DOPE Magazine was able to attend Capitol Hill Block Party this weekend and while we were there we spoke with one of the most original and electrifying performers of the entire festival. Chanti Darling played the Vera Stage Friday evening, pumping everyone up for one of the best weekends of the summer. Their stage presence is unlike anything you have experienced before. Chanticleer Tru (Stephfon Bartee), was unapologetically fabulous in his crop top and shorts with a stunning dancer on each arm and a voice and sound that will bring you back a few decades. Pull out your Reebok pumps, bucket hat, neon windbreaker and best gold hoop earrings because this crew is bringing back that 90s vibe in every way.
Once the set was over and Chanticleer Tru had a chance to decompress with a drink and some laughs amongst dancers and friends, we found our way to his space behind the Vera stage so that we could get some one on one time and learn more about the voice of Chanti Darling.
DOPE Magazine: You’ve said, “In recent years things have gotten really dark. I want people to come into a space and let go of that darkness for a bit.” Do you mean that socially and politically or as far as music is concerned?
Chanti Darling: In recent years in music and nightlife, which I am huge part of too, lots of people are channeling darker sounds. I feel like we are coming out of that now. There is a sort of dawn breaking and people are making these lighter sounds out of necessity. I think we are seeing a shift now but that was where everything was. I was trying to juxtapose that. I’m really happy that there are more people bringing that energy. We really need it now more than ever.
Q: In another interview you mention drawing inspo from reality TV, especially the “ratchet” ones. What show specifically and how do they inspire you?
A: I would say real housewives of Atlanta and Married to Medicine and Basketball Wives. All shows that show fems of color in very powerful positions but they also show very real human nature. I like to take that approach in songwriting. A lot of times stuff in reality TV is quite serious but when put under a microscope it is actually kind of humorous and ridiculous a lot of times. I think you can take that and apply it in song writing. I’m talking about a serious subject but I’m not taking it so serious because it is also kind of a se la vie moment. That’s just how life is. It’s that balance of seriousness and humor and levity and ultimately ridiculousness that you kind of see and I think we all have that.
Q: You were a child of a military family so you traveled a lot. Do you think that those travel helped shape your sound and preference? If so, how?
A: I would say that I love diversity. I’m always listening to many different types of music. I’m always exploring or have a willingness to explore. It actually excites me to step out of my comfort zone. I think that might be the main element.
Q: You are incredibly talented and have spent years making and performing music but what is your most memorable/favorite experience as a fan/attendee growing up?
A: I have hardly even gone to many concerts. I wasn’t really exposed to going to shows a lot. I was very involved in my regional music. My mom was also a musician so I would go to jazz clubs. She was also the minister of music at our churches so I was always very involved in that too. We traveled a lot but we were very involved with whatever community we were in. I never really got to go and see anyone that I LOVE, legends if you will. I have tickets to the Janet Jackson show and I have been waiting now like two years plus because she decided that she wanted to go have a baby so I’m gonna get to go to that this fall. I’m super excited about that. So I’m looking to have this moment and am hoping to have it soon. Maybe it will be the Janet show.
Q: So where did your love for 90s R&B come from and why is it important to you to bring that back?
A: Ultimately it is important to me because I just think the artistry is better, point blank. There’s people who have the arguments about hip hop and mumble rap. People are like, “I want real rap to come back and real MCs” well I want real songwriters to come back. I want real singers.
I grew up listening to jazz and gospel music and blues. I studied opera and listened to my mom’s funk records. I have a wide breadth of musical knowledge and know what I am capable of. I am not trying to simplify that.
When you talk to people in the industry they are like, “Oh we need to make this more accessible, make it more approachable. Make it something that people can process easier and I have never been willing to do that. I just think that songwriting and artistry and musicality was better then. I want that to be at the forefront. I want great song writing. I want the lyrics to be smart. I want the melodies to go down easy but have an air of sophistication. I want these things that I don’t think my audience is too dumb for.
Q: With the political climate as ugly as it is, a lot of people are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. Being an openly queer man on stage, have you noticed people look to you for guidance or seeing you as a leader because of your platform for the LGBTQIA community? If so is that something that you want?
A: I think that people latch onto the parts that they can relate to. Being the voice that shows them that there is a different experience out there and being open to that or being the first person of color or first queer person they can relate to, I’m open to that. I’m open to representing my community but I don’t think it’s anything that I consciously think about. It’s complex and we need to stop pretending that things aren’t complex.
I am a queer artist who is black and has a very particular experience in life and a particular story to tell and I have been blessed with these powers to be able to tell it in a way that people can relate to so I am more than happy to be that stream that people can project upon and that way we can share our experiences together.
The more I am able to put myself out there and truly be myself on stage the more successful I have become so I am just gonna follow that and see where it takes me.
Capitol Hill Block Party is more than a city festival, it is a reflection of the community that houses it. Seattle came correct this weekend. So many beautiful people celebrating not only unique, quality music but a remarkable and diverse community.