"Had to tell mama, 'Wait a minute, you may not get it now but you gotta listen,'" Chaz French raps on "Way Out," a track on which he details his tenacity in the game and celebrates the fruits of his labor. That conversation with his mother is ultimately what lead the 26-year-old rapper to a moment in his life when he was homeless by his own volition. Chaz's vision for himself was vastly different from his parents' goals for their son, which meant he had to prove a point that he could go without a roof over his head to follow his dream of a rap career.

Eight years removed from being homeless, the Washington, D.C.-born, Maryland-bred rhymer doesn't have to worry about where he'll get a hot meal from or where he'll rest his head. His dreams have come to fruition and his debut album, True Colors, is proof that his lyrical talent has worked to his advantage. Chaz has not only built a loyal fan base for himself, but he's been recognized for putting in work, which lead to his major joint label deal with ThreeSixEight and Motown Records in March.

True Colors, the first release to come after his new deal, is a well-rounded effort featuring transparent, relatable storytelling. Curren$y shows up on the boom-bap banger "Invite Only," political undertones are weaved throughout “Amerikkka” and “Young World,” "Situations" centers on a secret relationship and the Shy-Glizzy-assisted "Hol' Up" serves as the soundtrack to Chaz's life. This solid effort, which follows up his 2015 EP, These Things Take Time, finds the father of two starting over, pressing the reset button on his life and giving the people the real deal—straight, no chaser.

Read on as Chaz opens up about his new album, True Colors, the life lessons he learned from being homeless, collaborating with Curren$y and his dream of becoming a baseball player.

XXL: You initially put out songs “Invite Only,” “Pops” and “Way Out” before the album dropped. Besides those songs, what tracks are a little bit different from those or show a different type of subject matter that you feel is important to share?

“So Are We” and “Somehow.” “So Are We” is just a homie record. I got Phil Ade and Innanet James on the record so it’s like, really puttin’ on for the city and just showing people a different side of me as far as having fun and what we do on a regular basis.

And who produced that?

“So Are We” was produced by Kris, my homie Kris Minor. He produced “Came Down,” actually—my first record.

So you’re keeping some of the same people around?

Keeping it in the family, keeping it at home.

And the second record you mentioned?

“Somehow” is produced by Super Miles, and it’s just a bright, upbeat record. It’s really talking about the climate of today, and how people are just so trapped in social media, but then also showing people you can make a way out of a situation somehow. Somehow you can make a way.

What are your feelings on that, in terms of the climate of today? Social media’s probably just one aspect of it, but just in general, are you happy with how things are going on in the world? That’s a big question.

Yeah, that is an intense question. I mean, you can’t really control what’s going on. I guess everything is happening for a reason, cliché as it may sound. But it’s just like, I think everybody’s just going with the flow, but then also, we’re so consumed in the wrong things. But then, is it wrong? It’s a lot of shit to question. Is it wrong? Is it right? Is it bad? It is good? I guess everybody’s just trying to figure it out right now. But as far as the music climate goes, I feel like music is the best it’s ever been. Just as far as people really showing you who they are and really being themselves.

And transparent and vulnerable.

Yeah. Nobody’s really sticking to the script, everybody’s doing what the fuck they wanna’ do, and I feel like that’s how it should be in general. No matter what you do in life, at the end of all of this whatever is going to happen is going to fuckin’ happen, ultimately. I mean, we’re crushing a lot of things, but like I said, if it happened it was supposed to.

Is there a song on this project that you’ve taken inspiration from—whether it was a personal experience or maybe something that’s going on in the world or that somebody close to you has experienced—that you put into the music?

Every song. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so every song I make is from experience. Every song I make is either something I’m going through, or even sitting with somebody and having a conversation, and seeing what they’re going through and applying it to my life and just putting it into the music. So most of the records are personal—every record. We got records that are made from going to the strip club, and then we got records made from going to church. It’s just me showing people my true colors, really who I am. Really who Chaz French, really what I have to offer, what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen, what I’ve been around, what I’ve heard. It’s just me applying all of my senses.

How is it when you get to witness people interacting with your music?

Any new ear to the music is always awesome. It’s always good for a different perspective from somebody else. But everybody who heard it, I feel like they feel the same way I feel. Some people come up to you and say, "Oh, I really fuck with it. It’s dope." But people are coming up to me and saying the same things that I said about the records, like, “Oh, my God, this record is this, this record is this, this record is that." So it feels good for people to receive it the same way I felt when I made it.

Right, which is always important. The cover, Naturel the artist designed it, which is super dope. It’s bright, upbeat. "True colors." Some people put out album covers, mixtape covers, whatever the case, and they’re just very plain or they don’t really tell a story. Your cover tells a story, so why was that important for you?

True Colors, I feel like that title is just so to the point, in general. People always use true colors in a sense of showing who you are and what you really mean and how you really feel and what you really been through and where you’re really from. So that’s what I wanted to show on the cover, just as far as even keeping my kids…My kids are always on my covers.

So now it’s just showing where I’m from—I mean, even little shit like Mumbo sauce. We put Mumbo sauce on the cover, bro. Like, never been done. Shit like that is True Colors. It was a time in life where I couldn’t even really go get carryout ’cause I was fucked up and didn’t have no money and shit like that. So to put that on the cover and show every aspect of what I’ve been through and what I’ve seen is just amazing.

You’ve gone through some trials and tribulations in life. At one point you were homeless, correct?

Yeah, by choice.

Can you explain that? Did not know that it was by choice.

Yeah, I mean my parents, they weren’t broke. It’s just me showing people that I can go without to really get what the fuck I want. Sometimes that mentality will fuck you up and you be in your own way, but that’s just who I am. I feel like I always gotta prove a point, but in my mind I see who I want to be, and I feel like these are some things I have to go through to get to a certain point.

So it wasn’t me trying to prove people wrong so much, in a sense, but it was me trying to prove myself right. At that time I felt like, I don’t need nobody to do this, I don’t need nobody to do that. I don’t need a house to make music, I don’t need food to make music. But then you look up and be like, Shit, I do need that shit [laughs]. Trying to make music on an empty stomach. I mean, yeah, it probably brings out some things that you didn’t know you had inside you, but then also, on a full stomach you probably make better music [laughs].

How long ago was that?

It was like 2009 and up. Like, two years.

Were your parents not supportive of the music?

I felt like that. I mean, of course you feel like that when all you want to do is make music and be a rapper or be an artist, and people tellin’ you, "Man, you need to get a job." And now that I’m older, they’re not telling you that because they don’t believe in you, they just want you to be the opposite of what they were, or they’ve been through shit…

Yeah, they’re speaking from experience. Maybe not the rap experience but from life experience.

Yeah, just things in life. Shit, they had dreams too. But now I feel like—now that I have kids—if my kids say they wanted to do something, I’m gonna’ go full-fledged and make sure that they really are into what they want to do. I think I work as hard as I do now so I don’t have to tell them to get a job. I don’t want my kids to be lazy, but I want them to do ultimately what they want to do, and I want to be able to fund it. I want to be able to be behind it one hundred percent. A lot of times people are going through shit to where they can’t really support in a sense of making you feel like it’s a priority to them, so I want my kids’ dreams to be a priority to me.

For Fathers’ Day you shared with XXL an open letter, which was very awesome, and our readers liked it. You said a lot of important stuff in there, and I know your children are super important to you—it’s not something that you're private about. How do they fit into the music? Why is it important to share this?

My daughter, it’s so weird because she’s really into what I do. I posted a picture the other day of her, and before she took the picture she literally said, "Daddy, I’m proud of you."

She’s three! How do you know what proud is? She knows every song, even songs she shouldn’t be singing. Same thing with my son, when he hears it he knows it’s me. It’s like, man, to have an effect like that on my kids, they have to be a part of everything I do. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be rapping. If I didn’t have kids I probably would’ve been quit this shit. But they love what I do, and I feel like they’re gonna’ do music, too.

You already kinda see it in them?

I see it. I see it all the way.

They have rhythm?

What? Yo, when I go on the road, I’m [going to] bring my daughter with me, and she’s gonna’ come on stage and watch her. She turns up.

She dances?

Yeah. I had a show with Wale in Norfolk—it was me Wale and 6LACK—and I brought my daughter on stage and I thought she was gon’ be shy. The song was “Remember.” I gave her the mic and she rapped the whole song. She was my hype man—she did better than my DJ. She wasn’t even three at that time.

Who are some of the people that you looked to for this album for inspiration?

Just the same people I’ve been looking up to. Frank Ocean, Amy Winehouse. I’m really big into gospel. I’ve went to church so many times in my life, and then you hear the same songs every Sunday just about, but you get a different feeling every time you hear ’em. Being in church like, I want to make music like this, where if they hear these songs over and over and over, regardless of if it’s redundant, they get the same feeling or they get a different feeling, or they can still sing along like they’ve never heard it before.

Church is a big influence. I’m a big Andre 3000 fan, and newer people like Anderson .Paak. I’m a big Anderson .Paak fan. People that are pushing the envelope are people that I really fuck with. Even Lil Yachty, just seeing people be themselves. It’s good to see that, it’s refreshing. So I want to be a part of those people who other people say, "Man, this guy really just… He’s him. He says what he wants, he does what he please." Outside of music, wears what he wants. You want people to relate to who you really are. A lot of people who make music, they’re not really who they are in their music.

Like a front.

Yeah, it’s just like a façade or maybe an alter ego, whatever it is. But I wanna be the guy that you talk to right now, I wanna’ be the same guy in my music. I don’t want no confusion [laughs].

Curren$y, let’s talk about that collaboration. "Invite Only" is a dope song. How did you guys come together, and why him on the track?

My manager put it together. Curren$y is an OG, he affected a generation in the most positive way. So it was an honor for me to have him on a record. Not many people can say they have Curren$y on a record. And even the stuff he was saying in the song, he really fucked with the record, so it was amazing. We met after the record. The song is so good you would’ve thought we was in the studio together.

Motown / Capitol
Motown / Capitol

That’s true.

It took him a couple weeks to send the verse over. I think he was touring or doing a lot of stuff at that time, but it was amazing. And then I went to one of his shows and smoked some weed with him, and it was the highest I’ve ever been in my entire life—besides smoking with Shy Glizzy. Shy Glizzy has some of the best weed I’ve ever smoked in my life, and I’m not even a smoker.

Interesting. So when you were with Curren$y, is there something that he had said to you that stuck out?

Nah, he was just telling me, "Bro, you’re a solid guy. I don’t fuck with too many people in this industry and I fuck with you, bro. Keep doing what you do." A lot of people say that, but they probably say that to everybody. You can tell when somebody talking just to get something from you. He was one hundred. We didn’t even talk about music or anything, we just talked about life, general shit—laughing and getting high and turning up [laughs]. Just feeling like you’re in a room with your brother, type shit. Shout out to Curren$y.

Is this true, that you wanted to be a baseball player?

Yes! Fuck, if I could still be a baseball player right now, I would. You know how much money muthafuckas make?

Yeah, a lot.

Let me tell you my baseball story. You see, people don’t know how good I was. It was two things I was great at in life before rapping. It was boxing—so if anybody wanna catch a fade [laughs]. You can ask Zay [Chaz's friend in the room], this been my best friend since eighth grade. You can ask him what I used to do walking home—he didn’t even know I used to rap. I used to walk home from school, niggas would look at me crazy.

Zay: He used to shadow box. He had to walk like, a mile home from school every day. I used to leave him, he would still be up the street.

Chaz: Niggas would be like, "Chaz, what the fuck are you doing?" When I was going to school, from there I would go straight to boxing. Now I’m small as fuck so I’d probably be a light featherweight [laughs]. But it was that and baseball, and I started playing baseball ’cause my cousin was playing baseball. So at the time it was tee-ball, so the time I was supposed to be playing tee-ball, I was playing coach-pitch so they moved me up. I was killing. They actually changed the rules in tee-ball and coach-pitch where I was form at that time ’cause of what I was doing. I was fuckin’ shit up, bruh. I was fast, I was athletic. So then when I got to high school I tried to play baseball. I was like, yo, these niggas are really good. Fuck this shit, I’m [going to] rap [laughs].

Is there a team in baseball right now that you’re rooting for?

The [Washington] Nationals. Hello? But the teams I was playing for when I was in baseball were the Mets and the Red Sox. Shout out to them. And I won MVP each year. My mom still has the trophies—she doesn’t even have them up anymore.

Where are they?

I don’t know. She has all my album covers up, though. In the house.

Well, she transitions.

Yeah, she transitions just like me. Shout out to mom, she’s the best.

Let’s bring it back to the album. What do you want people to get from this project? Like, your mission statement for it all.

My true colors. This is who I am, this is what I stand for, this is what I’ve seen, this is how I put it into my music, this how I live my life. I can be a shy guy sometimes, I can be withdrawn, I can be held back—but it’s no reason for that. This is a start over for me, so this is what I want to be from here on out. I don’t care what nobody has to say.

Why is it a start over for you?

I mean, you go through a lot of things in life to where I think people think starting over is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s just like turning the PlayStation off, and then turning it back on and having a memory card. Starting over is not bad at all—that was actually a great analogy; I saw it in your face [laughs]. It’s just me starting over, and me accepting me for who I really am. Not everybody else, it’s just more so for me. Chaz, this is who you are and accept it. Fuck it. Fuck it all. Risk it all.

Here Are the Best Projects Released From 104 Past and Present XXL Freshmen

More From XXL