Charmaine came onto the scene in 2020 exactly when we needed her to. Her unapologetic, self-admiring and sexy hip-hop record “Bold” is all about celebrating yourself and not changing for anyone. One million streams on Spotify later, it has become an anthem for Black women who are being told to love themselves on the record after a tumultuous year.
The Zimbabwe-born rapper discovered her love for music as a child living in Nashville. While being in the southern U.S. city she listened to southern hip-hop at its peak. Charmaine paid close attention to rappers that were cultivating the music industry like Lil Jon, E-40 and Juvenile.
Her family then moved to Toronto when she was in her pre-teen years. A few years after the move her father lost his job and that changed the dynamic of the family. Charmaine saw music as a way out of their family’s tough financial situation. While they were living in a shelter she found out about a talent show at a local club called Lee’s Palace. She was underage at the time so she waited outside for her turn to perform. She sang Beyonce’s ballad “1+1” off her album 4.
That night Charmaine met an A&R from Warner Music and it kickstarted her music career. However, as time went on she felt like she and her writing needed to grow. She took a break from music for four years, during which she gave birth to her son. She wanted to be a role model for him and work as a preacher. But in 2018 her itch for songwriting returned. She quit her job as a makeup artist at Sephora and reconnected with the A&R, which led to signing to Warner Music Group.
In 2019, Charmaine was in the studio and still trying to figure out her sound. She was singing trap R&B when someone suggested she should start to rap. At first, she was hesitant. Both of her brothers rapped so she always saw herself as the singer in the family. She thought it would be fun to take a chance, but at first, she was shy. They did a couple of songs and then recorded “Bold” and her team loved it.
Recently, over a Zoom video call, Charmaine talked to Urbanology about her upcoming music, releasing her debut single in a pandemic and what it means to be bold.
How did you get into music?
This goes back to when I was eight. My dad was playing the keyboard all the time, he had this old little rusty keyboard that he picked up from the thrift store, so he used to play church songs and what not on it, and I used to watch him. And I was always afraid to touch it because it was his most prized possession in the house. So one day, he left for work and I snuck into the piano room and started playing it, and I played the exact same song that he was playing and I didn’t miss one key. My mom woke up and she thought it was my dad, so when she walked in she was really surprised, she was like, ‘what the hell,’ so that’s where it started, but I didn’t start writing music until I was 17.
I love your new single “Bold.” What does being bold mean to you?
It just means being unapologetically yourself, not caring what anyone has to say about who you are, what you look like, what you do with your life. Just being exactly who you want to be and doing the things that make you happy despite what anybody has to say about it.
I’m beautiful, I’m talented, I am valuable, I’m worth it, so why not tell myself that but also to tell every other Black woman out there who was told that they are not enough either.
Why did you decide to choose “Bold” as your first single?
Because for a while I didn’t really see the value in myself. I was insecure, I would always take what other people said about me to heart and it would just discourage me so much to the point that I was like, ‘nah, nah, eff it, there is nothing wrong with me, I’m beautiful, I’m talented, I am valuable, I’m worth it, so why not tell myself that but also to tell every other Black woman out there who was told that they are not enough either.
What are some of the challenges that you faced growing up and how did you overcome them?
I think the biggest one was when I was 17, 18 years old, my dad lost his job, so we ended up losing our house, and therefore we ended up in a shelter and it was six of us in one motel room sharing everything and I saw my parents and they were so discouraged. We are abroad, this all the family we have, and they kind of felt helpless so I wanted to do something that was going to take them out of that situation and help my family. So that’s how I ended up just finding a talent show one day, and it was like the first one I found, the Warner Music A&R was supposed to be there. I was like, ‘OK, major label, alright I can do this.’ From there things have been steadily climbing upwards.
What have you found most difficult about breaking through as a new hip-hop/R&B artist in 2020?
Honestly I can’t say I find it difficult because I have always believed that I have something to offer the world and I have a certain uniqueness that is missing so I knew no matter when I put something out or whatever I do put out, it’s going to make some type of impact just because I don’t stick to the status quo. I challenge myself, I like to push myself outside of that box and just be very creative. It’s just worked out exactly how I planned it. So I haven’t really had any challenges yet.
Has the pandemic changed your whole press run of coming out or was it like, “OK you know what? It’s kind of perfect?”
I think it was actually quite perfect because everybody’s at home right now, most of the time. I mean nobody is going out to party and things like that, everybody is at home, they are turning up at home, so it’s like the perfect time to put out new music so people can find something to gravitate towards during this pandemic. Then by the time this is over then I will be ready to do my shows. I’m not really complaining, I think it was a good time. I was already working on this for two to three years, I was like I refuse to let COVID derail the plans.
It feels so empowering, because I feel like we are in a time where the world is female and there is a lot of women dominating the game.
Of course there are so many things happening in the world right now, how does it feel being a female artist right now?
It feels so empowering, because I feel like we are in a time where the world is female and there is a lot of women dominating the game right now and it’s the perfect time for to me step onto the scene and people are looking a lot more at females. And I just wanted to involve myself.
What is it like to be a mother in the music industry?
It’s tough, because ever since July, just before I shot my video for “Bold,” I came down to Toronto because I was living in Niagara for a bit with my mom and my son is with my mom so I had to leave him behind because I didn’t want to expose him to COVID and I knew I was going to be out and about and just leave the chances of him being exposed. I haven’t really seen his as much as I’d like to, that has been the most complicated part. I feel like once COVID is no longer a thing then you know obviously you it would be a lot easier but right now it’s difficult just because I can’t spend as much time with him as I’d like to.
Growing up in Toronto, how did it inspire your music?
I think on top of having the background of growing up in the states and then coming over here, it kind of gave me the chance to experience different cultures and learn about different sounds from different cultures and that right there kind of helped shaped my sound. I don’t just sound like I’m from Toronto, but I don’t sound like I’m just from the states. It’s like a little bit of a blend of everything so it was definitely beneficial to be exposed to that.
Your visuals are so bright and bold, what inspires your visuals?
My personality, I’m very, very vibrant, I’m very colourful, I like to laugh, I’m very playful very comical. I just wanted my video to reflect my personality. And especially the parts of my personality that weren’t really accepted as much I would’ve like them to be as I was growing up so I really just wanted to highlight those parts of myself and we just came up with this cool concept of having everything just so vibrant so colourful and it came out amazing.
Tell us about your debut EP. What can we expect?
I think over all just versatility, of course I came out with a rap record or hip-hop record right now but hip-hop is not all I do, I do sing as well. So like there is going to part of R&B in it, a little bit of a pop in it. There’s going to be a lot of different sounds. I’m just excited for people to hear those different sides of me because I’m not just one dimensional, I’m very multidimensional so, that’s just the one thing I’m excited for people to see.
For people who are not familiar with your music. What do you want them to know about you?
The whole story behind me and my music is just to recreate a new age renaissance woman someone who is super strong, super bold, outspoken, just reckless but in the best way and looking to make other people feel exactly how I feel and how I view myself so hopefully they will gravitate towards me because I do have a lot to say.
Photos by Spencer Edwards, supplied courtesy of Warner Music Canada