Born Yvette Marie Stevens, Chaka Khan, who changed her name while
working as a teen for the Black Panthers as part of their Free Breakfast For
Children program, is a modern day entertainment icon. From her group work as
part of Rufus to her hugely successful solo career, shes worked with everyone
from Prince to Mary J. Blige, and her final product is always of a high
If its not her undeniable musical prowess, its her willingness to give
back that sets her apart from the rest of the pack. Not only is Chaka always prepared
to help other musicians when called upon her song Through The Fire
was resurrected with her permission when Kanye West sampled it on his debut
smash Through The Wire.
Chaka also has her very own charity Foundation. Formed in 1999, the Chaka
Khan Foundation helps women and children in crisis. Chaka has taken part in
many benefits dedicated to the conquering of AIDS and HIV prevention. Basically
shes someone who wants to give back.
Returning with a new album, which has already won two Grammy Awards,
Chaka Khan has teamed up with virtuoso production team Jimmy Jam & Terry
Lewis to bring us Funk This. AllHipHop.com Alternatives managed
to catch a bit of time with the legendary lady of soul on a quick promo trip to
Alternatives: Its been a while since weve heard anything new from you. Why
did you decide to release an album now?
Khan: It really wasnt that I decided to do an album now. Ive courted a few
labels over a ten-year period, and then I decided things werent really right
for me. So I continued to work on the road to pay the bills, and then finally a
label came to me and wanted to sign me. They were a great label, very
supportive and very helpful. Like many of my previous labels, they tried to
find me the right producers to work with, which they couldnt.
sister/manager Tammy said, Why dont we take Jam & Lewis up on their offer
that they want to work with you? We had been talking about it for years in
passing, but had never laid anything down. Finally they moved from Minneapolis
to Santa Monica, right up the street from me, and I paid them a visit. I asked
them if theyd be interested in working with me. They were very interested, and
then thats where the new album started.
This contains a few covers and some of your own records. How did the
concept come about that you were going to do the album this way?
Khan: I have so many songs that have accumulated over the years, and we
wanted to make sure that this album had some chance at commercial success. So,
some of the covers are for that reason. We picked only the best, without
sticking to a theme. There is a sort of underlining theme to the album but its
very hidden. I dont even know what it is.
just goes together nicely. I wanted it to go back to me and my authentic roots,
the organic Chaka Khan. Basically what made people fall in love with me in the
first place was hearing me with Rufus doing live music on a board with live
musicians, as opposed to doing it via the internet and what not.
the US release of the album you won two Grammy Awards for it. How does it feel
to still be winning Grammys this far in to your career?
Khan: Its special. I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to have even
been nominated. I mean I was expecting something from this album; I just wasnt
sure what. I didnt expect to win two Grammys. I can tell you that for
nothing. All my friends were telling me I was going to win both. I was like,
Yeah, right! I was just happy to have even been acknowledged. I then gave it
no more thought and carried on working. And lo and behold I got them both. To
me, that was a sign that we did right by this album.
had a long and successful career in music. What would you say has been the key
to your success? What keeps you going?
Khan: I mean cmon, first of all it takes a certain amount of talent to stay
relevant. And people have to recognize that. They need to know it and feel it.
Thats part of it. Ive paid my dues. Ive paid a lot of dues in fact. Ive
been through a lot and I think because of that people recognise that I am
authentic, at least in my musical communication. Other than that, I dont
really look at it or think about it that much. Im just thankful.
some of todays youngsters may not know who you are, especially in physical form, you allowed Kanye West, who at the time was trying to get his music
heard, to sample your hit Through The Fire.
definitely an important moment in music. You effectively helped kick start the career of one of todays most credible Hip-Hop artists. How did this come about? Did you think it would help him? And how important do you think it is to
share samples with other artists?
Khan: I thought it would help him. I really did. I did for a whole different
reason though. He called me and asked me if he could use the song because he
had been in an amazing accident and my song helped him to recover. So how could
I say no? That was my primary reason for agreeing to it. Of course I didnt
expect him to speed it up and make me sound like a chipmunk.
until later I found out that his trademark was in fact speeding up older
records and using them on his tracks. Im just glad I was of some assistance in
helping him get better. However, I do believe there should be a lot more
legislation when it comes to using other peoples music. If you cant play the
music, then why bother? Be a DJ. Thats how I feel personally.
going to be a musician, be a musician. Play it. Play the instrument or get
somebody that can to play it, because I think that things like Pro Tools and
other electronic recording equipment are made to enhance music thats already
been done. Its used to freak it, tweak it, whatever
has changed a lot since you first burst on to the scene. So who is it that you
Khan: Through the years Ive gone through five-year patches where Ill be in
to five or six CDs. Thats it. And I dont really listen to music at home. I
like to listen to it in the car. So in my car right now I think there is Joni
[Mitchell], Miles [Davis] Tutu is probably in there, Kim Burrell, Rahsaan
Patterson, Mica Paris. Oh, and I love Anthony Hamilton. Hes not in my car
though. I need to get him in my car. Im really particular when it comes to
what Im listening to. I dont listen to the radio. Even satellite stuff I
dont deal with. I hate being at the mercy of someone elses selection. I have
to have my own. I cant trash out my ears otherwise it messes with me. I need
back in the UK promoting the new album, which includes a few performances, one
being at the O2 Arena. What is it about touring that you love so much?
Khan: Thats what its all about. At the end of the day its about
communicating person to person. Its about the giving of yourself, the offering
of yourself, and then getting back whatever is given back to you. Theres
nothing like it. If you want to talk about something thats addictive, then
performing is it. Just that feeling once you step on stage is enough to drive
you to do it over and over again.
next for you?
Khan: Well working this CD to death, to the limit, working it to the
rafters, and doing all that I can to make a success of it. Then its back in to
the studio I go. I also have a Foundation, which Im going to hook up with a
few key people here in the UK to help further it. Its a Foundation that helps
children and women in crisis. We have an education initiative that were
working on right now. We also work with autism.Chaka Khan Performing at the Diesel xXx Party