You’ve probably all heard of Tom Hanks, but what about Chester, Hanks’ son with actress Rita Wilson? Chester “Chet” Hanks is a senior theatre majorat Northwestern University and these days, he takes the mic as rapper/singer Chet Haze, a stage name he says liberates him from his famous moniker without confusing fans. Before pursuing music, Haze had small roles in a number of films, even showing off some serious martial arts skills inBratz: The Movie. But Chet truly burst onto the blogosphere in 2011 with an NU-themed remix of Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow.” A year later, he has moved past school spirit raps toward an upcoming pop-hip-hop EP. His latest single, “Do It Better,” had more than 5000 plays on Soundcloud after just over two weeks on the web. Haze is excited for his success and promises more videos and music to come, but more importantly, Haze wants the world to he’s forging his own path, taking summer classes at Northwestern while working on his self-financed album.
CM: You first gained attention with “White and Purple,” a Northwestern-themed remake of “Black and Yellow.” What prompted you to record the song? Did you expect it to go viral?
CH: (Laughs) It was because that was the first thing I had ever released, like pretty much one of the first things I ever recorded. And at that time I wanted to do hip hop, like straight up hip hop and rap. That was right when “Black and Yellow came” out as the hot single, so we remixed it. And I really did it because it’s like a college anthem for my school, so honestly the only reason I did it was so it could be played at parties and stuff on campus. I didn’t expect it to gain the attention that it would.
CM: In your next big song, “Hollywood,” you sang instead of rapping. Why change pace like that?
CH: I’ve chosen to go in a different direction right now. I always loved hip hop and I continue to write bars. I haven’t really let up in it in my personal life but I’m just trying to broaden my horizons musically and as an artist. I want to be versatile and I want to make more complex songs that are also really appealing and just make people feel good.
CM: Your new single “Do It Better” is now available on iTunes and you’re in the process of recording an EP. What’s inspiring you for this record?
CH: Definitely right now I’m focusing on singing. Honestly right now I’m not looking at it as a matter of singing or rapping because I believe that I’m trying to do something new and make a fusion. I’m trying to create a new sound, so that’s what we’re in the process of doing.Well, I’d say first of all most of the songs are about ladies, females, you know that’s a specific part of my life. But it’s really just feel-good music, you know what I’m saying? There’s a lot of romantic kind of stuff, a little bit of that, but we also can come up with the club joint, get you moving. You’ll have to wait and see, but it’s definitely going to be hot.
CM: You were recently profiled by New York Magazine. In that article, you said you are financing the EP yourself with money you made doing acting gigs. Why work independently?
CH: Well, to be honest it wasn’t really an option. That’s just the way it is. I was raised to never expect anything financially from my family, from my parents or anybody but myself. From the day I was born I was raised like they support me emotionally 100%, they’re there for me, they talk to me and they guide me through my professional life. But in terms of finances and funds, it’s all me out here. Some of the initial start-up money came from acting but over the years it’s been funds from being an artist. This is what we do. I’m supporting myself through the music industry and I’m also still in school.
CM: How do you find a healthy balance between music and your studies?
CH: You just got to learn. It’s non-stop, keeping up good grades in your classes and also travelling. It’s just a lot of work. I’m just really pushing myself to keep up with everything and so far I’ve got it under control.
CM: What have been some of your favorite classes at Northwestern so far?
CH: Right now I’m taking a music class. I’m in summer classes and one of my classes is songwriting. Academically speaking I’m like a history buff. I love U.S. history, ancient history. I also love like philosophy like existentialism and the humanities.
CM: Many actors and musicians seek immediate fame instead of an education. Why do you think it’s important to graduate college and get a degree?
CH: Because a degree is something that no one can ever take away from you. I think it’s just a service to yourself. If you really have the opportunity to, then to just choose not to have an education I think is a terrible waste.
CM: What would you say the biggest misconception about you is?
CH: I think the biggest misconception that people really have yet to fully grasp is that I really do this completely on my own. My last name is Hanks and yes, I’m the son of Tom Hanks, that dude that’s in all the movies. But honestly I’m very blessed to have had so many privileges that I’ve been exposed to in my life, and I’m thankful for honestly every moment of every day. I’m very happy. But this is all me, I’m out here trying to pursue the dream. I have a dream, this is what I want to do and it takes a lot of persistence.
CM: Elephant in the room: you’re the son of Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. What was it like growing up with star parents?
CH: It just is what it is. There’s some crazy, crazy advantages and sometimes it can also be kind of awkward, like there’s weird circumstances. I don’t know, but it all balances out in the end. I’m no different than anyone else at all.
CM: The internet erupted after “White and Purple” came out. You’ve been a mainstay on Gawker, which has posted articles about everything from your music videos to your emails to fellow classmates asking for notes. How do you feel about all the online chatter?
CH: Honestly I haven’t paid attention to it because I’ve been busy going about my business. I appreciate my fans above everything.
CM: Like many college students, you’re on Twitter. How does Tweeting and other social media connect you to fans?
CH: Yeah, I’m pretty active on Twitter. Honestly, Twitter’s cool but a lot of times I get bored and go on Twitter to occupy me as I go about my day. Honestly, I like Twitter to crack jokes on. At least they’re funny to me and my friends, but I don’t think anyone gets it.