Skip to main content
Credit: Tanima Mehrotra

Channel Tres: power on

The California-raised producer Channel Tres is a natural born trailblazer. As the name behind Compton House, he’s found admirers for his self-coined genre within funk, hip-hop and pop audiences. In his forthcoming album ‘Head Rush’, he’s expanding upon that diverse aesthetic by tapping into his divine intuition to tell his life story and introduce the world to new depths of his musicality

Successful artists often point to intuition as their guiding force. But developing a positive relationship with an inner dialogue is something that takes practice, patience, and a fair amount of time. Channel Tres should know. “It’s like a superhero with superpowers,” the producer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist tells DJ Mag between drags from a joint. “When they’re a kid and they’re just finding out about their powers, they’re blowing up shit and doing all kinds of crazy stuff. And then, once they hone in on their skills and grow up, they know how to use what they’ve got for good.”

That’s how the artist born Sheldon Young feels about his musical ear. It took a few explosions to find his calm, cool, and collected voice, but now he masterfully uses it to craft an authentic narrative through a funky, house-filtered lens. And he makes it look damn easy. When we catch up with the LA-based artist, he’s chilling on the balcony of his multi-level home. “I’m in Silver Lake. I hope they put murals of me up here,” he says, nodding to his chosen neighborhood. “Wait, are murals only for people who are dead?” We assure him that’s not always the case. “Okay, cool,” he asserts, “because I also want to be alive.”

If Channel continues to harness the same zest for life he’s exhibiting at present, then those wall-sized portraits are all but guaranteed. Dressed in a simple white tank with braids hanging free, our subject looks relaxed, but we know as soon as our call concludes, he’ll be back to work. Showing up at the studio is a top priority of his sacred routine these days. At the time of our chat, he’s applying the finishing touches to his long-awaited debut album, a sort of mythic project that’s been in the rumor mill since the early 2020s, but is now finally coming to fruition.

In 2023, audiences waited in anticipation of the big drop, but instead they received Channel’s ‘Real Cultural Shit’ EP, home to the party anthem ‘6am’, in lieu of the fully-fledged long-player. “It was gonna be my first LP,” he explains, looking off to a cloudless sky. “But this goes back to following your intuition — I just didn’t feel it. I’m not cocky or anything like that, but I value myself and I value my music. And that person I was at that time, and that body of work, the people around me, it just wasn’t right.”

Photo of Channel Tres sitting on a black sofa whilst wearing a large white shirt
Credit: Tanima Mehrotra

“That’s why my name is Channel — because I can do that. I can do this. A part of my foundation in music — which is going back to the church — is you have to be ready for anything.”

The new collection, titled ‘Head Rush’, reflects a distinct vibe shift, straight from the desk of a well-adjusted Superman. “I think on this album, you get to really hear my story and you get to really hear how musical I am, and how I came here to be an artist and not just a DJ,” the creator shares candidly. “I think my intention this year and with this new body of work and everything that’s coming up is just to expand on how people view me, and expand upon the question, ‘what can an artist do?’”

By now, fans know Channel as a multi-threat showman — a singer, dancer, rapper, producer, and DJ with a fashion sense fit for Vogue, and a deep voice with effortless cool. But in the new project, they’ll also learn more about the experiences, good and bad, emotional and entertaining, that shaped the “Compton house” originator into the man he is today. He also hopes it will encourage listeners to reconnect with the healing power of storytelling through art. “I don’t think people listen to albums anymore,” he continues, “I want people to listen to music again, and spend time on music so you can really get to know artists and then find those things that you can take back for your life, you know? To make your life better.” He wants to give to others the refuge art has bestowed on him.

For Channel, music has always been a source of inspiration and joy, and during his youth, an incentive for staying on the straight and narrow. Raised by his great grandparents in Compton, an area of southern Los Angeles known for pumping out seminal rap acts like N.W.A and Dr. Dre, he spent his formative years honing his craft in the church. At home, he listened to those aforementioned all-stars as well as icons from soulful and funky spheres, among them The Gap Band, Kirk Franklin, and George Clinton (an admiration for Detroit house don Moodymann would come much later.) This foundation would go on to inform his uniquely West Coast sound, which combines four-to-the-floor beats with elements of hip-hop, gospel, and spoken word swagger.

He struck off on his creative path early on, with two sticks in hand. “I taught myself on the drums to be ambidextrous at six years old, I was like, ‘oh shit, I got this!’” he remembers, letting out a chuckle. He’d soon serve as the drummer in his church band. Learning how to play ‘Lean On Me’ on the piano was another moment telling of his innate musical talents. By second grade, he penned his own rap lyrics, and in his teens the church youth choir was under his control. During his free time, Channel tinkered with Logic and Ableton alongside the late producer AUGUST 08, who would go on to write Wale’s ‘Fashion Week’ featuring G-Eazy, and serve as co-writer on DJ Khaled’s chart-topping hit ‘I’m The One’. Posted up in the garage, the fast friends were unaware of the huge potential the future held for both of them.

Close-up show of Channel Tres wearing a grey shirt
Credit: Tanima Mehrotra

For Channel and company, creative endeavours were more than just hobbies. They were a way out. “Coming from a city where there was a lot of gang shit going on, like gang mentality, we were the kids that stuck out,” Channel says, noting that despite Compton’s tough rep, it was still a pleasant place to come of age. “We were dancing. We made clothes. We were skateboarding and we were listening to Pharrell, and Kanye West was a big thing at the time. I was finding things that were outside of my environment that were carrying me.”

These outlets offered an escape from some of the harsher cards he’d been dealt. Channel has an immediate family member who’s been incarcerated, and he didn’t meet his biological father until he was grown. When he did interact with his father for the first time, Channel discovered that they shared many of the same talents. He was a self-taught musician, skilled at playing the organ and piano, and a gospel record producer, too. “I was pissed off, but it made me realise where a lot of my shit came from for sure,” he says of the meeting. “Very traumatic event, but that was the good that came out of it, where I realised, ‘Oh, no wonder I’m so musical.’”

Channel’s education expanded to a private evangelical college in Oklahoma, where he began DJing in 2011. His first audiences were students at college parties and the local coffee shop, where he lugged his equipment and practiced building beats on the spot. He composed music for the institution’s dance programs, and developed the professional prowess that would carry him into the next decade of his career, during which he would work alongside artists like Thundercat, Tyler, The Creator, Kehlani, and South Central rapper Duckwrth, the last of whom he produced for and toured with extensively. He still found time to release his own singles on SoundCloud, usually to little fanfare, but it was all good. Life on the road was blessed. 

One cut would buck the trend — it was the fruit of a five-day session with producer Nick Sylvester, the co-founder of the record label and artist development agency, GODMODE. On day two, they unknowingly struck gold with ‘Controller’. “‘Controller’ came so natural to me,” Channel tells of his 2018 breakout hit. “I had finally found my voice in a sense, because I sing, I do all kinds of things, but I hadn’t talked on a record, and so I didn’t know how important my voice was when I did that. Nick was somebody who was like, ‘Yo, this shit is crazy, bro!’”

The stripped-back song puts Channel’s signature baritone vocals front and centre. Elevated by percolating percussion, a deep bassline, and hazy, intermittent synths, ‘Controller’ exudes pure confidence. But its creator was still working on that aspect of himself. Instead of pushing it to the streaming platforms, Channel sat with his gem before playing it for AUGUST 08, who went full hype man mode upon first listen. “He was saying, ‘This is like nothing that I’ve heard before, your sound is so poppin’,” Channel says, smiling. Like a sonic soothsayer, his longtime friend made a bold prediction: “You’re about to be an artist, bro.’”

On occasion, Channel spun the opening set while on tour with Duckwrth and Indonesian rapper and producer Rich Brian. “And I just played the record one night and everybody on that tour was like, ‘Yo bro, what the hell is this?’” he says of unleashing ‘Controller’ into the world. “Basically everybody was singing that song for the rest of the tour.” But the bus wasn’t the only place turning up for his catchy, laidback jam — ‘Controller’ quickly clocked air time on BBC Radio 1, and nabbed an Essential New Tune nod from station host Pete Tong.

Photo of Channel Tres sitting on a black sofa whilst wearing a large white shirt
Credit: Tanima Mehrotra

“I think my intention this year and with this new body of work and everything that’s coming up is just to expand on how people view me, and expand upon the question, ‘what can an artist do?’”

When the tour concluded, Channel told Duckwrth he’d be moving on as his DJ to fully invest in himself. “I feel like I’m somebody who pays attention to what’s going on and pays attention to the energy, and I’ve always been someone that let that guide me,” he says, pointing to his superpowers again. “And so basically my intuition was just saying like, ‘Yo, you need to follow this.’” About two weeks later, he received a FaceTime call from an unexpected fan that melted away any lingering sense of doubt. Sir Elton John appeared on his iPhone screen, and his message was one of sheer exuberance — he’d heard ‘Controller’ and it was one of his favourite songs of the year.

“He was telling me, ‘you’re gonna have a great career’, and I was just telling him some of the insecurities I have. There’s something about somebody like him, a legend,” Channel says, taking a moment to reflect on the magnitude of their exchange. “Any negative thought I had, any misconceptions I had about being an artist, he just dispelled it all with a couple words.” They hung up, and Channel got to work. “I finished up the EP, put the EP out, and then I went on tour,” he says, referring to his self-titled debut project, which arrived via GODMODE in 2018. “And then I’ve been at it ever since.”

Since speaking with the Rocket Man, our cover star has been aboard his own metaphorical rocket ship. A run of shows with Childish Gambino on his acclaimed 2018 ‘This Is America’ tour gave Channel a crack at his first stadium audiences, and insight into the power of fully-produced performances (Channel’s troupe of dancers, who he refers to as “family,” are now a pivotal component of his live show.)

In 2019, he dropped ‘Black Moses’, his second EP on the GODMODE imprint that enabled him to further define his self-described Compton house style, collaborating with rapper JPEGMafia, and exploring the topics of race and bodily objectification in ‘Sexy Black Timberlake’. Emerging from the pandemic, he also racked up a number of pop hits with some of the Top 40’s biggest names, among them Swedish singers Tove Lo and Robyn. The latter’s instantly recognisable vocals lend a soaring contrast to Channel’s resonant tones on ‘Impact’, a dazzling 2021 collab with British producer and fellow live artist, SG Lewis.

In the years since that smash hit graced the airwaves, Channel Tres made his 2022 Coachella debut (a performance he told USA Today he’d been manifesting since he was 16 years old), toured through Europe and teamed up with Jamie Jones on the smooth piano house single, ‘Got Time For Me’. On 26th May, he’ll perform at the first ever Gazebo Festival, a two-day affair curated by Jack Harlow in his Louisville, KY hometown. “I love the white homie, he’s the man,” he says of the southern rap star.

When we ask him about how he manages to straddle worlds and appease divergent fan bases, he answers without hesitation. “That’s why my name is Channel — because I can do that. I can do this,” he offers up with conviction. “A part of my foundation in music — which is going back to the church — is you have to be ready for anything. You study classical, you study jazz, and then you know music. Everything that I did in my life prepared me to be able to go from a Duckwrth world to a Robyn world.”

Photo of Channel Tres walking against a grey background
Credit: Tanima Mehrotra

Channel’s moniker speaks to his fluid position in the entertainment industry, while paying homage to where his journey began. The Channel part he’s already explained — in pursuit of art, he’s a malleable vessel. “Tres” refers to the holy trinity — the father, the son, and the holy spirit, which in union represent one all-powerful, omniscient presence.

Though his involvement in organised religion has shifted in his adult years, Channel still upholds the notion that divine forces are at play in his life. “I would say I’m spiritual, not really religious, because religion has a lot of rules,” he offers of where his beliefs lie today. “I just try to live my life on principles. I mean, it all boils down to love, doing right by people, doing right by yourself and having fun.”

He credits his great grandparents for instilling those sentiments, and for helping him find his calling. “They made me go to church all the time, so I just had to find something there that sparked my interest, and it was music, and, you know, that turned out to be what I was supposed to be doing for my life,” he says. “I didn’t like some of it, but some of it I kept. They’ve passed away now. So, sometimes listening to gospel music and maybe going into a service on Sunday every once in a while, this connects me to my roots and makes me think about them.”

In his ‘Head Rush’ LP, a track tentatively titled ‘Joyful Noise’ taps into aspects of his religious upbringing. “That one was for my great grandmother,” he says of the tune, which incorporates gated samples of a gospel choir. “My music is not something I think that she would listen to when she was alive, but I try to fit little things in there when I can. That’s just more of an offering to her in my own way.” Boasting a fast-moving bassline and atmospheric auras, it’s primed to transform any nightclub into a bona fide place of worship.

While that selection is a surefire heater, there are others on the LP that blaze new trails, and blur the boundaries of traditional dance music. Those who only know Channel Tres for his silky, Barry White-esque narrations may be surprised to hear how hard he can spit. When he’s not flexing on recent triumphs (“I did buy a house, and you know, I’m happy about that,” he says of one win mentioned), he explores varied aspects of his past.

Some bars are heavier than others, as Channel combs through the remnants of childhood trauma and in another track processes the death of his close friend and champion, AUGUST 08. Other bits focus on geographical exploration and self-discovery. One gritty, industrial-leaning production tips its hat to Berlin’s most exclusive club. The trippy, reverberating production feels unlike anything we’ve heard from Channel so far. Its chaotic yet organized structure makes us wish we could have been in town on that visit. Elsewhere, elements of jazz, fluttering piano lines, and leftfield low-ends add fresh texture to Channel’s growing discography.

Black and white photo of Channel Tres in front of a window
Credit: Tanima Mehrotra

There was one tweak in the creative process that likely influenced the LP’s deeply personal narrative, though. “I had my friends around me that I grew up with in the studio,” Channel shares, noting that he previously preferred to work in his own silo. “They got to know the new parts of me, but they also were reminding me of who I was when I grew up. A lot of it was bridging the gap between the new experiences I’ve had, and some of the old ones.”

The long-player documents a multitude of chapters, starting from when Channel was still a fledgling being learning how to redirect his rage into a sense of creative power. “Heaven or hell is a mindset to me, I can live in hell if I’m making bad decisions and not trying to live a good life, you know, but I could be in heaven if I just make the right decisions,” he offers of one of the largest lessons he’s learned. “Once I kind of got that, I felt better about life.”

These epiphanies ring louder in Channel’s output than ever before. By following his intuition, the multi-faceted performer has uncovered the deepest expression of himself yet. But as with any true superhero, evolution doesn’t simply stop here. When we suggest the new collection marks a set departure from the aesthetic we’ve come to know, Channel is quick to quash that assumption. “It’s an expansion, not a departure,” he says. “People have this perception of maybe what they first hear from you. I just make what’s honest to me at that moment, but dance music is forever in my life. I love it. So it’s never a departure from that. That’s what this album is about.” And we’re holding out for it, hero.

Want more? Read DJ Mag’s May UK cover interview with Indira Paganotto here

Megan Venzin is DJ Mag North America’s deputy editor. Follow her on Twitter @Meggerzv

Pics: Tanima Mehrotra (@bytanima)
Live pics: Sarah Northrop (@sartakespics)