The underground in New York City is home to the extraordinary and unruly. From the open mics that change lives to the back door entrances of after-hour spots, and even the ball culture that thrives in between — the dreamers make it happen. Rodney Chrome is one of the latest artists to climb these ranks and hit a Times Square billboard.
“I love people who believe in the underdogs,” he asserted from a downtown studio. “Lola Plaku-Grant was someone at NYU that believed in me before anyone else did. Once the semester ended, she said, ‘I really want to work with you. Let’s make it happen.'”
Plaku-Grant, a music journalist turned marketing agency owner, has amplified artists’ careers, such as Belly, French Montana, A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, The Weeknd, and numerous others. She creates opportunities through the Lola Media Group and mentorship programs, including GIRL CONNECTED and The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, where she met Chrome.
“It is an exciting time in music. The LGBTQ+ community deserves to see more of themselves,” the newcomer affirmed. While in school, Chrome released an independent debut album, QUEER PRESSURE, and has already hit a few festival stages. The Knockturnal caught up with Rodney Chrome to discuss his growing ambition, Black queer representation, and the cosign of a lifetime. Check out what is on the way.
The Knockturnal: How did your education at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts help prepare you for the music business?
Rodney Chrome: When I came to NYU, I knew what I was getting into. Still, I did not know what the process of learning about music would be like at an institution. When I came, everything changed. Within my first week, professor Jeff Peretz, the assistant arts professor and the area head of musicianship at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, called a meeting. He said, “Let’s talk about what you want in life.”
As soon as we could identify needs, he introduced me to a producer. She was also a student at NYU. From that point on, it sparked something in me. The producer and I were able to record my first project called QUEER PRESSURE together. To make a long story short, that was what opened the door to my success in music thus far.
The Knockturnal: Your NYU 2022 commencement speech was moving. You immediately emphasized: “Anything is possible… You can be Black … You can be gay… You can be from the middle of nowhere chasing a dream.” What do you feel about the mentioned people who told you that you would not achieve your dreams?
Rodney Chrome: Yes, I hate to say it. I am also inspired by negativity. When someone tells me I can’t do something, I have to prove them wrong in every way possible (laughs). I think about moments like that. I was told, “You can’t be an artist who is Black and queer. You can’t be successful with that image.” It lit a fire under me to say, “No, I am going to be that and more!”
My mom was another person who stopped the world for me. She would say, “You know what, Babe? If you want to do this, let’s go do it together.” My mother’s support has been unwavering. She is always in my ear saying, “We are going to make this happen regardless of circumstances.”
The Knockturnal: You have identified intersecting identities. Were there figures that you could look to and draw inspiration from?
Rodney Chrome: Yes, I grew up as a dancer. If you have kids or go to a dance studio, they will have end-of-the-year recitals. One thing about me, I had a favorite. There was always one person who had a song kids could dance to. That woman was Missy Elliott.
Over the years, that inspired a certain level of creative respect that I have for her. It influenced a lot of my videos. I have more in store in the new year. I am trying to be in a lane of my own.
One thing about Missy Elliott is that she cannot be attached to any other artist. She had peers, but she was identifiable by being herself. Along with Missy’s inspiration are artists like Frank Ocean and Beyoncé. Those are people who I looked to. They shaped me lyrically and also performance-wise. I want to work hard to become an icon (laughs).
The Knockturnal: What is your definition of success?
Rodney Chrome: I am from Little Rock, Arkansas. Nobody I know has come from such a small place and made it to stardom, especially being a Black and queer man. I am trying to make it happen. But success is not about just me trying to make it. Also, it is about me inspiring people from my hometown or others who are Black and queer.
Success to me is about letting other identities from small towns know that you can put your mind to this music stuff. You can work in other creative fields and avenues, despite whether people around you have a strict mindset on what success is to them.
Whatever you believe in or want to [pursue], go after it with 110%. You can make it. I am trying to become that type of inspiration for everyone who looks like me. That is my success. There is plenty on the way.
The Knockturnal: Your 12-track LP, QUEER PRESSURE, arrived during the pandemic. Describe your creative process ahead of this release.
Rodney Chrome: I came to New York in 2018 for school. The producer, Underscores, I was introduced to at NYU helped. She is a trans producer. My support system understood what I was trying to convey with QUEER PRESSURE. When I arrived in New York, I was still fresh from hearing “No.” People told me I could not do this.
What I wanted to say with the project is there is so much pressure and restraints around being queer. I wanted to talk about every facet of my person and artistry. But, I told myself, “This is going to be the groundwork and foundation of who I am. When people go back and listen to my music, they will say, ‘He has always been making this type of art. It is not something new. His identity is not something he is just now announcing.'”
QUEER PRESSURE is raw emotion, which is what the album consists of sonically. I said, “I want to make a song about my mom and her being accepting. I want to make a song about my dad not loving me the way I wanted him to.” Also, I wanted to make a song about romance with a same-sex partner.
That body of work has a lot of what the industry and the world are not used to hearing. Even though I am still small, one day, I am going to hit that big mark, and people will listen to Rodney Chrome on QUEER PRESSURE. They will say, “Oh! I should have had this message back when I did not know about him yet.”
The Knockturnal: What level of responsibility do you feel to represent LGBTQ+ artistry well?
Rodney Chrome: I do not like to put pressure on myself. But I do feel there is a level of responsibility for me to help others who identify with my story. I am from a place where family members and people just don’t support you. That is something I can relate to within the LGBTQ+ community.
I do not only talk about the bad stuff, though. There were good moments, like how I got to this point and my musical route. I feel like it is my duty to be of service. I pray that God not only allows grace to move to me but through me. Whatever God gives me, I give to other people. My responsibility is not only to be an artist but to be a vessel for other creatives and people in the LGBTQ+ community.
The Knockturnal: How does it feel to be on stage and performing?
Rodney Chrome: Oh, we outside! We outside (laughs)! It was tough. I released QUEER PRESSURE during the pandemic. I had to question, “How do I make this happen virtually?” I could not perform then. You know?
I had to do things online to get my word out there as much as possible. The project still connected at school. That felt amazing. I feel very blessed with the looks I got from that body of work. Now, we are performing. I am out here more than ever.
I feel I have performed a great deal in recent months. I’ve done Youth Pride. I’ve headlined elsewhere. Last night, I performed at Soho House. There was an AfroPunk performance. I am gearing up. So many people can witness me live moving forward. I originally come from a dance background, and I want people to see that in person.
The Knockturnal: What is the inspiration behind the grandpa skit in your music video, “TO THE MONEY?”
Rodney Chrome: That is actually a very good question. No one has asked me that. The direction of that clip is something I have to give super credits to the music video director, Zachary Wiesel. Without him, that visual would not be what it is today.
However, the grandpa scene is me when I get older. It is me coming back, talking to my grandchild, and telling a story about myself. I was a vessel that a lot of people may not have believed in back then. Some people thought this story would be a myth. It wouldn’t happen. The video is about someone coming to take over the world with art.
The Knockturnal: The character is your manifestation of who you want to be.
Rodney Chrome: Yes, he is my manifestation. Exactly! And with who I cast, I wanted to have representation. Also, he is a queer, Black man of an older generation. I felt connected to him in person and had him in the opening scene. That is how that came about. I wanted to have someone that I could strive toward.
The Knockturnal: In what ways has Ghetto Popstar Vol.1 elevated your craft?
Rodney Chrome: It has elevated me in a way where I think ahead. I give credit to Lola. She is teaching me to move and feel like a pop star. Even though I am not a big artist just yet, we question, “What ways can we do it right now?”
I ask myself, “How can I feel bigger than life?” Ghetto Popstar Vol.1 taught me about what I want to do next. I think on a level other than a surface level. I think big picture now. I say, “Go after it.” Visually, it created a lane. I am identifiable by being myself. I am learning and recording.
The Knockturnal: Please describe your sound for new listeners.
Rodney Chrome: I would say, “It is stadium music.” If you were to go to a stadium, you want the songs that kind of slap you in the face (laughs). You do not know who it is, but you will want to press the Shazam app’s button immediately. This is Rodney Chrome!
There are hip-hop influences, but also my songs have electronic and futuristic fuses. If Missy Elliott and Frank Ocean had a child, it would be me (laughs). Yes, you can quote that. My first love is hip-hop, and my secondary genre is R&B.
The Knockturnal: Who is Rodney Chrome?
Rodney Chrome: I don’t know if I can curse. I am sorry in advance. Rodney Chrome is a bad bitch! I will tell you that right now (laughs). He is fearless.
My government name is Rodney Anderson. But when I become Rodney Chrome on stage, I feel like a superhero. No one can touch me or influence how I think about things. Rodney Chrome is boundless.
I will try anything when it comes to music. Chrome is representative of one of the hardest materials out. I thought about it being stronger than steel and how no one could break it. I embody something that can never be fractured. It is who I am.