There’s an old saying that promises that the only constant in this world is change. Unfortunately, a superficial listen to America’s Top 40 radio stations will probably make you think otherwise. Quite fittingly, Chanj, a new artist who happens to go against the grain, finds comfort and value in his name. Time will show if radio will too.
Upon the release of Time for Chanj, Chanj managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on Luther Vandross, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and his remarkable reign as a four-time winner of Showtime at the Apollo.
In spite of your tremendous vocal range and abilities, your original aspiration was to be an actor. At what point did your heart turn to music?
Over time, I started to realize that music was something that I could express a little bit easier and a little bit more passionately than acting. I think my turning point was when I was at a school assembly and I was singing “I Believe I Can Fly.” After the assembly, I walked up to my father and I asked him how I did and he was standing there crying and said, “I understand why you love to do this.” That’s when something kind of clicked in me, like, let me explore this a little bit more. I gained such an attachment to it, because it was an easy way to speak about what I was going through and share myself to people.
In high school, you linked up with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center through a community partnership. How did your experiences with the NJPAC shape your artistic endeavors?
Well, the Performing Arts Center brought their program to my high school, and we were actually the first batch of students to experience that whole thing. We had excellent acting coaches and musicians and vocal coaches coming in and assisting us and preparing us for school plays, talent shows or whatever else was going on. I had also been a part of the Performing Arts after-school program since the age of six. So my training has always been there, and the Performing Arts Center was very influential in my artistic development.
As a child, you were a constant participant in the talent shows that you just referenced. Was your participation driven by personal ambition or were you prodded by family, friends and teachers?
In the early stages, my participation was driven by personal ambition. I just wanted to be seen and heard. My appearance on Showtime at the Apollo was something that my management team – Second II None Entertainment – pushed me to do because I didn’t even really want to do anymore competitions at that point. They were just like, “We really believe it is a great idea to do it.” After some persuasion, I decided to do it.
Your winning performances on the Apollo stage gave your career a major boost, and your breathtaking rendition of Floetry’s “Say Yes” is your claim to fame. Why do you think your performances resonated so well with the crowd?
You know, to tell you the truth, I’m not totally sure. I think it’s just the way I share that song and my feeling and the way I feel that song. It’s a beautiful song. It’s something that when I first heard, I was immediately drawn to that song by its passion and sincerity and realness and just by Marsha’s voice in general. I thought it would be interesting to have that song shared from a male perspective. There’s something special about that song and the lyrics are very universal.
Legendary producer Teddy Riley crafted an updated version of the track for your debut album. What was it like to work with him in the studio? And tell me about the infamous ‘Teddy Test’ and what all it entails.
First of all, Teddy is a – I can’t even explain. He’s a mastermind; he’s a genius when it comes to sound and sonicism, if you would. He has such an incredible ear to the way music should sound and an incredible way of directing you to bring out the best in yourself. He put me under his wing and just showed me and told me different things about this music industry and different ways to bypass the ignorance, bypass whatever was maybe hindering me in order to move forward, how to move forward. Passing the ‘Teddy Test’ in the studio – he’s very hard on artists. He’s making sure that he pulls and pulls and pulls. If you can keep up with him, you pass the ‘Teddy Test.’ It’s literally one session where I work my ass off to where he’s like, “Okay, you passed the ‘Teddy Test.’ Now we got the bridge. Let’s see if you can pass the bridge.” I passed the bridge and he’s like, “I don’t know, dude. I think you got something here.” Then it was the next song and we went to the studio. It was just magic. It’s a very, very good chemistry.
You briefly mentioned that Teddy gave you good advice about how to navigate the industry. Is there a particular piece of advice that really sticks out?
To stay humble. It’s one thing that I live by myself but he just reminded me to make sure to stay humble because that humility is going to create even more longevity and create more doors to open for you than anybody else can open for you.
Your most recent press release has the following quote: “My lyrical content has to display a certain type of image — a gentleman-ism, a romantic side.” Why is it so important for you to craft and maintain that kind of image?
Because it’s almost non-existent. I believe right now in order to make timeless music, we need to get back to the basics of the structure of what timeless music was. It was debonair, it was suave, it was a gentleman that was up on that stage when we had The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke. When these greats were all up onstage, blessing the stage and sharing their music, that is why their music is timeless. They didn’t talk about things that were fads or things of the moment, but things that everybody goes through constantly. That’s what I want to make sure that I displayed on this album and in general.
During the recording process of Time for Chanj, you were given the opportunity to record in Jamie Foxx’s home studio. How did that opportunity come about?
I was introduced to Jamie through the label. He was shown a clip of my Apollo performance and he was very wowed by it and he opened up his home to me. I’m still sincerely grateful for just having him pass through and say, “Yeah, that’s good,” or, “You need to change this.” He gave a lot of constructive criticism which was great, especially during the development of the record. It was a blessing.
Without a doubt, the road to success is not traveled overnight. How would you describe your transition between your string of wins at the Apollo and your signing with Alistair Records? What have you done behind the scenes?
After Showtime at the Apollo, I went to Switzerland and did a mini-soul tour. I was over there for three months, just grinding it out and creating a new fan base and sharing myself with people. Upon coming back, my management team said that Alistair Records was really interested. So we met with them and everything went very, very well. And that was that.
In your early travels, were you surprised by the response of the European audiences?
Yes and no. The European audiences are way more open than we are here in the US. They appreciate music of all genres. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re good at what you’re doing; they appreciate it. They welcome you with open arms and they’re thirsty for new music.
When you returned to the States, what was the most eye-opening experience regarding music industry politics. Were there any particular obstacles that you had to overcome?
The biggest obstacle really came after the signing. You know what I mean? Getting people to respect you, kind of like being the new kid in school, gaining friends and trying to get accepted – it’s just that new-kid-on-the-block syndrome.
Now, if my memory serves me correct, there’s a grand prize that comes along with winning the Apollo. How were you able to use that money to help push your career forward?
I was able to use the funds to invest into myself. Starting out, I needed some financial backing, so it was fantastic that I was able to win some cash! [laughing]
If you don’t mind my asking, for all of the young aspiring artists, what kind of investments did you make?
Well, I created a brand new demo, took some brand new photos, purchased some postcard flyers, and ordered different kinds of memorabilia to have people remember you after you do a show – little things like that.
I’m really intrigued by your stage name: “Chanj.” What’s the inspiration behind the name, since your “government name” is Glenn Adams, Jr.?
My name originated from just me embodying what everybody is so scared of. I have a different type of voice and I have a different type of approach to music. The industry is almost scared of that. I just decided to be what everybody’s so scared of.
Your bio lists the late Luther Vandross as one of the artists that set your musical foundation. What do you most admire about his artistry?
Luther can tell a story and he can captivate you. The song wouldn’t even have a lot going on, musicianship in the background, very basic background vocals and he can tell a story and just woo you. It didn’t matter who you were, what you were going through. If you heard a Luther song, you would stop and you listen to it. That was the beauty in his voice. I thought it was something very, very captivating.
You also mention Prince and Lauryn Hill as direct influences.
Yes. The excitement and the adrenaline that Prince had onstage was crazy to me. I loved how excited and over-exhilarated he would get to his own music and sharing it. And Lauryn Hill’s words were always very, very big to me. She had a way with words that could describe a situation to its depth and really connect with a person. I thought that that was really special.
What song off of your debut album do you think will have that same kind of connection with audiences?
There are a couple of songs. One song is “Give It All.” It’s a song that Marsha Ambrosius wrote. Another song is “Transform” which is a song that Teddy Riley did. This song is talking about how we can be the example of love and share this with the world to remind them what love is. It’s a really, really beautiful song.
Speaking of love, your press notes had the following quote: “…at the end of the day, I want to influence people to love all over again.” Why is this mission so important to you?
I’m a love being. I spew it. I just want to remind people of the very thing that we were created by. We should all strive to spread love, be love, talk love, and just plain love.