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Encore: 'It Wasn't Alternative To Us': Chazmere On Making Your Own Entertainment


As the year draws to a close, we thought we'd take another listen to one of our favorite music moments from the program. This past June, I had the pleasure of talking to a charming hip-hop artist.




WERTHEIMER: I'm Linda Wertheimer.

VAN QUEEN: Hi, Linda Wertheimer.

WERTHEIMER: How are you?

VAN QUEEN: I'm well. My name's Chaz, a pleasure to meet you.

WERTHEIMER: That's Chaz Van Queen, but I wasn't sure what to call him.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Take a look at us.

WERTHEIMER: We call you Chaz, although your name is now Chazmere.

VAN QUEEN: My name is Chazmere. I didn't know how formal or informal this meeting was.

WERTHEIMER: Oh, I think it's informal (laughter).

VAN QUEEN: Oh. Well, informally I'm Chaz.

WERTHEIMER: OK, that's great.

Chaz explained why he adopted the name Chazmere for his new album.

VAN QUEEN: It felt direct. It felt strong. It felt confident, but it also was smooth at times and that's like the material cashmere. You know, cashmere is very durable and strong.

WERTHEIMER: Yeah, I was wondering about that.

VAN QUEEN: Yeah, it's very durable and strong, but it's also smooth to touch and feels nice on the skin.

WERTHEIMER: This song is called "Everybody Hi." Let's listen.


VAN QUEEN: (Rapping) I used to skateboard in the project hallway, kick flip where they flip bricks all day. Short enough to duck weed smoke while they parlay. They say we can't spark in the big park, yeah, OK.

WERTHEIMER: You get a little of your past in those lyrics at the top.

VAN QUEEN: Oh, yeah, for sure. That is the meeting place of my existence right there. I used to skateboard in the project hallway. That's it in one line.

WERTHEIMER: We're talking - we're talking the Bronx, right?

VAN QUEEN: We are definitely talking the Bronx. I love you, Bronx.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) So what was it like for you growing up there?

VAN QUEEN: It was the meeting point, this juxtaposition of just things that would be considered normal things - living in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country, the violence and drugs and things like that, emotional violence. Just all sorts of different things - isolation, just different things like that. But we did things to keep our minds out of the pollution - you know, I mean, the mental pollution that was in part growing up in the Bronx. There'd be very beautiful things about it as well, but that's what we did. We skateboard. We made music. We lived what was considered to be an alternative lifestyle, but it wasn't alternative to us. It was us.


VAN QUEEN: (Rapping) Still, she like, where you get these from. Holler at my cheese on Rivington. Then shake your bum to the rhythm. If you need a style, homie, here's one. Everybody hi.

WERTHEIMER: You've now taken on something beyond performing, right? In addition, you teach workshops with an organization called Building Beats.

VAN QUEEN: Yes, yes, Building Beats.

WERTHEIMER: What's that about?

VAN QUEEN: Well, I came into contact with Building Beats through a friend who was doing some managerial work for me around the time of my second album coming out. And Building Beats enables youth by teaching them music production. It helps them with, you know, life skills and social skills and things like that. And it's been really fruitful. I feel like I've learned more, if not as much, as I've taught.


VAN QUEEN: (Rapping) Yo, got to be on 10 like all the time. Like all the time, at the drop of a dime, never on nine. Got to be on 10 like all the time.

WERTHEIMER: This is the kind of music that sort of changes direction quickly. It's young people's music. Do you think your students think you're old?

VAN QUEEN: Not at all.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

VAN QUEEN: At first when I teaching, I wasn't sharing the music with the students. I felt like I didn't want to impose. You know what I mean? So I didn't really present my music to them. But students, you know, they do their homework - the types of homework that they want - and (laughter) they found some of my stuff. Different sites I was teaching at would find stuff. They'd be like, this you? And they'd go, why didn't you show me this? You know what I mean? So yeah, I don't think so. I think they feel I'm a - more of a peer, especially when we actually are doing music, you know?


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Break, break, break, break it down.

WERTHEIMER: There's one song on this album that is - that has a very different sound from the others. It's lean. It's sort of lyrically spare, but there's still a lot going on. It's called - well, I'm not sure I'll pronounce this right - "I.Won't.Tell.No.Bo.Dy.Bae."

VAN QUEEN: Bae - yes, "I.Won't.Tell.No.Bo.Dy.Bae." So let's see if we can get bae in your vocabulary. Do you have a bae?

WERTHEIMER: B - a baby?

VAN QUEEN: A bae. Yeah, kind of.

WERTHEIMER: What is a bae?

VAN QUEEN: A bae is your very, very significant other of the moment. It could be for a lot of moments but of the moment.

WERTHEIMER: Well, I've got - I've got one that has been around for almost 50 years.

VAN QUEEN: OK, well, a special shout-out to your bae.


VAN QUEEN: And the point of "I Won't Tell No.Bo.Dy.Bae" is basically just about the secrets that you build in any sort of relationship - you know? - and keeping those.


VAN QUEEN: (Singing) And I won't tell nobody, bae. Girl, I won't tell nobody, bae. Girl, and I won't tell nobody bae.

VAN QUEEN: I produced that and put that together. And I didn't feel the need to add words. I like people forming their own dialogue. Not every song I want to take you everywhere. Sometimes I just want to open up a little bit and, you know, you navigate for yourself, you know?


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Break it down.

WERTHEIMER: Chazmere - his new album is out now. We appreciate your coming in and talking to us.

VAN QUEEN: Yes. I appreciate you having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAZMERE'S "I.WON'T.TELL.NO.BO.DY.BAE" SONG) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.