Inside Greektown's Detroit vs. Everybody store, Chavis Chandler is combing the shelves nonstop.
"I remember when [owner Tommey Walker] was just starting out — and now look at him," Chandler says as he pays for a black T-shirt. "I know so many people that have worked so hard to get where they are."
As soon as he sets foot on Monroe, a young woman yells his name and walks over to him. They exchange hugs, she compliments his music, and they part ways. Chandler says nothing of the meeting, but his body language says, "This happens a lot."
Chandler, 23, a culinary school dropout, is stoic in his own way. He's never too high, never too low, and faithful to the path he's chosen. "I just keep making a way for myself," he says. "Sometimes I just think, I don't even know how I got here."
Chandler's distant past is a familiar one. He grew up on Detroit's east side, started rapping at 9 (under the moniker C-Dog), and released his first mixtape as a 10th grader in 2008. "I had a song called "Individuality" that was about graduating, being successful, and not becoming a statistic," he says.
By 2011, Chandler had made a name for himself. He was pushing his albums Breath of Fresh Air 1 & 2, and working as a cook at Friday's. He also caught the attention of XXL magazine editor Rob Markman.
"I tweeted him one of my songs, he retweeted it, and it went from there," Chandler says.
A few months later, Chandler accepted an invitation to perform at a New York hip-hop club. He stacked his money and headed to the Big Apple, but was turned away at the door because he was too young to get in.
"They didn't even care that I had come all the way from Detroit," he says. But Chandler didn't let disappointment sink in too low. While in New York, he reached out to Markman again.
"I told him we're in New York and asked could we hook up, and he invited us to the office," Chandler says. By 2012, Markman had left XXL and was working at MTV, producing a show called RapFix. He had Chandler interviewed and featured his video "OFTLOA" on the show. "That MTV appearance help expose my music to a much wider audience," Chandler says.
Chandler's musical appeal is obvious. He's street, lyrical, witty, and can sing his ass off. He's not looking for a previously used template on how to be a rapper, and he prides himself on not being trendy. By 2013, Chandler was living on the love of his third album, Bridge Card Raps, which featured the Detroit anthem "Lou's Coney Island." The song is an ode to his favorite neighborhood grub spot, and Chandler even shot the video there.
But Chandler also ran into some legal trouble last year when he got caught with weed and a loaded pistol in his car. The case hung over his head for 15 months, but he managed to avoid jail time. "They wanted me to do 15 years," he says with a shrug. "All this is stuff you gotta go through to understand life. Your parents can only tell you so much."
With his legal troubles behind him, Chandler has been steadily performing material from his 2014 release, Dark Skin Jermaine, and wrapping up production for next year's Call of the Wild. He has his own studio, can master his own albums, and screen-prints his own merch. Now that he's makin' paper from his performances and downloads, Chandler's said goodbye to the part-time chef gigs.
"I still have some unique recipes," he says. "I plan on doing some pop-up spots with my food and sellling my merch at the same time."
He talks about staying independent, his management deal with DRO of Shady Goliath, Detroit hip-hop, and sharing the stage with Danny Brown.
"I like how people are starting to get the point that you have to have unity," he says. "I love all the sounds of Detroit."
Chavis Chandler's next performance is Nov. 6 at St. Andrew's Hall.