Noisey

Redefining Black Masculinity with Channel Tres

With the release of his new EP 'Black Moses,' the Compton-bred artist challenges the way Black men are perceived in society.

by DeAsia Paige
Aug 16 2019, 11:00am

Photo by David Wolff - Patrick/Redferns/Getty Images

Channel Tres' music is inescapably groovy. His carefree performance aesthetic stands out not only because of his eccentric, interpretative-dance-heavy routines, but also because his music invites others to join him. Tres' music is seductive, too.

The Compton artist's eponymous debut EP, released last year, balances seduction and funk, sounding like the halfway point between house music and Barry White. House music, a dance genre created in Chicago in the 1970's, isn't a space that's typically popular for Black artists to join these days, but it's paid off for Tres, who's recently toured with Childish Gambino and received a nod from Elton John, who praised Tres as his favorite new artist.

Now, with his new EP Black Moses, named after a 1971 Isaac Hayes album of the same name, Channel Tres aims to infuse more of his voice into his unique sound. Songs like "Brilliant Nigga" and "Sexy Black Timberlake" celebrate Blackness while also being Tres' personal examination into his own masculinity. Channel Tres doesn't hide from the flamboyant elements that make up his artistry. He celebrates them, adding himself to the list of popular Black male artists like Tyler, the Creator and Lil Nas X who aren't defined by gendered stereotypes while also feeling empowered to identify as queer.

Black Moses is the sound of Channel Tres giving listeners a taste of his upbringing and personality. It could simply be defined as very pro-Black, but the EP is more than just a political statement. Black Moses is a groovy portrait of Tres using his dark experiences in Compton to create an optimistic future for his family and community. Ahead of the release of Black Moses, VICE caught up with Tres to talk about his latest offering and how his style redefines Black masculinity:

VICE: Why did you dedicate your album to Issac Hayes?

Channel Tres: I have, like, a real deep voice, and I haven't heard nobody out like that in a long time, so I think I'm like a new wave of like a Barry White kind of a nigga. And him and Isaac Hayes's voices were like that during their time. The R&B niggas be singing all high and sexy and stuff. I'm not that nigga. I'm also into a lot of Blaxploitation films, and I was watching "Shaft" [for which Hayes composed the soundtrack] recently and I watch his concerts, and I just like the power that he exuberates and it gave a lot of comfort and self-esteem.

Do you see yourself as a Black Moses?

Yeah. I'm kind of like the first in my family to be doing the things that I'm doing and I kind of have a rough past, so for me to break through a lot of that, it helped me break down a lot of barriers for people that know me and have been in the same type of situations I've been in. The concept of Moses in the Bible is leading the people to the promised land, and I feel like a big part of what I'm doing is for my family and for my community to help break certain barriers.

What barriers?

I grew up hating that I was dark-skinned because of what I saw on television and what people were telling me and how people would make fun of me for my hair being nappy as hell. You're going to get made fun of growing up, but if you don't have a balance of people talking shit and having a positive role model, it'll get to you. I just didn't have a balance of the positive and the negative. I remember just like when I got older and like trying to move through the world and comparing myself to people and thinking that they're better than me because they grew up a certain way. It made me not take risks and chances on myself and I had to spend time breaking that stigma in my mind.

"Sexy Black Timberlake" is interesting because you talk about being hypersexualized because of your Black skin, which isn't a story that isn't usually told. What was the inspiration behind writing that song?

I like when people say I'm cute and stuff like that, but it doesn't really make my day better or anything. Since my music has become more popular, I've been seeing how I could be walking down the street or something and somebody will cross the street or clench their purse because I'm a nigga walking down the street. It's just about how I can be objectified or vilified based on what I'm wearing or where you see me. I'll be doing these shows, and sometimes these white ladies come up and kiss me and cry and do things like that and I'm like damn if they saw me walking down the street, they'll probably be scared of me, but they like me now only because they've seen me perform.

Your style is very flamboyant. Do you see yourself in a community with queer Black male artists like Steve Lacy and Tyler the Creator who also celebrate their flamboyant styles?

I think I am by default because I don't care and I'm ok with my feminine energy. I'm fluid, but I'm not gay. I grew up in a very pro-Black community, so they always said that [society] is trying to put dudes in dresses and demasculinize the Black man, and I just never believed that. We love Prince and Michael and George Clinton and all these other Black male artists who are hella flamboyant, and so I'm just like that from a pure artist standpoint, and nothing's going to hold me back. I like moving my hips. I think we definitely need to create a community where if you are a Black man and you're gay, you should be cool and nobody should judge you. If you're gay or more feminine, you're not in control of that.

Does your music aim to redefine how Black men are perceived in society?

For sure. I have this song [on the EP] called 'Raw Power', and it's dedicated to Iggy Pop and when I perform it, I come out and take my shirt off and move my hips. I'm also very into Iggy Pop and David Bowie and me and my dancers try to emulate their performances. My dancers are vogueing and we're just like three Black men having fun and letting the music take over.

Are there other artists who've influenced your style?

I'm from Compton, so Kendrick is a really big influence. good kid m.A.A.d city came out when I was in college in Oklahoma, so a lot of the things he was talking about really helped me. Steve Lacy helped me a lot with the stuff he's doing. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, too. They're like millionaires now and broke past barriers and used their pain to help them.

How has Compton shaped your musical journey?

I have a very like N.W.A. kind of attitude. In 'Sexy Black Timberlake", I say 'Nigga with a attitude, I see a pinky ring'. On 'Top Down' and 'Sexy Black Timberlake' like the way the drums are throughout the songs is something that I got from being in L.A. It relates back to the G-Funk culture and crip walking in L.A. It's just a certain sound on the music in which the drums are not so straightforward and just a little laid back.

You seem to have this very pro-Black theme throughout your music. Is that something you were taught growing up?

I just know what we went through. And I know personally things that I've been through, and how a lot of blood was shed to get to where we are now. I never want to look past that or lose that respect for what my ancestors did. There would be times where I tried to fit in with other groups of people, and I'm just out of place. It's easy for me to talk about me and Black culture because that's what I am. My little brother is locked up and a lot of my family is locked up and just struggling, you know? I know it wouldn't be like that if we had a better way we grew up, but it is how it is, and I know that that's the type of stuff that resonated with them, so I know the music is going to reach more than me, so I rather say something that's just like cool and have a good spirit behind [it]. I'd just rather have that because it would help a lot of people.

What sparked your interest in house music?

I got hip to it just researching stuff in college. I also started listening to Moodymann. This was during the time when Future released DS2 and everyone was doing trap music, so I knew I wanted to do something different. I started remixing songs. If it was slow, I'll just chop it up and turn it into a dance song. I was doing that every day. Once I started diving in and seeing it's just like a whole big world and its culture, I just start using elements of that.

What was it like to hear that Elton John was a fan of your music?

It broke down a lot of walls for me because validation is good and it's needed. Like I would want Kanye to hit me up or somebody that I looked up to and had a personal connection with their music, but then [Elton John] hit me up. My sixty-year-old auntie was like, "what the fuck, this dude hit you up," so it did a lot for me and it did a lot for my family.

Do you view your music as a way of not only helping yourself but also helping those around you?

Tyler [the Creator] has a line in the last album, "it's hard to believe in god when there ain't no mirrors around." I think that's just a great bar, because we're gods, and we have to look in the mirror to see the god in yourself. So, I just want to reflect that. A lot of it is just groove music that'll make you want to get up and have fun.