Everyone’s got a story and Leem Lizzy’s is extraordinary
Born in Philly and raised in Atlanta, Leem Lizzy can chart a course from his beginnings as a jazz bassist, through to rapping at camp, all the way to his current positon as one of the smoothest producers in the scene. Crafting beats of sublime style but with edge Leem has always followed his head and heart. We took the opportunity to speak to him after the release of his latest beat tapes and a one of a kind mix exclusively for The Crackle.
The mix is incredibly smooth and soulful. What was the process behind it?
Good looking man! So I use a SP303. That’s my sole piece of equipment. I have one outboard mixer that will probably see the inside of a pawn shop soon! So I got my 303 and my records and turntable. What I did with that is just pick the joints that would fit best with each other.
So it was like letting one tune influence the next one coming up? Like feeding from the last one?
Well normally I work nights during the week. So Friday and Saturday are the days I'll be digging and creating beats. Normally Saturday/Sunday morning I’ll have a finished project or a finished song. Just going through that process and what I finished last, set the tone for the mix. For this one it was the Souja Boi flip.
In the last two months you have released two beat tapes: Extra Butter and More Butter. Are they supposed to be enjoyed together or in a mix?
The whole concept for the Extra Butter beat tape came out of one track that was originally called Extra Butter. That was the last real track I made with a DAW. Shortly after that my wife bought me the 303 for my birthday. So immediately after that I stopped making beats in Logic. Just immediately after. I dedicated all my time to the 303. That was last November.
Oh wow OK then!
Yeah but in addition that last track was a breakthrough. I used some musical concepts and devices that I had never implemented before. You know what I mean? Like different musical methods that maybe I was either too lazy or too uninspired to use before.
You mean that in a music theory type of way?
Exactly but in a sampling sense. My process for the longest time has been to go out, grab some records, go through them one at a time till something catches my ear and work from that. I'm normally only using one sample for each track. Like I'll only use one source piece. However on that Extra Butter track, I didn't do that. The only other thing I'd sample is drums. I don't use drum kits or anything like that. I sample all my kicks and snares. Extra Butter was when I said 'You know what? Ima fly in a Shalamar phrase; another vocal part from a soul song and see how this fits on this really jagged, edgy bass line' and the dynamics was kind of emotionally shaking for me. I was blown away by the effect.
Your chops on both albums are tight but flow wonderfully. It doesn’t feel clunky at all.
Word man that's a big compliment because, to be honest with you, that's exactly what I go for. I feel like in Hip Hop production there's two main schools you can come from. There's the Preemo or the Pete Rock school of thought. I've tried to find a nice medium between the two. I like the way Premier uses negative space in his beats, like a chop comes in and then nothing for a milisecond. That builds tension. But I've studied Pete Rock as well and being a musician before a producer I love the way he uses music like a musician. Like he'll understand the B flat bass part should be followed by whatever fifth is after that and he will go sample that. It makes sense musically. You're rearranging it but you're rearranging it with thought.
Who are some of you other influences?
That's a kinda two part answer for me. I'm not the sort of person who's constantly listening to new music. I have favourites that are very dear to me and they have grown to have more facets over the years. So with that being said people like Madlib and DOOM. They really seep into my stuff a lot, even though it may not seem that way on the surface. Like on a nuanced level, just little clever things they do. Also Dilla but mainly that first Slum Village album. That did a lot to the way I programme my drums.
It's interesting talking about influences because when I hear your stuff I get a very Count Bass D vibe from it? Especially because you rap too.
Yeah man! It's actually a certain album by him, Dwight Spitz, which gets me. I loved what Madlib did with Quasimoto but understood it as something that could only happen once. With Count Bass D and Dwight Spitz I really appreciated the nonchalant way he rhymed because you could still tell he was the shit just based on the beats.
Yeah and on that album he is going through very similar transition to what you described about moving from live instrumentation to production. Is that an element that spoke to you?
I always appreciated that type of music so much. Like when Dwight Spitz came out and Madvillian came out I appreciated that music and I kinda understood Hip Hop production too. I had an MPC in high school but when it really sunk into me all I had was Logic. I really tried my best to understand how they were doing it and try to emulate some of the sounds. When I finally sat down to do some research I kept hearing the word compression. Just compression, compression, compression. Eventually I came across this reddit type feed that mentioned the vinyl sim compression on the 303 and that really opened my eyes. So between getting the 303 last November and discovering all this great music there has been years and years. That music I loved has made its way into my musical DNA. I make music I like to hear so it's not a conscious effort to recreate those sounds or influences.
So was it beat making or rapping that came first?
It was almost the same time. I started high school in the year 2000 and I was a bass player through middle school. I continued playing in high school but to be in the school’s jazz band I also had to participate in marching band. So I had to go to band camp in the summer and during that time there was dude there who had a Boss Dr.Rhythm. He was making what would be the pre-cursor to trap music. We used to listen to Three Six Mafia, that's what we came up on as kids so that was the sound. So we would be up till like 2am, he would make beats and I'd rap over them. I was intrigued by the beat making though so coming home I immediately started begging for the Dr.Rhythm. That was actually my first machine. You're taking me down memory lane bro haha!
The process came together for you?
Yeah man! I turned into a fucking Hip Hopper man haha. Listen before that I was into alt rock. That was my shit. I was listening to The Urge and Filter. I probably had some Cranberries albums. I had Nevermind. You know what I mean? That was my thing man.
Coming up like that who would you say some of your rap influences are?
Easy man. Nas, Kool G Rap, Krs One (That's a big one for me). Busta Rhymes and Redman as far as their voice tones and inflections. Like the way they use their voices.
There's a lot of East Coast in there. Does Atlanta influence you musically? When we spoke to Stln Drms he said how the city's trap scene feeds in to his music through the vibe and bpm.
Word that's my man. I definitely see what Stln Drms is saying. It's funny because it gives me more insight in to his music. That slow bounce is definitely a southern thing. It’s really particular to this region. It's a little different for me though because of where I grew up in Downtown. It was big vegetarian, Rastafarian; Erykah Badu based vibe down there. That was the subculture. There are lots of musicians in Atlanta and being around that I played with some play groups that were like Afrocentric, Afro based. We did plays about Apartheid and such. A lot of that influenced me. The real soul sounds came through Atlanta by way of Reggae and that whole Neo-Soul feel.
Let’s talk about the music videos you release on FB and Instagram. Was the visual aspect always part of the plan when it came to releasing your art?
My Mum was an African American studies teacher all throughout me growing up. With her being so involved with education she always made sure I was on the trips to the art museums and modern art museums. At that age I really developed a love for abstract, modern art and at those museums there's always some dope stuff where there's like a TV flicking on and off, with different clips or something like that. Video collage is something I fell in love with at an early age, without ever really pursuing it or recognizing it. So when I got the 303 and got with the FB group More Beats Less Sleep that's sort of when I was faced with it again. I saw how other people would post their videos and I wanted to work out how I could do it in my own way.
So in a similar way to your musical influences, it was something that was within you. You already had an appreciation for it.
Exactly, exactly. My videos are just a hodge podge of whatever I was watching last. I'm heavy on documentaries. I get a lot of my dialogue samples from them. I'd rather watch something that's not scripted.
Do you have any ideas about where you want to take this visual aspect?
Yeah I mean really at this point I'm a baby man. I'm open to everything. I'd love to be able to collab with some artists and do videos where I can use visual aspects of their art with my music. Just open for whatever right now. I'd love to see my videos played above me on jumbotron for sets but that's probably a little in the future haha!
Talking of doing sets. You are involved with Controllerise. Could you tell us a little about that and how you got involved?
Ahh its beautiful man. Let me tell you the internet is key. I used one hashtag, one time on Instagram, #303, and a Reasone from More Beats Less Sleep, reached out to me. He told me what I was doing was called lo-fi and said 'Wow'. I didn't even know this genre had a name. I was just making fucking music. Through that I met some of the Atlanta dudes and they was like 'Hey come through to the Controllerise show'. It was the first one. I came as a fan but I hopped on the mic for a hot second. I didn't come with any beats though because I'd only done like 3-4 beats on the 303 thus far. After that I got with my man Blk Cubes, who is one of the founding members of Controllerise, and said I would love to do a beat set because I enjoyed what I was going on. He was like 'Sure, sure', kinda brushed it off nonchalantly you know what I mean? Haha. He was like shoot me an email and then the next day I'm at work and I get a call just like 'Yo Bro...Crazy'. I made him a believer haha!
Controllerise are really pushing that streaming aspect. Visuals are so important now, with things like Boiler Room making waves. Was that a facet that interested you?
Yeah I watched one of the Boiler Rooms and it really impressed me. It was Myth Sizer and he was running like a DJ set. I saw the set up and thought it was cool thing.
Like it was a cool way to experience music?
Man. Lemme tell you a year before Controllerise I was super depressed. I was living in Philadelphia and I was working daily ops for a studio. The musical community I was around was all Philly trap music. So we are talking a lot Meek Mill type shit. I was totally getting shunned. I knew what I wanted to sound like but hadn't quite found out how to make it happen yet. So when I saw the Boiler Room's it was refreshing. The producers were actually getting love. This was a platform where producers could get some love. I thought it was flavour.
So working with Controllerise is a natural extension for you?
Yeah man I mean I’m actually kinda used to preforming music. I performed at the Atlanta Jazz Fesitval as a bassist and lots of other things around the city. So playing at Controllerise was really a culmination of all these things. I always want people to hear my beats and have new ways of hearing them.
How do you think Controllerise fits into the Atlanta beat scene? I feel like the Atlanta scene is about to come up and Controllerise could be at the centre of it. Is that something you see happening?
Yeah! That's something that's happening right now! It's something I'm excited to be part of and want to see it grow more! People down here are hungry for it. Before there was no sessions where it was like a beat cypher. It was more about showcases and battles. Coming from a producer’s standpoint, we like all different types of music and we want our homies to be on with us. Controllerise is just a perfect platform for that. I never realised that there would be so many people down here who would be into it but it’s a subterranean culture.
What can we look forward to from Leem Lizzy in the future?
Well I'm gonna keep on making music. More Controllerise because it's really doing some big things. I'm a day one there so I'm gonna keep putting all my efforts behind it right now. I also want to keep working with More Beats Less Sleep. That's my internet family. We have a pirate radio type series out now where we only sample tracks from a specific region. So down here our region is Caribbean, Central and Southern America.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us man. Where can we keep up to date with you?
Word. My instagram is the best way to stay current with. Thats @leemlizzy.
Listen to Leem Lizzy’s Exclusive Mix for The Crackle here: