Music/Interviews

Keshia Chanté had to get out of her own way

June 30, 2017

Staying true to herself helped Keshia Chanté get back in the game.

Take a quick scroll through Keshia Chanté’s Twitter account and you’ll gain a little bit of insight into the quality of her character. There are genuinely gratuitous replies, punctuated by heart emojis, to gushing fans, and photographs of her at various events, always with a sweet smile. One thing that really stands out, though, are the quotes. Like on most twenty-somethings’ feeds, there are a lot of them.

But Chanté’s aren’t trite—instead, they’re original and thought-provoking nuggets of wisdom shared by a woman on the cusp of 30 who has reached a point in her life where she’s truly coming into her own. “You never look good trying to make someone else look bad,” one says. “Yo at the end of the day, you are defined by how you react when you are uncomfortable,” reads another. This one, the latter, is particularly poignant — especially when it comes to the Canadian singer.

Back in 2006, preparing to film the music video for “Been Gone,” the Juno Award-winning single from her Juno Award-winning sophomore album, 2U, Chanté had a defining moment. She met with her American record company at the time and told them what she wanted to wear for the shoot: a hoodie, crop top, baby blue and pink sneakers. When she arrived to set, though, the label had employed a full glam squad and pulled a sexed-up wardrobe. There was nothing there that Chanté had specifically asked for. She, barely 18 years old, was shocked. And really uncomfortable. 

“Something about it felt really icky, one, because they were doing it behind my back and they were trying to pull one on me, but two, I just wasn’t ready to go there. I was a teenager,” she says, speaking over the telephone from Los Angeles. Despite there being only a couple of hours until filming was meant to commence, Chanté firmly stood her ground. She told the label that she wasn’t going to proceed unless she felt comfortable. The team then scrambled to get the previously agreed-upon clothing, even resorting to hand-painting Chanté’s sneakers because, at the last minute, they couldn’t find anything in the candy colours she had requested. 

“It’s little things like that,” Chanté continues, “where you really have to fight to be authentic to yourself, and to stand up for what you want, and not letting people exploit you.”

In an industry where young female performers often get pushed to prove their sexuality or to project an image that’s not necessarily true to themselves, Chanté’s integrity deserves to be applauded. Indeed, these values have carried over throughout her career, most recently into Unbound 01, her first release in six years. And while she’s always been self-assured, Unbound 01, for Chanté, represents no restrictions, no inhibitions; it represents not being held back—by anything.

Chanté first exploded onto the Canadian music scene as a singer and songwriter in 2003 with hit singles “Shook (The Answer)” and “Unpredictable.” Her 2004 self-titled debut album went gold and, in the years that followed, her music was on heavy rotation on both MuchMusic and BET, and gained multiple wins at the Juno Awards and Canadian Urban Music Awards. She worked with artists like Foxy Brown, Drake, Bow Wow, and Alicia Keys, and toured with Destiny’s Child. After 2011’s Night & Day, though, she found herself feeling a bit uninspired. Her mentor, BET President Stephen Hill, suggested she host the television station’s countdown show, 106 & Park. She did, for two years, and her bright personality was a joy to watch as she interviewed figures like Michelle Obama.

Keshia Chanté and Bow Wow with the Obamas

I’m an only child and I’ve always been a people pleaser, you know, I’ve always wanted to make my mom and dad proud, and I’ve always wanted to do everything perfectly. And being in that narrative kind of led through my life in my 20’s and I just think now — I mean, my birthday’s coming up soon, I’ve just been feeling ready to get out of the chain. Ready to get out of the expectations and all the things that people put on you.

“And then doing it, it was so funny,” Chanté says. “I kind of entered the show uninspired by making music and then within a month of being on that show I was just dying to get back to work, because there’s so many amazing writers, and producers, and actors, and DJs, and even managers or execs that you meet and they are really just so inspiring. So, as soon as that show was done, I was itching. I got right back to the studio.”

A product of that creative surge was Unbound 01. Released earlier this year, the EP delivers moody, sultry R&B that compliments beautifully raw narratives of sex, love, and heartbreak. It is confident, honest, and liberated. It is exactly where she’s at right now, as a woman and an artist, both professionally and personally.

“I started in music when there wasn’t iTunes and there wasn’t streaming,” Chanté says. “There wasn’t social media, other than MySpace. It was a really long time ago and everything was such a long process. It would take two years to make an album. It would take all these hands involved and it was a huge ordeal. It was very much a big machine. And, professionally, I wanted the opportunity to make music and put it out when I wanted to put it out, the way that I wanted to put it out. I wanted every little piece of what I’m doing to be authentic to me and not be orchestrated by the big machine. So that’s where Unbound came up from, professionally.

And then on a personal note, I just feel like I’ve always answered to someone. I’m an only child and I’ve always been a people pleaser, you know, I’ve always wanted to make my mom and dad proud, and I’ve always wanted to do everything perfectly. And being in that narrative kind of led through my life in my 20’s and I just think now — I mean, my birthday’s coming up soon, I’ve just been feeling ready to get out of the chain. Ready to get out of the expectations and all the things that people put on you.”

“The Valley,” Unbound 01’s cinematic, snare-driven slow jam, is about unrequited love. “Bryson Tiller” confronts men who seem to say all the right things — like the smooth-talking artist (and one of Chanté’s favourites — “he’s got so much game,” she says) that it name checks.

New single “Lights Out” continues in the same straightforward vein. Co-written by Julia Michaels (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez) and Lindy Robbins, the sexually-charged song (“take me high when you go down / we go on with the lights out”), is infectiously dancehall-infused and shows off Chanté’s vocal prowess. And the bonus, for the artist? The fact that Michaels is becoming more well-known as a singer in her own right. Chanté is thrilled that “Lights Out” also serves as a way for them to support each other. “It makes it really special and I think what she’s doing is so cool,” she enthuses. “She’s just a dope girl, I just love the timing of it.”

Chanté is continuing to ride that creative surge. Right now, there’s no end to it in sight—she’s constantly making music and collaborating with others, all the while following her instincts and staying true to herself. One of Chanté’s favourite pieces of advice that she likes to keep in mind?

Get out of your own way.

“That’s one that’s really interesting,” she says, “because it’s true: your fears really stop you from growing and going anywhere.”

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