(WJBF) — The 2023 Grammy nominations are out, but what makes the country’s biggest awards show interesting this go-round is that next year’s nominations include a local connection.
Charles “Chizzy” Stephens has been nominated for his first Grammy for Best R&B Album after writing and producing two songs on international star Chris Brown’s latest album, Breezy.
WJBF Digital sits down with Stephens to discuss his accomplishments and to discuss his humble beginnings:
First off, congratulations on your Grammy nominations. How are you feeling right now?
Man, I’m excited! That’s always been one of my goals since I’ve been making music is that I would love to be nominated for a Grammy. So, I was definitely excited for that.
Let’s take it to the beginning. How exactly did you get started with music?
Honestly, I’ve kind of always loved music. My first memory that I can think of where I kind of started looking into who was behind the scenes was when Eminem and Dr. Dre were on the scene. Around that time, I started really diving into the credits of who a producer was and what a keyboardist was, and all the different roles of that. That kind of got my wheels turning. And being at Davidson [Fine Arts School], I played the trumpet, so I was in band from 6th to 12th grade. So, I already had a musical background. Probably around the 10th grade, a couple of friends and I started a rap group. In the rap group, we were all rapping, but we needed somebody to do the beats. And I was like, “Well, I like music, and I like Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre found him a rapper and started doing the beats for him.” So, I was like maybe I can do that for the group. So, I started teaching myself how to make beats and produce, and that essentially got it started. So yeah, it all came from that musical background that I already had from being in band.
As you mentioned, you are a graduate from Davidson Fine Arts School right here in Augusta and a graduate from Full Sail University, how did your education play a role in your career?
My education played a big role especially being at Davidson with being around so many types of people, personalities, and creatives. Just being around artists just allowed me to create freely and not be ashamed to pursue something in a creative industry. When a lot of people hear, “I want to be a musician, or producer, or artist,” the first thing they say, “Is that a real job? You need to find a real job.” I think being around those type of creative people allowed me to be like, “Yo. This is what I want to do. This is what I’m going to do.” So, I definitely thank my parents for putting me in Davidson because I didn’t want to go at first quite honestly. I wanted to play sports with the homies. (Laughs) So, when I got to Full Sail, just once again, being around those same type of people – musicians, creatives, engineers – that just allowed me to network with people with the same goals as me.
Now, you produced on Chris Brown’s previous album, Indigo, and now you’re a Grammy nominated producer on his latest album, Breezy. How did you get connected to working with him?
Honestly, it’s all so random. It honestly goes back to 2013 or 2014. I had met a producer who was working with Chris Brown at the time. I had reached out to him on Twitter. I was like, “Hey, I’m a producer. I got some beats or whatever.” He was like, “Yeah. Send me your pack.” So, I sent him a pack of beats. I didn’t really hear anything probably for about a year, honestly. So yeah, this I was like early 2013. So then, I get an e-mail that says, “Hey. We got a song with Jennifer Lopez.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay!” And I’m like excited. But it turned out that he sent that pack of beats to Chris Brown, and Chris Brown happen to be in the studio with J. Lo, and he ended up writing a song for J. Lo. And so, that kind of started that whole process of being involved with the people in his team. Then, fast forward to Indigo, that was kind of random honestly. I was speaking on a panel at a networking event, and at the end of the panel, I go out and meet a bunch of new talent: songwriters, artists, producers. I had met this one songwriter named LYRQ from the Dominican Republic if I’m not mistaken. She was like, “Yeah, I’ma songwriter-singer.” And she sent me some of her stuff, and I was like, “Yo. This is fire.” So, I reached out to her, and we got in the studio. We worked on stuff, and we started building from there. Then, it turned out she started working with a producer named A1, who was working with Chris at the time. He [A1] heard the songs and played them for Chris, and then, it kind of spiraled into that. And then, that’s how I ended up on the Indigo album.
You just recently released your first drum kit. Tell us about that and what all of that entails.
The drum kit is called California Nights: The Drum Kit. So basically, it’s a drum kit for music producers, songwriters, and composers that is inspired by my EP. I released an EP two years called California Nights. It’s basically drum sounds that I used for productions on that EP. I used some of those drum sounds on stuff for Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, and J. Lo. It’s just my catalog of stuff that I wanted to package into one thing. I do this series on my YouTube called “Behind The Beat,” where I go through and break down where I make the tracks to these songs. For my EP, I included the actual stems. And the stems are the individual parts of the song: the guitar part, the string part, the vocals. I know when I was first starting out as a new producer, I was so hungry to see how these people were making these songs. So, I would go through and try to re-create famous songs, and that’s how I taught myself. So, I wanted to include these stems in that drum kit so people can follow along when they’re on my YouTube as well. So, they can see how I make a particular sound [in the song] sound a particular way. So yeah, I thought it would be cool to have something for the producer and composer community to mess with.
If you could give some advice or words of encouragement to someone – particularly a young person – who wants to get started in music and have a successful career in music, what would you say?
I would definitely say try to start finding your tribe by finding people that are likeminded. I think when I first started out what helped me was people that I was already surrounded by, we continued to build. And those people who I met 10-15 years ago, we still create with each other. So, definitely try to find your tribe. I would say network. I know it’s cliché, but it is definitely the truth. I think there are different ways to network. It’s basically putting yourself out there. If there is a show going on in town, find where there are other people like you are at. So, if there is a show in town, go to your local shows. If there is a networking event, go to a networking event. If you’re a producer, find an artist or a songwriter to work with. If you’re a songwriter, find a producer to work with. Just start meeting people. Once you start meeting all those people, you guys are going to eventually start to come up together. I would so say be prepared because it’s going to be a long journey. It definitely doesn’t happen overnight. I moved to LA in 2013 so I’ve been out for almost 10 years and just now received my first Grammy nomination. So, it’s a long journey; it’s definitely not overnight. So, just be prepared for that. Lastly, I would say go where everybody is at. If you’re in a small town, like get out. Why not? I know you have the Internet, and the Internet may make things a little bit easier. But you have to get out there and be where the people are at whether that’s L.A., Nashville, New York… Atlanta, especially if you’re in Augusta. I moved to Atlanta before I moved to L.A., and that’s kind of where I got my grassroots start at. Just being with everybody is at; you have to be in the action.
Congratulations again to Grammy-Nominee Charles “Chizzy” Stephens, and you can check out his new single, “Seasons Change,” which can be heard on Apple Music, Spotify, and other digital platforms.