We talked to New York musician Chaz Van Queen, and our conversation was as far-reaching as his talent as a rapper, singer, producer and composer. The uptown native #scholaredat us about his favorite slang terms, the problems (and benefits) of the internet, and what he’s trying to do with his music. Some excerpts:
Your bandcamp page describes you as “Stevie Wonder meets Slick Rick.” (Or, more recently, “That Ghostface meets Babyface.”) Any other combinations apply?
No. I could've gone into a deeper thing, but it’s just that combination of the two sounds and the two brands. That Babyface meets Ghostface is the sh*t though! A lot of stuff we all love is determined by people like Babyface, and that’s the kind of person I want to be… I want to determine where music is going, not just be a product of where it is.
Obviously a lot has changed with the advent of the internet — it's increased exposure but also made it more difficult to make money. What’s the most challenging part of being a musician in the digital age?
Surplus. It’s very easy to create a facade, you can create a facade for free, and that creates a surplus. But, it has an upside. Because the consumer is constantly having something pitched at them, they have to weed it out on some level. So, when they see something that’s genuine, niche and consistent, those are the three cornerstones right there. It may take a little longer to build, but it sticks. A lot of the music people that I meet are a figment of the imagination in these streets… like how are you gonna speak for the people if you’re not connecting with them in their geographic? If I’m going to build a good dynamic with people, I have to be where you are, which is why I look at my internet channels as secondary.
As an artist, what are your favorite music blogs and social accounts to find stuff on? Do you prefer discovering music live?
In August 2012, A :) 4 U had just come out, and amongst people that had listened to it they knew it was pretty dope. A girl I knew asked a writer at Pitchfork to review it, and he got back to her a day later. He wrote something like, “you know this is a great album, and I know it’s great, but he hasn’t done well on any of our feeder sites, so we can’t blog his stuff and have it gain any traction.” That was one of the best things that could’ve happened to me, because I knew from that to worry about building my presence in person. So for me, that blog stuff isn’t as important. If I had to pick one it’d be Okayplayer, because there’s Roots there, literally. I don’t spend time submitting to blogs, just focusing on building that person-to-person dynamic so that when it’s there, that person can go online and get to everything quickly.
You’re part of a larger musical collective called Uptown Vernacular. Literally speaking, what are your favorite words or phrases in the Uptown Vernacular?
I feel like "loosie" is an uptown term, but that’s debatable. We’re all sitting here, and yes I know standard English, and I know people younger than me that make an effort to speak standard English. And that’s bullsh*t! The smartest person is the person that can talk to tourists on Mulberry and Grand and then talk to poor people uptown. The kid who just moved over from the Dominican whose English isn’t perfect, but he knows all the slang. These people are smarter because they can communicate with more people, they don’t need a specific type of language or way to articulate themselves.
How does the real-life application of internet (like the NBA putting its Twitter handle on game balls) interest you? Can you describe your creative process, particularly with the #scholaratme sessions? Where does the hashtag come from (other than a pretty sweet play on words)?
When I made my new music campaign, I felt before I thought. "Scholar at me" is a phrase we use uptown, a term that I coined. I want you to "scholar at me" every time you see me, I want to learn and soak up game, so to speak. When am I not going to want that? So it’s able to exist on- and offline, because it exists outside of anything that I’m trying to sell them, and it meets my spiritual qualifications. What I’m doing is the reverse, I’m bringing something from real life to the digital world.