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Interview: Chelsea Monet

Photo creds: Sema Philice/Loveboxstudios

Chelsea Monet is a soulful songwriter and singer based in Los Angeles, California. She's originally from the motor city of Detroit, Michigan, and has migrated to the Bay Area and the city of angels during her lifetime. Chelsea is a woman of many trades as she's an entrepreneur that owns her own catering company "Cafe Monet LA" with her wife and ventured down different business paths throughout the years. She used to be in a band in her earlier years as an artist but went on to release solo projects and has a strong affinity to perform with bands on songs.

Her hit single "So Sweet" has caught the eyes of a few indie music award shows. She will be performing in an upcoming multi-day NFT artist showcase from June 30th-July 2nd in Detroit, Michigan [get your tickets for the show].

Jay: Who are some indie artists that you would like to shout out?

CM: Whoa. Do we even have time? I’ve been in this game for about 15 now and if it weren’t for the examples and camaraderie of fellow indie artists I don’t know where I’d be. First and foremost I’d like to shout out my creative partner and wife Sema Philice, and all my label mates at HRDRV. ZZAY, Dave CORESH, Y2, ThatFool Al, 8AE, Motha Wata, Sir 7000 & BAPS University, my brother Sahtyre, Pretty Pape$, and of course Leimert Park’ very own TRU.

Jay: What was the best no that you have ever received and why?

CM: When I was young I moved often. For 3 years I lived in the Midwest in Illinois and auctioned for the talent show in 3rd grade. I had yet to really be a serious performer or athlete but I did love Michael Jackson like everyone else on the planet in 1996. I don’t think I really spent as much time as I could on rehearsing and during the audition, I blanked and forget the lyrics, long story short I did NOT make the show, and that… is my villain origin story.

For real tho I realized if I wanted to have success in my endeavors (sports, scholastics, performance arts) I’d really have to go all in. I don't play around with practice these days. Ask anyone around me if we are practicing and there is an error we start all over. Playing sports competitively at a high level ingrained that in me for sure as well. And I am thankful to my sister and my family for helping push me throughout and keeping me aiming high in anything I tried my hand at. Jay: Your song "So Sweet" emphasizes laying low and minding your business. In the social media era, it can be hard to lay low due to the constant pressure of putting out content. How do you overcome the pressure of social media and the need to post so it looks like you're working consistently?

CM: Sheesh this is a tough one that I am STILL working on. It’s been WILD to see the evolution of social media over the past decade. There is undoubtedly tons of “pressure” to keep up and be seen, literally your accounts seem to be suppressed when you don’t post. At the end of the day, for now, these platforms are free (for the most part) so I try to frame them as advertising opportunities. Like the Indie King LaRussell says “I don’t need luck, I made my mind up”. This is my JOB, and as an artist, we MUST think of ourselves as a business (because we are that!) The people will only value us when we value ourselves and bring value to the market; ie sharing our content, telling our stories, and shedding light on topics close to our hearts.

Photo Cred: CanonKD

As far as an actionable thing to do, creating content in bulk and sharing smaller pieces of larger content is a strategy many successful indie artists use. I don’t utilize it as much as I should, but there are also many post-scheduling apps available at low cost. Even now through IG and Facebook, you can schedule your post somewhat. You could schedule multiple posts one day for a few weeks at a time. I also try to create a list/calendar of ideas/content and instead of dropping what I’m doing at the moment, just write it down and go back to it later. There is scientific evidence that when you write down a plan of action for something that is worrying you it helps to relieve your stress at the moment. I'm a big fan of studying & learning about the mind, about the why behind some of the sometimes odd ways we behave! A bit unrelated but I would recommend people check out "The Huberman Lab" podcast he talks about neurology & the human body in different easy to understand ways, so we can use science to live a more fulfilling life! Lastly, I would recommend for pretty much everyone but especially artists and entrepreneurs to explore therapy and talking to someone, because it’s so much pressure to have everything on your shoulders and there is nothing wrong with reaching out to talk to a professional.

Jay: Being that you lived in Los Angeles for over a decade, how do you view the underground music scene here? For someone like myself, that's from Virginia, creatives view Los Angeles as the place to make it. It's technically a top media city in the United States specifically for film and entertainment. I would love to hear your perspective on this because Dejon Paul (who's famous for the rap report cards), talked about how Power 106 doesn't play LA artists often, yet there are many artists that come out of the city of angels.

CM: First we must acknowledge The Pandemic changed EVERYTHING. I hear that about them not playing LA artists on the radio (I listen to my mixes in my car ha) and as someone who lived in the bay area for a decade as well, it shocks me. The 2000s Bay Area culture shaped a ton of who I am as an indie artist, a hustler, and an entrepreneur. We got to see our hometown heroes live, in person, and hear them slappin' on the radio at 7 am weekly. I remember Wild 94.9 coming to our Jr High School and spinning at lunchtime, playing Keak Da Sneak, Mac Dre, E-40, and encouraging the local artists to submit their tracks to be considered for the “ ️ or “ segment. When I think of the L.A underground, I think of Bananas At Kaos Network In Leimert Park & owner Ben Cadwell. I think of my friend VerBs aka Kyle and the whole Bananas Network (next-gen Project Blowed) who have held it down rain or shine, good or bad rhyme for almost 12 years now. VerBs has put SO many people on and helped them get professional performance opportunities, including myself. I met some of my very very best friends & my wife in the “underground” LA hip-hop scene. I use quotations cause soooo many greats have touched a mic just at Bananas. I’m biased cause my partner and I cohosted the show for a year and got to book talent. It is a time I will never forget. Not to mention some of my fav MCs like Sahtyre, 8Ae, VerBs, iLL Camille, and TRU are from LA! Jay, I’ve been in Leimert Park & seen Doja Cat, Duckwrth even Terrace Martin & Robert Glasper perform live, probably for free. Anyone who LOVES hip hop knows the scene is thriving, healing & ready to influence the next generation of music lovers. Separate from Leimert Park there are so so many people throwing their own events and curating dope experiences. You could never catch all the shows in one summer month in Los Angeles. I currently live in South East LA because of my homie artist DJ and promoter SHNEAKY and when we first met in 2017, I mean there were shows every single weekend in every part of town, like I said the pandemic changed a lot. That being said you have to do the groundwork, you have to show up to an open mic that you may or may not even perform at, to reconnect with an old friend who mentions another event they may think you would like. Easy come, easy’s not gonna be handed to you on a platter but if there’s anywhere to go in America to hone your craft, Los Angeles is still the place to come. You just can’t beat the weather also let’s be real.

Photo cred: Lance Chapman

Jay: From June 30th to July 2nd, you'll be performing for the NFT Detroit festival in Michigan. Can you elaborate on the significance of this NFT event? How do you view the status of NFTs today in hip-hop culture?

CM: Personally the significance is paramount! It will be the first time on performing in Detroit which is my hometown & the hometown of my parents! Though I was born in San Diego, & on a Naval Base, my parents dipped once their enlistment was up and went back to Detroit when I was like 2-3 years old. Since then I’ve lived in many cities and a few states but Detroit is where my soul is at. It will be the first time my family there has the chance to see me perform.

The significance for independent artists and creators especially those in places like Detroit, which was once a powerhouse in the entertainment industry, is ownership and financial literacy. The thing that attracts me to the Web3 community, is the notion that you should truly own all of your assets. Ownership is so important because we see the sad stories of our idols in their golden years now penniless because of a shady deal back in the day. In my grandparent's lifetime, there were black artists who were not allowed to cash their own checks because of prejudices in the banking institutions. For people who have been wronged by unfair banking practices having access and ownership is crucial. Similarly, in poorer developing nations, folks are using Blockchain technology to fight back against tyrannical governments in places like Iran, North Korea, and Zimbabwe. To fight against folks who have controlled their finances, and access to information and are able to freeze accounts or block the internet. There are so many use cases for NFT’s and the Blockchain!

A few months ago I bought an album from LaRussell & though I don’t think he mentioned the word NFT, essentially it was an NFT His music was hosted on an independent platform and we bought it directly from him. The album represented a cryptographic token on the blockchain that proved our ownership, and in addition, access to a high-definition download of the album, the opportunity to claim a signed physical copy of the album, & 50 of over 1,000 collectors will be selected to receive royalties forever on the album. He & his collaborators received a much larger share of the revenue as opposed to the fractions of pennies that most streaming companies are currently offering artists. Members of LaRussell exclusive membership (not exactly sure of the name) receive discounts on music & tickets, royalties from his projects, and all types of exclusive invites! How is that not exciting as a fan of this for real?

My Detroit cousin Nessy the Rilla who is hosting the NFT Detroit festival, a father of twins, is able to live his dreams because of the Web3 community and being able to skip the middle man and let his fans buy his music and art in collectibles directly. He was mentioned in Billboards top 10 Music NFTs of Feb, a list that included Rihanna and Snoop Dogg. An indie artist from Detroit, I think that is amazing! Jay: Congrats on having "So Sweet" nominated for song of the year in the HRDRV Awards. HRDRV is the first community-based record label and music industry software built for all. For those that aren't familiar with HRDRV, can you expound on what exactly they do with music industry software and working with indie artists?

CM: Thank you so much Jay! Yes, HRDRV definitely changed my life as a musician and creator. When you join HRDRV, you instantly join a community of genuinely supportive creatives and music professionals. So many major labels are headed by people who do not make music or create themselves and there are many times a disconnect. Michaela Aka Mickey Shiloh is the CEO and creator of HRDRV. She has been songwriting with the majors since she was 15 years old, writing for Britney Spears, Rihanna, Janet Jackson, Pitbull & more. She identified the problem and just solved it. Artists need affordable access to beats, mixing /mastering services, artwork, and video elements and also we need education and mentorship in the different areas that make us artists.

A&R seems to be the last thing on majors' minds these days. They want a viral artist who has already made themselves. Where does a brand new or indie artist fit in that equation?

Another unique factor of HRDRV is our zoom sessions. The pandemic created a unique situation that Michaela was able to turn into a positive by bringing people together on zoom to talk about these different topics and also collaborate. There are weekly collaborative zoom sessions where artists have the ability to work on songs together, which are many times placed in sync opportunities in TV & Film. There are tangible opportunities to build real success in your career in the music industry. Just recently we started to incorporate community cardio workout sessions and mental health discussions with a clinical therapist! So many artists have unhealthy lives BTS and struggle with depression and different mental health disorders and it’s never talked about. We don’t sweep things under the rug over here & I love that for us. Another important thing to me is the zero-tolerance policy on discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying & any type of behavior that keeps many women and queer folks like myself away from the traditional music industry. Of all the things that platform does for an Indie hip-hop artist like myself one of the top things would be the free beat library & distribution services that come with your membership. I’m literally working with some of my favorite producers for no additional charge, being able to download the beats from our beat library which has over 5000 beats at this point. For all genres, you can search just like BeatStars! Then when my song is ready to be distributed, we have our own distribution services, so we no longer have to use other distribution like CD baby or distro kid. They can seamlessly transfer your previous releases from the old platforms to our new platforms as well, the customer service is really really good. You actually talk to real human beings, who usually get back to you within 48 hours. I mean I could go on and on and on about this! Folks interested in joining, can get a free walk-through and there’s no pressure to join but coming this summer 2023, we will be invited from members only. C.Monet HRDRV Link

Jay: Describe your artistic growth from your 2020 EP Moody to your latest song "So Sweet".

CM: Moody was like a breakup album to be honest. My wife and I had been in the band, EARTH ARROW, for almost 4 years & we did our last show OCT 2019 at the Joshua Tree Music Festival. Less than six months later we were on lockdown in a pandemic, but now really able to sit with it and go through all the different stages of grief and emotions that breakups of any type entail. In the band, there were eight of us, so I had been operating from a place of collaboration and having to have all my ideas filtered through a bunch of different minds, which can be great. That’s how we were able to write so many bangers and literally rock over 300 shows in a concise time span. When I started producing & writing Moody I declared to myself I was going to take my production seriously because previously I had told myself I was just a songwriter and a rapper. Realistically I have been producing for over a decade, there are many levels to production. Look at the example of Rick Rubin, he has been helping produce great vibes and great music for over 30 years but isn’t necessarily behind the board or plugging in drum samples and playing guitar licks .

I had dabbled with many instruments in my early 20s and took some music & piano classes in college, but during the lockdown, I realized I had to get more hands-on. In 2011 there was an incident where a popular local DJ made a snarky comment to me about using GarageBand to try to produce beats. I was naturally put off by it and when going to investigate the more “professional” software, I couldn’t afford it at the time so I just kind of let it go for almost a decade. Moody was about me embracing my sometimes moody and darkly romantic views of life and my artistry. That solitude and creating alone can be beautiful & all the spectrums of emotions are important. Many of the songs on the EP transition from one vibe to another seemingly contrasting vibe., Taking you on an almost psychedelic roller coaster of emotion. If played separately you might not think that they go together, but once you let go of expectations, there it is, fitting like a puzzle piece. I think that’s me & my art in a nutshell. I spent my teen years in the San Francisco Bay area, one of the most diverse places in the world. I have lived in many cities and I love so many different genres of music. Electronic hip-hop R&B blues rock ‘n roll. I touch on all that on Moody. Moody is also my first instrumental album. just really had nothing to say in spring 2020! I think it was important for me to close my mouth, & open my ears and really start to listen in a new way. By 2022 I was ready to rap again ha ha The producer of SO SWEET is Uk Producer & Engineer Pimpernell Jones (I’ll come back to him in the next question ). He and I share a love of boom bap, soul, and the head-bobbin J Dilla-esque golden era of 90s hip-hop. But In between 2020 and 2023, I actually underwent a life-changing major abdominal surgery. Since Even before I was in Earth Arrow I had very extreme menstrual cramps, motion sickness, and a very low tolerance for alcohol. Summer of 2021 I was still working two part-time jobs when I had some extremely bad pains in my stomach and then later had a 101 fever. Eventually, I was even throwing up and blacking out a few times. Like the capitalist slave I was, I took some meds & went to work. I ended up having to call out and drive myself to the emergency room. Later they discovered I had a huge grapefruit-sized dermoid cyst wrapped around my right ovary and a few months later I had surgery to remove it and the right ovary, which had me bedridden for six months. It would be more than a year after that till I would say I was fully recovered. I was literally “laying low” and had a lot of time to think about my life, my music career, and my artistry and to plan out a little bit more what I wanted to do instead of being more reactive as I have been in the past. I also started therapy and working on my mental health during that time. A lot of the mental health struggles I think our community deals with come from burnout, and not getting enough time for self-care hence the laying low advice. "So Sweet" has a little bit of traditional rapper bravado but is also a motivational message to people that I wish I would’ve taken heed to in my early 20s, though my mother was incessantly trying to tell me. We all are easily distracted by Hollywood, the entertainment industry social media, and other people's lives but if we focus on the things that we said we wanted to do, things usually work out more than not, in my opinion. Some friends say I am annoyingly optimistic!

Jay: You have an album dropping next year with a German producer. What can we expect from it? Can you describe the chemistry between you and the producer?

Photo Cred: Sunset.Echoes.Studios

CM: We have been working on this project since the end of 2020 and when he initially told me it would take 3 to 4 years, I was like "no probably not!"

I guess he was right. David Hanke aka Renegades of Jazz (amongst other aliases) is one of the most dedicated and prolific producers I have ever personally worked with. He is also one of the oldest so that kind of makes sense. These past few decades of music & entertainment have put a lot of emphasis on youth, viral moments & the YT/TT trends of the week. The best music, as all real music lovers know, is timeless and can’t be rushed or forced. I have yet to put out a full-length album so this is going to be a big moment for us. As I mentioned before Detroit Motown the electronic music scene and also my teen years spent on the West Coast have given me an eclectic palette when it comes to art and music. There are going to be heavy electronic elements mixed with hypnotic bass lines, then other tracks' soulful & funky Afrobeat samples. I have a surprise comedic guest going to come on, trying to bring back funny interludes, & as well as have some hard-hitting 90s-style grimey beats that Busta Rhymes or Missy Elliott might have hopped on.

David is a German guy in his 50s who lived in his youth in Tanzania, a country in Africa. He witnessed firsthand the effects of colonization & Disenfranchising already marginalized people. The way I met David is pretty epic to be honest. He is a friend of the producer of my single “So Sweet”, PimpernelJones! PJ aka Christian introduce me to David after he had shared some demos he and I were working on. I met Christian when I was in the mixing & Mastering stages of “MOODY”. I had heard about A.I. mixing and mastering services online so I was doing a bit of research and came across an article that caught my eye. After I finish reading the article, I scrolled down to the comment section someone left a comment that said they would match the price of any online AI mastering service, but with a human touch. They left their social media info and links to some of their works. I checked out his work, emailed them and the rest is history! That was in the spring of 2020. Then later Christian and I started working on some music and that’s when he shared the demos with David. David had expressed the desire to do an album with a female MC, on some modern-day Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill mixed with Missy Elliott & Traci Chapmen. I have not met either of those guys in real life yet these have been some of my best works. It’s interesting how that happens. We communicate via email and have really gotten to know each other musically and artistically. It’s kind of nice to not have to pull any punches because of some prior personal relationship.

In my ideal world/studio/metaverse this is how a lot of creating should be. I am very glad that I have the privilege of working with these guys right now, they really love music as much I as do and are always encouraging me to just go for it. In 2022, I was featured on Hanke's fifth Renegades Of Jazz album, Sonic Verve, on the lead single 'Invested'. So definitely check out that single for a taste of what's to come from us!

You can follow Chelsea Monet on Instagram and Twitter.

Written by: Jay Guevara. @justinhisprime on all social media.

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