Introducing the long-awaited ‘Dance Party for the Heavy-Hearted’
blog by Ben Kirst • January 01, 2013 @ 7:00am
Buffalo hip-hop artist Chae Hawk talks about his new album, Dance Party for the Heavy-Hearted, the way that athletes discuss their preparations for the Olympics. Hawk worked on the record for four turbulent years, a roller-coaster period of personal successes and let-downs in which his musical achievements were tinged by a looming sense of darkness.
The themes, the beats, the experiences in the music are all part of an internal dialogue that Hawk—despite his successful appearances on the Warped Tour and relationships with established acts like Forever The Sickest Kids, White Tie Affair, Joel Madden and others—felt he had struggled to adequately express. With the help of local producer Nick Chiari (better known as Grabbitz), Hawk claims that he is finally achieving his true creative vision.
“It pretty much sums up everything,” Hawk told Buffalo.com in a March 2012 interview. “My whole outlook, how I look at the place that I call home. And it’s a very unique relationship. (The album is) something I feel will shed a light on the world in a certain way, because it shows how you have to look in the mirror, and be like ‘Yo man, this is really happening and something has to change.’ I feel like I’m taking that responsibility on myself first.”
Sure, there are some of the familiar hip-hop themes of parties, girls, weed and self-inflating bravado, but there is also a sense of urgency—anxiety, even—encased in Hawk’s fervent desire to overcome the apathy and cynicism of his surroundings. Yes, Dance Party for the Heavy-Hearted is Hawk’s opus, but it is not meant to be his magnum opus. Rather, it is designed to be his ticket to a bigger world outside of Buffalo that he has brushed against, briefly experienced, even tasted—but has never fully embraced him. Yet.
“Let dreams collide with reality / and your mind will find a way,” is the hook to Hawk’s track “Collide with Reality,” and Dance Party for the Heavy-Hearted is the result of Hawk’s vision becoming tangible. Will it take him over the top? Time will tell.
Here’s a breakdown to each of the tracks on Dance Party for the Heavy-Hearted, along with commentary from Hawk.
Right off the bat, Hawk wants the listener know the importance of the project. “Those that had the privilege to walk with me for the last four years know that I’ve been focused on just one thing—this.” Chiari immediately puts his imprint on the record, delivering a rolling, wubby drop over what sounds like a loop of live drumming. Hawk delivers an A$AP-inspired flow, and we’re off.
CHAE SAYS: “My intros are the most important thing to me. I happened to go through three different producers and beats before I came across this backdrop. When I first started hangin with Grabbitz, he played me dozens of beats, and at first listen of this one, I knew it was the best first impression for my late entrance into the game.”
Remember This Night:
“Working on a dream / I gotta get the f**k up outta here / Hopes get invested then you’re f***ed / There’s nothing out here.” Rapping over a dark, dense beat, Hawk expresses the trepidation of every artist (or, well, just about anyone) in Western New York: that you’re going to work your hardest for what ultimately turns out to be, well, nothing. A little local praise, maybe. A slap or two on the back. Then it’s gone—you disappear like everyone else. Hawk pledges that he won’t end up wondering how close he really was. Rather, he extols the virtues of his own hard work, the effort he’s invested, the team he’s put together. “Another up-and-coming underdog with no leash.”
CHAE SAYS: A local producer played me a few of his beats late 2011. One stood the f**k out and I asked to demo it. I put a lot on the page, and then when I was ready to record, he didn’t have session files. I couldn’t move forward with him because the track was worthless to me without its files. By working with Grabbitz, I had him peep the beat, and he was able to revamp the style into a whole different monster that accommodated my lyrics much better. I was able to get my girl Mickey Shiloh from L.A. (wrote for Britney Spears, Janet Jackson to name a few) to lay her harmonies. There happens to be a Steve Jobs quote in the track that I had my friend Rachel Palumbo recite. This song means the most to me because it reflects the exact times, feelings and experiences I was going through living in the west side of Buffalo with Young Million. I wanted Grabbitz on the hook because he represented something angelically beautiful to me during the dark times I was facing. His voice happens to showcase just that on the track. This was the session when Nick and I knew we had something special together creatively, and by far (is) one of my favorites. Catharsis at its best.
“We hit the strip clubs because strip clubs are fun.” That pretty much sums up this banger with its heavy low end, ample braggadocio and endless weed talk. Grabbitz adds an impressive guest vocal. “I’m doing things that you wish you could / you ain’t doing s**t with your hobbies,” raps Hawk. Well—he’s kind of right.
CHAE SAYS: At this point in time, Grabbitz realized that I was creating really dark material off the rip, and he wanted to see the energetic, happy, colorful side of me on record. He played me the beat, and we got right to it! We had a lot of fun with this one.
Chae Hawk enjoys the company of the ladies. It’s a popular topic on the album. On “Suburban Vixen,” Hawk gives a shout-out to those well-kept young women whose “…life’s so easy ‘cause she got it good.” Very nice 80s-style beats from Chiari on this track, which ends (appropriately) with the ring of a cash register.
CHAE SAYS: I made this song in L.A. in October 2010 with my dude Ark Angel. It was my breakthrough first song intended for the album. It was released on iTunes for a bit, then I took it down, knowing I wanted to revamp it just right for DPFTHH. My dude Ark Angel is an alien in every way—super-talented—and when it comes to that, he is also very hard to get a hold of. So when the time to get the track files, me and my business partner Mike had to fly out to LA from Buffalo in order to find him and get the files. We were able to find him on the last day of our trip (luckily) and grab the session files. Months later, when it was time to mix, there was confusion with loading it up and there was nothing we could do to remaster this bitch of a song. So we just ended up re-releasing it as is. Ark Angel came through with his promise, though. Expect to hear the huge remix come spring break time 2013.
Another popular topic: getting paid. First-class travel, top-notch women, respect—all aspirations tied up in the hip-hop ethos. Hawk doesn’t shy away from expressing his own lust for material success, either. “They shootin’/ bulletproof my rhyme book / get rich or die trying will be the outlook.”
CHAE SAYS: I recorded this song in North Carolina at the end of 2010 with my dude Sean P. from the late White Tie Affair. This was also one of the first songs intended for DPFTHH. Sean has always been very forward and honest to me when it comes to my material. So for this particular track, he wanted me to bring something different to the table. Sean is like a brother to me. I was able to enjoy my time with him and his family out in N.C. during the recording. We also did “God Helmet” off of Blues of a Journeyman within the same session. (Good time interlude—a trippy night on Allen. I had a unique conversation with a stranger. If you listen closely you can hear the Human iPod doing his thang in the background.)
When Chae Hawk talks about shots, he (refreshingly) isn’t referring to assault weapons. “Good Time” is another ode to the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle delivered with some assistance from Los Angeles rapper Mikealis. “Be my Topanga” is one of the funnier Boy Meets World references I’ve heard in recent memory and, in the context of this testosterone-fueled track, will certainly revive some of those less-than-gentlemanly thoughts many of us once had about Danielle Fishel.
CHAE SAYS: This was also produced by Sean P. I was able to get up with him a year later this time located in Indiana. I was there to help him build his studio from the foundation in return for beats. That’s when I heard the first version of “Good Time.” Months later, I returned to Chicago to shoot the “Heartlock” video. On my day off from the shoot, I took a train out to Indiana to complete “Good Time” together. During the process, Sean felt the track was dated and cooked up something magical on the spot. I knew I had to share this joint with my dude Mikealis, who I met in ’09 on Warped Tour. Mikealis is like a brother to me. We have shared many nights in the VIP at NYC clubs, so it was good to share and put that experience on record with him.
Chiari’s paranoid, stoned-out beat is the highlight of “Creeper Weed,” an ode to the various means and methods of getting high—and some of the repercussions of pot that’s a little more potent than anticipated.
CHAE SAYS: It’s always good to have a weed song. But I wanted to create one that came with a different approach.This is dedicated to the one experience we all have had. Buggin’ out when smoking and thinking a little bit too much. I wanted this to have a funny dark theatrical approach with a Tim Burton-esque style. Grabbitz did his thang on this beat.
“I like it when they don’t leave me alone,” Hawk weeps through crocodile tears in the opening beats of “Harshin,’” a screed against those who doubt Hawk’s ambition. Throughout DPFTHH, Hawk sets up cynics as straw men to incinerate. “Never will it stop / haters keep it coming / feeling threatened that I rock / pray that I won’t pop / just ‘cause they don’t got / the focus that I just might have to take me to the top.”
CHAE SAYS: This was an idea I’ve had for a while. My dudes the Youngboyz sent me a few beats and this screamed “Harshin.” A week before I hit the studio to record this. My introduction of the song deals with an encounter I had with a young man who came up to me and spoke on how he saw one of my creative advertisement techniques on the street for one of my parties. He openly said that he was mad that he didn’t come up with the idea first. It was weird.
One of the true highlights of DPFTHH. Opening with a creepy, minimal beat that is teased with dubby saw waves and club tones until Chiari unleashes a stomach-dropping wub beat. Set the volume to 11.
CHAE SAYS: This was the very first official release for DPFTHH. There was an original before this actual version, but once I gave Grabbitz my vocals, he came up with this amazingness.
Love Conquers All
What a nice mom Chae Hawk has! This dreamy, acoustic guitar-driven piece features an voicemail message from Hawk’s mother that may have you wondering how the room got so dusty.
CHAE SAYS: One night, my mother called and I was caught up so I couldn’t take the call. I wanted to have Nick create a remix for “Collide with Reality” around the same time. He was more than successful with his attempt, but I chose to keep the original due to popular vote. I couldn’t stop listening to the beat he made intended for the remix, though, (and) I had a connection to it and I wanted it on the album some way, some how.Then one day in the studio, we put my mom’s vocals on top of it and it was meant to be. This was a way for me to show my mother that I love her, even though I don’t communicate with her as much as I should.
Collide with Reality
“Collide with Reality” feels like a fresh start to the second half of the album, driven along by a simple kick-drum beat and more of Hawk’s heartfelt lyrics about his fight for success. “Let dreams collide with reality / and your mind will find a way” probably isn’t bad advice for anyone.
CHAE SAYS: I got this beat from the Youngboyz while I was in the city early 2012. At this time, I was bumping a lot of Biggie and I wanted to make something along the lines of a modern day “Juicy.” I was able to record this in Buffalo with the help of my dude Rob at Garden studios and two other talented female voices. If you listen closely you can hear me singing so lovely in the hook, as well.
“Bottle the flow up / just waiting to blow up / come from a city where nobody show up.” Hawk is joined on this self-motivational track by Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die and Jon Salemi of Snapcase—two concrete examples of artists who rose above the apathy that can pervade the Buffalo scene. “Chin-Ups” ends with an angry Hawk venting against his doubters (and his own doubts?) again—“We’re about to make this money, man,” he shouts. “It’s mine.”
CHAE SAYS: The follow up to Pretty Boy Stomp, featuring my dude Keith Buckley from Every Time I Die. This song was the hardest for me to complete. There was a lot of pressure on me because I had two hardcore legends, Jon Salemi (Snapcase) as well as Keith, accompany me on one big song. It took me a full year to get the second verse just right, I wanted it to be perfect. I thank the Buffalo winter and 16th Street for the completion of this one. This is produced by my dude Woody, who I met in LA years ago. He also has production on Blues of a Journeyman—he happened to do the PBS remix, as well. Oh, and my partner and I drove from L.A. to San Fran to drop him a payment for the “Chin-Ups” beat while we were on our quest to find Ark Angel.
A how-to manual (and words of warning) for artists trying to make it in Buffalo. “You feel you got something / you hope you get buzzing / told your momma and your cousin / but your fan base nothing – that’s me.” Brutal honesty over a catchy, urgent beat that breaks into a keyboard-flavored waterfall at the end.
CHAE SAYS: This was created when Grabbitz and I were really starting to creatively gel really well tohether. He had a beat that I was vibing 100 percent with. During this time I was taking my time to help the local talent out by throwing parties and showcases under my Team Radio imprint. I’m glad I did so, because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have discovered my brother and musical partner, Grabbitz.
Another nice piece of work by Chiari – a shuffling electro beat and Grabbitz’s signature synth lines compliment Hawk’s schizophrenic lyrics about a bad breakup that undoubtedly sound uncomfortably familiar to many. “Why you be so bitter now / I hate you now / I can’t stand you / I miss your face when you leave me / I can’t leave you / when I plan to.”
CHAE SAYS: I was going through a tough breakup, and this beat accompanied me during that exact moment. This song happens to be the signature song for what the album stands for. A relationship that is very difficult to walk away from. Grabbitz and I equally threw down and spent time on this particular song. We were able to feature a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic on this as well. We are very proud of “Dinner Plates.”
An upbeat palate-cleanser after the dark “Dinner Plates,” “Bravo” is a signature Hawk / Chiari collaboration. It has all of their key elements—bouncing, unconventional production, lyrics about overcoming adversity while enjoying the party, and a few spine-tingling drops. Nice.
CHAE SAYS: I had this vision in the vault since 2010. It’s weird how this came about. Gabbitz sent me the occasional daily beat and thought this particular one would be good for me. At the time, I was still in my dark creative phase and this was way too bright and happy for me. It felt like a celebration and I was just not ready to feel that. Months later, I was feeling really good at the time and was going through old track ideas when I ended putting the two together. Mixed the old with that new. Voila!
A lazy trumpet sample belies this otherwise aggressive song about life experience, the lack of a scene in Buffalo and the hunger to succeed. “Work in my sleep just to get by / I don’t got time to die.”
CHAE SAYS: One of my personal favorites. I got this from my dudes MPIII in Philadelphia summer of 2010. This song is the soul of my project hands down. For a feature, I first reached out to a talented up-and-comer for the hook, but he took way too long to get the job done. I needed the right voice and person to be on this record. I ended up calling my dude Jayce, who I go way back with, and told him what vibe I was going for, and within hours he sent back his hook. I cried on the spot. This song is me 100 percent and it feels good to have a friend accompany me as well.
Come With Me
CHAE SAYS: I told Grabbitz I wanted another interlude to conclude the album since we used the dubstep version of “Once and For All” for the album’s trailer. I wanted to have something that was like the Omega to the theme’s Alpha. It took him 30 minutes and out came a beautiful composition. He was on his Apocolypto movie tip at the time and it shows.
Once and For All
“Although the lights they may shine pretty / these people only want to see me fall / I’m leaving now, who’s ready, come with me / once and for all.” So goes Hawk’s love / hate relationship with Buffalo. “Once and For All” also features a touching lyrical tribute to Chiari, who Hawk has repeatedly called his inspiration over the course of DPFTHH’s construction.
CHAE SAYS: This song is very special to me. This was one of the final tracks Grabbitz and I did for the record. It displays a breakthrough and plan of action of what’s to come within the future of both our careers. It also displays not to be distracted by a lie, and just Do what must be done to achieve greatness. I spent two days in Cleveland with a buddy engineer of mine named Adam Korbesmeyer. He was able to help bring this songs mix to life.
CHAE SAYS: Grabbitz felt that the album needed an outro. Throughout our experience creating this album together we have built a supreme level of trust. He felt that the album needed it, so the album got it.
Hawk and Grabbitz end the album with a cliffhanger – a simple beat and lyrical nastiness from the two collaborators. A sign of things to come?
CHAE SAYS: One of the first songs that Grabbitz and I did. This song represents the new me. A new, exciting beginning, searching for a special lady to share it all with. I wanted to have the listener hear my dude Grabbitz spit, as well. He is very important to me and I wanted it to show.
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