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SHANELL AKA SNL: Gypsy Rose

She calls herself a Gypsy and has a massive network of fans who don themselves with the same name and a bevy of celebrated artists who respect her tireless creative enterprise. But Shanell aka SNL from Young Money hasn’t even put an album out yet…so what’s her story?

Words: Aimstar

Talking via Skype, Shanell aka SNL is more than the bubbly pint-sized member of Young Money that most who are aware of her would anticipate. She’s delicate, yet very straightforward and honest about where she’s come from. She’s a gem who learned to hone her craft through classical training in the arts long before she started working with Producer Bangladesh, dancing for artists like Ciara, landing a publishing deal with Ne-Yo and way before she was penning songs for Lil Wayne. Shanell, who now sits as the creative director of Young Money projects and as an artist herself, is set to release her debut album very soon and another mixtape called Nobody’s Bitch, a befitting title that explains exactly who she is. Shanell is the rose that grew from concrete…

You seem to be the quiet one in Young Money. Is that just your m.o. or is there a reason behind that? Are you shy?

I’m not shy at all.

There’s things or I guess, a way of going about my artistry that I hold dear to my heart. I know that music and the music business has changed where, for instance, Skype, Twitter, uStream and those things have gotten a lot of the artists that are popping right this second—those things have gotten them popular. I’m more into longevity and being an artist that people years from now still inquire about and still want to know about. I guess it seems like I’m quiet, but I just don’t like putting everything out there all at once. I don’t know, I just think like the Madonnas and the Michael Jacksons of the world, there was a mystery to them. You couldn’t get everything from them. You couldn’t talk to them in their apartment on uStream, and you couldn’t just hit them on Twitter and expect for them to hit you back or else you’ll hit them back saying, “Oh my god, I’ve been writing you and you don’t respond.” I think that those are real stars and it’s kind of like a protection even for the fans and the fans don’t even know it. Like if you could get in touch with the person—an artist that you love and you know everything about them, at some point you discontinue your interest in them because you know everything.

So to me, I haven’t even put an album out yet and there’s a lot that people know about me and of me, you know, more than I would really want people to know. And just like the rumors and shit….I don’t know, music is in a different place. I’m here to sell music, and you know, make people feel good, and I plan on being around for a long time. So those things that like the Hip-Hop community does, isn’t something that I really take part in. And because I’m signed to a label that’s Hip-Hop based, people expect me to do a whole lot more….They’ll understand once the music comes out and once I do what I do, I think that people will understand me better and the ways of me being more quiet right now until I actually have something out there for people to buy.

It’s interesting that you say that. I come from that world and I don’t come from that world. You know, growing up in New York in the ’80s and ’90s, Hip-Hop becomes a part of you. I was an Executive Editor/General Manager at a Hip-Hop publication for a while, so trust me, I understand your standpoint completely, especially being a woman in that scene. But are you concerned at all with being an alternative artist who is very close to that scene?

A little bit only because of the door that I’m going through. I feel like—first of all, I’ll say this. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but Young Money. You know, I’ve been writing for people for a long time. I’ve been dancing with a lot of different artists for a long time. So I’ve seen how all these labels work. And you know, over at Young Money, it’s a situation where if you’re really an artist and not just somebody who has a cute face and can hold a note—like if you’re really an artist, Young Money let’s you do what you do, which at a lot of these labels, most of the A&R’s are scared to lose their jobs. They’re like, “Oh, let’s do what works, let’s not try nothing new.”

So Young Money, Wayne and Baby, they’re like, “We’ll let you do what you do, but you know, there’s a right time for everything.” And I think now they feel like it’s the time to show and prove that Young Money is more than just urban Hip-Hop. So I’m like the experiment baby, like I’m the first thing off of Young Money that isn’t just Rap.

And that’s a dope thing, right? It means that you’re the first lady of that new shit, so to speak.

Definitely, and so that’s the only pressure is that I’m the first come out that’s doing Alternative Fusion. Like I grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. I know a lot of people don’t know where that’s at, but I grew up listening to Wu-Tang and Nas, Biggie, but at the same time, I was listening to New Kids on the Block, Madonna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. So…[Laughs]

Right! [Laughs]

So my brain is fused in a way that I can’t even separate the music. So when you ask me to go in the studio, or you ask me to create an album, it’s going to be a fusion of all that.

So you know now I’ve got to ask you, what is your favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers record?

Shhiiit. My favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers record is [she sings:] “Give it away, Give it away, Give it away, now!” [Laughs]

[Laughs] I’m actually a huge fan too. I have [Anthony] Kiedis’ book [Scar Tissue]…

Me too! Actually what’s crazy is Wayne was reading that in jail. Me and Wayne were reading that book at the same time. He was reading it and I was like, “Oh, let me go pick that up.” And I was like, “You know I used to listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers…early!” And he was like, ‘I like this book because it’s real.” These are real experiences that a real person went through. But like, I didn’t even know all of that until just recently when I read this book.

Would you ever work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers?

I would but what are they doing right now?

Well they were on tour this summer and they just dropped an album [I’m With You] in like July or August.

[Laughs] Okay, I might have to look into that…But yeah, I like that fact that being an artist wasn’t what he [Anthony Kiedis] wanted to be all along through life. He just kind of found his niche and he made due with it. And the shit was dope, but it was a fusion of shit that he experienced and knew. It wasn’t, “I’m going to be a rock artist!” You know…I don’t think a real artist goes into this whole thing thinking like that.

But you’re really a creative spirit, who is very hands on with every aspect of your work. I remember seeing you on set and thinking that was awesome. So to me, you’re not your run-of-the-mill artist. You’re like an artist’s artist because you create everything, everything from scratch. You’re a dancer, you’re a songwriter and now an artist and creative director. So how did you evolve into this space from “I’m Shanell” to now “I’m an artist”?

Ughh! [Laughs] I started dancing when I was a kid, when I was like seven. My mother put me in dance school and I didn’t really want to be there because I wanted to run around and play with my friends. When I moved to Atlanta, I actually went to a performing arts high school called Tri-Cities and when I went there was when dancing had to not only be dance. You had to be able to sing, you had to be able to act. What they instilled in us was if you’re an artist and you’re dancing, you’re not just going for the dance jobs. You’re going to go for the musical theater jobs. You’re going to go for the singing jobs. There’s not one that doesn’t exist with the other, so be able to do them all and you’ll be able to work a lot longer. So that’s what I learned in high school and I just kind of used my tools from there in this mainstream world. What’s crazy is that mainstream world was a whole lot more lax. People didn’t rehearse, but like we [in high school] rehearsed for months before we put on a show. But in this world, the mainstream world, we rehearse for weeks and I was like, “How can you get a show down, and know what you’re doing in two weeks?!”

I think those are the things that Young Money appreciates in me because they allowed me to put together the tours that have gone on: the I’m Still Music tour, the I Am Music Tour and the America’s Most Wanted Tour. Like I was creative director for a lot of that…

And that could not have been easy managing all of those people…[Laughs]

No, not all at…Whhhhhaaat?! But it was fun because I learned the greatness in both worlds. Like Wayne and a lot of the other people in Young Money are more, “This is who I am. I’m real and ain’t nothing about me rehearsed. I just get on stage and ‘RAAAAAHHHHH!'” And there’s a beauty and essence in that if you can touch people and it’s not a practiced thing. But there’s also a beauty in being able to really sit down and build something that you know is going to touch people.

So to put those two worlds together on stage was something that a lot of people don’t get to do, like people that do artistic directing for a living. Like I don’t do it for a living, but I can do it and I’m going to do it for all of my projects. You don’t get to do that. There’s a lot of artists that if you can’t tell them what to do, they’re not going to move on stage. But with Wayne, I could basically show him the picture of what I’ve built around him and he’ll jump in and make it work. And depending on the people I hire—I usually hire people that I feel can go with the flow because it’s like, this artist is an artist themselves. So I can’t tell him where to stand, but just be ready to move when he moves. It’s crazy because the show changes every day. It’s never the same way twice.

Wow, I didn’t know that.

Yeah, I just evolved from dancing, to singing, to acting, to writing—it just all kind of one can’t live without the next and that taught me a lot now because you can’t trust everybody with your creativity. If you write a song, you can’t trust somebody to direct a video to see and feel the same vision that you saw? As an artist you have to have your hands in everything or else it’s someone else’s interpretation.

So creative control essentially…

Pretty much so.

So is there a different process from when you are creating for yourself or creating for another artist? Let’s use writing as an example.

For a long time I was focused on just writing for other people, helping out whoever needed help on Young Money, but now that I’m working on my stuff, this shit is hard! “What am I going to talk about?!” [Laughs]

[Laughs]

In the process of working on my own stuff, I’ve had a couple of other sessions where I’m working on someone else’s stuff, and I’ve seen how quick and how easy it is to work on their stuff. So I’ve said to myself when I go in to work on me, I’m like, let me act like I’m just writing this for somebody else because I allow myself to be a little more calm and not so nervous. That is something that I’m working on right now. That is my homework for the next three-four months is to just calm the fuck down! I’m so excited to just be working on my own shit that I just want it to be so right and I want people to love it. I’ve put the pressure on myself and I’ve just got to calm down. I know how to do it, but now I just got to do it.

I heard once that back in the day when you were writing for other people, after a show everyone would go out and you would just head back to your hotel room to write. Do you still do that, put yourself in a zone and just write?

[In joking cracked voice] No… No, I don’t do that no more! [Laughs] …If I could just send a message to people, writers and people that are inspiring artists, it’s so hard not to get jaded. It’s so hard not to get caught up in—and I’m not saying I’m caught up but I’m saying I know now how to keep a grasp on that shit. …How do I say this…I love what I’m doing, but this shit is not what it’s cracked up to be.

It’s not just about the creative, it’s also about the business…

Oh my god. [Laughs] And that’s not what I got into this shit to do. I want to be a writer and a producer and I want to be in rehearsals with dancers all day—That’s what I want to do. But I find myself on the phone more talking politics and trying to explain my creativity, which is hard. It just fucking happens! But like now, I think that I’ve semi lost that, which is a good thing and a bad thing because I was really hungry at that time. I was like, you know, “I’m chasing this shit. I’m chasing it. I’m chasing it.” But I’ve learned that you have to let it come to you, and you’ve got to take the time to live your life and then come back to the music because otherwise, you ain’t going to have shit to talk about but you sitting in a studio for months and months and months and months and not coming up with shit. So I’ve learned, go out, have some fun, live a little, experience some shit and then come back and write.

Not only that, when I used to go on the road with people, they used to go out to after parties and get paid to be there. I wasn’t getting paid, so I stayed the fuck at home or in the hotel and wrote my music. [Laughs] But now I’ve got these after parties that I gotta go to, I don’t have the same time that I can allot to those things. And you know…the part about being jaded is that I learned to stop chasing a dream and instead make the dream happen for myself. I mean you got to. It’s like you can chase it and you will never catch that mutherfucker. But if you sit there and just work, stop running and turn around and look at you and come back to you, you got to do that or you’ll just chase it forever. Stop trying to keep up with what everybody else is doing because by the time you do it, it’s old. So you have to create something and make people and things come to you. It’s harder, but it lasts longer.

Download “So Good” from Shanell aka SnL featuring Lil Wayne and Drake.

Follow @Shanell_SnL on Twitter.

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