A Singer-Songwriter Hustling His Way Onto the Charts
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this new voice is one you’ll hear on the airwaves.
I’m waiting to meet R&B singer Chris Stylez on West 4th Street in Manhattan. It’s a humid summer evening and an attractive brown-skinned woman is hanging out nearby. Stylez appears: good-looking, in a loose tank, skinny jeans and high-tops, sporting a hipster-ish beard and fade combo. No mistaking him for a bank manager. As I go to greet him, the woman does the same. Stylez and the woman embrace. Finally, they notice me. The woman cuts off her FaceTime conversation, but not before the person on the other line also says hello to Stylez. He seems to know everybody.
Inside a nearby restaurant, over Thai basil noodles with tofu, Stylez gets out his phone and checks on global streamers currently using his song. “Up until recently, I didn’t even realize that I was in the music industry,” he says. “I mean, it’s not like I have a record deal. I did everything on my own, just always trying to be in it.” Stylez is a case study in the kind of musician whose life was impossible a decade ago. Vine, the six-second video-looping app from Twitter, relies on a few stars to bring their followers to the app. Influential tastemakers contribute to playlists; some turn into hits. Often a dance routine gets its start on Vine, with memes following suit. The app’s track record for creating viral sensations would make many traditional entertainment-biz folks jealous. In addition to Stylez’s work, you may have heard of songs like Darwin’s Dessert, I Love Memphis’ Quan and Chedda Da Connect’s Flicka Da Wrist blowing up on Vine in the last 12 months, as Rolling Stone has noted.
Stylez charmed his way into the former prime minister of Georgia’s heart, vocal producing for his then-15-year-old albino son, whom Stylez recalls as sporting long blond braids and a “bunch of diamonds.”
Veteran R&B music journalist and founder of soulmusic.com David Nathan is enthusiastic about Stylez���s music, comparing his warm tones and “bold sensuality” to Marvin Gaye. He adds, “While Marvin would never have recorded [the lyrics] ‘Who’s gonna fuck you like me,’ he certainly implied it on that album.” Nathan praises Stylez’s “slice of overt sexuality that moves with rhythmic hypnosis with ace production values that harken back to the golden age of old-school soul music.”
Stylez was born as Christopher Allen to Jamaican immigrants living in Ottowa. Their hometown: Montego Bay — “and not the nice part, either,” Stylez says. He studied entertainment-business management in Toronto for two years, concluding he had to leave “before it got really bad.” He’s cryptic. I press him; he says he was “hustling on the streets, doin’ some stuff I shouldn’t have been doing.” Drug dealing, he later confirms via email, which allowed the singer to buy two condos. That money in turn financed his move south to Atlanta.
Family members in the ATL introduced him to local producers, and he earned his way to radio demos. The city was a good choice for Stylez. It had become a musical mecca for Black music since LaFace Records formed there over two decades ago, launching the careers of Outkast, Usher, TLC and countless others. These days, it’s playing host to more contemporary stars, like R&B singer/songwriter Ne-Yo. After a few radio hits, Stylez landed a spot opening at Ne-Yo’s show, accompanying him to New York as part of the star’s entourage. The trip allowed Stylez to make connections and learn the business. But Stylez took a detour home to finish school before heading to LA, where he crashed on a British producer’s couch. Since then, he’s struck unlikely gold: After meeting young Georgian (as in the country) artist Bera Ivanishvili, Stylez has begun self-financing his career. “Bera’s father is a well-respected and wealthy man,” is Stylez’s explanation — an understatement, as Bera is the son of former Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili. (A spokesperson confirmed the relationship.) Stylez charmed his way into the world leader’s heart, vocal producing for the then-15-year-old albino singer, whom Stylez recalls as sporting long blond braids and a “bunch of diamonds.” It’s a lucrative gig, he says.
Though a capable keyboard player in his own right, Stylez has been working with engineer/producer Dan Smith since 2010. Smith, who also works in digital promotion at Ultra Records and was pivotal in Stylez’s Vine exposure, knows what type of tracks jive with Stylez’s smooth and soulful voice. “Vocally, he might not like me saying this, but I’ve always seen him as a male Aaliyah, with that same breathy, vibey style,” Smith says. Stylez, sitting next to him, interjects: “I love Aaliyah! That’s a huge compliment.”