilly in terms of what it likes, but I think Chicago has an identity and a sound that I can really get behind—that I feel like I’ve experienced the growth of through being in and out and having grown up there. I take a lot of influence from music there, which gives my sound more of a bounce. New York has way more of a polished sound because it’s a lot more gold—everyone wants to make the best fucking thing. It feels more driven whereas Chicago’s music feels more soulful. I get my style from New York and my substance from Chicago.”
Do you see a difference between Chicago and New York in terms of the Underground party scenes?
“I think that Chicago is crazier—people are just unhinged there. They make everything wild. I’ll end up at some random dude’s apartment, listening to music and I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever end up there. Everyone’s a character. New York is like that in some ways, but it feels so much more pulled back—not as unhinged. I also think New York is under a microscope in more of an intense way. You’ll be partying with people who’re doing huge things, who’re fixtures in the media. It gives it this weird vibe that’s unlike Chicago’s, which I feel is more raw, more crazy.”
What is the biggest struggle you’ve had to face as an artist?
I definitely am very hard on myself and I won’t be happy until I’ve reached crazy heights. I’m driven to the point where I’m never satisfied. That can be a really great thing, but it can also be really difficult to carry around. I’m reaching a point where I’m going to be happy where I’m at, and that’s a really crazy space for me to be in because I’ve never really felt that way. I think a lot of artists go through this stage where you just have to keep showing people what you can do.
I used to take criticism personally and would be like, ‘This person doesn’t appreciate my art when I appreciated theirs,’ whether it was peers or other people not paying attention. This is a really tough industry and you can’t let those things deter you from moving forward. That’s been a big hurdle for me to overcome, trusting in my own vision and the visions of people who’re helping me—to believe in that enough, so nothing can slow me down.”
What is your central message as an artist at this moment in time?
“I’m in pursuit of authenticity, of genuine feelings, of really saying how you feel and not being afraid of imperfection. That’s something I want to be my message because it’s something I’m trying to tell myself. That’s what makes it very real to me. I’m not trying to restrain myself even if it’s something that doesn’t fit into what people think I should be. I want kids that feel like they are off the spectrum to know that they are allowed to be who they want to be. It’s important to be unfiltered. In this culture of social media, you are communicating, but not communicating directly and I refuse to feel bad about being emotional and direct.”