Lil Wayne couldn’t snag the “Prom Queen,” but pulled one of the baddest Bees in the game. Never heard of Shanell aka SNL? Bet your favorite singer’s favorite singer has. Shanell’s resume is already what dreams are made of and as she helps Wayne put the finishing touches on his new project Rebirth, she’s getting ready to rock.
Honey: People are now hearing about you and recognizing you from the “Prom Queen” video, but you’re a familiar name amongst heavyweights in the industry. So, give us a little rundown of things we may have seen you in or heard you on and didn’t know it was you.
Shanell: I write for a lot of people. I have a song on Danity Kane’s album called “Key To My Heart”, Kelis’ album called “Aww Shit.” I’ve worked with a lot of people that everybody knows. I used to work heavy with Ne-Yo and now I’m doing my own thing over here at Young Money.
How did you get started in the business?
Well, I went to a performing arts high school and I studied dance, theatre, and music. I started off being a dancer, but I never was completely satisfied with just dancing. I always felt like dancing and singing, writing. They all kinda go hand in hand. I took Natina’s place in Blaque for a minute, if you remember that group.
“Boom like an 808”
Yeah, and that’s when I really started writing a whole lot. I was writing and dancing on the road. I’ve danced for Jay, Ne-Yo, Bow Wow, 3LW, TLC and it was just like, “I wanna be up front! I don’t wanna be behind anymore.” So, I got with some producers in Atlanta— Shondrae, Maestro, who I still work with today and they’re all on The Carter 3. Got with them and started working on my stuff and after Wayne heard my stuff he was like, “whatcha doin?” And was like, “why don’t you just do what you wanna do?” And he’s helping me make that happen.
Is Young Money considered a label or is it a crew? How do you describe Young Money and your position?
It’s business, it is a label but it’s also like a family. I’ve worked with a lot of different people and this place that I’m at right now, they’re really like a family. They support you, it goes beyond just business. We have fun, we go to basketball games, we have parties and shit. Can I cuss? (laughs)
Oh girl, yeah! So, you said before you were working with Ne-Yo. Were you signed to Compound? Describe that working relationship.
I danced with Ne-Yo for two albums of his career and he heard my music as well and wanted to work with me. Ne-Yo always supported me and always believed in my writing and my artistry, but he and I decided that what you’re doing is a lot different from what I’m doing. He still supports me and everything, but I had to find somewhere I can really express the kind of stuff I want to express and do the kind of stuff that I do.
How does it feel to have the co-sign of Ne-Yo and Lil Wayne and other really influential people in the business and being somewhat unknown and now going out on your own and taking claim of a position in the industry?
This tour that I just got finished doing, the “I Am Music” tour, was a major arena tour and that’s thousands and thousands and thousands of people. Thank God Wayne trusted me to get onstage with him and perform in front of thousands and thousands of people. I’ve done my own shows, but it’s never been that big of a venture. At my first show, when I got onstage and I looked out at the audience and I just like, “wow, this is what I’ve always wanted to do.” Reaching all these different people and just letting people hear my music, my voice. It’s amazing and it’s amazing to have been able to work with so many people. Some people’s biggest dream is to work with a Ne-Yo, or a Wayne, or an Usher, or Beyoncé and I’ve been able to do it. I thank God everyday.
How do you describe your sound and what should people expect to hear from you?
My sound is a fusion of all the the stuff I used to listen to when I was younger. I grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts and it was what you could call “hood,” what you could call “ghetto.” But, I still listened to Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and Prince. I think by accident or subconsciously I just kind of fused everything I was listening to like the Hip-Hop stuff I grew up on and the other stuff that I listened to. So, my music is a mixture. I call it the black, white girl or the white, black girl— I don’t know which way it goes. It’s fusion and I think that now a days, the way that music is going every sound is fusing with the next. So, I think that I’m a spokesperson for that generation of [artist].
Are you currently recording and when can we expect to hear new music from you under Young Money?
Like Nicki Minaj put a mixtape out, I’m gonna put some stuff out. It might not be a full on mixtape, but I do wanna get the people something to say, “ok, this is Shanell’s sound.” We’re recording now, I’m in Miami right now working on my stuff. When’s it’s gonna comeout? Hopefully, by the end of the year or maybe the beginning of next year. We’re really focusing on pushing out Wayne’s Rebirth album and he’s also working on his next album Tha Carter 4. So, all of us are in the studio working on finishing that.
You’re obviously in the “Prom Queen” video, but it’s a little confusing because I thought you were the prom queen and then it sort of went astray.
[laughing] Noooo, let me explain.
Ok, explain the video.
There’s a movie called Cry Baby.
First of all, I wrote the song. We were in the studio and he was like,”write me something.” We kinda sat down and came up with the concept. I’m a theatre kid [so I was inspired by] the movie Grease and the movie Cry Baby. It’s about a guy who might not have been the most popular kid but not the lamest kid, but just somebody different trying to get with the popular girl. The popular girl turns him down for the jock or those popular boys. Then later on in life, the guy that she disses ends up being this popular guy and she’s trying to get with him at that point and he’s like “I’m cool.” So, my role in the whole thing is I’m just this friend that grew up with him and went to school with him and watched the whole thing happen. I watch him get dissed by this girl and then later I get the guy.
Oh ok, well that reminds me of old Jenny Jones episodes like”From Geek to Chic” or “Drab to Fab.” Do you remember those shows?
[laughs] I don’t. I gotta look ’em up!
Jenny Jones used to always have these shows and it would be the girl who flew under the radar in high school or the guy who flew under the radar, and then they bring back their biggest crush. It’s this big makeover show and then they come to show the crush that they’re so hot now.
Exactly! That’s exactly it.
You mentioned Nicki Minaj and she’s also a part of Young Money. How do you feel about having another female artist there?
I think it’s great and when me and her work together my whole thing is guys always support each other. Usually, in the past you’ve seen crews and it’s mostly all guys and one girl. With this situation it’s all guys and two girls. Most people would think that there’d be a problem but we’re like we have to rep for the women and we have to support each other for the women just like how guys do. She’s a rapper and I’m a singer, but we both rap and sing. We kind of help each other out with both areas of music and it’s cool.
You’re also connected to another powerful female. If people do a little Google search, they’ll see that your sister is D. Woods formerly of Danity Kane. So, when I think of you two I immediately draw a comparison to Venus and Serena: two powerhouses that are trying to make one another better. Do you see each other that way? How do you describe your relationship?
Yeah, we support each other a hundred and ten times over. She supports me with what I’m doing and I support her with what she’s doing. She teaches me a lot because she got into it a lot sooner than I did at that level. We sometimes compare ourselves to other teams of sisters.
Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen?
Right! And hopefully, at the end of the day we’ll go down in the booksas power sisters like those other sisters.
Now, the other comparison I would draw to Venus and Serena are these bodies! Ya’ll are definitely “blessed.”
We’re approaching summertime, folks are on their “get right, get tight” programs so give a little advice on how you keep that hip to waist ratio the way it is.
Man! Well, I workout everyday. Before a show I go to the gym, not too long though. I’ll run for like 30 minutes and do some stuff on some weights, not heavy weights though. Just eat right, eat five times a day but small meals. When you’re thick, you’re thick. You just gotta make sure that at the end of the day that thickness doesn’t become a problem.
[interupts] I was really pissed off. Well, I don’t know if I should even say this but fuck it. I was really mad at that episode [of Making The Band 4] and my sister, who’s so humble…
Oh, you know I was about to ask you about Diddy’s “two cheeseburgers away” comment.
Right, that was ridiculously uncalled for because she was in a group with four other girls that are very, very small. My sister never a day in her life has been overweight or been called fat or two cheeseburgers away from becoming fat. But, I think that when Diddy said that it put something on her that didn’t need to be put on her. There would be people who would come up to her and be like, “oh my gosh you look so much smaller!” or “you’ve lost some weight!” She’s never been any bigger or any smaller, that’s how she’s always been. It’s crazy how somebody can say something with power like Diddy and people can’t see for themselves anymore. That really bothered her and it bothered me too.
What advice would you give other Honey girls who wanna enter the business even with it being so critical?
You just gotta be really strong and really believe in yourself. I know that sounds lame because everybody says that, but you really have to believe in yourself. When you wake up in the morning and there’s certain things that you wanna do and there’s certain things that you believe in, don’t let anybody tell you any different. It’s like eating the apple and throwing out the core. You can take advice from people, but never put yourself down or not believe in what you believe in and that’s what my sister did. She was like, “I’m not fat. I’m not overweight.” And she held on to that. People are gonna talk abot me, people are gonna talk about everybody. Everybody has their opinions, but as long as you hold fast to your opinion you’ll be alright.
What do you see for yourself in ’09?
I see myself completing my project and reaching out to other artists, especially female artists. I have this thing called The Girls Club and I want to get with and write with a lot of female artists. That’s one thing I want to accomplish and just use what God gave me to reach whoever it needs to reach and hopefully have an album worth of songs and music and ideas and stories that will help people or make people enjoy life and have fun.
Ok now, the either or game! You pick one that best fits your personality.
Sneakers or Stilettos?
In ’09, stilettos.
Hamburger or Hot Dog?
Destination wedding or big elaborate wedding?
Big elaborate wedding. Wow, you just made me think about marriage! [laughs]
Leather or lace?
SUV or convertible?
You know what, you’re catching me at a changing point in my life.
That’s what it’s about! It’s about those transitional periods but still being definite with your choices.
I’m a small girl, so I usually like SUVs but I think I’m liking the convertible.
Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles or Gladys Knight and Ron Winans’ Chicken and Waffles?
Oh, I have to say Gladys and Ron’s [friend screams “Yesss Atlanta!”]
[laughs] One last one, since I have to be a little messy. Danity Kane or Pussycat Dolls?
Shit! I’ma have to say DK, because my sister is DK all day if she’s with those girls or not.
*Snatched from Honey Mag