The Young Money Signed Artist Can't Wait to Give the World Way More Than It's Ready For
Shanell Woodgett laces her lyrics with references to vibrators and masturbation, treats men like passive sex objects in her videos, and has a new mixtape called Nobody’s Bitch that starts off with a fusillade of f-bombs. Yet the petite, soft-spoken singer and songwriter behind Lil Wayne’s “Prom Queen” will tell you she’s only begun to push the limits.
Born in Massachusetts, raised in California, and now based in Atlanta, Shanell AKA SnL started out dancing for other artists on big tours and penning songs for them. But she’s been putting her energy into her own music lately, a fusion of left-of-center hip-hop, pop, R&B and dance with outrageous lyrics from a distinctly feminine perspective.
Raw and casually outlandish, the Young Money signed artist seems like she was born to collaborate with Lil Wayne, and is an excellent complement to the rest of the Young Money roster. But Shanell has even bigger ambitions. She’s currently at work on a full album and if Nobody’s Bitch is the mere warning shot she makes it out to be her eventual debut is going to be some hazardous (and fabulous) material.
Wearing eye-popping heels and rocking what she calls her “mob wife” look, SnL brought her strong yet quiet presence over to the Iggy offices to fill us in on her creative partnership with Weezy, the relationship she has with her legions of admiring “gypsies,” and all about being Nobody’s Bitch.
You started out as and dancer and a song writer for other people. Do you feel like there are things you can express now as a solo artist that you couldn’t when you were writing for others?
I was trying to express myself when I was writing songs for other people but nobody would take those songs, because they were too risky. Other girls were scared, like, “Oh, if I say that, then somebody will say …”
That’s actually what started me on my project. I was working with Bangladesh, he did “Six Foot Seven Foot” and “A Mili” for Lil Wayne and he’s also a really good friend of mine. I actually introduced him to Wayne for “A Mili.” So, yeah, we were working together and he was like, “These songs have so much character and realness, let’s just work on your stuff.” So, we started working on my project and Wayne just was like, “Yeah, I like this.”
Was it a matter of having enough confidence to write for yourself?
No, I always wanted to do it. I just didn’t have time. I was always on the road before and I never really had time to sit down and really focus on my own stuff. I’d be on tour for six months at a time dancing for different artists.
It was actually on the road where I met Wayne. I was dancing for Neyo who was opening up. This was when he was promoting Tha Carter II. I was still recording while I was on the road and I just played Wayne a bunch of music and I played him a show that I did. And he was just like, “I’m doing this Young Money thing and I want you to be a part of it.” This was before Young Money even existed.
Before you joined Young Money were there offers from people or labels who wanted to make you into something you’re not?
I had a couple of situations that I just decided I didn’t want to do. Because I played them this great music and they loved and then they wanted to turn me into something else. I just couldn’t do that.
What was it that they wanted to turn you into?
Just a typical R&B singer. I learned so much writing for different artists and being around artists, things that I would take on as an artist myself or things that I wouldn’t. So, when I felt like that was being put on me I fought against it.
At Young Money they kind of let you be the boss or the leader of your own situation. It sounds really good, but it’s way harder, because if it don’t work it’s on you and you’re not a professional at it, you’re an artist. It trains you to be an artist as well as a business person. I wear the business hat during the day and then, after five, I put on the creative hat.
I know you creative directed Lil Wayne’s recent tour. Are you doing a lot of creative direction for Young Money?
With the Rebirth album that Lil Wayne did, I was writing a lot of stuff. And even with a lot of the guys, I do a lot of hooks and stuff for them. And creative directing the tour, which is so much stuff. It’s wardrobe, it’s lights, it’s video, props and what the stage looks like.
Not that I do it all myself, I just team up with the people who are professionals at it and we put together a show, but it was a lot of work. I was used to choreographing for different artist, but to be the person that everyone turns to, I just learned so much. I learned to appreciate the people that put these big shows together. A lot of artists don’t even know the sound man’s name and that person makes you sound great every night. Or the lighting director, who makes sure that everyone can see you.
Is this particular mixtape meant to be your big debut statement?
The mixtape kind of came out of me being in the studio night after night after night working and people knowing my face and seeing me on stage and going, “When is she going to come out? what is she going to do? What is her sound?” Everybody on my label puts out mixtapes, and I consider this to be more of an EP, because the label is behind it. It’s just, like, “Let me give the people a little of what’s to come on that album.”
I just woke up one day and that attitude, that Nobody’s Bitch attitude just came to me, because all these people just kept talking. There’s nice people, there’s mean people, there’s people that wish you bad. It’s just like, look, I’m going to do me, I’m going to be me. I’m going to put my album out when it’s time to put my album out. I’m going to wear what I’m going to wear. I’m going to say what I want to say. And people can relate to that because in whatever you do you want to be appreciated and respected. So, Nobody’s Bitch was just the perfect little connection between me and the fans to put out there.
I heard that your fans actually have a name.
My gypsy gang! It’s crazy because I met them all on Twitter. But every city I went to I was like, “Okay, I want to meet up with you guys.” So, I got to really see and sit down with them. I took them to lunch. And I got to see who I was talking to and what kind of people I attract. And them talking to me in person about how I changed they’re way of thinking or their lives, it’s like, this is more than just music.
What did they say?
For example, I started this 6 a.m. workout. I drove myself crazy trying to do it. I only did it for seven days but my whole thing was for when kids went back to school to not be sluggish during the day. Because I remember when I was in high school and I used to sleep through first period. So, I was like, “Hey, I’m going to wake up with you all and we’re going to do a quick 6 a.m. 30 minute workout. I was streaming on Ustream.
And it picked up with not just high school kids but people who went in to work at eight. I made it to where you didn’t have to buy weights and everything. I was like, “pick up your water bottle in your refrigerator.” But I drove myself crazy because I would get home from the studio at four in the morning and tried to stay up until six. I missed one day and I got so many people hitting me like, “where are you at? Me and my mom are waiting for you. So, I was like, okay, this is about a lot more than just music. But just giving people the drive. Now, they can do it on their own.
How was working with Diplo for this mixtape?
It was really Derek Allen who is signed to Mad Decent. I worked with a bunch of producers who are signed to his label, or at least deeply affiliated. That’s comfortable to me.
He’s been doing his thing and now he gotten his shine and he’s really starting to bubble and fizz. I can’t wait to be able to do whatever, to be as big as Wayne and just do whatever. That music and working with them is so much more comfortable than having to think like a businesswoman and just give people what they’re ready for. Working with them is like, “Let’s just create. Let’s just do.” That’s what I like a whole lot more.
So, you’re working towards a point where you can be less calculating. When you can just fully express yourself.
So, that’s going to be on a full album? Is the world ready for this?
They will be. They will be. The full album, I’m thinking of that as kind of my introduction. I’ve done stuff and put it out there. Some people understand it, some people think I’m weird. But I’ve learned as a businesswoman that you have to kind of teach people.
So, I gather you and Lil Wayne work really well together. What is it that makes you guys click creatively?
I work for a rap/hip-hop label, but I’m more than that. There’s so much more to me than that and that’s why Wayne signed me. Because he’s more than that and I’ve kind of inspired him to play around with other music. I wrote “Prom Queen” for Rebirth.
Right, you’re both rock fans. Are there bands or albums that were touchstones for that project?
No. I mean, I can tell you who I like. I remember one time I came into the studio and I didn’t even know that he would go in that direction. He started playing me these records that he did with Cool & Dre. And Dre from Cool & Dre is a big music head. And I was like, “You like this kind of stuff?” And he was like “Yeah?” And we just started creating.
It was a song, his song, “Red Rum” and another one “I’ll Die.” And I was like, “Do you want to hear what I’ve been doing?” Because it was already on the same page.
I’m from Massachusetts originally. I listened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, New Kids on the Block, to Mary J. Blige. I listened to everything. So, when people now tell me that there’s a difference between all that stuff, I’m like “There is?” If it all sounds good and feels good, then it’s good.
Have you been having experiences on the road that are going to feed your work later when you get a chance to write more?
Definitely. And then I’ve got my good friends and my Gypsy Gang and then I talk to them. I got some stories, boy. I can’t wait to put them into songs. My homegirls come over after they done cheated on their boyfriends or their boyfriend just cheated on them or they found out their boyfriend was gay. And it’s like, “That’s a great subject.”
That’s kind of how “These Hoes Is Winning” off the mixtape came in to play. Just hearing all my friends just talking about “Hey, man, we might need to switch our style of doing things, because these hoes is winning.” It’s not even glorifying hoes. It’s just basically saying there’s some things that these girls do that us good girls are too tightly sewn together to do. I just feel like “the hoes,” for lack of a better word, they’re not scared, they’re committed to what they do. They don’t care what anybody thinks or says. So, if we can take those qualities and apply them then maybe we can get a little further than where we’ve been getting.
And then you don’t always have to choose between one or the other.
You don’t. Like we just had this press listening for the tape. And there were label reps and magazine reps there and there’s this song “Pay Me” and it says “Pay me nigga don’t bullshit me.” And some of the women in there were like “hee hee.” They liked it, they we’re just too afraid to show that they liked it. But when they interviewed me they were like, “Girl, I like that song.” And you can express that. You can be real. Those are real feelings that all women think and feel. I think the world makes women feel that to be respected you have to be like this. And I’m here to say, fuck that, be you and don’t apologize.
Okay, why do you think people keep asking you if you’re with Lil Wayne? Is it because of the kiss you did on stage during the tour?
We did that kiss every night. I come from musical theater, so, to me, that doesn’t mean anything. But I guess in the hip-hop or R&B world if you kiss than that means something’s going on.
Who does your nails?
Actually, a little man named Lee, and if you mention him in this I will bring the interview to him. He’d be so excited. Because he knows everything about young money and he loves when I come to him because he can do all kinds of crazy things with my nails, like I’m his test dummy. I’ve done everything: The nails that curled around, the designs, I used to get them painted underneath. We come up with wild ideas.