Che Ecru was introduced to me and popular culture by the queen of what’s current, Doja Cat, when she told MTV that “Phone Me” was her sensual song of the moment, that Che “is saying some sexy stuff, and I know all the lyrics, and it’s wonderful.” She’s since gone on her IG live several times to sing along with Ecru to her steady stable of Doja kitties. Like most icebergs and artists, Ecru’s success came after years of accrued experience and labor, a unique personal identity forming at the edge, the authentic heart, of the music business.
“It’s a tradeoff – working in the industry. And I think over the years, I’ve noticed a lot of the sacrifices you have to make,” said the R&B artist. “And it’s worth it if you want to make that sacrifice. But at least for myself, personally, I worry about my own mental health and how that can be tarnished when I put my work in someone else’s hands.”
Traditionally artists partner with a major record label, a bankroll with connections, personnel, and the type of influence that only surfaces after years of fortuitous lobbying. After that, their streaming revenue is generally the label’s supper. The survivors of the transition make money through other channels, whichever were pulled from the big players in negotiations: touring, merch, and these days, NFT projects – fan clubs or screen collectibles mostly.
Ecru’s got his own playbook. The first and only piece of “merch” he’s released is a sound pack for fellow producers and engineers. “I put a couple voice notes for myself in there,” said Che Ecru. “Little things like that help kids get inspired. If I had downloaded a pack from Travis Scott and it had a voice note telling me to go hard. I would have made crazy stuff after that. Sometimes you need somebody to put that battery in your pack.”
Touring is off the table for the moment too. Ecru’s performed with friends, but the prolonged touring process is anti-copacetic to his processes. “I saw one artist who had a huge tour,” he told me. “That’s so scary for me. I don’t know why. I think personally, I have a little bit of social anxiety.”
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Without touring and regularly released merch, Che’s been forced to be creative out of the studio. He and his team collect from every aspect of his music. They pick the carcass clean –streaming, publishing, neighboring rights, and label revenue. They’re registered on SoundExchange to collects money off internet radio like Pandora and Sirius.XM and from various international territories. Che’s been sampled in two Baby Keem songs “Pink Panties” and “Lost Souls.” Drake sampled Ecru on his song “No Guidance,” and the clip took off on TikTok. “There’s a huge business to sampling,” said Montalis “Monty” Anglade, Ecru’s COO, “and Che reaps the rewards because he owns his art.
Creating alone makes it easy to stake ownership. It has other benefits too. “If I had an engineer that was telling me, ‘Oh, was that a good take?’ or ‘that was a good take!’ I would’ve thrown away half the songs I have out already,” Ecru explained. He’s made music around people before to find that observation can be violent. Mistakes are doted over, bantered about, and treated without caution. It’s hard to give success the gratitude it deserves in the moment; it’s vulnerable. It’s even harder to give the creative process the leash length it needs underneath critical eyeballs. The whole thing killed his process, and he isn’t going to let it happen again. After music, Ecru has plenty of remaining creative aspiration. “I’d like to voice act or even make cartoons. A big thing people don’t get already with my music is I’m already voice acting.”
Che is a SoundCloud rapper, a part of the generation that’s past Napster and into community, authenticity, immediacy. “Within that I mean, I’m very impulsive when it comes to getting rid of music. I made some really dope songs a couple weeks ago, and because they haven’t seen the light of day yet, I’m already starting to lose hope in them,” he admonished, a plaything to the personal forces that underly creation.
Animals survive in nature by finding a niche. Species which fight for the obvious sources of energy are picked apart by competition or their own lack of vision. Che Ecru found his own pool in the prairie, and as an audience our great privilege will be to enjoy the fruits of his berries.