Lil Wayne's huge roster of artists continues to change the music landscape.
Drake is dominating across multiple genres on the Billboard charts with his latest album Views, while Nicki Minaj is blossoming into a music mogul — the likes of which New York hasn't seen since Diddy.
However, Young Money isn't just changing the business and music atmosphere, they are also changing the societal landscape and lens with which we view the world.
A Plus recently caught up with Young Money's Shanell, who is not only a talented singer and songwriter, but an empowering woman who has been working to inspire the next generation of girls to achieve something they never thought was possible.
Along with her Band of Gypsies, which she affectionately calls her loyal fans, Shanell is changing the conversation about women in the music industry and how we use the word bitch to mean something empowering as opposed to degrading, all the while working on her debut album.
It's a lot to digest, but if anyone can make it all happen, it's this modern day superwoman.
Jason Pollak: For those who don't know, you're kind of the Superwoman of Young Money. You're a dancer, director, singer, writer, choreographer, and more. Can you give us a brief history lesson on Shanell?
Shanell: Woo! I think you said it all. Way before Young Money, I was known for choreographing and touring with artists like Ne-Yo, Ciara, and The Game.
Then I transformed my career from choreographing to singing and writing, which I used to do in my spare time. I decided to take that part of my career more seriously and got to write for artists like Usher, Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and on Ne-Yo's album as well.
I was on tour when Lil Wayne was promoting Tha Carter II and during our free time I was playing him some of my music. He thought it was really different and unique, and encouraged me to do it on my own as an artist. Not too long after that, the whole YMCMB movement happened and I continued singing, but also wore a lot of hats as Wayne's career got bigger.
I did a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff on tours and Wayne's Rebirth album for the first couple of years on the label, and now I'm putting it all together to drop my first album.
You recently put out a project called "Nobody's Bitch," and the term bitch is thrown around a lot in the hip-hop world. However, I think you mean it in a completely different way. Could you elaborate on your concept, and how that's a strong statement for women and yourself?
Yasss! I'm so glad you picked that up. It's not using it in that way.
I'm trying to help young women and people in general. You know, I never had rich parents to take me to the top. I never had a big-time manager that paid for everything who used all their connections to get me there.
I busted my ass and had to do a lot of it myself. There's been help along the way of course, but I wanted people to know that 'I did this.' I wanted to be appreciated and respected for it. However, there are a lot of people out there who don't know that.
I felt like it was my responsibility to say that for any young girls out there who might give up because they don't get the attention they deserve. I wanted them to know "you're nobody's bitch," and you have to remain strong, keep pushing, and keep going.
It is certainly extremely tough. Was there ever a time where you felt like it was especially hard for you to get ahead because you are a woman? I think we're beginning to get to a place where there's more equality, but how do you overcome that?
All of the time. I mean, there are certain conversations about business that men don't want to have with me only because I am a female.
It's even harder because there is smart aleck stuff said about you, maybe not in my face, but I'll hear about it later. I've heard before that I need a man to handle my business and I'm just like, "Really?"
I've tried both, working with men and women around me. However, the people who can respect and understand me the best from my experience is other women. I think we understand each others hustle.
The music industry is generally run by older men and the artists are always younger women, so there is some manipulation that happens. You really have to demand respect. We definitely need some more women running these businesses and labels.
I just want girls to know that if they feel uncomfortable doing something, they shouldn't do it. If that's part of the deal, then that deal isn't the one you want. It can be any profession. You can demand your respect.
You can't sacrifice yourself. You're "Nobody's Bitch." Know your worth. If you know that, the results will be incredible.
Transitioning a little bit, you also talk a lot about relationships from a strong female perspective. Is your song "I Can Be Your Stripper" taking the stand point of "you can look if I say it is OK"? Was that part of the message or was there a different meaning attached to it?
Yeah, there is also a lot of promiscuity going around. There are people out there that have great relationships and we don't talk about it too much anymore. It's more about cheating and how we don't talk about the healthy relationships as much.
It was about saying that you can be every type of woman in a relationship. You can be "a lady in the street, but a freak in the bed," and don't have to go outside of your relationship to seek fulfillment.
The word stripper has been overly used, talked about, and glorified. So, I wanted to show a scenario and write a song that showed that any woman can be seductive and entertaining.
How is your music a message to your Band of Gypsies? What's the concept behind that movement?
My Band of Gypsies, yes!
I came up with it because I named myself Gypsy. Young Money has a very big hip-hop fan base and I make hip-hop music, but I also do a lot of other types of music. When I first came out, people commented about my long nails, my nose ring, and couldn't understand me.
So I felt like Gypsies are misunderstood as well, and people were only seeing and experiencing one side of me. I wanted to show that I was offering more and searching for new experiences. I just looked different and we are all "strange," but I thought we were all cool for standing out.
That's what this Bands of Gypsies is, it's me recruiting these people that are trying to experience all aspects of life.
Yeah, you are certainly diverse. You recently dropped "88 Keyz" with Zaytoven, who is a very talented producer. You also have Lil Wayne hosting it, which is obviously dope. Can you tell us about that project and how it all came together?
Doing a mixtape was actually Zaytoven's idea because he wanted to branch out and try something different. He does a lot of trap music like Gucci Mane, Migos, and Future. He reached out and wanted to tap into other types of things.
He's a really talented piano player. He plays church music every Sunday and most people would not know that. So, we wanted to do something that was like a clash of two worlds and I was down to do it.
It was super fun, but we were trying to figure out what to call it. Since we were coming from two different worlds, we were tying to find that common denominator that we both relate to. It was definitely the music, the piano, and melody, and "88 Keyz" was what we decided on.
With Wayne, I was trying to find something different to do. He normally doesn't host a mixtape and he was a little on the fence about it first. He just wanted me to send him the track and wanted to do a verse, but he did it and that was cool.
T-Pain is also on "I Can Be Your Stripper," but there aren't too many features on there. I feel like people still have to hear me, so I wanted to give them just a dose of Shanell. It was a little more urban and I was talking crazy. I wasn't trying to write any super-deep songs. It was just perfect for the summertime.
That's totally understandable. We can probably save the mega-mixes for someone like DJ Khaled. You even saw it on Drake's album, there were only a few features. It's nice to hear you and your take on things, especially on the relationships front. I really liked the new video for "Open Heart Surgery." Can you tell us about that?
It was just something colorful and fun. My sister, D. Woods, is in it, too. There were a couple of my friends that got together at this place where I get my car serviced at. It's right in the 'hood.
I was like, we oughta shoot the video right here with the drums and the keyboard, so we did and it was just a lot of fun. I'm like a big kid. I didn't want to do something so serious.
There are a lot of women out there that are so in your face with sex and I just wanted to do something a little lighter. It was something for everyone to enjoy. It wasn't about chasing money or anything like that. I just wanted to promote living life because a lot of people go to work, go home, and don't know themselves.
It was a little escape. Something else than going to a club.
I feel like we all try to do something here and there that takes us out of that loop. Something different.
Even if it's just something like painting. Or whatever, walk a mountain. If you don't like that, do something else.
There's so many things that you could go spend your money on and something else to do than going to a club.
Sometimes I feel like people won't do something because they don't know if it will make them any money. If you enjoy something, go do it, you don't have to make a million dollars doing it.
Yeah, and who knows, if you do it, you could make a million dollars doing it. You'll never though if you never do anything besides work for somebody else.
I try to follow different things. Sometimes Instagram will depress me because I don't know what everybody is doing. There is some cool stuff I see though and there are people who do interesting things.
A majority of young people do nothing and I'm trying to open their eyes. If years from now, someone walks up to me and tells me they decided to try something because I helped them see it, that would make the happiest.
I feel like Young Money is similar in that way because you have the freedom to explore. It doesn't seem like Wayne is saying, "You have to do this," or "You have to do that." He definitely has a high respect for artists and there isn't one thing you have to be doing. There are a lot of artists who explore multiple genres and it's a different atmosphere.
Yeah, there aren't a bunch of A&Rs running around. Our office is basically the studio.
We'll get together and figure out what we're doing this year, and then it's up to us to take the opportunity and go create something.
I wouldn't be able to be creative if it wasn't like that. There are a lot of artists who aren't happy with their situation and becoming someone they're not.
Are you getting into any of those types of ventures outside of music?
I have some stuff I'm getting into, but music is my main focus right now. I've had some people make some offers, but I'd like to put out my album first.
That's my goal right now, this year. Hit the road, reach out to all my fans, and meet with different females all over the country who are talented. I want to get to know the girls around the country.
I want to build up this "Nobody's Bitch" movement and maybe drop an album sometime this year.
Yeah, it's been fun watching you evolve over the years. What else is planned for this year before you get out of here?
We're on the tour right now and we're going to do another tour after that.
I'm just trying to round up everyone right now.
That's about it. Thank you so much!