Cardi B won big on Sunday night at the Grammys, becoming the first solo female artist to win the award for Best Rap Album. But when it came to her televised performance of “Money,” she wasn't the only star to shine: Cardi's dynamic piano player also captured everyone’s attention.
Her name is Chloe Flower. She is, as you might have guessed, an accomplished classical pianist. However, she also has a foot in the contemporary music world, working closely with the legendary Babyface on her upcoming debut album, and lending her talents to the likes of 2 Chainz and Nas. After a frantic series of emails and texts, I managed to get Flower on the phone on Sunday night, not long after she got offstage. Our conversation is below, lightly edited for clarity and length.
Congratulations on a fantastic performance tonight.
How did this all come to be?
Basically, one of my friends introduced me to someone in Cardi’s camp, and then she showed Cardi and the team my Instagram. They were like, "Can she play?" [Laughs]. And I was like, "Uh, yeah. Hello!" It's really as basic as that.
I saw on your Instagram that you sometimes do covers of pop and rap songs?
I do that because it's a way for me to bring in a younger audience. What I noticed is that the audience that doesn't know classical music doesn't recognize the themes in classical music, even if they're popular themes. But they recognize the hip-hop themes and the pop themes. So when I use that, they're much more receptive. That draws in a younger audience to instrumental music and piano, wanting to learn an instrument, stuff like that.
Tell me about preparing for this performance.
They gave me a theme. They were like, “We want it to be cabaret,” and they gave me an idea of what they wanted. So I wrote an arrangement. Then they were like, “Okay, can you make this change, can you make this change?” and I made the changes. They approved it and then I flew to LA, did a few rehearsals, and then performed.
Is it difficult for you to play when someone is on top of the piano like that?
No, not at all, actually. It's amazing. It doesn't affect my playing at all. The piano's pretty sturdy.
Did you have an idea after the performance that people were talking about you?
I figured it out after my friends were texting me about it, because I was just so busy getting out of that dress. [Laughs]. I'm so happy. I'm honored to have a positive reception because it's hard as an instrumentalist to get an audience. The classical music and instrumental music audience is smaller than the pop and hip-hop audience, so it’s amazing. I’m so happy.
What do you want people to know about you, if they're just hearing about Chloe Flower after your performance?
One of the reasons I’m a pianist and I continue to do it into my adulthood is because I want kids to learn how to play an instrument. I feel like a lot of the kids in school, especially in public school, don't have access to music education. I want them to be proud about playing an instrument.
I've partnered with a lot of different organizations, and their kids don't even know what a piano is. They don't know what classical music is. They don't have access. But once they see me play, they get really excited about it. So me doing the covers and me working with artists like Cardi or the other artists I work with is to bring classical music and instrumental music and learning an instrument to a huge audience. That's one of my main goals.
I heard you played on one of my favorite Nas songs of all time, “A Queens Story.” Tell me about that.
Oh my gosh. That was crazy. Swizz Beatz DJ'd a birthday party where I performed, and I played Bach over a track. So he was like, “I'm doing this Nas album. Do you want to come in and try something?” I went into the studio, Nas and Swizz went to dinner, and they were like, “While we're gone, can you write something?” I was like, “Sure.”
So I decided that a version of the Revolutionary Etude by Chopin would be really cool. When they came back from dinner, they listened to it and they were like, “We thought you were going to play something really pretty. We didn't think you were gonna play something hard like that.” Then they were like, “Okay, use that.” I was like, “Wait. Should I redo it?” And they were like, “No.” I was like, “This is so not classical music.” You're just gonna use it as it is? Okay.
What can people expect from your debut album when it comes out?
I'm still deciding. I've recorded over 200 songs since I started working with Babyface in 2010. I'm just going to figure out what's my theme, what we should release first, and vary it from instrumental music, to classical music with beats, to original music with beats, to original music with no beats and full orchestration. I love orchestrating. I do a lot of film composing and stuff. I just haven't picked what I'm going to do.
How does a classical piano player cross over into the pop and hip-hop world?
When I was younger, my idols weren't classical musicians only. I had a couple classical musicians, but a lot of my idols were, like, Beyoncé. I loved Rihanna. I love that kind of music and I love that kind of audience. So I was like, “How do I get that kind of audience, get that kind of imagery, that kind of visual?” Their videos, their outfits, their songs, the beat, the dancing—I love all of that. So I was like, maybe I can combine them.
One day I was in the practice room. I was practicing a Bach prelude and I was kind of bored and so I just started playing Ja Rule on my iPod—this is back in the day when there were iPods. I'm playing Ja Rule on my iPod and I just started jamming to it with Bach and it worked. And I was like, “This could be something.”
How did you start working with Babyface?
I actually went to a concert of his by accident and I didn't know who he was until after he went on stage, and I didn't talk to him. Then three years later, I was like, “I want to find a producer to make beats for me—I met that Babyface guy.” I Googled him and I found his manager's email, Susan Markheim. I emailed her in December 2009. She wrote back right away. I said, “I met Babyface at his concert and I was just wondering if he wanted to do a meeting about doing piano with beats.” She was like, “It's Christmas, so you're going to have to meet with him the first week for January.” So I flew to L.A. and met with him, and then he signed me that day.
I know. Thanks, Google.
How did you start playing with 2 Chainz?
Mike Will [Made-It], he's an amazing producer, and so gracious. He brought me onto the 2 Chainz project.
What was that like?
It's really cool. I actually never went in the studio with 2 Chainz, but Mike occasionally will send me tracks and be like, “Hey, do you have an idea for this?” If he likes it and it works, then it works. So he brought me onto 2 Chainz and he brought me on Swae Lee’s last Christmas record too.
I won't keep you too much longer, because I'm sure you've got a lot to do on your big night. Thanks for talking to us.
Thank you. You guys actually were the first people to post my very first Drake cover, “Passionfruit,” on Instagram. I really appreciated that. I love you guys.