Che Noir does not give up. The Buffalo and Niagara Falls-based rapper tells us as much on the Black Thought-assisted “Hustle Don’t Give,” one of the many standouts on her latest release, As God Intended. A genuine collaborative effort between Che and legendary Detroit producer Apollo Brown, As God Intended features the 26-year-old rapping over some of the fullest instrumentals she’s ever graced. There is a measure to each bar and a pensive quality to each beat. Che Noir opts for the thoughtful over the breathless. We hang on her every word as she tells us of her gunslinging street sagas.
Just a few days shy of one year ago, Che Noir was featured on Bandcamp for her work with Rochester’s 38 Spesh, who produced 2019’s The Thrill Of The Hunt 2. As Phillip Mlynar wrote, “The marriage of beats and rhymes on The Thrill Of The Hunt 2 paints Noir as an MC with the uncanny ability to catch the ear with an outlandish brag while also teasing out the deeper layers to her character. This is deliberate.”
Though As God Intended feels like a different beast from Che Noir’s many successful collaborations with 38 Spesh, what does not change is Che’s ability to bridge the gap between slick talk and introspection. One moment she’s putting rappers to rest, as on “Anti-Social,” and the next, she’s talking about the pain of her relationship with her father as on “Daddy’s Girl.” The fine details of Che Noir’s music—notes on watching Barney, for instance—give the work incredible texture and depth. Each bar is heartfelt. Each movement in the music is a blessing. Che Noir shares her world with us, without being withholding; it is our duty to appreciate her.
“‘I try to give a little bit of my upbringing and just my life in my music,” Che told Mlynar. “‘I try to give just enough so I’m not giving too much—but it’s enough to keep you wondering and hold you over.’”
There’s less wondering to do as Che Noir continues releasing music with remarkable consistency. As God Intended is her second project of 2020, and it feels as fresh and exciting as her previous release, Juno. Che Noir does not give up. No circumstance can stand in her way. The music is flowing, the energy is airtight, and her career is just getting started.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When and why did you start making music?
Che Noir: I was 15, dating this guy in high school who was a big local producer at the time. He taught me how to [use] Fruity Loops. Once he taught me, I started making beats every day. When I was 16, I started rapping over the beats I was making, and I didn’t take it seriously at that time. It wasn’t until I was about 21 I started taking music seriously. I built a studio in one of my friend’s apartments out in Buffalo. I started recording my first mixtape songs out there.
Then, I ended up building a studio out in Niagara Falls—that’s when I met Benny [The Butcher] for the first time. He came out to the studio, and we recorded “Tyson.” Once I started getting flowers and a thumbs up from Benny, and I found out West[side Gunn] knew about me, I started doing showcases in Buffalo. I was selling out and kept going from there.
How does upstate influence your sound?
That grittiness! Coming from these areas… Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Rochester are three of the top cities in New York with the highest crime rates. Being affected by that, that played a part in the aggressiveness in my music. As far as the sound, a lot of people tell me it’s like a nostalgic sound we have, but we’ve been doing that sound for years. I grew up listening to a lot of DMX, Foxy Brown, JAY-Z, Biggie, Pac… A lot of these big ‘90s rappers. Being a fan of their music and adapting that to my craft, that’s how that influence played on my sound.
Earlier this year, you released Juno with 38 Spesh, one of several collaborations together. How does working with Spesh push you as a writer?
Working with Spesh and being in the studio and writing a verse at the same time he’s writing his… It’s not like it’s competition, but I always looked at it like I gotta stay on my toes. Spesh is not gonna go easy on you! You gotta make sure your blade is sharp, and you prepared for whatever. Being in the studio rapping with him, Benny, and a lot of other amazing rappers from upstate—me being the only girl—has put a lot of pressure on me. That’s why I come as hard as I do.
Is there unnecessary pressure, being the only woman in the room?
Yeah, well… In a way. My way of fighting that pressure is just making sure I do the best I can, and I treat every song like JAY-Z gon’ listen to it.
Today, you’re releasing As God Intended with Apollo Brown. How did that process differ from Juno?
Apollo reached out to me around August of last year, a little after I dropped The Thrill Of The Hunt 2. He told me he was a fan of my music and he wanted to work! When I talked to him on the phone, he was like, “I was waiting for the perfect time to hit you up. I got the beats ready!” Once we figured everything out, a month later, he sent me the first batch of beats. He would call me and play certain sounds, samples, and get my opinion. He sent me three batches of five [beats]. I just took my time with each batch.
Around February of this year, I hit him up and told him I was ready to come out to Detroit. We booked a flight, and I went out there for a week in March. We recorded the album within three or four days. I would say, the difference between As God Intended and Juno… With Juno, we was putting a lot of songs together. Spesh would make beats in front of me, and then I would write my verse there in the studio. The difference is just the time demand. There was no rush [with] this Apollo album. He gave me a due date of April, and I had it done way before that, but I was able to take my time and figure out what I wanted to say.
I love the way you talk about never giving up on “Hustle Don’t Give.” When’s the last time you wanted to quit, and why didn’t you?
In September 2017, I went out to Atlanta for two showcases. The person I was supposed to go with ended up backing out on me a day or two before I was supposed to go out there. I had to buy a Greyhound bus ticket at the last minute and spend 25 hours getting to Atlanta. I went to my first showcase and was booed! It wasn’t the whole place, but it was people in the crowd booing me off the stage. Then I went to the second showcase, and it didn’t go the way I thought it would go. It was a hot mess.
When I flew back home, I remember my mom coming to get me from the airport. I was like, “I don’t know if this is for me.” I felt like going out there wasn’t worth it—I was ready to give up. I kept going, but a few months later, I went out to Chicago in January 2018 to record an EP with a producer out there. I spent a week out there. A couple months after I got back to Buffalo—we had a rollout planned—the DJ calls me and tells me somebody broke into the studio and broke the hard drive where I had all my sessions. So, I lost every session I did out there. I was ready to give up.
I have people around me motivating me. Every time I would try to give up, something would happen. When I was ready to give up after the Atlanta situation, that was when Westside reached out to me like, “Yo! You dope, keep going.” I had certain people pushing me to keep going.
If that happened to me, to lose a hard drive…
It was hard to keep going after that, but the good thing that came outta that was I had a single that was already mixed. I put it out, sent it to Spesh, and me and Spesh ended up linking off of that single. It took me until just now to realize some good did come out of that situation.
In 2019, you told HipHopDX: “I can’t be anybody other than myself.” How did that mentality influence As God Intended?
Just that comfortability. As far as me being myself, that’s some advice I got from an engineer. Once you reach that level of comfort, any music you work on, you’re able to be yourself, and that’s why I say this album is my most personal album to date. It’s so me! I’m talking about what I feel and not [feeling] like I can’t be vulnerable. I gotta be gritty and aggressive all the time? No! It’s a time and place for everything. This is my most vulnerable and personal album. That’s what comes with being yourself.
With this being your most personal project, what was the hardest song to write?
There’s a song called “Daddy’s Girl,” and it’s about my relationship with my dad. I never publicly talked about that before, but in the song, I got personal about how not having him in my life growing up affected me. It’s a song I know a lot of people can relate to.
Finally, how does Che Noir make herself happy?
I pray every morning and multiple times a day. I have to. For my team and me, even with the blessings and success of the past few years, there’s still losses—whether it’s through death or loss of friends. So, praying on a schedule… That’s something that brings me peace and happiness.