Shantel Giselle is a hip-hop artist born and raised in Detroit now living in Los Angeles. A purveyor of what has been called “conscious trap” Shantel speaks on the issues of today with a succinct and piercing relevancy. Drawing from the deep and rich history of the Detroit music scene Shantel is blazing a new path of socially conscious, norm-challenging style.
Where one might come to expect the hyper-sexualization of the modern female rapper Shantel is instead tackling the issues of the darkness of human nature, the truths of systemic racism, the need for unity, etc. But don’t think Shantel Giselle’s discography is all doom and gloom, far from it, she is equally capable of the immense swagger and bravado that we have to come to love about the modern hip-hop scene. Today we speak with Shantel Giselle about her new single “America I Pray”, how the LA music scene has affected her work, and what “conscious trap” means to her.
Detroit has long been known as a hot-bed for Black music from early century jazz, to Blues, to Motown, soul, funk, and now hip-hop. What does it mean to you to be a torch-bearer for that kind of legacy of excellence?
It means a lot to me to be a torch-bearer. I want to make sure that I am representing Detroit’s excellence to the fullest by incorporating its legacy into my art and shining a light onto what Detroit has to offer.
Does that history of greatness feel like an added pressure to truly represent the best of Detroit?
Sometimes, it does feel like added pressure as I want to be a great representation of what Detroit has to offer. I feel this need to add to the legacy and to not let my city down so there is a heavy weight I feel at times.
What was it about your childhood/adolescence in Detroit that brought you to the realization that you wanted to make music for a living? Has music or art always been a part of your identity?
Music and art have always been a part of my identity. My mother introduced me to poetry and creative writing when I was a child as a way to express myself. I naturally found myself turning my poetry into songs as a way to escape the struggles I had in my childhood. I realized that I wanted to be a music artist as a kid as the music was the only thing that made me forget about the daily violence, poverty, my mother’s passing, and family issues I was dealing with and allowed me to just be “me”.
Your style has been called a “conscious trap” if you were to explain that to a casual and occasional hip-hop listener who might not understand that phrase, what does that mean to you?
Conscious Trap is trap music that contains a deeper emotional and spiritual meaning within it. My style is more about having a sense of awareness of what is going on in the world and within ourselves but still enjoy the lively feeling that trap rap gives.
“America I Pray” is a song that addresses the systemic racism that is ever-present in America, was this song inspired by particular events of 2020, like the murder of George Floyd? Or has this song been inside you for a while now and it just happened to be released at this moment?
America I Pray is a song that has been inside of me for a while as I wrote the song in mid-2019. I heard the beat and instantly felt this energy to write a song about dismantling the systems of racism. The song was birthed out of the frustrations I had about police brutality, the disrespect of Indigenous lands, the dehumanization of Black people, and the ingrained racism that nearly everything in America was built on that most overlooked before the 2020 unrests occurred. I wanted “America I Pray” to be a song that inspired others to look at the truth about America and finally stand up to make a true change.
What do you feel is your responsibility as an artist to address issues such as systemic racism and police brutality? Do you wish that you could somehow insulate your art from these heavy and dominating topics? Or are you glad to have a voice and a platform to speak out on social justice?
I feel as though it is my responsibility as an artist to address issues that impact the well-being of society as a whole. I never try to separate my art from such heavy topics as I believe art always imitates life in some aspect. In my mind, art is life, and therefore life is art. If there is something negatively impacting the lives of any being on this planet, I will always use my voice and platform to shed light on the issue.
What has it meant for you personally, but also for your music and artistry to make the move to Los Angeles?
My move to Los Angeles was to prove to myself that I could make my dreams turn into reality if I step out of my comfort zone. It has been the most rewarding experience for music, art, and life as this move pushed me to see that I am capable of doing whatever it is that I dream of. When I was a child, I always dreamed of living here as I wanted to escape what I experienced living in Michigan, and now that I actually live here, I find myself thanking God every night that it has been a truly amazing experience in every aspect of my life this far. It feels surreal that I live here and I would not trade this feeling for anything in the world.
Does being in a city of so many creatives inspire you to be at your peak level of creativity? Is it ever daunting being surrounded by so many abundantly talented people?
It is never daunting as I am naturally a competitive yet inspired person. We all are gifted and there is never any need to compare our talents to the talents of others. I am more so inspired by the gifts of creativity I see in others here and it pushes me to give it my all in my art.
What types of things inspire you to create as a musician? Emotions, experiences, sights, relationships? All of the above and more?
Emotions, experiences, and the unknowns of life inspires me to create as a musician. I find that emotion inspires me to always remain in my truth and that experiences inspire me to come from a place of realistic human understanding. My contemplation on the unknowns of life inspires me to remain seeing and thinking beyond this physical reality.
If your audience could take away one thing from the song “America I Pray” what message would you like that to be?
The message I would like for that to be is that we are more powerful than we think. If we realized how powerful we are and stood together fearlessly against injustice and oppression, equal society for all would exist right now. But as long as we stay in our comfort zones by giving away our power because we fear rocking the boat, nothing will ever change and we will remain on this downtrodden path.