Fortune “100”

Alexander Charles new album is the soundtrack to his life story

Rapper Alexander Charles
Alexander Charles’ debut album is a true labor of love and a musical look into a life of ups, downs and the learning that comes along with all of it. | Image courtesy: Alexander Charles

This article marks one month since Alexander Charles dropped his debut album “Fortune Cookies.” 

A month that is the aftermath of an album multiple years in the making for the Philly area songwriter/producer, who decided that being a part of a group he formed while a student at Temple University touring the country and collaborating with some of the best young artists in the game wasn’t as lucrative for his own personal music career as going it solo. 

Fortune Cookies is an audio biopic from start to finish of Charles’ life, one that battled addiction, bad relationships and decisions that both deterred and fuel the path he’s on now. Shortly after going solo, Charles was able to land a record deal with Warner Bros. but soon found that going the independent route was the trail most satisfying – for his sound and his soul. 

It’s also an album full of collaborations, but with local artists who, like Charles have charted a path towards success their own way. Names like Suzanne Sheer, Chill Moody, Bij Lincs, and Asher Roth, the latter who very quietly also released an album of his own all feature on Fortune Cookies in a labor of love that is worth every second of its playback.

The bossa nova vibes from his single off Fortune Cookies, called “All I Know” will draw you in but it’s the lyrics that most certainly will catch your attention. Indicative of Charles, the first 30 seconds of the song leads into a shoutout for all the people who’ve supported a journey that’s not slowing down anytime soon. 

“Shout out to my shorty and my day ones/ Loving you is all I know.”

Prior to the album release, we caught up with Charles to talk about the labor of love, collaboration and even some luck that went into the creation of Fortune Cookies, how Philadelphia served as influence and what will be the grand takeaway for those, who like this reporter get a look inside at the soundtrack of persistence, perseverance and the payoff that comes along with it. 

Why was returning to Philadelphia for your first solo album so important to you and where are you recording out of?

Philadelphia has always played an integral role in my music, as well as my process. I’ve actually never recorded a full-length album anywhere else, and I don’t think I would like to. Philly has a beautiful “grittiness” about it; a certain toughness that can’t be replicated in other cities – I hope my music reflects that. We recorded “Fortune Cookies” out of our home studio in North Philly. It’s a beautiful warehouse space that belongs to my best friend/producer, Bij Lincs. We’ve been working together for so long that we can predict what each other will do before it’s done – almost like a prolific quarterback/wide receiver duo. At the end of the day, Philadelphia and, in particular, our studio is where I feel most comfortable, and without that, I don’t know if the album would’ve come together the way it did. 

I hope people walk away from the album knowing more about me than they did before listening. I hope that some listeners are inspired by the fact that I’ve shared similar hardships and triumphs as them. Lastly, I hope the music can serve as an escape from this crazy world; for whoever needs that most.”

– philadelphia based singer/songwriter Alexander Charles

Can you speak about the importance of finding your biological family and how it fueled this new music?

Early last year, I got a call from my sister, someone I didn’t know existed beforehand. It was a surreal moment but also something that would go on to inspire a lot of the album. I found out about my heritage (Chinese and Hawaiian), and so much more. That being said, this album is also a tribute to my mother and father who raised me outside of Philadelphia. Without them, I’d be nothing. And as important as it was for me to meet my biological sister, my parents are the ones who instilled the idea that I could be anything I wanted – that I could try to be a musician – and that they’d support it unconditionally. I’m so grateful for every part of my family; new and old. 

How did you know the timing was right to break off from Ground Up and start your own thing?

To be completely honest, I’m still not sure if the timing was right. That said, it’s just something that had to be done. We all felt like we were hitting our “ceiling” so to speak. The decision was one of the hardest we’ve ever had to make. I’ll always be immensely proud of everything we accomplished as a group however, it’s liberating to make decisions on my own and have creative control. Six months after we parted ways, I put out some music on my own and subsequently signed a deal with Warner Bros. I’m no longer working with them, but it seemed like some serious validation that I had made the right decision.

Alexander Charles crafted his debut album inside the same North Philadelphia studio shared with fellow Philly artist Bij Lincs, who also features on a number of tracks with Charles. | Image provided

You were raised in the area and attended Temple. What makes Philadelphia unique from any other place you’ve been?

The people! As a result of touring for years, I’ve been privileged enough to see a lot of places I probably never would’ve been to had it not been for my career choice. Everywhere from Amsterdam to Salt Lake City, we’ve been around and met a lot of strangers.  Philadelphia is my home, it’s where I’ve experienced the best times of my life. It’s also the place where I’ve felt profound loss and sadness. Regardless, it’s where I feel most like myself. I’ve met lifelong friends here – people who’ve shaped my career as well as my personal life. For those reasons, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere in the world. The people in this city are what make it so special. 

Someone hears this new album. What do you hope is their takeaway from your sound?

In a word, honest. I hope people walk away from the album knowing more about me than they did before listening. I hope that some listeners are inspired by the fact that I’ve shared similar hardships and triumphs as them. Lastly, I hope the music can serve as an escape from this crazy world; for whoever needs that most. 

Alexander Charles’ latest single “All I Know” is available on Spotify and Apple Music

  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the former editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. As a routine contributor, journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.