It’s a Tuesday afternoon in late June, and rapper/reality TV star Chanel West Coast is walking briskly through the Grove, tossing her straightened blond, sorority-girl hair, when a teenager sitting at La Piazza Ristorante Italiano shouts out, “Chanel!”
When she sees it’s a young fan, someone who probably has seen her on MTV’s Ridiculousness or Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory rather than streaming her rap songs, she continues walking.
“These people that watch our MTV shows, they’re not music fans,” she mutters in her raspy baby voice. “They’re people that are lazy on their couch and want to watch funny videos or whatever.”
She’s heading west to meet her boyfriend and his family near the Original Farmers Market, wearing Givenchy sunglasses, black Chanel sneakers, denim shorts and a loose, white Top Shop shirt that says PRETTY PLEASE, as if to echo her polite but insistent requests for respect.
As West Coast weaves through the outdoor mall, all she can think about is how she’s almost 26 and her career is nowhere near where it should be. She’s exhausted from the long van ride the day before from San Francisco, where she opened for Wacka Flocka Flame; she’s agitated because her boyfriend punched a wall in frustration when they got home; and she’s still reeling from the fight she had with her producer a week earlier about whether she needs to be more like Iggy Azalea if she wants her major-label debut, set to come out later this year, to be a success.
It’s been a rough couple of months for any white female rapper who isn’t the stunning, 5-foot-10-inch Australian star. West Coast may have a buzzed-about mixtape, a record deal with Lil Wayne’s Young Money and a couple of music videos with more than a million views, but with Azalea comfortably perched atop the Billboard charts with two hit singles — “Fancy” and “Problem” — for seven weeks in a row, West Coast has been unable to stop herself from comparing their accomplishments.
The two have plenty in common. Both cultivate an image that is equal parts baller and cheerleader; both borrow hip-hop tropes to somewhat boring effect: Middle-class white women rapping about their struggle to acquire labels and diamonds is about as edgy as a Sex and the City movie. Still, both have impressive flow and a pop sensibility, and Young Money hasn’t given up on West Coast yet.
Lil Wayne telegraphs L.A. Weekly a note of his support via a tangled web of publicists and assistants: “Chanel is a shining star; she possesses everything Young Money looks for in an artist. This is her time, and everyone else will know soon,” he writes, or perhaps simply signs off on.
But West Coast is still bothered by Azalea.
“When I first started rapping, I was, like, ‘I’m gonna be, like, the female Eminem.’ So to see somebody blowing up in my position … it was the hardest,” she sighs. “Now it looks like I’m the second, but really I’ve been doing this since I was 14 years old.”
In those years, the girl born Chelsea Chanel Dudley bounced around the San Fernando Valley, where she had almost no white friends; she started listening to hip-hop and smoking weed at age 11. (Her mom, she says, grew marijuana at one point to pay the bills.) After two years at Taft High School, she was home-schooled to graduation.
But instead of selling millions of records, she has spent the past six years playing the role of the giggling dumb blonde in the reality-TV universe of professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek. His viral-video round-up Ridiculousness is MTV’s top show; West Coast also appears on Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory, in which Dyrdek and his posse pull expensive pranks and experiment with extreme sports.
Friends originally put her in touch with Dyrdek. While she needed the money, even then, she was hesitant to accept the job offer: “The first thing that crossed my head was, ‘Is this going to ruin my chances of being taken seriously as an artist?’?”
Now she worries that instinct was correct.
When she reaches the end of the Farmers Market that borders the parking lot, she stops and looks around.
“What, am I trippin’? Did I pass Johnny Rockets?” she says. Her boyfriend, 18-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter Liam Edwards, has arrived with his aunt, uncle and 3-year-old cousin in tow.
“I want to go somewhere we can drink,” he says, with hyperactive urgency. He’s wearing a black Tupac Shakur hat and a white Tupac Shakur T-shirt, and his primary claim to fame is having written a track on Justin Bieber’s album Believe.
“Let’s go to the place upstairs,” Chanel says.
“Can I get in there?” Edwards asks.
“Did you bring your ID?” she says. He nods, but at the restaurant, they don’t even card him.
After her first Moscow mule, West Coast starts to fixate on why Azalea has succeeded and she hasn’t. After all, there was a time when the two were equals. When they met in a studio a few years ago, Polow da Don chose to sign her, not Azalea, to his label. So what happened?
Her boyfriend’s aunt and uncle, in town for a few weeks from Scotland, focus on their food. Neither has ordered a drink.
Did Azalea have better videos, or work harder? Was Azalea lucky to avoid Polow’s restrictive contract, which took West Coast a full year to wriggle out of? Or is it because Azalea is taller, with the striking features of a model, while West Coast is 5 foot 3 and looks more like somebody’s cute little sister?
The possibility that most haunts West Coast is that she has ruined her chance at hip-hop success by doing reality TV.
“I have a tendency to say ditzy, stupid things on TV, but part of that is because I’m high,” she says. (Before coming to the Grove, she smoked a bowl out of a pipe shaped like a microphone.) “I say other funny shit that’s not stupid, but they use more of the stupid stuff.”
The network also refuses to help her promote her music career, she complains.
“I’ve been on MTV for so many years. They’re so stupid and, like, disrespectful and rude,” she says, launching into a story about how she wasn’t allowed to sit with the rest of Young Money’s artists at the MTV Video Music Awards last fall, forced instead into a section with Snooki and the Teen Moms.
She orders a second drink.
“I don’t know what to do,” she says, looking beleaguered. “I’m supposed to get my nails done at 5 and I don’t even feel like sitting through the process.” But she needs new acrylics — she has to shoot a music video with Shanell, another Young Money artist, the following day.
That there is another artist on her label whose name sounds exactly the same as hers is just another perceived slight. Her ornery Pomeranian may be named Weezy, but she’s never had the real Weezy’s phone number, and she feels totally disconnected from Drake, Nicki Minaj and the rest of Lil Wayne’s powerhouse collection of artists.
“It’s actually, like, really annoying,” she says. “I feel like the red-headed stepchild of Young Money.”
Edwards starts talking about what they should do to celebrate his 19th birthday, which happens to be July 4. West Coast perks up and says she wants to throw a party in Malibu, so they can hit Paris Hilton’s annual Independence Day bash.
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“Paris always throws the sickest parties,” she says. “She’s literally the most down-to-earth, coolest person ever.”
As the group traipses out of the restaurant, West Coast starts popping off her nails, one at a time, leaving tiny pieces of bedazzled, electric blue plastic scattered on the dirty stairs.
“I’m not gonna say that my music is going to be way better,” she says, returning to the subject of her rival, “but I know it’s going to make an impact, and maybe make you forget, a little bit, about her.”
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