Detroit’s Chavis Chandler is hard to write about. Yes, he puts his foot through beats when he steps on the gas. Yes, he can sing his heart out without needing a drop of Autotune. And yes, his ear for beats is so pristine, it’s shocking that the producers he works with aren’t more well known. But he doesn’t have a gimmick. He’s just a pure artist.
You might know him as a former member of Danny Brown’s Bruiser Brigade (he spit a freestyle with the crew on Pitchfork’s Selector back in 2012), but when I call Chavis to talk about his excellent new project Call Of The Wild, he’s not doing rapper shit. He’s just finished tending to his front lawn. “Old man shit,” he calls it. As soon as we start talking music, he starts vomiting words. He sounds like he’s bursting to talk about his aspirations, his dreams, his purpose.
Chavis grew up on the East Side of Detroit. His parents were divorced and living with his mother was tenuous, so he gravitated to music. Things got rough at home – he got into a fight with his stepfather (“I was trying to kill him,” he half-jokes) and was sent to live with his aunt in Tennessee – “on some Fresh Prince shit.” That’s what inspired him to make “Tennessee Days,” one of the standout tracks from Call Of The Wild.
“Soon as I heard the beat, it just reminded me of walking outside of my school and the old black ladies serving nachos and shit, drinking cold iced tea.” He even slowed the second half of the song down because he tried lean for the first time in Tennessee. “First time I sipped lean, I sat on the couch and watched Cowboy Bebop for eight hours,” he recalls. Little do fans know the song is almost five years old.
“I got a lot of other songs like that. The album that was supposed to come out in place of this one, if I woulda kept going with the series, was gonna be called Tokyo Dreams. Certain people know songs off of it the world might never hear. It’s more so an R&B album. I don’t know if people are ready for that yet.”
The great thing about Call Of The Wild is how effortlessly Chavis blends his influences and styles together. He can drop a fashion label and an anime reference in a verse before threatening to punch a hole through your shirt. His singing comes from the sweet spot of the throat and sounds worn, like how your favorite old t-shirt feels. He hums the entire intro. The outro features elephants and some type of Gregorian chants. Not a damn thing feels out of place across 17 tracks.
He attributes the project’s cohesion to the albums and artists that inspired him. “If I was to compare myself to anybody,” says Chav, “it’d be a mixture of the finesse of Pharrell and his song structure with the aggression of DMX.” The way artists like Janelle Monae, OutKast, and Cee Lo craft their albums also influenced him in constructing Call Of The Wild.
“One of the albums that really made me break out of my shell with my singing was The ArchAndroid. So that’s why I got those interludes on my album and an overture at the beginning. The Lady Killer and Speakerboxx/The Love Below [are influences] too. Me and my cousin DaG, who produced “Duck Down III,” that’s the only music we listen to. We just spin vinyls all day and smoke weed. You’ll catch me listening to some old school shit before some new school shit, singing my ass off.”
He’s from the same side of Detroit as Icewear Vezzo, who’s known as a staple in the street-oriented music scene but nonetheless contributes a verse to another highlight from Call Of The Widl, “Gang Signs.” The collaboration came about because the two were in the same studio at the time, but Chavis is sure to distance himself from the subject matter of other buzzing Detroit rappers.
“That’s the whole strip club, street, whips and ice shit. You gotta have that on that scene,” he says. “On our scene, you ain’t gotta have none of that shit. You just gotta have bars. Ours is like the real hip-hop scene. Theirs is more the superficial drug dealer shit. Ain’t nothing wrong with that because I know niggas who live that in real life. I’ve lived that and made mistakes. That shit will follow me for the rest of my life, but that’s wack to me to talk about it. That’s how a lot of people get caught up in bullshit.”
Chandler is anything but bullshit. The only two features on his tape are Vezzo and Dej Loaf (“There’s videos of me and Dej performing at big ass warehouses in Detroit, before ‘Try Me’ and any of that,” he tells me), leaving him alone to dominate beats from Harry Fraud, Eli Myles, and others. His goal is what all artists strive for – simplicity. “I made [the cover art] so simple and minimal because that kind of shit keeps me grounded, if I can look at something and see who I am in it. I don’t want to ever forget who I am and lose myself. That’s why I do a lot of shit with simplicity. I want people to really listen to what I’m saying.”