In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Lou CharLe$, a Fort Worth-based rapper, spoke with arts and culture editor Marcheta Fornoff about the inspiration behind his music and how he spent quarantine.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Fornoff: Congratulations on your new album.
CharLe$: Thanks. I appreciate it.
Fornoff: How much of that did you do during quarantine?
CharLe$: Oh, the majority of it was done during quarantine. A lot of the songs were written during quarantine. We just kind of put the finishing touches (on), you know, when we got out of it.
Fornoff: So you were writing during quarantine. What else were you up to?
CharLe$: Same as everybody else. Trying not to be bored out of my mind. Watching a bunch of television. I watched “The Wire” for the third time all the way through. Besides that, just music and just trying to stay busy.
Fornoff: You didn’t have a bread-making phase?
CharLe$: I did not have a bread-making phase. I didn’t start knitting. I didn’t do any of that. I was just kind of just making music and yeah, just trying to figure out ways that I could continue to stay in touch with my audience.
I had a really good 2019, and I was looking to capitalize off that and then everything goes, boom. So, you know, I was trying to figure out ways to keep it up.
Fornoff: You have a string of shows in California this month. How are you feeling about being out on the road again and touring?
CharLe$: It’s refreshing. It’s fun. It’s good to get in front of new audiences and share your music and share your story. It’s exciting.
Fornoff: I know you moved around a lot as a kid. (You were) born in Houston, spent time in Cairo and Trinidad and Tobago. What brought you here and what’s keeping you here?
CharLe$: I have an uncle that lives like over there off of Hulen. So, when I was looking for places to come back to in the United States, my family was like, “We want you down the street from your uncle.” I’m like, “All right. Cool,” so that was what got me to Fort Worth.
And then what kept me here was just like, I love the people. I love the sense of community. I love the creative community, in particular.
There’s a lot of space to do really fun, innovative things. And there’s not there’s not a lot of barriers to that. Fort Worth is a hotbed for me to do some really fun stuff, cool stuff, different stuff.
Fornoff: I know you’ve worked a lot with Hear Fort Worth and Amplify 817. What effect do you think living here has on your music?
CharLe$: I don’t know.
It’s funny because I cited the people. That’s what’s keeping me here.
You have a lot of cool, real, honest conversations with people in Fort Worth, and they’re not afraid to have those conversations.
It definitely spills into the music and influences your way of thinking. Maybe it’s not something that I necessarily agree with or whatever, but I’m going to have a conversation with you if you’re willing to have a conversation with me.
Fort Worth is not as siloed as it might be in other cities. It’s cool.
Fornoff: Talking about people, I’d love to hear what audience you have in your head when you’re writing music.
CharLe$: It’s tough. I don’t know if I really have an audience.
I mean, I make music that I want my friends to like, and that’s that’s pretty much it.
If my friends are like, “Nah, Lou, I don’t like it,” I’ll be like, “OK, well it doesn’t matter if the whole world likes it, if my friends don’t like it.” That’s kind of what I’m thinking about when I’m making music.
Fornoff: So they don’t roast you?
CharLe$: There’s some songs out there that they roast me about. It definitely happens.
Fornoff: What songs do they roast you about?
CharLe$: I’m pleading the fifth.
Fornoff: I’m asking who is in your head while you’re writing because I was trying to tell if this is a cathartic thing for you. Are you doing it to get stuff out?
CharLe$: There is a bit of that in there.
You know, like, I’m not the most talkative person. Like, I go into a room, I’m probably not the I’m not the extrovert or anything like that.
I’ve had people in my family come up to me and be like, “So I kind of get your perspective when I listen to your album. I got your perspective on life.”
It definitely is an outlet, for sure.
Fornoff: That’s interesting because you think of performers and you usually think of extroverts and people who love talking, and you’re more introspective. Is there a switch?
CharLe$: There’s definitely a switch.
I was talking to one of my friends who’s seen me do a lot of shows, and he’s like, “Dude, when you go on the stage, You’re a different person. Then you get off the stage, and you’re back to like, chill Lou.”
I guess, you know, the stage, performing, music gives me space. I feel like it gives me permission to be that person. You know what I mean?
So when I’m writing my music, I’m writing it from that perspective, for sure.
Fornoff: Back to the audience thing, I feel like “Who Hurt You”, and you can tell me if I’m wrong, it sounds like you’re singing to one particular person. Maybe a partner.
CharLe$: That’s a real story.
Fornoff: It sounds like it.
CharLe$: Yes, it’s definitely a real story.
Some of the things or situations that you’ve been through, you just hear a beat and then the beat just triggers a memory. And then from that memory, I wrote that song very fast.
A lot of those songs just stemmed from like a real place.
And it’s funny because when I first wrote the song, I didn’t think much of it. And I played it for some guys at the studio, they were like, “Dude, dude, you gotta drop that one. That was crazy.”
I think it resonated so much with people because it’s a real situation that a lot of people go through in their relationships.
Fornoff: Do you know if the person who inspired that heard it?
CharLe$: I do not know. I do not know if they heard it.
Fornoff: Does that ever make you? Do you ever think about that?
CharLe$: Yeah, I think about that.
I think about when I like, you know, reference things that have happened in my life that probably only me and the person who went through it know.
I’m like, I wonder what they think when they hear, they’re like, “Oh, I know exactly who he’s talking about,” and stuff like that. There are little, like, gems there in the music.
I always wonder, I don’t know. I probably need to ask them.
Probably not the person who I wrote “Who Hurt You” about. We don’t talk anymore (laughs), but yeah, definitely.
Fornoff: That song sounds really personal. Obviously, the other songs sound personal too, but some of them may feel like I have a message that’s for a larger audience, not just one individual. And I was listening to “Til Further Notice.” That line about double entendres that’s like, “What difference does it make, with knees on our necks and no justice for Breonna?” that feels very targeted to a broader audience.
CharLe$: Yeah, I actually wrote that song during the protests and everything that was going on.
I went out and, you know, walked with them. During that time, I was wondering, if this is what I’m doing and putting a lot of my energy into, what’s the point if I’m not using my voice to help.
Fornoff: It sounded very existential.
CharLe$: As an artist, you spend all this time working on your craft and all of this and you’re like, “Man, I put all my work into this crap but what’s the point?”
What’s the point if at the end of the day, my legacy isn’t helping people or making the way a little bit easier for the next person who comes behind me.
I think about that a lot.
Fornoff: After putting out the album and having.people listen, do you feel like you’ve solved that existential question or are you still figuring that out?
CharLe$: I’m still figuring it out.
I want to do something that is going to be bigger than just an album.
I think more so than anything that looks just like me making not just people, but myself aware that there’s more to it than just music. The effect that I want to have is deeper than just making music, for sure.
Fornoff: What other big plans do you have for the other big plans for the year?
CharLe$: Well, I have a show at The Post on March 26. That’s going to be a big show.
We have my annual Louapalooza in Fort Worth. That’s going to be going down in June.
Other than that, we’re going to put out some more music. I’m not sure if I’m going to do an album this year, but definitely going to be dropping a lot more music.
That’s pretty much what I have on the docket right now.
Fornoff: Trying to pick up that momentum.
CharLe$: Yeah, recapture that momentum.
This first, you know, quarter is really going to be a lot of emphasis on live shows.
From there, a lot more music will probably drop in the second or third quarter.
Fornoff: Any more collaborations coming up? I mean, I know you’ve collaborated with Grady Spencer.
CharLe$: Oh yes, there are. There are more collaborations coming out. I don’t know when they’re going to drop. But they’re coming.
Fornoff: You’re going to plead the fifth twice?
CharLe$: Yes, I’ll plead the fifth twice.
Fornoff: Anything else you want to mention?
CharLe$: It’s a really interesting time.
We’re experiencing a lot of growth right now. I think that you know what makes Fort Worth better than Dallas right now is that Fort Worth just has the space for the artists to have a place in the city and the culture.
For so many years, we’ve had to like MacGyver it, so kudos to organizations like Hear Fort, Amplify 817 for giving us space to do what we do and not really put stipulations on creativity.
I’m really appreciative of that.
Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.