Interview: Chow Mane On Breaking Barriers And His New Video For “Ever Since”

Chow Mane has been rapping “Ever Since” he first heard Tha Carter III.

Chow Mane, who just premiered his new music video through Earmilk, is ready to break out of whatever box he may be put in. “Ever Since” is a bouncy, feel-good, Hip-Hop jam anthem and the video is like a psychedelic journey through a botanical garden. Since his Mooncakes EP, which mainly focused on his experiences as an Asian-American, Chow Mane has been trying to defy the notion that he is nothing more than an “asian rapper.” With this new single and his upcoming project, due out next year, he seems to be doing just that. We got a chance to speak with him about finding his identity and the making of the “Ever Since” video.

Check the full interview below:

How ya doing today? 

Good! Been traveling a lot these past few weeks and meeting a lot of creatives, eating a lot of good food.

What was your inspiration behind “Ever Since”? 

A lot of different things came together for “Ever Since”. In high school I used to sing and play keyboards in a rock band in addition to rapping, so I wanted to bring some melody back into my songwriting and make something infectious and unique. The falsetto was something I used to do when I was younger, and for “Ever Since” I was really trying to use the same voice crack to higher pitch you hear a lot in country music. Future’s verse in “King’s Dead” was a big inspiration behind that.

The subject matter was in general about the momentum I’ve been picking up in the last year. A lot of people I knew back in high school or earlier that didn’t really fuck with me like that have been reaching out and asking for things. I made the melody before the lyrics, and just wrote what was on my mind – so you see references to David Lynch as I had just watched Twin Peaks S3 and Ralo as I was listening to his tapes heavy.

Where was the “Ever Since” video filmed?

“Ever Since” was filmed in the Berkeley Botanical Gardens out in Berkeley, CA. Tim Slew from Soundlapse made the trip down from Portland to work on the project. You can see cameos from some guys in my collective (Anton Doty & Sahih Rankz) and some other friends.

“Ever Since” has a different feel to it than a lot of what you’ve released previously. Is this the musical direction you think you’re heading in? And if so, what made you make this change?

I wouldn’t say that “Ever Since” is the definitive sound of the direction I’m headed in, but I’m definitely moving away from the style that I delivered on “Mooncakes”. On “Mooncakes” I was rapping a lot about my experience as an Asian American because that was the concept of the project. On “Ever Since” and on my upcoming album, “SIMMERING,” I’m touching on a lot more diverse subjects, and bending a lot more genres to create more dynamic songs. I still love producing and rapping over raw hip-hop tracks, but I have a lot more ideas beyond that.

Chow Mane

What originally made you want to rap?

My uncle used to pick me up from school a lot when I was a kid because my parents were both working. On the drive home, he’d always be playing hip-hop radio, or one of his CDs (mostly g-funk tapes). I learned about cadence and delivery mostly from old Snoop and Too $hort songs as a kid, and I started writing my own raps around 2008 after hearing Wayne’s “Carter III”. I loved writing punchlines and playing with words.

What made you stick with it?

Once I started writing and rapping, I didn’t stop. I learned how to produce in 2010, my sophomore year of high school. After that, it was just a process of writing and practicing, trying out different styles. I made beats in the style of a lot of camps – Odd Future, Raider Klan, Jet Life, HBK/P-Lo, 1017 Bricksquad – before I found my own.

How do you feel being a Chinese-American rapper has affected the way your music has been received?

A lot of people are initially skeptical when they hear that I rap. That usually changes after they hear me flow.  Not always, though. I remember one of my early shows in Santa Cruz, a white kid came up to the front row during my set and tried to hand me a calculator haha. Since a lot of my catalog is from the “Mooncakes” project as well, I also have to tailor my sets depending on the crowd. For example: If I see a lot of Asians, I know they go crazy when I drop “ABG,” but if not, most of the time people just nod and scratch their heads.

In general though, I want to cross that barrier so that my race isn’t a factor in determining if my music is good or not. Except for songs where I’m specifically referencing something about my heritage, I think most of the music I’m working on transcends racial barriers, and I’ve gotten a lot of love from all races performing those tracks.

Did the under-representation of Asian rappers ever deter you from your musical dreams? (or empower you)

Not at all, if anything I think it gives me a unique perspective and voice. Even if we put “Asian” aside, I think that my music is pretty unique for hip-hop in general, let alone for “Asian” rap.

You’ve said you didn’t want to be boxed in as an “Asian Rapper”, did you feel that that’s how you were looked at after Mooncakes? 

Definitely. It was dope that the project was championed by a lot of Asian Americans. The title track, “Mooncakes”, struck a lot of chords because it shed light on an experience that many Asian Americans shared: family of refugees/immigrants, lot of people in a house, working as a child, focus on family values, etc. At the same time, a lot of people who never lived that experience couldn’t relate, and saw me as someone who was only rapping about the Asian American experience. Even though I released “Cozy” and the “Little Luvin'” EP, songs from “Mooncakes” were still the tracks that were the most associated with me, because they were the most championed.

Has the desire to break out of the box, so to speak, forced you to try and explore new things in your songwriting? Or did you always have much more to write about and just felt that sharing your experiences that involved your ethnicity was the right thing to do at the time (Mooncakes)? 

I’ve always wanted to explore new things. I’m a fan of artists who take risks in their music, and I think it’s great that hip-hop is starting to incorporate all these different sounds. A lot of the songs on “Mooncakes” like “ABG”, “Kamikaze” and “Dumplings” were actually written and produced in 2015, but were put on the project because they fit the concept. I have other songs from that same era that don’t fit that concept but will be put out soon, including a song called “Crows” I’m releasing on Dec 4th as a part of my “Lighthouse” EP!

While still under-represented in Hip-Hop culture, over the past year there has been a surge in Asian artists like Rich Brian or Joji, both within their collective 88Rising. How has seeing them blow up affected you? Are you a fan of their stuff? Do you consider yourself to have a similar audience? 

I think 88rising artists are dope, and make great music. Definitely a fan. Neither Rich Brian or Joji are Asian American though, actually, so I think I’m able to provide a perspective that they may not be able to. I think the music I make and am making is also stylistically pretty different from any artist on 88rising – my flows, production, and wordplay are very influenced by my growing up in Northern California and listening to a lot of hip-hop (mostly Bay Area & Southern) and psychedelic/experimental rock.

What are some of your other big Hip-Hop influences?

Currently: Andre 3k, Curren$y, Allblack, Gucci, Future, Mac Miller, Guapdad 4000

What’s next for you?

I have a 2 song EP called “Lighthouse” coming on Dec 4th, some videos on the way, and my first independent album “SIMMERING” in early 2019.

Anything else you’d like to speak on?

Really thankful for the opportunity to talk! I have a Youtube cooking series that I might release later this year or early next year, so keep an eye out for that. Subscribe to my channel and follow me on social media to stay updated!

Find more from Chow Mane here.

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