Sure, he’ll admit it: Did rapper Lou CharLe$ imagine one day owning a gleaming Lamborghini? Yes. Was there an ocean view involved? Of course. Supermodels and tequila? You bet. All of that was on his vision board, he jokes, but alas, there’s no extravagant whip in his garage, nor an ocean view for hundreds of miles. But here’s the thing: He’s fine with it. Seriously. More than fine, in fact. It’s like his parents used to tell him: “The journey is more fun than the destination.” That Lambo can wait. And you’re not going to find Lou CharLe$ complaining, especially considering the impressive Rolodex he’s racked up over the years.
The Fort Worth rapper with a Texas twang and a penchant for punchy lines has opened for Immortal Technique, collaborated with Dizzy Wright, and gotten some tutelage from producer and Dallas native J. Rhodes, the hitmaker behind many a banger fromTalib Kweli, Rick Ross and Black Thought. That said, CharLe$ isn’t patting himself on the back. Sure, his resume is nice, but he’s restless. He’s released 11 songs in each of the last 11 months, and he has more new music on the way. He’s trying to keep busy, even if his best laid plans for 2020 were decimated months ago. He’s learning to be happy, even if he’s not satisfied.
“As long as I handle my business and do what I need to do, I can sleep at night,” he says. “But if I don’t, trust me, I’m not sleeping.”
CharLe$ was born in Houston, but his father’s job as an engineer kept the family on the go. Young Lou spent time in Trinidad and Egypt, carrying a precocious love of hip-hop with him to every new continent. It’s clear H-Town still carries a special place in the rapper’s heart; his new song, the infectiously catchy “Showin’ Out”, is practically a love letter to Texas rap, with a Paul Wall feature to boot. When he arrived back in the Lone Star State in 2011, CharLe$ dropped his debut, an EP called Fish Out of Water; then, silence. CharLe$ took a hiatus, and not for the first time. As an old Observer story notes, in 2014, CharLe$ eventually came back on the scene with a roar and four projects. Yet it wasn’t until he linked up with J. Rhodes that his career took off in the direction he wanted it to go. Looking back, CharLe$ cites 2015 as a turning point.
“That’s when I pushed the chips to the middle of the table,” he says. “I wasn’t out there hustling before 2015. That’s my line of demarcation.”
That year’s album, In Transit 1, was followed by his first Texas tour, multiple videos and a steady rise in momentum. The accolades came, too, with plenty of love from Fort Worth Weekly music awards. CharLe$ refined his flow, and his storytelling ability gradually improved. If you listen to any of his music, you’ll witness a flurry of experimentation. CharLe$ appears to be constantly pushing himself, rapping faster, writing more, cutting more videos and showing no signs of slowing up. Slowly, the same people who once doubted him started to recognize his potential, even if it just meant a nice text here or there. The attention fueled him; his seemingly ceaseless drive to do more and do better fueled him even more.
“His energy and vibe is always great,” says music producer and CharLe$ fan Jose “Chico” Santiago. “His personality adapts to any environment.”
CharLe$’s family became fans, too.There were more shows and more singles. Another album was in the works, and an East Coast tour was all booked. Then, silence once more. But this hiatus was different.
In September 2017, CharLe$ lost his father to cancer. The rapper cranked the emergency brake on his career, grinding it to a halt practically overnight. No more East Coast tour. No more new releases. Nothing. For the first time in over three years, CharLe$ stopped working on music.
“When something like that happens, you take a step back and look at life, and you think about what really matters,” he says. “‘Am I spending all of my time chasing this when I should be chasing something else?’ That’s what you ask yourself.”
At first, a permanent break from music seemed plausible. CharLe$ needed a lot of respite. After years of non-stop grinding, and a cataclysmic loss, anyone would. Nevertheless, he couldn’t stay away too long. He had more songs to write, more stories to tell.
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“The crazy thing about success is, once you get a little bit, no matter how much, you want some more,” he says.
His father’s birthday was December 31. On that date, in 2017, CharLe$ enjoyed one last day of rest, got through the day, then resumed writing. The following year, he released In Transit 2, a sophomore album that distills all of his growth into 42 minutes and nine seconds of high-torque hip-hop. The Texas twang is still there, but this is a more confident Lou CharLe$. There are no features.
Since then, he’s continued releasing a steady drip of music, including the aforementioned 11-month run that nothing could’ve stopped, not even a pandemic. All the while, he’s entertained fans on YouTube by adding his own verses to songs by ASAP Ferg and Saweetie. In each video, you can tell CharLe$ is having fun. He smiles, plays to the camera, and wears his confidence on his sleeve. You may notice something else, too: a glint in his eyes, or a hitch in his voice that tells you he’s still working, still searching.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied,” he says. “It’s not in my DNA.” And he sounds fine with that. More than fine.