Before you ask, Channel Tres — born Sheldon Young — is a Gemini who speaks like he sounds on record. Channel Tres is a world he’s built, the name alluding to the Holy Trinity while centering the nostalgia of channel three as an access point to other timelines and realities via a VCR or a game console. But the baritone is no invention of code or camouflage. Therefore, when Tres spends the back end of his breakout record “Controller” commanding himself to “throw some suuuuuuuub in that bitch,” it’s as if he’s dialoguing with God. Young’s familiar with the process: the Compton/Lynwood representer grew up in the church with his great-grandmother, though he leans far more into spirituality than denomination now. He’s thumbed through the texts and scriptures, he dabbles into numerology, and the number 3 remains his number: the one you see for good luck, for following the path of righteousness.
Young spent his adolescence as many Californian Black boys do: skating, dancing, mobbin’ 20 deep with the outcasts, cuttin’ class to parlay in the barbershop. He’s also seen the California many outsiders expect once the word Compton invokes their assumptions: he has gang members in his family, and his brother’s currently on a 30-year bid for his involvement in the life. In times of peril, Young would look to Pharrell and Cudi, two pillars of mainlining new presentations of Black vulnerability into the mainstream, as figures to cope with his own survival scars. Young wandered the world until music became the only option, but he had no guidelines and the standard-issue naiveté of a dreamer, thinking natural talent was the only prerequisite to make music a working reality. Once he shattered the illusion, he worked.
“When I turned 20, that’s when I was like, alright, I put myself on a fuckin’ plan,” Young said. “I was like, by 30 I wanna be able to play piano and able to produce, I wanna be able to sing, I wanna be able to do all those things I see myself doin’. I got like a tattoo of music, got like a whole sleeve of music on my arm, and I prayed. I was just like, ‘Fuck, this is what I wanna do.’ So I went out and bought all the things I need to do and just started studyin’ and workin’ on it. I went to music school, learned piano, learned how to sing and just got on my feet. And understanding the music language — ’cause music is like a fuckin’ language — and so I’m, you know, I just started trainin’ my ear, and that’s why I have it now, rather than earlier, because I wouldn’t’ve even been ready for it or able to do what I’m doin’ now. I didn’t have the skill or anything.”
After entering the industry as a producer — and enduring the frustrations of the background route — a trickling of SoundCloud EPs led to Nick Sylvester’s discovery of Young’s work, extending an offer to join the GODMODE ranks as a solo artist. Once presented with the opportunity to pivot, Young didn’t hesitate, diving headfirst into developing his sound — with Sylvester’s help — to craft his self-titled EP. He embraced the depth of his voice, an unexpected contender to fill today’s void in the soulful legacy of his forefathers. (Where’s today’s Barry White? James Brown? The low-toned Black man singing to lift us?) Sonically, Young slid gracefully into a reclamation of house in a crossover with the G-funk undertones of home to form a blistering fusion dance that commands the floor without diluting the messaging.
“I don’t know what happened along the lines of what was goin’ on,” Young says. “But I feel like for me, see I can do what everybody’s doin’ but like, we need to preserve our history, somebody gotta do it. Cuz if everybody’s doin’ the same thing, how we gonna preserve [it?] We have a rich history as a Black community… a very rich history. All this shit that’s goin’ on, we were a part of it, or we created it. Or we made it better.”
In the GODMODE tradition of left-leaning music — the very label that brought us breakout works from Yaeji and Shamir — the Channel Tres character serves as a perfect candidate. It’s progressive and percolating, each record finding Young gliding through space and time with the mastery of all the mannerisms of Black cool that drove him to become who he is. It’s impossible to lose the beat, to the point where movement feels non-negotiable and liberation feels within reach. These are the incantations of a real nigga: fresh for the kickback, the blunt rotation, the afterhours. Lest we forget where Young comes from: How a Black man from Compton and Lynwood sell out a show in Australia before the U.S.? Whose first single got Elton John singing his praises? Young’s grateful for the victories, but alas, most times the block don’t change no matter who makes it off it. He wants to do right by home even as his wavelengths reach abroad.
“I try to be attentive,” Young says. “I still talk to my family, I try to stay close. Other people, if I can help, I help, if I can’t, I can’t. I’m not God… not tryna put all that pressure on myself. And then I still have problems, I still have things that I struggle with, so I’m still human, and none of my shit is promised, ever. So I gotta definitely make sure that my business is taken care of, before I can start feelin’ guilty about something. Cuz I just got out here, you know. I try to deal with it in a healthy way, and talk about it, and if my family feels some type of way, they can talk to me. But I don’t let myself get overwhelmed by anybody, because I’m still human myself, and I know I care for people.”
When Channel Tres enters the track like a Darkskin Superhero on his EP, you can find loose monologues tucked in the beginning that set the stage while hiding Young’s memories in plain sight. “St. Julian” is the name of the barbershop he posted in, the guitar strums complemented by a clip of conversation from the sanctuary. Before “Topdown,” he calmly calls out for something different while gently reminding us that “a nigga really from the block tho.” The subtleties extend to his visual components as well, opting for a modern slice-of-life style, thrusting the listeners directly into the places and spaces that made him who he is. Turning on Channel Tres means walking into a Californian world that’s Black and vibrant, culturally opulent and unbothered by the trappings of the world. The “Jet Black” visual takes us to St. Julian, “Topdown” invites us to the proverbial cookout and “Controller” rides us down memory lane to a Sheldon Young who suffered from depression, anxiety, loss and a brush with death. He throws a trash can in finality, born anew from the struggles of the past. There’s an abundance of cool, and a dash of darkness.
“That’s where I learned to be depressed,” Young recalls of the location. “That’s where I learned that I thought I wasn’t shit, because maybe this guy would have on some doper shoes than I got and we couldn’t afford it, so I would look at him like, ‘Damn, I wish I had what he had, he got all the girls.’ But that thinking is stupid, ’cause now that I’m where I am, I’ve been around all these niggas that got money or whatever, and you wouldn’t even know these niggas are millionaires. [Throwing the trash can] was just a way of me just lettin’ all that go. I had a gun pulled out on me on that street [with the palm trees,] and then we passed the house where I grew up, where my great-grandmother passed away. So it was just me just takin’ all that and bein’ real. It was really hard for me to even ride through and shoot the video, cuz it was just memories and shit. But you know, it was somethin’ freeing, and I’m thankful that people that look at that and feel like they can learn somethin’ or be interested in my head, you know?”
Contrary to the aforementioned, Sheldon Young is a self-described old man, in the late-20s sense, once the superhero glasses come off. (Alternatively, when the other side of the Gemini arrives.) He’s inside reading or playing piano once the show’s out. He complains of the winter weather as L.A. fluctuates between the 50s and 60s, which gets at his skin since his landlord never turned the heater on. He’s extremely personable over the phone, self-aware to a tee that he’s fulfilling his dream of puttin’ his block on in a way no one’s done it before, but he’s still done nothing. It’s that first taste of success, a product of all the choices he made and surviving all the traps his world set out for him. Considering how he’s gotten here makes “Controller” hit a little different.
“So your body is a game is like, forever, each and all of us have a body,” Young says. “We can choose to do what we do with it. But what you choose is what’s gonna project. So, when I was sayin’ my body was a game, it’s like, OK: I’m a handsome black man. I could fuckin’ use this, put some fuckin’ money in my pocket. Or I could use this shit to, you know, say, ‘Do evil,’ or whatever, but nah… I wanna use this shit for good.”
Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson