Chelly The MC is a DMV rapper, but the 22-year-old prefers to specifically rep her actual hometown of Northeast Washington D.C. Her earliest Youtube music video, filmed in 2013, is for a track called “Set Em Up” – an ode to beating up disloyal boyfriends. If you dig deep into her Instagram, you’ll find a 15-second performance of the track at Cesar Chavez Primary Charter School talent show. Chelly eventually dropped out to pursue music, but even then, she commanded a crowd with the audience knowing every word of the cutthroat lyrics. With deep roots in poetry, Chelly started to craft her emcee skills at 15, with a style reminiscent of a battle rapper.
Her grind has been steady, with a handful of well-received loose tracks over the past few years, but something finally clicked for Chelly with her track “Northeast Baby” in 2017. The song, a catchy tune glorifying neighborhood antics, became an unofficial anthem for the youth in D.C. Although it monumentally boosted her career in her home region, Chelly soon found herself at a crossroads. Internally, what she wanted for her sound and message no longer matched what her fans had flocked to her for.
Today, she released her debut project, Halfway There. In her opinion, it's a whole new sound compared to her previous works, leaving her both excited and fearful. During a recent trip to New York City, Chelly sat down with The FADER to chat about her upward trajectory, humble beginnings, and putting together her first official EP.
Where do you see your career as an artist heading?
When I first started off, I saw myself as this street girl. As I’m growing, I see myself transforming into a woman. I went from a tomboy in my neighborhood, making neighborhood music about street violence, and now I’m slowing graduating into [something different]. I’m talking about life, friends, relationships; I'm talking about struggling, real-life situations. When new people listen to my music, I want them to search back and go to old videos and see the person I was before. I'm constantly changing. I sit back like wow, this wasn't the person I was two years ago.
So this is a re-introduction?
Yeah. It’s different versions of myself on every single song on Halfway There. There are so many other songs that I recorded that aren't even out yet so there's gonna be another project right after [this one] because I still have a lot [to say] – I only put seven songs on this EP. I’m so happy because I feel like I'm rebranding myself and I have a different approach. Everything is just changing, and I'm liking it. I was so stuck on hood music, talking about fighting and this and that. I was just so...
Was that a reflection of where you were at the time?
Yes. When I was younger, I was in a whole lot of drama with females. I was hanging out a lot. As I started starting growing and taking my career more seriously, I started losing friends. People weren’t supporting me. I was by myself a lot. I used to be Facebook famous, IG famous. I had so many friends, I was cool with everybody. I would always be out. I was vlogging. I was doing a lot. I was known. I noticed when it came down to it, when shows started coming, video shoots, etc – when I was trying to perfect my craft I started losing people. Day by day. People would be fake or switch up.
What about your fans, have they changed too?
When I was making ratchet music it picked up the neighborhood kids. Teenage females. They loved it. “Northeast Baby” got all the kids all over again. Around that time though I was losing so many people, my life was changing so much. I got to a point where I stopped dropping music. I said I don't even think [my audience] is ready for this music yet.
After “Northeast Baby” it took a long time for me to put music out. You would have thought I was a one-hit wonder. I wasn't scared, but I was nervous about losing my fans. I didn't know how to get their attention again because I didn't want to keep making the crazy ratchet music. I was so scared to open up and change my style of rap because I didn't know how my fans would take it. I've never been this happy with my music, I'm really satisfied with it. I feel like my fans will become more solid and closer to me. That's all I really want. I want them to know the real me. Not just music I'm throwing out there.
What songs showcase the new you best?
There's two. One is called "Tables Turn." When I wrote that song, I just snapped. I was done with everything. I just let it go with that song. I was out one day and ran into people from my past. These people didn't matter, but they tried to play cool and down because they know where I'm at now. They never supported me in life, but I knew them since I was young. I've been a writer since I was in middle school. They approached me and after I walked off something in my head clicked — I keep running into people from my past.
Who has been down for you the entire time?
My mother. She has so much faith in me. It don't matter what it is. I went to hair school after I dropped out of school. When I dropped outta there and quit all my jobs and didn't wanna do anything, I told her I just wanted to rap. I was broke for a whole year. I didn't go to school. I didn't have a job. I was just in the house. I wanted to do Youtube but I didn't have cameras.
What was the second song you mentioned that represents you best?
The second song is called “I Don't Wanna Lose.” I was having relationship problems. I was in a place where I wanted to be in [a realtionship] but maybe for some reason, I needed to be out of it. I was venting, I don't wanna get too deep into it. I recorded it from a lower pitch. Usually, when I rap it's from a higher pitch but this is really low and calm...a melodic singing vibe. It came out so so good. I was scared to record it. Sometimes I write just to express myself, I don't have intentions of dropping it. It's a lot of stuff that I'm never gonna drop. When I finally did it in the studio everyone was like that's the one. I wasn't so comfortable with it because my voice sounds totally different. Eventually, I started making other songs with that same pitch. My main goal is stepping out of my comfort zone.