As the renaissance of quality black art has been at a high demand. There has been a strong presence of women leading the revolution in the underground, especially in aggressively boxed in areas, such as the south. But there is one woman who has been leading a person army through the industry named Cherele. The young rhyme slayer, originally from Fort Myers has made her way from the bottom of the map to Rap’s new capital, in hopes of taking her career to never before seen levels. That, she did. From opening up for Lil Wayne at the A3C Festival to gaining multiple placements on HBO’s Emmy nominated hit show, ‘Insecure’. Cherele has turned all of her shortcomings into historic masterpieces and amazing milestones to look back on when she’s accepting her first Grammy. On a chilly day in Atlanta, we got to have an intimate conversation with our Queen Of The South.
Where are you right now? Can you paint us a picture?
East side of Atlanta. Decatur GA
How has Atlanta been treating you?
Overall, Atlanta has been amazing. Rocky start in ATL at first. But everything has worked out. In love with the creative community. The only dislike is that the city has real seasons.
How did you end up out there [in Atlanta]?
Traveling back and forth from South Florida to Atlanta with PayUp, dating as far back as 2013, while working with Xavier Black and Awful Records in their early stages. They shot a video for PayUp. Around that time was the first time that she began falling in love with the city. That stuck with her for years. So when she made up her mind to move out of Florida, Atlanta was on the top of her list.
When did you make the decision to move out of Florida?
2015 . *slight inhale and pause to regain the memory* What’s crazy is that I never thought that I was going to leave Florida. 2015 was just a terrible year for me.
Was 2015 a breaking point?
I think for everybody. *chuckle* Everyone says that. “That year fucking sucked”. Things were kinda falling apart and that’s when I decided to leave PayUp. At that time I was living on LeMieux’s couch. There were just so many things falling apart around me. I felt like I was reaching a peak in Florida and I began overthinking everything. Until I came to the realization that I wanted to be somewhere where I have some genuine people around. I had family in Xavier Black, who was also living in Atlanta. I met him in my [FT Myers] hometown. Awful Records are like my family as well. I actually ended up living at Father’s house, sleeping on his floor for three weeks until I was able to get an apartment out here. But yeah, I made that decision in 2014.
So a four year change. Do you see yourself ever coming back and rebuilding to Florida or are you set on branching out to as many places as you can?
Florida will always be a market for me, so I don’t think that I will ever leave that. I care deeply about my home. I mean, I was born and raised there. That’s all I knew for the great majority of my life. I really do care about our culture and I’m still very much so a Florida artist. So yeah, I feel like I’ll always be marketing towards Florida because my music embodies Florida culture. But as far as coming back, I don’t know… I don’t really foresee it now. Like, I’m always down there anyways because my family lives there. So if I ever got a crib in Florida, it’ll be a vacation home for when it gets cold up here. It’ll be like a snowbird situation.
I bring that up because we’re living in an era where young artist believe that the only way to make it, is to move to a city such as Atlanta. Why do you think that most people believe in that idea?
I think it’s because of a lack of resource. Also, if you’re in a small hometown, like I was, you’ll start to feel like you’re peaking. There was nothing left there for me, as far as the level that I wanted to achieve with my work. So that was a real question that I had to ask myself. Do I want to continue to be on this level? Because when I started, lack of resources was the major thing. Although, we NOW see that Florida is becoming a place that media has their eyes and ears on. But that’s still only representing one side of Florida. The south. There’s so much talent spread all throughout Florida. So I get why people want to explore new things outside of their territory. If you’re in one area your entire life, that’s all you know. It’s always been cool to me to travel, see how other people live and to see how the industry operates in other cities. I ultimately made my decision because I really appreciated the balance that Atlanta has. It has a small town feel, but it’s the biggest city in the rap industry. I loved that feeling.
How has the Atlanta culture helped you progress, emotionally and musically?
The creative confidence that I’ve grown into out here. For sure. Because the people that have been bigging me up and the platforms that I’ve been invited on are on a grander scale than before. So it just hit a little different. Like, “yeah, I really do got the sauce”. Ya know? It’s not just on a local type of thing anymore. It’s international. Also, Atlanta gave me the confidence to branch out and explore other avenues in creativity. There’s a lot of things that I’m doing now behind the scenes that I was very iffy about when I was in South Florida, because I’m a rapper. But out here, everyone is just down to work on whatever and support one another in a manner that I didn’t have in Florida. The energy is different out here when you’re not from Atlanta. People are more receptive and enthusiastic. As a human and as an artist, it’s a great feeling to have a supportive community that wants to genuinely build with you.
So now that we’re caught up on your adventures in Atlanta. You ready to talk about the mental break that made you finally say fuck all of the shit down here?
*sighs* I’m not even gon’ lie. It was a lot of drama and a lot of pressure. I was in the collective, PayUP, for seven years at the time.
Was the group made up of childhood friends?
Well, I’ve been a rapping ass bitch on the scene in Fort Myers all my life basically. Middle school. Majority of it in high school. I had a lil rap group and shit. So did Andre DeSaint and Elz. I respected them and Andre and I were mutual fans of each other through MySpace. So we used to always show love to each and stuff like that. When I went to school at USF, I ended up dropping out and having to move back to Fort Myers and I had all of this music that I wanted to record. The only person that I knew who had the type of sound quality that I fucked with was Andre. So I hit him up to record my entire mixtape in one night. On some, “I really need to get this off of my chest” type shit. So I pretty much became a member of PayUp at that moment. At the time, I’m about 19 or 20. The beginning was fye. It taught me so much about the direction that I wanted to go in with my sound and I started to hone in on my craft. I really became a better rapper. I was the ONLY girl in that collective. There were three other rappers. But it was like one of those friend collectives, so there’s still like 15 members just around. All boys. At first it was all cool, because I was always a tomboy and I always had male friends, so it just was what it was at the time. But eventually it got really egotistical and competitive against the boys in a manner that would annoy me. Because I was THE girl of the group, they would all vent to me about their shit and it was annoying.
Then I became romantically involved with one of the members and then it all just got bad from there. I started not writing as much. I started losing focused. But it also started a lack of respect towards me in the collective. My ideas were getting shot down. Granted that some of them sucked, but whatever. It became very political and I had to fake a lot of the funk. And if you know me, I’m TERRIBLE at faking anything. But it came to the point where when we’re all in public together, I’m fucking miserable, but I have to put a smile on my face and act like everything is okay. There was a lot of drama going on behind the scenes. LeMieux and I used to meditate together on the beach and one night he pulled me to the side. I’ll never forget this conversation. LeMieux and Paris Pierre (The Silence Killers) has just won this beat competition in Miami. They’re about to be up under these Grammy nominated producers now to work and stuff. So they were thinking about moving to Miami. The rest of the collective, weren’t with it. The boys wanted to move to Atlanta at the time. But LeMieux pulled me to the side and was like, “Look. You need to move with me to Miami. You’re fucking up and not focused.” It’s crazy because I’ve slick only been to Miami like twice in my entire life. So I never thought about migrating there, plus I knew literally no one down there. But he told me that if I did, he’d work exclusively with me and help me develop the sound that I wanted for an album. I was going through a time in that part of my life where the boys were getting more beats I did. At the same time though, I was out there fucking up. I was creatively stale. I didn’t have a lot of music, so it was easy to make my mind up about that decision. So I said fuck it, applied for a job at Fountainebleau on South Beach and got that bih and was like “welp, I guess I ‘m moving to Miami”.
Of course we’d have to have a full group discussion because one of the lead rappers is moving to Miami. How is that going to work, ya know? The boys were very supportive at first. Mainly because I was the fuck up. We all felt like I needed to do this to get my shit together. So we go to Miami. It’s LeMieux, Paris and myself in one house, all broke as fuck. But we’re making music. That’s when we started making ‘Paradise Lost’. But it was also therapy for me, because I was going through so much bullshit back in the city with my family and PayUp. I was away from it though and I could finally focus on myself. So I started doing just that. I became less responsive to communication with everyone and focused on my sound and who I wanted to be as a woman and an artist. That caused this rift. A whole under current where LeMieux and I felt as if the rest of the collective were suspicious and skeptical about what I was doing with my life. But in reality, I just wanted to fucking make music and try my best to focus on myself. Making connections in Miami and going to events where no one knows me and seeing where I’m comfortable. Like I’ll see Norma Now or Ashley Venom or RawkC and get inspired and want to get to know these people. And eventually, I did. But with those connections, I was doing my best to cross-market PayUp, but it wasn’t how they wanted it. So there was a lot of bak and forth. They started questioning my loyalty. That was the moment where I started shutting down. I felt like “what the point?”. I’m out here busting my ass, making something out of nothing. While still trying to keep everyone in line and on the same page. But there was so much animosity towards me from the boys. It was such a weird situation because I was still going back and forth with the guy that I was involved with. So I’m still trying to help him and his career. It was just a lot of pressure. But that was around the time that I learned that I could produce events. I started working on events with D’ana Covl and I began booking people and shit. I was the first person to book Father to perform in Miami. He stayed with me in my one bedroom condo, with all of Awful Records. Like 10 niggas. So we all connected and I started booking them for Basel and shit like that. PayUp did not take that very well. I would try to talk to them about my perspective and they just weren’t believing me. They felt like my loyalty was tainted because of that. This is around the time that ‘Paradise Lost’ is dropping. So now I’m out on my own pushing this record because my team isn’t really backing me. But I’m getting so much love and so many plays off the strength of me. Doing everything by myself. Getting shows. Publicity. At that time, they weren’t doing anything for me. It was just me and LeMieux making something shake. But when I get back with my crew, we all act like nothing happened. We do our shows. We do the first Rolling Loud (on the CitrusRap stage). But things were terrible inside. I was very hurt and frustrated around that time. I was in and out of depressed episodes about it. To be real, I felt very trapped because what’s crazy is, is that I’m super loyal. My definition for loyalty was through thick and thin I’m going to be there and work towards a solution. Imma ride for my family. I love them. So i felt a lot of pressure when I tried to branch out and be my own woman. My own artist.
So around 2015, that’s when everything began to fall apart in my personal life. My grandfather died. I lost my condo. Everything was collapsing around me and I was getting thrown signs that I just didn’t understand at the time. At the same time, I decided I didn’t want to be involved with this person anymore. I felt like I was lying all of the time and I didn’t want to have that uneasy feeling anymore. But under all of that, I was still using my connections to try to set up tours with alongside PayUp. Since I just got off of tour with Awful and I understood how to set up a tour. Once I had everything ready to go, there were members who were like “I don’t even wanna go on tour with these people”. That’s when it hit me. Like, wow… Nobody actually fucks with each other in this collective. It’s all ego. It’s not a family. I mean, I guess it is. But that just wasn’t what I needed in a musical family. No one else wanted to be superstars anymore.
That’s when I was just like, “I have to go. I can’t live like this.” I called every single person in PayUp and told them that I was leaving the group and moving to Atlanta. That took everything out of me. But they gave me blessings and support. I don’t know if it was genuine, but they at least gave me their blessings. But yea, that was the moment that I was like, “fuck all this shit”. *laughs* I had to boss up. Shit was scary as fuck. Because I suck at saying goodbye. I’m horrible at leaving people. But I instantly started feeling better. That’s how I knew it was the right decision. It made me analyze my life. It was a perfect storm to make me sit my ass down and remind myself what I already knew.
What was the scariest part about having that “fuck it” moment?
Um… Maybe the fact that I didn’t know any one really and didn’t have anything. Like I said before, I was sleeping on Father’s floor until I got my own shit. Actually, it was for me and Kangie. I was in that shit for two weeks and niggas kicked my door in while I was at work and stole all of my equipment. So I lost hella music when I first moved out here. The end of 2015. It became too dangerous to stay there, so I had to move in with a cousin that I never met before. This is like peak turmoil. That was the first time I’ve ever felt suicidal. It was just a really terrible year. They stole everything, so I couldn’t even make new music. So I was just depressed as fuck. The biggest episode of depression in my life. Honestly, my sister, Kangie and LeMieux were my angels through all of this. My sister put a MacBook on her credit card and allowed me to work to pay it back, so that I had something to make music on. That’s when my vision came back. I was a whole new bitch at that point. I started making completely different music at that point. That was when I made ‘Yeti’. I definitely died emotionally and spiritually that year. It was painful as fuck. But I was reborn.
For the readers who are experiencing the same or may in the future, what things did you do to help get you out of that depressive rut?
Simple things at first. Like during those times, you’re lost. You don’t even know what you can do to start your days off, so you just stay in bed. Begin with the little things. Like, I know that I can get up and shower or brush my teeth. So I’ll do that. Or I know that I can listen to music or write ideas. Okay, well that might feel like too much, so okay, I’ll read a little of this book. Well maybe I just need to go outside. Feel the sun. Workout. Just trying to figure myself out and what makes me feel good. I started making lists of things that I enjoy and things that I dislike, along with the emotions that I feel during each scenario. What am I feeling right now? I remember just a lot of self analysis and a lot of poetry. It was torture though. Whenever I felt week I would call my sister or call my angel, Kangie.
Kangie is the first person to tell me that it’s okay to take a break. My entire life I’ve never been told that because I’m known for overworking. I like taking on a lot of tasks. I was having a nervous breakdown, feeling like I had to accomplish so much, all of the time. I’m my biggest critic, so I struggle with being gentle with myself. But Kangie was like it’s okay, I need to take care of myself. It took so much weight off of my shoulders. Now I take that message with me everywhere and remind myself that it’s okay to sit my ass down. Long story short, it all took time and I started with baby steps. I just knew that if I didn’t give up, the universe would open doors. So that’s what I did. I took a screenshot of my bank account at that time. I had 10 cents. But I was focused. I was on auto-pilot. Taking it day by day and staying focused on things that I loved, instead of the troubles.
Will we be hearing more of this personal side on your next project?
My next project will deal more-so with duality. That’s actually always a theme of mine, low-key. But this time, it’s more about me learning to accept my shadow and my flaws, rather than just acknowledging that it’s there. So it’s not necessarily about these topics, but you will hear the new found confidence in myself, that I learned from those experiences. Balance. Thats it. But this new project I finally feel back to myself. I’m evolved. But I feel like I broke away from my old life. Now I feel balanced. I’m a new form.
Are you deadlocked in album mode or just exploring creative ventures at the moment?
I’m balanced when it comes to that too. *laughs* I for sure have been locked in on scheduled days. But I’ve also been living it up too. You know though, gotta stay balanced with that shit. I’m taking my time though. Having to keep up with the internet’s pace adds to my anxiety and I have no interest in that. I finally accepted that I gotta keep at my own pace.
So you’re pretty much telling us to be patient for the album?
I’m mainly telling that to myself, fuck what everyone else thinks. I love my fans and supporters to death. But they gotta know my attitude. I be like “fuck y’all” sometimes. I got feelings too, nigga. I gotta still worry about me too, nigga. But when I deliver, just know it’s gonna be some amazing shit that I put my all into. I be busy trying to push myself, so be patient. I’m still trying to figure out all that I can do.
Is that how you began producing?
Well nah, but kinda. Like, I always have beats and sounds in my head, like N.E.R.D.’s ‘Seeing Sounds’ album. Plus, LeMieux isn’t always around, so I gotta do what I gotta do. I’m creative enough. I feel like I can do whatever I need to do, no matter the venture. If I need it to get done, then it’s nothing for me to learn it. I’mma do it. A lot. From throwing events to creative directing. I will literally just wake up one day like, “I wanna do this” and then I’ll just try to do it. I always experimented with beats, I just never released anything. Actually, ‘Meet Me Outside’ is the first self produced beat that I rapped over. Like the first joint that I actually enjoyed. Because I usually hate my beats *laughs*
I’m trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But also, I know what the fuck level I want to be at. So, it’s hard for me to put out something mediocre. I know I get on LeMieux’s nerves. I’ll tell him that a song is good to go and then I’ll listen to the song a hundred times and then hit him with a text like, “yo, I’m about to re-record this whole thing”. *laughs* Or like “at second 23 I don’t like how this sounds, let’s re-do the song”. But he understands. LeMieux and I have that chemistry now where we understand each other’s visions. He’s produced 97% of my music since I was 19 years. We worked at our creative relationship. It’s so tight how we evolved together.
So what’s the Cherele to LeMieux production ratio gonna be like on this project?
I only produced two tracks that may go on the album. That’s all. Everything else is LeMieux. I may had another producer, but for the most part, it’s all LeMieux.
How did those HBO’sInsecure placements come about?
God. *laughs* The first one happened… I don’t even know how it happened. I think I know, but I don;t really know.
It all was a surprise to you?
I literally just woke up one day from a nap with an email from HBO like, “hey, we really like this song and we want to use it for our show called ‘Insecure’. This is in preps for season one, so I told them to send the pilot and whoopty whoop. I knew who Issa Rae was because I’m a fan of her YouTube series, ‘Awkward Black Girl’, so I was already bout. Like hell yea, let’s run it. I didn’t know that the show was gonna be THIS big. But then the show comes out and i’m like “HOLY SHIT!” This is a HIT show with power behind it. I didn’t know that it was gonna be one of the top 5 shows of the nation though, So from there I just kept in touch with one of the music supervisor and I’d just always send him stuff.
What’s crazy, is that I wrote ‘Meet Me Outside’ as like therapy to get over my ex. But while I was writing, I was thinking in my head, “I feel like Issa Rae right now”. So I sent him that record and he emailed me back in like 20 minutes saying, “I’m gonna pitch this”. But I didn’t even know it was gonna be on season three until a few weeks before it premiered. There’s so much back and forth that goes into getting things ready for tv and film. Since Issa Rae is so involved, she has to personally select that song before anything happens, as well. But she personally approved that bih and it fit the scene. That was one of the goals that I had written down for the year though. To get another song on ‘Insecure’. So I just had to make it happen.
Do you feel like you should be performing at the next Rolling Loud?
Yooooo! You know damn well I feel like I should be performing at the next Rolling Loud. We’ll see what happens though, you know what I’m saying. It’s a lot of politics. But I’m hoping something shakes.
Alright, now that we got the serious talk out of the way, let’s play a game called ‘Desert Island”. The category is albums.
Off rip, I’m bring the first Carter by Lil Wayne. No debate. Second, would probably be ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ by Kanye West. Oooouuu shit, that third one though… Wooooooo…. That’s hard bruh… Oh nevermind, I’m bring Frank Ocean’s… *big sigh* Fuck it, I’m bringing ‘Blond’. I was trying to think of what vibe the island may be on. Gotta have the right soundtrack for the ocean, ya feel me.
Last trivia question and you MUST answer it. Gun to your head, dead or alive, top 5 rappers of all time.
I hate this. This shit stupid. Wow… Fuck it. No order. You already know though, Lil Wayne is in my top 5. Jay-Z is in my top 5. Biggie makes it in. Shit…. I only got two more? Oh, Kendrick, for sure. Shit though… I don’t wanna say this, but Imma say it. I’m Drake on my top 5. They’re gonna drag me, but damn. That nigga be rapping his ass off.
So based on your list, who truly had the best era in hip-hop, to you?
Early to mid 2000’s, because Kanye came out that time and reminded us all that you can be yourself and still rap. You don’t have to be on some gangsta shit. But Wayne was in a whole different rap pocket, boi. The boi Weezy done fucked the game up. He’s a monster. The best rapper that ever existed and I STILL feel that week. But that era was the time that helped me get my rap swag together.
Being from the south, in rap culture, people always acted as if everyone from down here was slow or we didn’t have anything to say. Wayne changed that for a lot of listeners in other regions. He wasn’t one of those hippity hop lyricists, but still, no one could deny his abilities. Wayne embodied the south and took it to a whole new level.
What impact did N.E.R.D. have on you?
*smiling laugh* They are Gods, bro! They shaped my swag, for real. They pushed my creativity to new heights and let me know that it was limitless. I could be whatever the fuck I wanted to be. Especially with being a black youth. It helped me honestly ay, “yea I’m into this or I’m into that” and I’ll be called weird. But they let me know that it’s cool. But sonically, they sounds and patterns that they use are always ahead of their time. Their sound can adapt to literally every genre. That shit was mind blowing. Forever will be, to me. They make genius level music. Because it’s not just rap. It’s rock. It’s pop. It’s blues. It’s just crazy. Pharrell is a fucking genius. I had my Ice Cream and BAPE on, all throughout high school I really wanted to get my N.E.R.D. on.
Does traditional art play into type of influence on the music that you make?
Yes. I fucking love films. That’s all I do is watch shit. I’m super into films. I’m a very visual person, so I enjoy just looking at captivating shit like that. I love abstract art, for sure. I love geometric art. That’s why I’m such a big fan of MilliMisa from Tampa. I’m in love with design and different color palettes. Completely obsessed with Wes Anderson films. His use of color and symmetry to tell stories. Even style. I love art, period. I love all that shit. I’m a fan of art. That’s why I try to do everything, because I’m such a fan of it. I have my fair share of tries at whatever I love. I set up my own photography studio at my crib, so I’m always trying new things and fucking with my own photos. Self directing and shooting my own promo videos now.
After music, where do you see yourself?
I definitely see myself writing screenplays. I really want to write scripts. Writing pilots. Which I may have or may not have already done, and which I may have or may not have already begun producing it. It probably isn’t happening anytime soon though, but it for sure is something that I want to work on when I have the time. But I also feel like I’ll be directing a lot, as well. For sure creative directing. Definitely gonna play with those roles. I’m a fan of art, but I’m also a fan of mastering your craft.
So I’m experimenting all of the time.
One thing that’s been on a lot of our minds, that I’d love to have your opinion on. Do you believe that fans should have separate the art from the artist?
Ooouu, that question is crazy. Because I am an artist and I am flawed. I feel like I always touch on that in my art. But that’s me. If you can dissect my lyrics, you can discover all of my secrets. So I really don’t know. I’ve debated this a lot with my creative friends and I can clearly see both sides of the argument. All I know is, for me, I put my all into my art. So that comes with both the good and the bad. But I make it that way so that you can judge me based on MY art. You can hear my truth and it just is what is is.
Before you go, are there any artist on your personal radar that you believe we should keep on our watch list?
Oh yea, for sure. One of my best friends and such a phenomenal artist, Kiya Lacey. She’s crazy, yo. Baby girl is fire as fuck and she can really sing. In a time where niggas aren’t really singing. Kiya be hitting them runs. She’s a whole package. Beautiful, directs your own shit, creative directs her own shit. Too fire. Another one of my many best friends, who’s talented, Micah Freeman. He’s a crazy singer and instrumentalist. Some funky new shit is getting ready to drop and it’s going to takeover. So you might as well jump on the bandwagon and bump his old shit now. Those are like my top two. I listen to their music a lot.
But out of Florida, OG Layla Johnson and Naomi, The Tampa Baes. They’re dropping their first shit, getting ready to rule the charts. Their new shit is crazy. They’ve been working hard as fuck fo a while behind the scenes. She.go indigo and VNUSAMR. I have unreleased tracks from both of them, that are just beyond amazing. I be listening to Betty Dawl and Ari Chi a lot. Talented as fuck.
I got HELLA plugs for people *laughs* we waiting on DoLA to drop too!
This was a very constructive talk. I’m not sure that we missed anything. Anything that you want the people reading this to be on the look out for when they hear the name Cherele?
More quality and it’s always gonna be out of the box. Also, I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to be more vulnerable. Even with doing this interview. I’m opening up in A LOT more ways than I have, especially with my fans. So vulnerability, quality art and pushing boundaries of what you think that music should sound and art should look.
One last thing that you want to tell the people?
Stop bothering me! *laughs* Nah, I’m just playing. The last thing is don’t be too cool to support. I really appreciate every listener. Every one that comes out to my shows. Every one that hits me up with support. Keep that going. Cause I’m literally nothing without my fans. Just know that if I’m low-key for a month, it’s because I’m about to come back and make noise in a major way.