Chloe Hotline is an 18-year-old singer/songwriter/producer/etc./etc. from Cincinnati, Ohio. If you spend a lot of time keeping up with a certain sphere of teenage musicians on Twitter you've probably seen her promo here and there; if you've taken the plunge into her discography you'll find an artist with seemingly as many ideas as she has songs. Her brand of homemade pop pulls as much from Lady Gaga as it does from '90s New Orleans rap. She's also an artist and a fashion designer with her own clothing brand, COUNERFIT. (Her sense of style is cool as hell -- peep her visor and football gloves in her latest music video for "Doll Life", out today.) Basically, she's like any other young artist raised online trying to make it: constantly putting out work to try and break through to people, paying a lot of attention to her different 'eras' and overall presentation, juggling a bunch of creative pursuits, with too many influences indexed in her brain to fit in an hour-long conversation.
What endears me to Chloe's music is her really vivid sense of process. You can see her teaching herself new techniques and styles as she goes, and you can feel the homemade spark when she nerds out over a rap record she likes, replicates the hard-ass drums on it, and sings her heart out in a bedroom mic. She's also a student of musical history, able to ramble on about the little details of 2000s rap stories like she was there herself -- even though she was 4. Her latest album, +NSTYNCT from last year, aims for grand, Kanye-like maximalism, but it never strays too far from the approachable personality that makes her stuff special. I particularly like when she goes heart-on-sleeve and keeps things sparse, like on the cutting FL Studio piano ballad "Over U".
Chloe's next album Kinnfolk comes out this year. Back last June, I talked to her about +NSTYNCT. Here's that interview, from the depths of my hard drive: we talked about growing up between Ohio and Michigan, playing sweaty Cincinnati basement shows, and her favorite Cash Money albums. (Props for the U.N.L.V. mention.)
So it seems like your career goes back pretty far. You've got 2 albums you can find easily on Bandcamp, but it goes back way further.
Yes. I've been recording music since 2009. I was 6 when I started. I've been making music for a very long time.
Talk to me about the first music you were making.
When I was a kid, I always was very into music. I always wanted to rap and whatnot. My cousin and my uncle actually showed me about FL Studio, and how to record yourself, and later on how to make beats. So with just being around them, any time we would come to -- I'm from Cincinnati, which is in Ohio. But a lot of my family is from Michigan, like the Detroit area. So any time we would come up here, I would be super eager to record. 'Cause I didn't know how to do it myself yet. Before I learned how to record, I would always wait for summertime, just come up here for a week and just be at their house for most of the time.
And that's just the basis, though. My music was really bad back then. It was a six-year-old rapping (laughing).
What were you rapping about?
(laughs) Just like...school? Literally just...(laughs) school, getting picked up from school, eating lunch at school. Six-year-old stuff. Cartoons. Whatever my brain was on. I knew how to rap, but I didn't learn how to write raps until later down the road, so I would freestyle everything until I was about ten years old, and that's when I started learning how to write.
Around when do you think you started being, like, a serious producer? When did you start really getting into that side of it?
Okay, so, I started making beats spring of 2012. And honestly, I wasn't a real, real producer, selling beats or whatever, until like early last year. I'd say that's when I got really good. Early 2020 is when everything kinda came to fruition for me, Everything just started working out. There wasn't any more second-guessing by, like, the beginning of last year. I feel like it took a long time for me to get good, because back then, when I was younger, growing up, I couldn't just sit at the computer and lock in for hours, because I would have other things to do. I would have school, I would have recitals...You know, I couldn't devote my time 100% to music. But then the pandemic hit, I was a little bit older, and I don't really have that many friends, so I was just like 'Lemme just stay on FL for a couple hours each day.'
You said 'recital'. Did you play an instrument?
So I was in choir in 4th grade. I have 5 older siblings. They're all...not classically-trained, but they were in choirs, my brother was in choir in college, he's gonna be in choir again, my sister has an amazing voice, and I was always the odd one out. Growing up, I never really sung like that. The year I was in a real choir, 4th grade, that happened to be the year where I started making beats. Even after that, I would always be forced into some type of extracurricular activity, even though, as a kid, I kind of liked being more off to myself, definitely. I was one of those type of kids. Being forced into social environments, it was like, ugh.
You self-produce almost all of your stuff these days. A lot of it has this super eclectic variety of shit going on. You got a billion different samples...Was that something you were always into as a kid, just kinda digging for stuff?
Yeah, and I think it's a lot of the music I grew up on, too. Probably since birth, I've been a huge Kanye fan, since birth. So, (laughs) just hearing him chop up samples and put different shit in is otherworldly to me. And then, on top of that, all the different type of music my sisters were listening to, whether it be Beyonce or Fall Out Boy, all of those influences clashed just to make my thing. My music.
I don't want people to know that there's a lot going on with the beats. I like it to feel subtle. Even though it might be six samples in a song, I want it all to feel like one big piece. That's my thing, making everything sound full and feel full.
One thing you seem to be really into lately is old New Orleans shit. You talk about Cash Money stuff on Twitter, and you made this straight-up bounce song with your last single, "Fantasy". Talk to me about your interest in that stuff.
I have such a place in my heart for '90s Southern rap, because the production techniques were so ahead of their time. Mannie Fresh was so ahead of his time, and all the other people -- not just New Orleans, like, UGK, their drum patterns were always ahead of their time. And being in a time where now, everything is so similar, every song is just two-step hi-hat or piano loop, I feel like bringing out those weirder drum patterns from then, and updating it to now...It's always good to revisit the past. But it's also good to bring in new ideas.
New ideas are old ideas, you know? (laughs) Everything starts from somewhere. "Fantasy" is like that idea, of like a hard-ass '90s NOLA bounce song, but with an 18-year-old in 2021 makeover on that type of production. And that's where you get "Fantasy", talking about being lonely in your room, and expectations, and things like that.
What are your favorite Cash Money albums?
(laughs) Oh my god. Okay. U.N.L.V., Uptown 4 Life. B.G., It's All On U Volume 1. Ooh, damn. The Big Tymers album with "Millionaire Dream" on it, I'm blanking on the title right now. Juvenile, 400 Degreez.
Of course. You gotta have that one. And what's the 5th?
One more, honestly it might be a tossup between...Hot Boyz, Guerilla Warfare. Or Get it How You Live. I think Get It How You Live is grittier. Guerilla Warfare is when they got the whole Universal deal and everything was just like - boom!
One thing I love about old Mannie Fresh shit, and Beats by the Pound, is that it sounds like every song was made with different stuff.
Yes! That too! Mannie Fresh has told multiple stories of, like, finding a keyboard at a garage sale, hooking it up, and using those sounds. Even up to the Neptunes, Pharrell and Chad would literally use consumer keyboards. The "Drop it Like It's Hot" remix, the same keyboard they used to make that, I had that keyboard as a kid. The grey-and-blue Casio keyboard. The remix with Pharrell and Jay-Z, it's sounds from that keyboard. A consumer keyboard that was like 30 dollars in 2003 (laughs).
Are any of the albums you made when you were like 12 or 13 available on the internet somewhere? Like could you dig them up if you wanted to?
Everything before 13-14 is a little bit harder to find, because the mixtape sites I would upload to are kind of out of service now (laughs). MixConnect doesn't exist, Mixtape Factory doesn't exist anymore. But when I started to go in the more singing direction, around 13 or 14, most of that stuff is still up. I re-released one of my projects from when I was 13 on my Bandcamp, like, I think a month ago. But it was really lowkey. I just tweeted out, "Yeah, guys. This is up if you wanna hear it."
The original version of "Nova", which is a song from my album, I made that hook when I was 13. I started that song concept when I was 13, and five years later I just decided to go back and reuse it (laughs).
That's cool. You told me about the transition from making straight-up rap shit to singing. What do you think brought that on, creatively?
So when I was 13, when I was in 8th grade, that's kinda when everybody started to become a rapper. The whole SoundCloud thing was in full swing, everybody at my middle school was trying to get into it, everybody had decided to be a rapper. And I'm like, "okay. This shit, what I'm doing, is cool, but I need to do something to set myself apart, also." And I was like, "I always liked R&B! I don't know why I never fully delved into singing."
So literally one day, Christmas break, 8th grade -- this was like December 2016 -- I didn't even have a real mic, I just had a headphone mic and an old Lenovo laptop -- I sat at the dining room table for like 5 hours, and I recorded like 10 songs of just me singing. Different types of YouTube beats, or beats I made at the time. 10 songs, just singing. And I released it on Bandcamp that night before I went to bed. Before I got up from the table, and went into the room I shared with my brother at the time, I did that and I went to sleep. Of course, nobody gave a fuck (laughs). I had like 100 followers at the time. Nobody cared. But that was the first step into the whole Chloe Hotline ethos. Me going into a more pop, R&B direction. Because I've always had rap as my #1. I grew up loving it. That was the genre I was raised in, pretty much.
But I always had love for R&B music, or pop music, because that shit, when you're a kid...When I was 6 years old, 808s and Heartbreak was my favorite album, because it was so melodic. And that was like the first Kanye album that I found on my own, and loved on my own. So I was just kinda pulling back those old influences. Because when you're a 5, 6, 7-year-old kid in the moment, you're not thinking about what you're listening to (laughs)!
I'm lucky that I have a good memory, because I can go back to those times when I was a kid like "Damn, we were listening to some different shit." I thank my sisters for that. It's no way in hell that I'd have the broad range of taste that I do without my sister and my brother. They, from a young age, they were into all kinds of cool shit. Like, Panic! at the Disco, but at the same time, they might play fuckin' Nicki Minaj "Itty Bitty Piggy". Late-2000s everything. Everything from the late-2000s is my foundation.
Is some of the stuff you're doing now trying to conjure up nostalgia for that stuff?
You know, surprisingly, no. (laughs) I mean, I feel like my music can bring nostalgia, but I don't think it brings nostalgia from that era, though. Everything was just different back then. The air was different -- I'm kidding (laughs) -- but yeah. It just seems like such a golden age.
A lot of people have different explanations for nostalgia when it comes to my music. They'll be like "Oh, it feels like the early 2010s again when I hear your stuff," and I'm like "Okay. I was definitely a big music fan during the early 2010s, so that makes sense." Or like "Oh, this reminds me of this neo-soul record from the '90s," and my mom was a big Erykah Badu fan. So it all makes sense to me. Literally. I want people to interpret my art however they can. Everyone has their own different reasoning for everything.
I don't know. I hope people do get nostalgic when people think about my music. That's a really good -- damn! I'm stumped, kinda! (laughs)
I feel like when I listen to a song like "Michigan", there's lots of memories attached to that song, for instance.
Yes. "Michigan", I've told people before, is literally me trying to emulate 2009 Kanye and Gaga in one song. That was the goal of "Michigan". I spent a lot of time in Michigan growing up, so there's always those great memories that are attached to my heart. That's really what the song is about. A lot of people think the songs on +NSTYNCT are breakup songs, but "Michigan" is about missing a feeling. It's about missing a time in your life when things were so carefree. But people will be like "Oh, 'I left my heart in Michigan'...Who hurt you?" (laughs) But that's more about, like -- damn. Shit is never gonna be the same again. And then the second verse of that song is about realizing, "Oh, damn. I'm in a pretty decent spot right now. I'm gonna go ahead with my life. I don't need to dwell on old things." I said "Long John Silver's, I was working day shifts, and can't wait to go back like 'I made it'," And that's serious! At the time I recorded that song, that was the last job I had, and I fuckin' hated it (laughs). So yeah. That song is about chasing old memories. But then there's a realization toward the end of the song, but then the hook comes back in and kind of washes that all away, so it leaves it open to interpretation.
So you have a lot of this grounding in where you grew up, and the people you grew up around, in Cincinnati and then in Michigan. But then you also have this super referential music style, where you're aggregating all this different shit you discover. And a lot of your fans, and the community of artists you work with, are through the Internet. Do you see yourself as more of a real-world musician or an online one?
Hmm...I feel like if it wasn't a pandemic, maybe I'd have a chance to see myself as a real-life musician. But honestly, I think it's still very online at this point. I had a realization where I did a basement show, like a week ago, in Cincinnati. And people were just standing there, and I was like "Damn. People don't know me in my city like that!" (laughs) The online scene, Twitter...When you're online, everything is the point where if you see somebody's picture twice, you'll remember them. People see Chloe Hotline all the time on their timeline, they're like "Oh, shit!" But in the real life music scene that Cincinnati has, I'm far younger than everyone else, and I don't be out around socializing like that. I'm not a party type of person. So if I'm not performing there, then I'm not just gonna come hang out. Like, I don't know you people! I'm not just gonna come hang out! (laughs) Like, you guys are strangers!
There's a few people, though. I started going to local concerts when I was like 15, and there's a few people I know in the local scene through that. But when I was performing that night, in that sweaty-ass basement, it was so many confused looks. It was one girl, standing right on the side of me, with a death stare the whole time, it was a 25-year-old woman in the front just going crazy, dancing -- she had a jar of moonshine, she was going crazy. And there was a group of college guys, it took a little bit for them to warm up to it, but they were like "This shit is hard!" But besides those three groups of people, everyone was just like...
"Who is this person?"
Yeah. Fish in a fishbowl. (laughs) But I did a great job. I definitely did a great job. I know how to command a crowd, and things like that. I hope one day I could have a real fanbase, to where I see people, I'll be in the grocery store, and they'll be like "Oh! Chloe Hotline, you're getting green beans! Oh my god! Can I take a picture!" But not too crazy, though. I don't want people to be harassing me. I hope my fans are nice (laughs).
What were some of the other people that were playing at that basement show? What kind of music besides you?
Well, I was opening up for a punk band (laughs). So it was a very stark contrast between my music and the people who had the basement packed. While I was performing, their whole setup -- the drums, the amp, everything -- was behind me in this little basement. They were good people, though. They were nice. They were like "Oh, I checked out your shit a couple days ago. You're good!" And I thanked them. So that was a good experience for me, in the end.
One of the things that I gravitate to about your music is that it's kind of rough-around-the-edges. It's not super polished towards one thing, and it's sort of a grab bag of stuff. Is that an intentional thing you go for?
No, it's just I'm self-taught in everything. People will always give me shit for my mixing, and I'm like "I'm sorry! I don't have a big studio! I don't have resources!" (laughs) I think it sounds pretty damn good as long as I'm not drowning in the beat.
I don't know, though. I don't know what declares a professional musician or amateur musician. I'm just a musician. But I'm self-taught. I've never recorded in a big studio in my life. If you count FL as an instrument, then that's one of the only instruments I know how to play. I'm 100% me. I taught myself everything, besides how to download programs and stuff. That's when my uncle and my cousin put me up on those things. But actually learning how to produce and learning how to record, I had to figure it out. And it took me a long time to get good, but I think that was for the best. Because I figured it out my own way. A lot of producers will be like "Oh, you don't put EQ's on this, this and that," and I'm like "No! Just low or high. I just turn the volume up or turn it down." (laughs)
I don't know. I feel like it sets my sound apart from a lot of people, too. I think a lot of people come up on YouTube tutorials, and when I started making beats, there was no YouTube tutorials! In 2012, there might have been a couple guys, "How to Make Lex Luger type beats", but that was about it.
At that time, that was around when I started getting really into Tyler, the Creator, early Travis Scott. I was trying to make stuff like that. Weird stuff with hard drums. My whole career, that's kinda been my thing: emphasis on the drums. Always have good, knocking drums. If you have drums in the song, of course. It might not be needed in a ballad, or something like that.
My music is a grab bag because it's so many different influences, and then it's my interpretation of it, which is probably so different from the casual music listener's. I love music. I deep dive on everything. If I like an album, I'm gonna learn everything I want to about it.
I don't wanna sound corny or nothing, but I interpret it on a different level. I learn everything there is about it, I learn who produced what, and just go and find the sounds. Sometimes, certain albums, it's hard to find the sounds to use, so I'm just like "Damn! I'm gonna have to replicate it myself." Which is fun. Replicating, remaking a beat, from something you like, is always fun. It's a challenge, too. Because especially recently, I've been tryna remake older, UNLV type stuff, and those songs came out of drum machines that are probably out of circulation at this point. So I gotta get the modern stuff, and make it feel like that.
"Fantasy", I was super close to just using the "Triggaman" sample, like in any other bounce song, but I was like "Wait. One, I don't wanna get flagged for it. And two, I know I can kinda do my own thing with it." And that's just one example. Another example is the song "Potent" from my album. I was like "I definitely want this song to be a ballad over a plugg beat", but I'm not gonna bite drums directly. I'm gonna freehand it. Instead of tracing over a picture, an artist would freehand it, you know? That's kinda how I see it when it comes to making beats if you want a similar feeling. I freehand it.
I remember you were talking about drums, and I remember at one point you teased that you were gonna make straight-up Detroit beats. Like Helluva-type stuff. Did you grow up around that stuff at all? Because I know you spent time in Michigan.
Definitely. I would definitely say 2010s, before Detroit became the whole wave, even before the 2010s. Like, late 2000s, any time I'd come up here, my cousins would be like "Oh, you know who this is? Play that, play that. Oh, you know who Blade Icewood is?"
I remember when I found out who Doughboyz Cashout was. I was like, HOLY SHIT! OH MY GOD! Because, quite honestly, Cincinnati had rappers blow up here and there, but we never had our own regional sound. But Detroit did. So just being exposed to it very early, and seeing how it was back in the day vs. how it is now, it's just like, damn.
Another thing about "Michigan" is when I was making it originally, that was a Detroit beat. Before I switched the drums out, and everything else. I made that beat around this time last year, in 2020. But I was like "wait, lemme make it more pop."
I wanted to do a remix to "Michigan", and I wanted to get Shittyboyz on it. But I'm broke (laughs). So unfortunately that could never happen. But after the album came out, that was one of the things I really wanted to do. I wanted all three of them, for like 12 bars. That's all I needed. And I probably would've put a new verse on from myself, too. I've had that idea in my head since, like, February (laughs). That's something I always think about. Like, "Damn, I wish."
As you sort of advance in your career, since you have all of these different sounds, are you trying to preserve that as you go forward, or focus into one specific thing and really drill deep into it?
I feel like I kinda developed a sound with +NSTYNCT, and I'm gonna take that sound and kinda push it forward. It's still gonna be the same basis, but I'm definitely gonna push into a more singing or R&B direction. But the drums are still gonna knock. It's still gonna be Chloe Hotline. It's still gonna be me, but I wanna take the foundation that I've built with Cynthia and +NSTYNCT and take that to 10 before I jump to the next thing.
Eventually, I do want to do other stuff. I started working on an orchestral album last summer that I left on the backburner, 'cause I'm like "Damn, this is hard."
An orchestral album? Like string orchestra shit?
You had samples of orchestras on a couple albums. Is that something you've always been into?
Yeah, and I think that comes from me being a Kanye fan. I've always had an affinity for strings. Big, grand, production. Like "Nova" on my album. I love shit like that. Just really orchestral, or jazzy, live concert band type shit. And I'm still probably gonna do it. But I'm figuring out how to do all of that within a DAW and still make it sound amazing. I wanna program everything into FL and still have it sound amazing. Have it sound full, like the real thing. But it's just me making it.
Back to what I was saying before, the foundation I've built with Cynthia and +NSTYNCT, I think I'm definitely making myself stand out right now. I wanna take that and expand it. And then after my next full-length album -- I don't wanna say I'm working on it, yet, but it's gonna happen. I'm putting things in motion right now. But I'm kinda at a point where I'm working on multiple different side projects.
I consider my sound alternative R&B, almost. People could argue that it's rap, I guess, 'cause it's 808s and trap drums, and my voice is kinda monotone, I guess. So you could call it whatever. I just call it alternative R&B, because that's what I feel like it is. I wouldn't call +NSTYNCT a rap album. But I get it, though. I understand completely why people say that. I wouldn't be mad if somebody said that. I might be a little bit irritated, but I'd be like, "I understand your reasoning."