CHANNEL TRES ON ‘BLACK MOSES’ AND BODY MUSIC
August 14, 2019
Sheldon Young describes his work as “performance art.” The 28-year-old from Compton produces, raps, dances, and DJs under the stage name Channel Tres, making a Cali-tinged, hip-hop-infused strain of house music that’s sonically worlds away from the gospel he grew up on as a kid, when he played drums in his church band. And though the subject matter of songs like “Top Down” and “Controller” is undoubtedly secular — even carnal — the dance-ready grooves and the rhythm of his deep-voiced chants and verses make them no less spiritual when experienced in concert or on a dance-floor. In his own words, Channel Tres music is, “a soundtrack to things I’ve experienced in my life…put into rhythm and dance and speech.”
On August 16th, he drops the new EP, Black Moses, on the buzzing indie label, GODMODE. Though the EP’s name is a nod to Isaac Hayes’s 1971 opus, it also holds a deeper meaning for this Compton kid who’s risen above statistics and expectations to become an international sensation that the likes of Elton John have name-checked as an artist to watch. In the days leading up to the release of Black Moses AFROPUNK spoke to Channel about his process, about Blackness, and how a Kirk Franklin song and a David LaChappelle movie helped make him the artist he is today.
Let’s talk about your approach to music. Where do you start when it’s time to create?
I go inside myself to see what I want to talk about. I take it real serious ‘cause you gotta perform those songs forever and then you don’t want something to hit that you don’t really like — but I’m not really in control of that, at the end of the day. I just try to think and write stuff down, kinda like brainstorm, what I want to talk about, and then once I get the premise, it makes it easier to write songs. So I just write 50 to 80 songs or however many songs I write, and then just listen to them and tweak them while I’m living life and just kind of see what catches my ear. It starts off with this idea of just what I want to say, and then that comes through me.
What were you trying to say with this EP specifically?
Things have opened up for me more, like being able to travel and perform and gain a [certain] type of notoriety. [But] I always want to remember that I’m not really doing it for myself. I’m gonna have generations of kids that are like, you know, family that my success effects. Moses led his people to the Promised Land, and when I was a kid I was at church and the preacher told me, “You’re going to be the Moses of your family.” So I was like, “OK, shit.”
Dead ass?! For real?!
So I graduated from college and I came back home and made a good life for myself and It made me think of that story. And I’ve been getting real comfortable with just being Black. I mean, I’ve always been comfortable, but you know how sometimes social programming makes you think different [negative] things about yourself ,and so that you have a harder time becoming a positive person? That’s why I’ve been really strong about using the word “Black” just so I can — so we can — get used to it. ‘Cause it’s really associated with a lot of negativity, but it’s not a negative color, you know?
I’m a product of the same social conditioning. We grew up in America: you grew up in Compton and I’m from New York City. We both know that we’re led to believe certain things about ourselves that aren’t true. Things about the ways we, as Black people, can exist, the ways we can create. But when you start to learn about yourself and learn about us as a whole, throughout history, you’re like, “Oh wait, I’ve been lied to!”
Yeah! You’re like, “Oh shit! Niggas is really tight out here! Like we got that melanin, bro.” I started researching the pineal gland, and shit like that and I was just like, “Oh fuck! We got some shit in us.” But because of the social construction, it won’t be revealed to us, we gotta go find it.
What I think is going to help people find the truth is art. And I feel like art from people like yourself, people who are powerful in their expression and who know who they are, will lead to that awakening that we have to have as a people. Where it’s like: “All right, we are dope. We are at the table with everybody else. We’ve never really been lesser — that’s a myth. Our contribution to human history is a great one.
Yeah, keeping history alive.
Exactly. All of this is making me think of your song, “Brilliant Nigga.” What inspired that song?
I was on some psychedelics, micro-dosing, and I was just in the studio and when I started working on Black Moses. I didn’t even know it would be called Black Moses yet. I was doing, my normal routine: I was just goin’ to the studio and makin’ like a bunch of songs just see what would pop out to me the next day while I was still in my car in the morning. So when I listened back to “Brilliant Nigga” I got teary-eyed ‘cause sometimes I don’t know what I’m talking about [when I record] until I play the music and I listen back to it. So when it caught my ear I was like, “Oh shit, I’m talking about my little brother.” My little brother is doing like 20 years [in prison] and I got some uncles locked up and then I was listening to Tupac, he got a song called, “Words of Wisdom” and he made an acronym for the word “nigga.”
Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished.
So I was just like, fuck it, I’m an artist, I could play with words and “brilliant nigga” was just rolling off my tongue. Just because somebody looks a certain way, or like, they come from a certain place it don’t mean that they aren’t smart, and a lot of niggas that are locked up are some of the smartest people.
There are smarts when you come from money and stuff, but then when you come from [a place of ] survival, there’s a different type of smarts that comes with that too.
A lot of people look at those who are or have been incarcerated just discard them. But if you look at it through the lens that you’re talking about right now, you see that these are actually human beings who have potential beyond their circumstances and it leads you to value them in a different way. Let’s talk about the song “Black Moses,” what led you to work with JPEGMAFIA? In some ways that was surprising but in others it was a no-brainer because philosophically you guys are on a similar wavelength.
We was on tour with Vince Staples together. I had [previously] met that nigga in L.A. just mobbin’. Before that, I [had] seen he did “Thug Tear” on his COLORS [performance] and I was like, “Oh shit, who the fuck is this nigga?! This ol’ ugly ass nigga, looking like Ol’ Dirty Bastard.” I [had] seen that nigga live and I was like, “This nigga don’t give a fuck! I fuck with that shit.” We had a conversation and me and him are on the same wave. I had this song [“Black Moses”] I wanted to do because people try to put you in a category and I was like, “All right, watch.” I was on the Vince Staples tour and I didn’t want to be performing all house music songs, I needed something [else] with some 808s in it just to let niggas know what’s crackin’. So I made that shit and I was like, “Man, let this nigga get on this track and then I sent that shit [to JPEGMAFIA] and that nigga sent me back a verse like a month later and I just put it together. That nigga bar’d up.
Yeah, it’s just another way for me to express myself without [letting] people trying to put you in a category. But it’s just all art. It’s all together.
Tell me about how you discovered house music.
I listened to house music a lot [growing up] but I didn’t know I was listening to house music. You know that Kirk Franklin song, “Looking For You?”
When I first started making beats, what I used to do is transcribe different songs that I like so that I could, learn the chords and shit. I transcribed that one and it was just wonderful. I was like, “damn, this shit hard.” If I transcribe something and I like it, I’ll make five different types of those beats. That way, I can add that different style into my arsenal. So I did that and I just started making those shits [house beats]. then Soulection got hot and then Kaytranada got hot as shit — this was back in like 2011. I wanted to be a DJ producer/nigga, I wasn’t really doing the MC shit [at the time]. I started playing these little shows on campus with all the beats I made and it would just be dance music for like three hours. Then Drake came out with that album and I heard “Passionfruit.” I heard the Moodyman sample and I was like, who is this nigga?!, What kind of party music is he playing? I’m gonna look that shit up.” And then I just went down a wormhole on his shit. It was kind of weird time then because everything was trap. Future and all of them was like dominating everything. I didn’t want to spend all day making trap beats and house music uplifted my spirits in a way. Then I just started watching documentaries and shit on YouTube and I found out about Chicago and how that was the shit that kept the gay people, the Black people and everybody safe from the police at times. I just started studying like different DJs and just looking at the history of house.
When you discovered house music and its origins as Black music, how did that make you feel?
I just started chuckling like, “Damn, niggas do everything!” I had a moment, I was like, “Oh shit! I think I found my thing. Then when I got with the indie label I’m with, GODMODE, I started working with my homie Nick [Sylvester]. I got on the mic he was like, “Bro, how the fuck you do that?!” I was like, “What?” I was just talking [over beats] and he was like, “No, this shit is crazy.” We made some shit and two days later and I played it for everybody and they was like like, “Yo, bro!” When my homies get excited then I know I’m doing something right. Then that nigga Elton John called me and I’m just like, “Yeah, I’m supposed to be doing house music.” Then I started taking classes because I always wanted to be a dancer.,
Tell me about the connection between the human body and music.
I can make a beat in my house but then I can take it to the dance studio and do different movements with my body parts to access the beat. It’s another like another form of playing music. Sometimes we freestyle and shit and I know what my mans is going to do because he freestyled it [before]. I’m looking at his body movements like, “Oh shit!” It’s like communication. Me and my dancers are real tight and that shit shows on stage ‘cause we just know what each other is gonna do — you just synch in. You don’t need a lot, you have your body, and once you get in tune with that shit, your body starts doing shit that you didn’t even know it could do. That’s my connection to it.
How long have you been like dancing?
My whole life, but I didn’t start doing choreography until last year.
Tell me about yourself back in the days. You’re from Compton, were you into jerkin’ and all that shit?
Yeah. Bruh, there’s hella videos of me online jerkin in high school, just dancing and runnin’ around with my niggas.
I feel like everybody’s like between 25 and like 32-years-old from Los Angeles had a jerkin’ phase.
Yeah, man. [Wearin’] skinny jeans and shit. I really got into it because. I was krumpin’. Do you remember the movie “Rize?”
Yeah. The David LaChapelle movie. I saw that shit in the theater.
After that movie came out, nigga, everybody started krumpin’ and then you would become a part of like a little clique. You have your little family. All the niggas I used to hang out with my is my current family. so we used to just be skating and just wanna party and dance and shit. We used to just spend hours, locked the garage, shutting ourselves in there and just goin’ hard. That’s how I started dancing. That kept me out of trouble.
How do you feel about house music’s resurgence on an international scale?
I think house has waves. It never leaves, it just comes back around in different ways. Where we at now, everything is so technical and so futuristic people just want to be getting back to the basics like VHS tapes, and just old school shit.
On a final note, tell the world something that you want them to know about yourself, your music, or your city.
Just stay hydrated. Black Moses EP coming out August 16th. Stay hydrated, stay blessed.