Bay Area-based hip-hop artist Chow Mane makes his debut with the release of his 6-track EP, Mooncakes. Executive Produced by Jordan Garrett and released through Forever New Nation with production from Hongye.
Chow Mane delivers banger after banger on Mooncakes, touching on his experiences of growing up a Chinese American in the Bay Area and much more. Raised between Salinas and San Jose, Chow Mane graduated from UC Berkeley and now calls the city of Oakland home.
1) What inspired you to be a part of the music industry?
Playing and creating music has always been a big part of my life. I started playing piano when I was a kid, but from the jump I wanted to create and perform my own songs instead of learning other peoples’.
I remember I did a little melody for my 1st grade talent show and was super proud. Listening to music growing up, I always imagined putting myself in the artist’s shoes, trying to get into their creative process and imagining performing on stage with them.
When it came to making my own stuff, I guess it was just natural progression. Anyway, I’m really glad now I’m able to find my own voice and make an impact on people by doing what I love.
2) Talk to me about the making of your latest project – Mooncakes EP.
Yeah, so over the last few years I’ve worked on a lot of songs with no real direction. I usually start out by making a beat and then writing appropriate lyrics over them. So, for “Kamikaze” I was really feeling the aggressive, dark sounds Metro Boomin was doing; same with “Da Da Da!!”, though I tried to add some Bay Area flavor to that track.
The song “ABG” was originally done and recorded in 2015 with a friend of mine at USC, and he started getting it really out there locally. That song wasn’t originally going to be on Mooncakes, but Jordan (Garrett, who engineered my whole project) thought it would be a hit.
The “Mooncakes” title track also came from Jordan’s suggestion that I write something real and personal, which I hadn’t really done before. So, in the end, the Mooncakes EP worked well because it was a collection of 6 of my songs that were stylistically pretty different, but held together by a common theme – my experiences.
3) The project touches on your experiences of growing up as a Chinese American in the Bay Area. Can you talk more on that?
I actually grew up mostly in Salinas and Seaside, which is more in the Central Coast than the Bay Area. When I was 5, my parents divorced, and a few years later my dad moved to San Jose, so I would spend a lot of weekends up there.
My experience as a Chinese American has been really different depending on the environment I’m in. In the Central Coast, there aren’t as many Asian Americans as there are in the Bay Area, so I always felt like I didn’t really fit in. Kids would call me chink and chino a lot in elementary school, make fun of my lunch and whatever, but it was mostly fine after that.
When I was in the Bay Area, though, I could see there was a whole culture here built around Asian Americans – kids would go get boba, do their SAT prep or whatever, eat real Asian food. As much as I wanted to, I never really got immersed in that either because I was only really there ~2 weekends a month, so I spent a lot of time mostly alone or with a few friends working on music.
4) What are your thoughts on the hip-hop industry at the moment?
As much a fan of bars and old-school hip-hop as I am, I respect and enjoy the direction we’re headed in. Now, more than ever, there’s room for different subgenres and different kinds of hip-hop that there weren’t before.
Now, I’m a student of the game. I’ve probably read every major hip-hop book and watched every major hip-hop documentary or film out there, so I’m familiar with the history, social circumstances, etc. that have happened in the last 40 years.
But I do know that today there’s a lane for everyone – depending on mood, I’ll listen to Smokepurpp, Caleborate, Future, Pac, Killa Cam, or whoever; and it’s awesome because I can do it so easily by just looking someone up on my phone and playing their shit anytime, anywhere.
Man that really depends. I would love if a label could come in here and offer me some good money and resources, but I do value my roots and my creative freedom over that.
I feel like if a label got me, though, they would try to make me do some gimmicky shit like they did to Jin instead of just letting me do me. But yeah, as much as I live the independent grind, it wouldn’t hurt to have some help.
6) What do you think goes into building a loyal fanbase?
I think you get a fanbase when you make music that people can really connect with, and you make music that people connect with by being real and being yourself in your songs. That’s what I try to do, at least.
7) What sort of online promo and marketing are you doing to reach your fanbase?
I’ve been using a lot of social media push mostly, as well as reaching out to blogs, people on SoundCloud, and etc. I didn’t really use social media a whole lot before this year, but it really does make all the difference in the world in getting your message out there. I’m always trying to learn more as well.
8) As an indie artist, how do you brand yourself and your music to stand out from the rest of the artists out there?
Well, I like to make music that captures my own experiences and my own sounds. Some people won’t relate to it, but I’m hoping some do. I haven’t really created a brand other than being myself – I like colorful things, cute things, fun things, etc.
I know that coming up, I’m going to be (and have been) compared a lot to other Asian hip-hop artists like Dumbfoundead, Jin, Far East Movement, etc. But they have their own stories, and I have a different story to tell – my own.
Since I’m producing my own beats, I can really shape how a song is going to come out from the jump, and I’m hoping I can use that to help me make hits. That’s the end goal, to be me and make hits.
9) How do you currently make a living as an independent hip-hop artist? What sort of income streams do you have?
Besides the small amount of money I’m getting from doing shows and features, I work on spreadsheets as an analyst. It’s not the most interesting or engaging work, and it doesn’t pay as much as the jobs a lot of my friends have, but it gives me time to write lyrics and come up with song concepts, and it’s enough to pay rent and buy groceries.
Also, there’s health benefits so that’s lit. But yeah, it’s really a grind right now – every waking moment is filled with doing one type of work or another. I’m hoping it pays off in the end.