TrueMendous Drops the ‘Misdiagnosis Of Chyvonne Johnson’ today and YEEEAAH! Network can confirm that it’s not a joke and she’s making sure the world knows it. TreMendous granted YEEEAAH! Network a private listening session of the 17th track LP and we got her to talk us through some of our fave selections from the album. TrueMendous talks more about her early rapping years, the busking-life and revealing how Lauryn Hill had a major impact on her artistic direction.
Tell us about your early life of rapping in Birmingham. What was that like?
To be fair, I think I started relatively late. There was one period in secondary school when everyone was an emcee and I think I just jumped on the bandwagon. And everyone had their little beats from myspace and everyone was writing their bars and I just took a different approach. The subject matter wasn’t really conventional and typical to what people were talking about. It had more of a storytelling element. Even the beats that I would choose would be a lot more RnB. Grime was popping at this point, so that’s what everyone was going for. But for me, I prefer, even to this day I prefer RnB, NeoSoul, I prefer slower tempos, more soulful, jazzy beats.
I purchased a little Poundland mic and used computer software where you can record different layers. Because the microphone was so cheap behind my lyrics you could just hear “shhh”. But I made it work. What I was saying was very heavily storytelling influenced. I was a narrator creating scenarios that the character would have to go through like a little audiobook with rhythm.
I was very shy in the early stages when I was in secondary school around age 15. I didn’t think anyone would take my music seriously and I wouldn’t perform anything to anyone. But I’d upload the recordings to MySpace.
So really I don’t think I wanted to pursue music like that because what I enjoy doing is writing. So music was just an avenue I could have taken at the time.
You also have a way of marketing your music and one of them is busking. What’s your experience with busking and the benefits that most artists don’t know?
It’s just great. It’s great for like clarity, stamina. Over time, you start working on your delivery because obviously it’s a rehearsal and rehearsing for five, six hours a day for five days a week. So in regards to just the practise, I was like naturally turned into solid.
I turned into a brick of stamina, clarity, energy levels. It’s what helped me over the past two years. I think if I didn’t pursue busking, I wouldn’t be crap live. Well, I would be nowhere near as good. And even just clarity wise, I could hear the difference. I listen to myself now watch all the videos we perform performing. It’s not even close to like, well, going up and down the stage, I’m tired, but now I mean, I last a little bit longer still. So there are so many perks to it. And it gives you a backbone as well because you’re on the street anything can happen to you.
But I know a lot of artists, especially like black artists rappers and still, there’s an ego in it, like you don’t want to be seen and be seen on the street, like rapping and asking for money to say ego that comes with it as well, which was a thing for maybe that was me in the early stages as well as is ignorant to me, but because I know, like how much I actually make and what the pros are, the money as well, like is probably the best decision, one of the best things I’ve ever made in my life, you know, I mean and just long term, the effects had on me now as a musician and what I can do from Busking I’ll never discredit, or downplay again.
How did you connect then to your record label? High Focus Records?
I signed with them in October of 2019. The CEO of the label actually reached out maybe like two years prior to that and obviously, I was independent. I just didn’t feel like I was in a position where I wanted to be on a label.
High Focus was doing different shows, which is the label and people in the audience were actually recommending me. I think I didn’t really know what being on a label entailed, like what comes with it. And I think I just thought from watching other people’s experiences, like celebrities’ experiences, like YouTube videos, I was maybe scared that they were going to take my creative control away and they were going to make me act and dress a certain way and especially aesthetically I’m not the most feminine presenting woman.
I put out a couple more projects and after that and it was like ok I enjoy doing music, but it’s only for so long that you can keep putting so much effort into making songs and shooting videos with a thousand views, 500 streams and next song, two thousand views 400 streams. It was very repetitive, in the low market. And then, funnily enough, the universe works in funny ways. I do street performing like busking And around the time the people would walk past and say, oh if you heard of High Focus, you would sound good on that label.
And this was around the same period of time, I was thinking about reaching out to the CEO. So the timing was just mad. I just kind of took it as a sign to be fair. And in this two year period as well, different people from the label have never lost contact. The CEO was down for it. So. So, yeah. We just negotiated the contract and then boom.
For women rappers do you think there are as many opportunities for them to get discovered and also supported? Obviously, they’ve got amazing ladies that are like the Stefflon Don or IVD. But let’s say for the more conscious ones or the eclectic ones?
Yeah, I think there’s clearly a big imbalance, but there’s also an imbalance in the number of conscious artists to non-conscious artists as well. I feel like labels definitely could do more to even out the playing field but it is also what the audience wants. Labels are here to make money. It’s a game, it’s a market and sex sells. So you’re going to cater to that and focus on that more.
But there’s still a very big following that people that want to hear something outside of materialism and sex. There’s a few in America that I’ve come across like Shane Noir.
I also feel like there is a need to have more conscious artists that come out as well for there to be a balance because I feel like there’s a handful of male and female artists to be fair.
You can’t ignore them if it’s a whole 10, 20, 30, 40 – you have to pay them attention now.
So let’s get to your album – ‘The Misdiagnosis of Chyvonne Johnson’. You’re paying homage to Lauryn Hill and listening to the album there’s a lot of self-awareness, boldness and honest reflection. Tell us how you came to that title and how much does Lauryn Hill have an impact on the album?
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is my favourite album. Period. And just here as an individual. I think if she didn’t exist, maybe the approach I would have taken would have been different. That’s how big it is.
So for my first album, I wanted to incorporate it somehow. So I took the title and switched it up a bit and I put my name instead.
And the “misdiagnosis” also plays on my relationship with music and it being even though I enjoy doing it, it is also the thing that has caused me to self-destruct. I like music as much as I don’t like music in regards to the business aspect of music so I am kind of losing my mind while pursuing the thing that makes me happy.
So when you see my videos, as you know, in the hospital gown, well, I played that crazy character that’s kind of like me and putting myself forward as misdiagnosed through my transition period of being a musician from start to finish.
And all the time my mind is kind of just losing my mind, you know, I mean, through catering to this thing that you guys want me to keep pursuing. I mean, it’s not every day I want to do music and write music. I don’t want to always want to talk about music. Like some days I want to hang out with someone who does golf or dances or works in an office.
Like I need balance to continue doing music because I don’t love music. I like music. I mean, it’s like it’s just an interesting relationship.
So songs like ‘Cause a Scene’ and ‘You Don’t Like Me’ is like an unapologetic statement about yourself. And also combating against stereotypes, as a woman and as a rapper. What is it that you may have faced during your career to want to make bold statements like this?
To be fair, though, I’ve been independent for a very, very long time. I’ve only been on high focus since the announcement just hit a year ago. I just feel so much more in my personal experience. Experiences that happen in general to people is what I embody. Same story, storytelling, a few lines here and they can directly be about me. But the whole song won’t be about me about nine times out of ten. The whole song is not about me or can include certain lines.
But then off of that, I’ll add that I know maybe from a conversation, my friend, or documentary or YouTube storytime or film or I mean, I take information, I write it in song format.
‘Cause A Scene’ was about being appreciated prior to me dying. Don’t wait for me to pass away to give me my flowers. I’m here. Because I don’t really have a song where I toot my horn. So with that and the hook, it’s like, you know what? Let me just toot my own horn, you know, I mean, it’s like I’m feeling myself on this song, so let me just express it. And it’s unapologetic self-empowering, you know what I mean?
So it was like there’s nothing wrong with that because it’s not to the point where it’s like you’re arrogant. Sometimes just knowing you value yourself. It’s the same with Worse Child, don’t wait for someone to put a price, give you a price for how much your talents were for your ability, or maybe better than having renounced this. I think everyone’s entitled to feel like that.
Next, we have ‘Worse Child’. I just feel like it providing thought to people who think they don’t fit in or they trying to find themselves where there are so many expectations that we put on ourselves. What is that song about?
It’s like because you’re awakening from this programme, everyday life that everyone’s supposed to endure is like your worst child. It’s like people only tell you things, so you stay in line. So that’s kind of what worse child of plays on. So it’s like they know that you can do this. You can do so much more. And because when you finally know yourself, that’s when they say, oh, you’re the worst child, still programmed into what they believe is right. So we’ve kind of just pushing like freedom, so to speak, you know, I mean, like pushing freedom. And then you don’t like me because that was also playing on you. You’re not like me because I’m a woman. You’re not like me because I’m black is all down to interpretation. A lot of lines I like. I don’t really feel like I like hearing what people think because there’s not a right or wrong answer, you know? I mean, just how I wrote it. You could have a completely different explanation.
Why have you got so many issues with relationships? (TrueMendous and Gifty have a laughing moment). Moving on next to ‘Freefood’. Why are you being bare cheeky to the dude who is just trying to take you out?
I love a song about a good toxic relationship. I just love hearing it, especially when there’s a lot of humour involved in it.
So ‘Free Food’ are definitely more of a back and forth conversation between a man and the guy, just not necessarily me or just a woman. I mean, a woman and a guy like a date they get catfished. And then obviously the whole conversation that just takes place and it’s for you.
But I just like the art of storytelling anyway. So my job is to keep you entertained from start to finish. So that’s why I purposely add a lot of humour into its clever lines, into different flow patterns. key changes to keep you engaged. I just love a good toxic relationship I don’t like happy, happy lovey-dovey relationship songs all the time. Like I want to spin to it a thing like Heartbreak Songs and toxic what I like when people come from different angles. So I know a lot of us can relate to the same things like love pain. hurt death I like to incorporate relatable subject matters. But it’s funny things and just situations and scenarios that could just play out. I just think people would just laugh that kind of relate to at the same time. And I like talking about things or saying a lot of lines that some people think but would never say. So it was kind of that really just that aspect that was more so free feeling. We just kind of just have a nice little back and forth conversation between a man and a man and a woman on it, on a catfish, you know, blind date or whatever.
‘Probably Right (Too)’ is sounds like the parents of the love interest maybe knew about you and maybe they were having different perspectives about you. Elaborate on that..
Yeah. Like, oh, you have a lot of positive traits about you, but at the same time, you’re also a piece of shit like your both is like that. Like so it’s like if one thinks too good probably right. What if he thinks I’m too good, I probably am. So I’m like I’m no good and I’m too good at the same time you got me. So we kind of just plays on having good and bad traits about you and being not perfect, but ideal for someone also being trashed for someone at the same time. And it’s like it’s just a love-hate thing is that you have to take the good with.
The bad thing is like if I am too good for you what I also might be, your downfall just is on balance imbalance and having both negative and positive traits that you bring to someone. So that’s most of what probably write plays on the imbalance of being great for someone, but also being bad for someone.
And Finally, we come to the powerful ‘Emmett Till’. Where you act out a racist police offer and US rapper Masta Ace acts as the target of the police officer. It’s a song with the rawest lyrics especially in the climate where the black community is fighting for racial equality and justice for the murdered victims. What do you want listeners to take away from the song?
‘I’m switching perspectives in ‘Emmett Till’ and role-playing as the police officer by using a soliloquy to narrate the events. It flips the narrative of police brutality being done to us being the ones doing it. The lyrics interpret how I feel some officers mindsets are warped and programmed into thinking their actions are justifiable. It’s only targeting a specific type. This doesn’t apply to all law enforcers as I’m aware they’re those that do their job accordingly, it only applies to those that kill unlawfully especially repeated offenders.’
What was it like working on the album whilst on lockdown?
Like lockdown was the reason why I was able to finish the project because I had so much time and focus like I was in. I didn’t have to do multiple other things. I could just see things to be fit because I just predominately focussed on them. And the reason why it’s finished is that I had to lockdown work on it slowly. I mean, I didn’t have anything else to do. Well, to be fair, I’m always ahead of myself, so I’m always a good light eight months ahead of myself. So even when we first went into lockdown, there was still a good chunk of the songs already written anyway. And yeah, it really just gave me a lot of time to focus and stuff.
So all the videos that we shot as well for this year, I’ve already shot them in and out of tiers when we were allowed to do certain things here and there like everything’s already been shot. So, you know, it just gave me a lot of clarity and focus and just time off from everything else to solely focus on me. So fortunately that worked out very well for me, to be fair. And plan overall. I know that’s good.
Your last EP ‘HUH?’ dropped in 2020. Now from listening to this new album what personal growth can your listeners can expect to hear about you?
I think just continuing to be diverse and original with my sound, to be fair, and I feel like lyrically this time around as well.
There are more songs that are a bit more personal as opposed to me just generalising things that I think people will relate to. There are a lot more personal songs to me because I don’t really speak about myself that much. Like I say, the odd line in some of the songs like this. Is only one or two full songs directly about ourselves. More of an insight into what who Chyvonne Johnson is as opposed to TrueMendous. This project’s more insight into who I am Chyvonne Johnson is as an artist, and that’s one of the biggest ones, more so than anything. But overall, as a sound, it’s just a lot more versatile than previous projects and still just giving you more basically and lyric-wise as well.
Rounding up what will be your final words for the rising artist, for the independent artist, for the unsigned artist, especially in this time where, you know, they might not be a lot of resources available. What would be your words of encouragement or guidance for them?
Utilise the internet, utilise social platforms. Like social media and the Internet was even out the playing fields. So, yeah, you may not be able to give new shows, but you may utilise your pages. Create a YouTube channel as well.
Do as much as you can and you can still create content. I think everything is going online going into the online world anyway. Even when things open back up still just work on improving your online presence so you can achieve so much and it gives you so much leverage going forward, especially if you are in a place that eventually wants to transition into a label. Know more, you commit the more bartering power you have more leverage you have. What more you can accumulate and build yourself at the same time is probably best and if you’re able to obtain it and be independent, that’s even better for yourself.
Financially, you can pocket the majority of things when you stay independent, which is a lot more hard work. You need a lot of self-discipline and determination to continue. As an upcoming artist just don’t lose faith. It’s OK to adapt to the current sound, but don’t constantly try to emulate what people are doing. It is OK to still walk on your own path just because it’s not popular, it’s not common.
Just work your a**e off. And then all the time [invested], you know, the universe will provide what you’re meant to have. You have to want it.
MISDIAGNOSIS OF CHYVONNE JOHNSON OUT NOW!