Welcome to Charmaine's Hood Avant Garde

Rap's new Renaissance woman knows exactly what she wants.

Rap's new Renaissance woman knows exactly what she wants

Don't sleep on Charmaine, the rapper who preaches bad b**ch mentality.

6 months ago
Duration 18:04
On this week's episode of The Intro, we're featuring rapper Charmaine.

Charmaine knows how to cultivate a moment. 

When the Zimbabwe-born, Nashville-raised, Toronto-based artist released her debut EP last spring, it was more than an album. Hood Avant Garde was, and is, a whole esthetic. It has all the makings of a modern masterpiece: bold rhymes, brash swagger, gorgeous album art and unforgettable music videos. 

Hood Avant Garde was several years in the making, during which Charmaine chose to step off the path to overnight success and take four years off to figure out what kind of artist she truly wanted to be. When she finally got back to work in 2019, she got into the studio and was surprised to discover she was actually more of a rapper than an R&B-pop singer. Funny, real and raucous, with a perfect union of flow and beats, Charmaine's Hood Avant Garde is a collection of songs rooted in a love for '90s hip hop, Missy Elliott, and, most importantly, herself. 

CBC Music spoke with Charmaine about bringing Hood Avant Garde to life, and taking time to check her gut and raise her child. She also discussed enthusiastic consent, her hopes for other young, Black women and "taming" her rowdy side so she can ramp up for Hood Avant Garde 2

The esthetic of the album, the videos, everything is so strong. I know that you also have a background as a makeup artist. What was your vision and have you executed it the way you wanted to?

I think we executed it. I definitely wanted to redefine the whole thing of being a modern-day Renaissance woman. In that era, it's always the men that were at the forefront, the leaders, the breadwinners. We're not living in those times anymore; we can do it, too. And I just wanted to show the world and show everybody who is going to be listening and watching to music and videos that I can take the lead, you can take the lead. Women are running everything right now. So what better way to show you than for me to do it myself?

There's something really poetic about the juxtaposition of these words "hood" and "avant garde." Both pack their own social history, they're coded for so many different things. Can you talk to me a little bit about the juxtaposition of those two things?

First of all, the inspiration of everything that I do and even who I am comes from Missy Elliott. She is the queen of hood avant garde. I wanted to still have a differentiation of her perspective of hood avant garde and mine. It took a little bit of time to figure out the balance, but I'm pretty happy with how it looks. 

The artists that I watched growing up making music, they had longevity in their careers and they still have their careers. And that's what I want. I don't want to last two years and then everybody forgets about me.- Charmaine


Do you feel like you grew into the vision that you had?

I didn't feel like I had to grow into it. It was already who I was. But now it just became a more organized, structured, planned-out version of who I was. I wanted to make sure there was a cohesiveness and a flow to it, where it didn't feel like I was trying to be something I'm not. That's definitely what I did not want at all. But I don't think I had to grow into it at all, I actually toned myself down a little bit.

What are the pieces you're toning down? 

I'm definitely pretty rowdy, I'm very rambunctious. My friends and I just love to get into shenanigans, I have this wilder side of myself. I just kind of wanted to tame it a little bit more, and then slowly kind of add more, and then keep adding, so that people have something new to look forward to, like, it's not always the same thing. There's a gradual build. So it's gonna get worse. [Laughs]

That's both like a threat and a promise! I love the tension of those two things together. You've talked about taking time off after you were originally signed, and your confidence being a thing. But to have the self possession to say, "I want a bit more time with this, to be good to myself, and really execute my vision," that's beautiful. 

Oh thank you. The time really helped me discover who I was, understand who I was, and think more long term…. Instead of just thinking like, "Right now, I want to do this now." But what about five or 10 years from now? What am I going to be doing then, you know?

Yeah, it changes things. There's a very clear difference sometimes between folks who you see early on just chasing fame, and not really thinking longer term about who they are as artists and how they want to evolve.

Yeah, and it's not as common these days, but I definitely want to always stick to those roots because that's what I saw. The artists that I watched growing up making music, they had longevity in their careers and they still have their careers. And that's what I want. I don't want to last two years and then everybody forgets about me. I would love to get a lifetime achievement award one day like at the BET Awards, you know?

The other thing that I personally am just really a fan of in your work — and you can tell me if this is reading too much into it — but enthusiastic consent is everywhere.

Yeah, yeah. You know, my dad hates it. He can't stand it. He can't stand it. He's like, "Could you be a little bit more modest?" I was like, "No. No."

You're a modelling agency for women. I think that's really critical.

Thank you. You know, I try. I've definitely, that's the impression I would love to leave with people when they hear my stuff because that is my mission and it's my goal.

It's very, very important for me to always remain in that lane of empowering Black women, empowering Black girls.- Charmaine


While you were in the room making these songs, did anything reveal itself to you in the creative process?

Every session I would go into, I would discover another part of my voice that I didn't know existed. Another tone, another thing where it's like, oh, this sounds kind of cool. And I'll always find something new each time. That's why I like each song. "Bold" starts off like super chill. That was my first rap song. Very cool, very saucy. Then you go into "Woo!" and it's the more fun and animated side. "Double Dutch" is more aggressive and I'm just having a lot of fun discovering all these different voices that I can do and the different cadences that I'm able to project out of my vocal cords.

It's also helped me — like, I was already confident before. But creating all these songs that have the intention of also helping other women with our confidence has helped me even build mine to a higher degree. From the first time I started rapping to now, I was confident, but now I'm just like, "Yo, you can't talk to me!" [Laughs] I know, I'm crazy. And I love that I'm so secure and so comfortable within myself now. Writing all these songs and essentially kind of playing all these characters in my music is really what helped me.

In part, it  feels like a love letter to yourself as a Black woman to other younger Black girls. What does it mean to you to make this space?

Honestly, it's like the most gratifying thing for me to be able to be in a position to do that. Because, I mean, there were amazing Black women and artists that I grew up watching, but it wasn't a lot of us, you know, there wasn't a lot of representation there. And I just want to get to a point where another little Black girl … can see herself in me. And she feels confident enough and brave enough to say, "I can do that, too." Because we need —  I needed that a lot more. And I would love to provide that for other Black women, Black girls as well. So it's very, very important for me to always remain in that lane of empowering Black women, empowering Black girls. 

And it won't just stop at the music. I definitely want to get into organizing programs where I can really talk to them and offer a safe space where they could come and ask me any questions or I could help them get through things. I haven't even gotten started yet, to be honest, I'm just starting to build but trust me, I have really big plans for this particular category when it comes to my platform.

Are you taking stock of what you've achieved in the last year, or are you just thinking about what 2022 looks like? 

I put "Bold" out more than a year ago. I even scroll through my Instagram and go all the way back to right before "Bold" came out. I remember being a little bit afraid of how the world would receive me. If people were going to love my music and what I'm doing. There were just so many questions. And now I'm in a place where it's just like, I'm seeing the results of all the work that I've been putting in and it's really gratifying … Hood Avant Garde 2 will be coming out and a couple of singles will be dropping before it comes out as well. I'm really excited about this one, because I feel like I now have the space to branch out even more. People have heard how I sound initially. But now I can, I can dig a little bit deeper and show them what else I have to offer…. Also, I'm performing at my first international show, so I'm super duper pumped about that. More shows, more music, more videos, just more of my face everywhere.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Being Back in Canada highlights stories about Black Canadians. (CBC)