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Every so often the industry is blessed to witness the birth of a genuine new artist, the kind whose very first single grabs music fans' attention and maintains it until arriving at bona fide stardom. Alistair Records recording artist CHANJ is that next artist and he will seal the deal with the release of his forthcoming, aptly titled debut disc, TIME FOR CHANJ.
The gifted Plainfield, New Jersey native has spent the better part of his life on some form of a stage. Growing up on healthy helpings of classic soul singers like Al Green, Sam Cooke and Luther Vandross provided him with a solid musical foundation. But his more direct influences were contemporaries like Prince, Lauryn Hill and D'Angelo. As a member of an extracurricular high school program partnered with the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, CHANJ's original aspiration was to be an actor. But seeing awe-inspiring performances by some of his music idols compelled him to try his hand at singing and soon he began honing his craft by performing at local talent shows. He eventually crossed paths with veteran music executive Darnell Scott, who would provide the "big break" aspiring artists always dream about.
Before meeting Scott, CHANJ would find himself on the very stage that inspired him to become a vocalist. He proved a force to be reckoned with when he appeared as an "Amateur Night" contestant on Showtime at the Apollo. Commanding an audience known globally for its fiercely critical and sometimes brutal reception, CHANJ put his own stamp on Floetry's highly received sensual ballad "Say Yes." It was the mark of a consummate performer, as he recalls, "It was a lukewarm reception as I began to sing the song but I just kept going and it turned into cheers and people standing and clapping." He won the challenge not once but four times, earning a $25,000 dollar grand prize for his final win. Footage of his performance of the song on the Apollo and at other live venues has generated thousands of hits on YouTube.
Scott introduced CHANJ to his partner and Alistair Records co-founder Warren Braithwaite, who knew he'd found something special in CHANJ the first time he heard him sing. Braithwaite recalls, "I haven't heard a voice like that in a long time. Every time he sings you get chills, you feel it in your soul." And he knew just the right people to help generate a buzz on his promising new artist. Braithwaite cranked up the machine by booking a spot on pal Jamie Foxx's popular "Fox Hole" Radio Show on Sirius, which led to a gig singing at a birthday party for actress Tisha Campbell. The fete was of course attended by a tenfold of celebrities who were equally awed by the newcomer's talent and happy to spread the word. That led to a performance at R&B Live -- the popular Los Angeles showcase hosted by actor Chris Spencer -- where his performance had regular guests like Judge Mathis and Tony Rock in the palm of his hand. In fact, Foxx was so impressed by the young talent, the Oscar-winning actor opened up his Los Angeles-based home studio for CHANJ to record some of the songs on his debut disc.
Teddy Riley produced the update of "Say Yes" that appears on TIME FOR CHANJ. Asked why he chose to attempt the intricate song, CHANJ says, "When I bought [Floetry's 2002 disc Floetic] 'Say Yes' was the one song that stuck out to me so strong. It's passionate, it's intimate and it's a true R&B/soul song." He now gets consistent requests to perform it. After friends insisted she see the Apollo performance, former Floetry vocalist Marsha Ambrosius was equally impressed with CHANJ's version of her composition, and she was thrilled to work with him on his album on the track "Give it All." He says of the Grammy-winning songwriter, "Working with Marsha was incredible. I'm such a fan of hers and she wound up being a fan of me too, which made for great chemistry in the studio. And 'Give it All' is such a strong song."
CHANJ was able to nurture his own budding skills as a songwriter on the project while working alongside a host of industry heavy-hitters. He says, "I really just wanted to get involved with different people with different ideas. And I wanted to learn a lot so that when my second album comes out I would have a lot more knowledge on how to really construct a song, or really get the best out of a harmony." In addition to Riley and Ambrosius, some of his collaborators included Dre & Vidal, Adonis, Day 26's Robert Curry and Mike City. Of working with Riley - a music legend known as the architect of "New Jack Swing" - CHANJ says it was amazing "just to be in the studio with an icon. He has this thing called the 'Teddy Test' where he's really, really hard on people to get that great performance. Fortunately, I passed Teddy's test. He taught me a lot."
Working with Adonis on the track "Dance for Me" was an eye-opening experience that reinforced the "less is more" concept. CHANJ says of the hit-maker, "He understands the art of simplicity. He can make something so simple sound so great. He has these catchy melodies that lock into you. His mind is great." Melodically the track invokes '80s-era Prince, which is fitting for a sexy ditty that nods to strip clubs by suggesting a couple create their own venue at home. But CHANJ can also leave sex out of the equation when celebrating the opposite sex; skillfully produced by industry tastemakers Dre & Vidal, the catchy dance tempo "2 Kool" is an ode to the girl whose confidence and self-assuredness complete her physical package and make her the star of the club. The duo also blessed the project with the flirty mid-tempo "Maybe," the infectious introductory single in which CHANJ sets the tone for his artistry, singing, "I know you've been waiting for a song like this/Wait no more/ 'Cause here it is." And the aptly titled "Transform" will likely see CHANJ morph from buzzed-about newcomer to crossover phenomenon, with its expansive sound and radio-friendly appeal in the vein of T.I. and Justin Timberlake's "Dead and Gone."
The lead single, "It's The Worst" produced by Steven Russell (Jordin Sparks "No Air") features a powerful and emotional delivery from Chanj while giving the listener an intimate look into the difficulties of relationships. Says Chanj, "Everyone has been in the type of relationship where you love someone, but you can't seem to make it work. It drives you crazy. Damn! "It's The Worst!"
CHANJ delivers lyrical content about admiration, infatuation, and love in a manner that's chivalrous rather than salacious. "My musical style is a bit more honest, a bit more genuine. My lyrical content has to display a certain type of image - a gentleman-ism, a romantic side. Of course it can be fun but at the end of the day I want to influence people with love all over again. Everything is so sexual that we've moved away from genuine love songs." He also has a profound love and respect for the art of performing and strives to connect with and captivate his audience. "My live show is like a party. My DJ, DJ Scratchator, always amps up the crowd as a pre-warning to a fun loving intense show you'll receive."
Armed with an enormous amount of talent and stage-worthy charisma, CHANJ is next in line to carve a permanent niche for his self in the music industry and is destined to achieve the pop-crossover status few R&B artists have achieved before him. He recognizes the qualities that make the quintessential artist because he possesses them himself. "The great singers of R&B are always the people who can touch you. It's important to know who you are and what you want to display to the world because people feel a lot more connected when they know that something's not contrived." Without a doubt, CHANJ is good.
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