Detroit's Amber Chene is making space for Black genderqueer women through smooth indie-pop

The color of your energy

click to enlarge Amber Chene. - Matthew Neal
Matthew Neal
Amber Chene.

There are some people who lack ambition, motivation, or the creativity beyond, like, picking a pre-programmed filter for a mirror-selfie. And then there's Amber Chene, the 28-year-old tornadic non-binary multidisciplinary artist, fashion designer, weed cultivator, model, and musical artist who's sitting on what they estimate is a trove of 300 or more unreleased songs she's stockpiled over the last 10 years, some of which will finally see the light of day when Chene drops her debut record, Golden Ratio in August.

"I do so much," says Chene, who uses both she and they pronouns. "It's like I'm constantly on the move, right? And that's why it's been hard for me to really create music even though people are always just like, 'Oh, your music's good, you're talented.' And it's also everything to me. I love music, I love being able to express myself. Being the individual that I am and growing up in Detroit, it's been really hard for me to fit in places. So I've embraced standing out. Being a Black queer woman, as well, it's just always been something that has hindered me from actually getting into a studio and having the funds to pay for studio time and things like that. So yeah, I'm finally at a point in my life where I'm a little bit more stable, where I can actually invest [in] myself."

Chene grew up on the west side of Detroit, where she attended Cass Tech High School, where Big Sean was also a classmate. And though she moved around a lot as a kid, mostly throughout metro Detroit, she says it's Detroit that has pushed her sound and the vibrations that she constantly draws from.

"I grew up — if anybody knows the 1-2-6 crowd, the crowd that used to hang at 126 Iron Street — that was the start of it all," she says. "That's where we was at; we was all starting up there. Everybody was doing something, whether it was poetry or art or music. Just seeing that, I want to make sure that that next kid that's getting kicked out of their house because they're gay or don't have anywhere to go except [to] run into the streets or run into other things that's not going to mean them well, I want to be able to create a hub for kids to come and express themselves through art and music, etc. It's important for the youth and the art."

Currently, Chene has just one solo single out, which she says is a representation of the music to come. On "Fluid," released in 2019, Chene fills a very meditative two and a half minutes with a Madlib-sounding beat and cleansing poetry, where she rhymes "candle" with "Palo Santo" and "Prosecco," solidifying herself as a hip-hop oracle.

It should come as no surprise that Chene contains multitudes and is not one to pigeonhole herself into conformity or rigid identity norms. She quotes Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, and Angela Davis, and cites the music of J Dilla, Erykah Badu, Miles Davis, Tupac, and Jean-Luc Ponty as being lifelong inspirations. When it comes to her own music, which she describes as being indie-pop meets house, it's about staying authentic to herself as a queer Black woman. She also says she just wants to get it right, which is why Golden Ratio has taken five years to complete and why it will also have an accompanying short film, because apparently, she doesn't have enough to do. But it's through the sheer act of making space for people like Chene and her community through music, art, and the thoughtful hustle that keeps their creative coals hot and the flow strong.

"It really embodies a queer Black woman," Chene says of the record. "I have so much femininity in me, but also have all this masculinity, too, right? And I think that in my music I try to get away from the toxic masculinity, or I might bring up something that's political, and I might bring up a James Baldwin quote, or I might quote Toni Morrison, or all of the great people that were really great writers that was really inspiring to me, like bell hooks. There's a lot of different writers and a lot of different women, [like] Assata Shakur, that I'm just inspired by. And when I say that, I don't even just mean music-wise," Chene says.

"You have some people where it's like, you go to school to learn something, but it's just like, I'm out here living it, you know what I mean?" she says. "You really hear the Blackness and the culture in my music because it was so embedded in me as a child."

Part of our cover story, "12 metro Detroit acts we think will do big things in 2021."

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