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Your local backstage pass to Northeast Ohio’s music scene. Get to know the talented musicians and community influencers in our backyard.

Ravenna rapper Chanelle Kazadi on track to 'Make It Work' in music

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Former boxer Chanelle Kazadi, who was raised in Ravenna and now resides in Kent, released her debut LP, "Make It Work," last year. Her music is blowing up on streaming platforms, and she's set to start a U.S. tour this summer.

Chanelle Kazadi is breaking barriers as a Black, gay and female rap artist in a male-dominated industry. Her latest album, "Make It Work," is climbing the charts on streaming platforms, and she's set to tour the album across the country this summer.

Rapper Chanelle Kazadi is determined to break barriers in the music industry in Northeast Ohio and beyond.

As a Black, gay, female hip-hop artist, she’s faced her fair share of challenges in a male-dominated field.

But this isn’t the first time for Kazadi— she spent years as a boxer before pursuing music seriously in 2018.

From Ravenna to the rap game

Kazadi, age 27, lives in Kent but grew up in Ravenna.

She said growing up in the area was fun, but now it’s more akin to a "no man’s land" or ghost town.

“A lot of friends and people that I went to school with have died,” she said. “Drug overdoses and, you know, just weird freak accidents. And it's just like they expect that out of you—dead or in jail.”

Kazadi wanted to do things differently and move past the narrative she said is typical for Black women from the area.

“I wanted to stand for something different and show that there's different paths that we could take versus, you know, being this typical stereotype as people see us in their eyes,” she said.

The artist first worked to break these barriers through boxing.

Her father introduced her to fighting at a young age. She grew up watching Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson.

She started learning the ropes at a boxing club in Ravenna called Brickhouse Boxing when she was 17 years old.

“My mom invested a lot of money into me for a year to be a boxer,” she said. “So when I went in my first fight, I had to win. My mom was the OG. She would drive me to my practices and she would stay there for an hour.”

Kazadi said her mom was in school at the time and would study during the boxing practices.

“My first fight, she was there, and I won my first trophy. If I had a dream, she would try to support it 100 percent,” Kazadi said.

Boxing lasted five or six years, then Kazadi decided to take a break. Soon after she started tapping into her creative side, expressing herself through music.

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Rapper Chanelle Kazadi started making music in Akron in 2018. After releasing her debut full-length album, "Make It Work," in 2021, she's determined to keep working hard to make it as a professional artist.

Transitioning to life as a hip-hop artist

While boxing was her life for many years, she’s always felt a calling to write and perform her own original songs.

“Music has always been a thing. I was just a chicken and cared too much what people thought,” she said.

She started working on music in Akron, but it took a while for her to start pursuing it seriously.

“I would say I was at a trap house [when I started]. I was with the homies, and it was just like a house where everybody can hang out. That's literally what it was, just a shenanigan house,” she said.

She said she began making “power moves” after linking up with a friend who was focused on making music professionally.

“So from 2018 to now, it's been nothing but hard work and grind, like nothing's easy. Nothing,” she said.

With the spirit of a fighter already instilled in her, Kazadi started taking chances and not letting rejection get to her. She hit the ground running selling tickets to shows, booking gigs and proving her name.

“You just you take that chance, and if you get told 'no,' it's like whatever. Someone will say 'yes,'” she said.

Kazadi released her debut EP, “Alter Ego,” in 2018.

She began building momentum and playing shows outside of Northeast Ohio and in venues throughout New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

The rapper followed up with two more EPs: “Harvest Hooligan” in 2019 and “Paystub” in 2020.

“As long as you make people feel good in your music, you can't lose, you know? It's just like, that's what I wanted to do,” Kazadi said. “I wanted to give people my story and also make them feel good listening to my story.”

Gaining a following with her full-length release

In June 2021, Kazadi released her debut, full-length album “Make It Work.”

The LP reached No. 18 on the iTunes Hip-Hop/Rap album chart.

The single “Two Cents” from the album received more than half a million streams on Spotify, and the platform placed the track on three of its official playlists.

“It hit 100K [streams] the first month. It's the first 100K I've ever touched in my life. I was blown away,” Kazadi said. “I was like, ‘What?’ Next month, 200K. I mean, I don't know. But it's a sign like what you're doing is working, kid, keep going.”

The eight-track album touches on themes of overcoming battles being a gay Black woman in a male-dominated industry.

“I've tried different things in my life, but music is something I'm for certain. It just saved me from a lot.”
Chanelle Kazadi

Kazadi said it’s a serious project that tells a story from start to finish.

Each song, from “2020” to “Family Matters,” expresses as a different chapter in her life.

“My story is, you know, struggle, pain, some happiness here and there. But, you know, just a lot of battling, a lot of self-reflecting,” she said.

She said the album title is literal— she’s making it work in the music industry as a Black female artist.

On the album cover, Kazadi poses in front of a yellow background wearing a head scarf and rolled-up shirt sleeves, showing off her physical strength and get-it-done mentality.

The photo could be interpreted as a nod to her past as a boxer, as well as an obvious visual tribute to Rosie the Riveter.

Kazadi said she stands by what she says in her music, choosing a Rosie the Riveter motif is a reflection of being an example for other women.

“I just been on the roll, just trying to build my name in other cities. The moment I dropped to ‘Make It Work,’ I knew I could,” she said. “So it was just a good feeling.”

Kazadi said she encounters a lot of ego in the male-dominated music world, but working hard has proven to her peers that she can walk the walk. Her movements through the world of music mirror her boxing career in some ways.

“It's very tough to be a female boxer because I never sparred with females. I sparred with men,” she said.

Kazadi holds no punches as a rap artist. Her sound is like a blend of Baby Keem and Queen Latifah at her prime but with a smooth, bouncy flow that’s all her own.

In April 2022, the artist released her single, “Pootie Tang,” with Matty Wood$, meshing a groovy beat with dynamic lyrical prowess.

Achieving her creative goals

In addition to making music, Kazadi also started a clothing line called Harvest Hooligang LLC.

The name comes from Harvest Drive, where she grew up, and her past as a troublemaker.

“A hooligan doesn’t have to be someone who does anything bad,” she said. “It's more so a rebel who doesn't care what people think.”

At her shows, Kazadi chants “hooli” and receives “gang” back from the crowd. It’s become a way to represent her brand and a battle cry that embodies the positive changes she’s made in her life.

"“As long as you make people feel good in your music, you can't lose, you know?"
Chanelle Kazadi

The rapper said her ultimate goal is to keep growing as an artist so her mother— who spent years supporting her on the sidelines of the boxing ring— doesn’t have to work another day.

“I've tried different things in my life, but music is something I'm for certain. It just saved me from a lot,” Kazadi said.

The artist will kick off her Make It Work Summer Tour this month.

Marlon Craft will join Kazadi on stage at the House of Blues Wednesday, June 8, before she heads to Los Angeles and Detroit.

She’ll make a stop in Cleveland to play the Art Hub with Freshie Friday, June 24.

Find tickets and additional tour dates at chanellekazadi.com/live.

Amanda Rabinowitz is the host of “All Things Considered” on Ideastream Public Media.
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.