With Lil' Wayne currently incarcerated, it's on his Young Money crew to carry the torch for Weezy. While Drake and Nicki Minaj are busy prepping their major label debuts, Shanell is another Young Money artist whose creepin' on a come-up. The singer/rapper/rocker best known for penning Wayne's "Prom Queen" and making out with him in the subsequent video, and for her showcase track "Play In My Band" on the We Are Young Money album, is getting ready to make a name for herself. Her new mixtape, Shut Up And Listen offers listeners a taste of her Rock & B-pop fusion style that's heavily influenced by the '80s. Complex caught up the Young Money Princess who once covered Eddie Murphy's "Party All The Time" to talk about her favorite '80s records...
Interview by Insanul Ahmed
TIFFANY - I THINK WE'RE ALONE NOW (1987)
"I just like it. It was just something that reminds me of when I was younger. When I go to the club and they play the '80s selection of music that song makes me get up. "
PRINCE - I WOULD DIE 4 U (1984)
"I like it because of the choreography in the video. [Does hand moves] "I-WILL-DIE-FOR-YOU." I liked it because you could do the choreography. I liked Prince at the time because he was just different. And because he was Michael Jackson's opposite."
CYNDI LAUPER - "GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN" (1983)
"It was fun when I heard it when I was younger. It's just that feeling that comes back when I hear it. When I was younger and in dance school, those were the songs that the older people were listening to. "
JOURNEY - DON'T STOP BELIEVIN' (1981)
"It's the feeling. It's nothing specific, like I like this song because of this. At that time in my life, I just liked music. I don't know why I liked it. If you ask me about something now, or something more recent, I can be, "Okay, I like it because this or because of that." But back when I was younger, we just liked something because it made you feel good. I don't really remember where I even heard it. I was young, young. Like seven. Now I sing it at karaoke bars."
MADONNA - LIKE A VIRGIN (1984)
"She was bad. And watching her was like, "Oh my god I'm doing something bad." Her in that video, on the ground, humping the air, with that dress on, it was just something else. I didn't want to be like her. But I wanted her to be my friend."
Complex: How did you first get started and break into the business?
Shanell: I started off dancing at Tri City High School [In Atlanta]. Then I went to Columbia College for a year. I was studying dance there. Dropped out of that to go on the road, started touring as a dancer. The tour that I meet Wayne on was the "Up Close and Personal" tour. I was dancing for Ne-Yo. We saw each other back and forth backstage and on-stage. When we did the "Leather So Soft" video, that's when we actually sat and had a conversation about signing to Young Money.
Complex: I read that you and Bangladesh had made "A Milli" together and you brought that to Wayne. Can you tell that story?
Shanell: Actually Bangladesh went to school with me. When he started working with Ludacris, he heard that I was doing music. When I wasn't on the road, we would be in Atlanta working on music. We ended up writing songs for Kelis. We did "Oh Shit" on Kelis Was Here. And then the writing got to different people and one of the people ended up being Wayne. "A Milli" was a beat that Bangladesh made. And me, I was working with him while I was working on Wayne's Carter's III. I'm working with this dope producer and Wayne is putting this dope album together, so I was like, "Give me some of these tracks. Gimme the 'A Milli' track." I brought it to Wayne and he got on it. I remember hearing him say, "Man, 'A Milli' is going to just be a buzz record." I think he expected it to be like that.
Complex: You've known Maestro [who produced Lil Wayne's "3 Peat"] for a long time, too. How did you meet him?
Shanell: I was recording and needed a place to record. I just remember I was working with TLC. This is right after Left Eye passed, because I was still dancing and doing music at the same time. I remember going to his studio wearing my outfit from the video for "Girl Talk". He looked at me like I was stupid. It was big baggy sweat suits with the Left Eye patch on every side. He was just like, Wow. But we started working.
Complex: So how did "3 Peat" come about?
Shanell: Oh, I made that with him.
Complex: You co-produced that beat?
Shanell: He won't say that. [Laughs.] But I sat in there with him in the studio and he had started off. And he was kinda like, "I don't know what to do next." I was like, "Do this." And I was telling him what changes I think he should make. And it came out dope. I was like, "Let me get that real quick."
Complex: So after you signed you guys started working on the Young Money album and Rebirth. You're not really on the Young Money album, why is that?
Shanell: It's a rap-based album. And my music isn't that. So it was like, let's just do rap, let's do what Young Money/Cash Money is known for doing and Rebirth will be your introduction to the world. So that's why you see a lot more of me on Rebirth.
Complex: You're definitely a singer but you occasionally kinda dabble on the mic, not rapping but kind of rapping...
Shanell: I used to be a rapper before I was singing. [Laughs.] My sister D. Woods [formerly of Danity Kane] was the singer in the family. She was the Whitney Houston, Mary J Blige singer. I was more of the... I don't sound nothing like her but Erykah Badu, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna-type. I liked Lil Kim and Lauryn Hill back when she was rapping. That's what I used to run around the house saying, "I used to be scared of the... now I throw lips to the" as a young'n. And my sister would be in the room singing Whitney Houston songs. But I realized that I had a distinct little sound that was different. Bangladesh being a different type of producer helped me develop my sound and my style. It started off rapping even with him, it was more rap singing but it became more singing, singing, singing until I was screaming on the tracks like "Runnin."
Complex: What was your rap name?
Shanell: Oh my gosh. [Laughs.] Okay so I'm 4'11. And this was a long time ago. I didn't give myself this name... Midget. The name came from people calling me Midget in high school. But I wasn't never really stuck on it. I never really used it but other people would. So when I'm in Atlanta and I hear somebody say, "Midget," I don't even have to turn around. I know what time in my life I met this person.
Complex: Since you're in New York, have you had a chance to visit Wayne?
Shanell: I was supposed to but I think his mom came. I'll be back up here. I think we're all going to get our days.
Complex: Have you talked to him on the phone or anything like that?
Shanell: He's good. Well, he makes it seem like he's straight. I don't think he wants any of us to think that he's not so...
Complex: He's only been away three weeks but it feels like a lot longer to me. Does it feel like that way to you?
Shanell: Yeah sometimes. When I watch videos and I see his face, and I listen to the radio, it's like he's still here. But when you don't hear from him, go to the studio, and he's not there, it's like, "He's really in jail."
Complex: Right, for a while it was like he's never going to jail.
Shanell: Yeah. I was like, "Oh my god, he's not going to go! They're going to tell him he can stay home. I know it!" When that day really happened it was like... [Sigh.]
Complex: One thing I wanted to talk about with you is the rumors about you and Wayne. Obviously you guys denied the pregnancy rumors. I think what really fueled those rumors was that you guys made out in the video for "Prom Queen." Whose idea was that?
Shanell: [The director] Dave Meyers. I swear. He was like, "This is going to be this amazing rock video. You guys will "rock star" kiss at the end."
Complex: But you guys would also go on tour and do it on stage.
Shanell: Yeah, we decided. It started off just a joke, "Like we should do it on stage." It was never rehearsed. We just both kind of was like... it happened. I mean, the response we would get was just crazy.
Complex: But at the point when the rumors started spreading, Wayne could have kissed any girl on stage. But he was still kissing you on stage.
Shanell: But he kissed me in the video.
Complex: So he has to kiss you on stage?
Shanell: No he doesn't have to, but that's why it made sense to do it on stage. Hey look, it got you and the rest of the world asking questions about it.
Complex: Someone else the rest of the world has been wondering about is Kat Stacks. She's been talking about how she slept with everybody in Young Money. Did you ever run into her on tour or anything?
Shanell: I don't even know. No. Some people called me and told me about it. I didn't even see it online myself. Someone called me like, "This girl running around talking about... " But lately there's been a lot of girls on the Internet running around talking about sleeping with a bunch of rappers and wanting to write books. So we shouldn't give her the time of day. That's my family and I know they don't appreciate it at all.
Complex: Fair enough. When I first started seeing you on a lot of blogs, the first thing I noticed about you right away was your nose ring. What inspired that style?
Shanell: Just playing with my stylist on the road at the time. She made jewelry, earrings. That was like a hot thing in the summer. The earrings that go from ear to shoulder. I just told her to make me one that goes from my nose to my ear. It took a while for us to get it right, it was too heavy at times. I don't wear it all the time. I don't wear it around the house of nothing. It's just a piece that you wear. It's like your fly watch you wear when you go out somewhere. Or that pair of shades you wear out. I guess it's a memorable piece.