Fort Worth Rapper Lou CharLe$ is an International Man of Mystery
Andre Dario Photography
Who is Lou CharLe$? It's a more legitimate question than with most musicians, given that there's next to no concrete information about the 20-something Fort Worth resident. Hell, it's even the name of his website. But when a young artist is opening up for Chamillionaire and Immortal Technique, getting features from Dizzy Wright, and an award-winning producer like J. Rhodes takes notice and collaborates on a new EP, it might be time for the rest of us to pay attention.
Moving schools can be tough for any kid, but moving continents can be even worse. Born in Houston but raised abroad in places like Trinidad and Egypt due to his father's job as an engineer, CharLe$ is no stranger to being the new kid on the block. During his travels, he was exposed to a wide array of cultures and musical styles. To cope, he took the advice of one of his teachers. "I had a middle school teacher who told me before I left the States that I was going to experience a lot of crazy things and I needed to write down everything I see," CharLe$ recalls. "And it really stuck with me. I write what I see. I write what I feel."
But throughout all of his experiences, the one thing that stayed constant was hip-hop. “Hip-hop kept me in tune with the U.S. It kind of bridged the gap. I’d come back from Trinidad, go see my friends and we’d start free styling," CharLe$ says. "We would try to make beats and I was horrible at it. My first beats were god-awful. But at the time, I felt like I was really doing it."
At some point during his childhood, CharLe$ took his passion to the next level. With the assistance of his parents' laptop and one of those call-center headsets, he managed to dish out his fist mixtape. And after moving back to Texas in 2011, he released his first EP, Fish Out of Water. But that's when his creative juices began to stall. CharLe$ took a bit of a hiatus from the scene, but in 2014 he came back with a bang by churning out four more projects, even garnering himself a 2015 Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards Best Album nomination. That said, something still felt off for the young artist.
“After I released Fish Out of Water in 2011, I was coming out of a personal situation and I kind of lost my identity," CharLe$ explains. That's when he reached out to J. Rhodes, an acquaintance and award-winning producer, for some guidance with his beats. For those not familiar with Rhodes, he's a Dallas native who, along with Symbolyc 1 and VohnBeatz, just won a Dove Award for work on LeCrae's Anomaly LP. But Rhodes' resume is impressive in its own right, bearing names like Talib Kweli, the Game and Ab-Soul, to name a few. "J. Rhodes helped me find my voice and speak from a different perspective than I ever have before. And In Transit is just the tip of the iceberg; It’s the first installment of our series.”
Rhodes remembers: “He [CharLe$] reached out. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that somebody won’t work with a local artist. But I’m like, as long as the music is good, we can work." And work they did. The pair just released a pretty impressive EP by the name of In Transit, which features Las Vegas-based rapper Dizzy Wright — a move that, in and of itself, is a true testament to CharLe$' dedication to his craft. After knocking out their first song together, "Facts Only," both Rhodes and CharLe$ were in awe of their work. At that point, CharLe$ asked himself, “What if we could get a bigger name on it?" He then promptly pitched himself to Wright's management team and they made it happen.
It paid off. In Transit emits CharLe$' deep, soulful voice, wrapped around smooth, intelligent lyrics on the title track, as well as "Mama Say." But there's a definitive playfulness to his tracks. You can hear it on "Facts Only" and "RunTelDat," which are completely in line with CharLe$' own take on his music. "For me, it’s really weird trying to find my footing, because I’m not from anywhere. And it reflects in my music," he admits. "That’s why it might sound a little different — it’s just a big clusterfuck of different stuff."
From Rhodes' point of view, CharLe$ has a very Wiz Khalifa-esque presence, but he's clear that their music couldn't be more different. "Lou’s message is different. His energy has a positive, laid-back vibe but it’s kind of off-center from what everyone else is doing — and it comes off as likable," Rhodes says. "He gets out of his own way. A lot of artists get in their own way with the business, with burning bridges. All of that is 90 percent of it. Making music is 10 percent, but you don’t often find an artist who gets that other 90 percent, and Lou gets it."
From here, CharLe$ plans to continue working with Rhodes. In fact, the two agreed that, in addition to creating a larger catalogue for CharLe$, they will work on creating a brand together. And for the self-described "most unconscious, socially conscious rapper," CharLe$ seems to be well on his way. But while he is focused on his endgame, he's adamant that he doesn't want the creative process to lose its shine. "I like to talk where I’m from, I like to put all of that in my music and speak my truth — but I still want to turn up," he says.
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