Meet Lee. After a decade of fronting the band The Square Egg, Lee has decided to take some time to let folks in on who is as an individual through his first solo album, simply titled Meet Lee. This week RapReviews.com caught up with Lee to find out what people are in store for when they meet him, how having a daughter changed his outlook on music, and what Dan Cortese has to do with his musical aspirations.
Adam Bernard: The title of your latest album, your first solo effort, is Meet Lee. What is a person in store for when they Meet Lee?
Lee: They meet a person that’s just real and trying to discover themselves and find out who they are and share that with other people and go on that journey musically with them and myself, as well. I’m still learning about myself as a person, trying to carve out my niche in my life and just be able to contribute positively to the world that we live in.
AB: What’s the difference between meeting Lee the solo artist and meeting Lee the lead vocalist of The Square Egg?
Lee: It’s a lot more personal. Just by the fact of me only having to account for my voice. I’m not speaking for an entire band, I’m speaking for myself. I remember we did an interview a couple years back where somebody asked one of the band members if they felt like music always had to have a message. As a musician the instinctive answer to that is no because they care about the way the way the music sounds and the chords and all that, but to me as a lyricist and just as a person with the things that I have experienced in life I feel like it’s really important. The idea that you have this forum and you have opportunity to share stuff with people, and it doesn’t have to be a preaching thing it can just be about helping them escape whatever realities they’re dealing with at the time. It shouldn’t be a mindless thing, I don’t think. To that degree there should always be something for people to be able to embrace and walk away with. Being that this is a solo effort I don’t have to worry about what I say reflecting on the other band members. This is me, this is my voice and it actually goes a little bit further than just the band because this is also a self-produced album, this is me putting it out, so when you’re meeting Lee you’re meeting the guy that twiddled the knobs, the guy that conceptualized the entire album and put all the art direction and stuff together. So this is me. Whatever’s wrong with this record, everybody can point their fingers to me. This is a full representation of who I am from start to finish; the website, the logo and everything.
AB: Musically how much do you differ when you go from the group to your solo work?
Lee: Musically and rhythmically there are different things that are happening just by the way it was written. I took a little bit more time being concerned with the arrangements of a lot of the stuff. With the live show we bring in the actual strings and we even beef up some of the old Square Egg songs with some strings. There’s a different feel. It’s not as jazzy just because I wanted to punch people in the face a little bit more, not in an aggressive sense but just to feel it in their chest when they’re listening to the music so that it grinds into their heads a little bit more.
AB: So there were definitely specific sounds that you were looking for solo-wise that you don’t have with the group.
Lee: Yeah, the best way to say it is that I wanted it to have a bit more urgency. Like listening to something like “We Can,” or something like that from The Square Egg, or “Ocean Lullaby,” obviously they don’t have the urgency of “A Whole New Level,” or a “Move,” or even “All U Need,” it’s an upbeat song but there’s still just like a nowness to it that, not to say it doesn’t happen with The Square Egg, but when I say urgency I don’t mean in a contemporary sense, I mean “you will fucking listen.” That was kind of the vibe I was in when I was writing the album.
AB: I’m glad you started talking about the songs because that’s what I want to hit on next. On Meet Lee you cover a lot of topics, including love, God and social affairs. What are your ultimate goals in speaking about these things?
Lee: Even if I wasn’t doing music I think our job in life and our station in life and why we’re put here as spiritual beings and souls is to affect each other’s lives in a real way. I just happen to be doing that through music. So it’s about putting these ideas and these values into the world and hoping that it touches somebody in a real way because the lessons I got I got from somebody else, too, so it’s just continually keeping that cycle of information moving around until the ultimate end of us all reaching a good positive place.
“Hey, Jesus was a carpenter. If I was working at Wall Street it’s the same thing, I think.”
AB: So you’re saying even if you were a carpenter…
Lee: Absolutely. Hey, Jesus was a carpenter. If I was working at Wall Street it’s the same thing, I think. You try to involve yourself in companies and stocks that are moving the cause along in some way. If I was a garbage man I’d be trying to clean the sidewalks up the best that I can to keep the urban environment in a way that’s gonna make people feel good about where they are and feel comfortable. That’s what I think everybody is about inherently. We all get stretched away from that, but like I say, my small piece as a musician is to bring that to a forum and give it a voice over music, over some beats and chords.
AB: How much do you think people will connect with this album?
Lee: That’s a very loaded question. As much as they want to or as much as they’re willing to because I feel like it’s a very vulnerable album in a lot of ways. I think it’s me at one of my most honest approaches to what I do. When we write we can always do it in the third person and as these narratives, but the lyrics to “Sometimes” where I’m talking about just how I feel about what I do and just the insecurities and the self-doubt that go into creating something and now I’m gonna turn around and share it with the world. That’s real vulnerable shit from this side and not to over-romanticize what we do as artists, but you’re putting your blood and sweat out there for somebody to say “yeah that shit ain’t hot, son. That track ain’t bangin.” I’m not really trying to make a bangin track, I’m trying to do something bigger than that, so to that degree people will get from it what they really want to get from it. If they really sit with the record I think they’ll grab something from it.
AB: You mentioned you have a daughter. How has being a parent affected the way you make music?
Lee: A lot, man. I felt like the universe gave me a daughter so I can kind of check myself. It’s kind of hard to be talking about bitches and sucking my dick when you have a daughter because I’m not really wanting anybody to step to her that way, so that shaped me and changed me a lot in as much as how I approach music. I understand the language and there’s a place for it and all that stuff, to be certain, but it affected me in a way that said let me consider what I’m saying on record a little bit more. I grew up listening to Prince sing “Bambi,” so my whole adolescent life I was like I gotta date a chick that likes chicks! I considered how this music affected me and took into consideration how it would affect my daughter as well.
“I think it’s easy to get caught up in the money, man, and it’s easy to get caught up in the hype.”
AB: A lot of rappers have kids. I know you can’t speak for everybody, but why do you think they keep doing music that might possibly detrimental to their own kids. They have daughters, too, right?
Lee: I think it’s easy to get caught up in the money, man, and it’s easy to get caught up in the hype because you have so many people around you where they’re in that world, but they’re so much into that world that they forget who they are because it’s such a part of who they are. It’s just constantly being in that performance mode and that’s kind of going back to the title of my album, this is who I am, I’m that goofy guy that’s gonna tell a joke about a transsexual and whatever the fuck else because this is who I am. I tell the same jokes around my daughter and when it’s time for the lights and the cameras to go on I’m still the same obnoxious, long winded person that says all the other corny shit that I say, too, so I think, again without being Dr. Phil, I think they just kind of get lost in it and they lose touch with who they are.
AB: Word on the street is in addition to your music you’re also a baller, as in b-baller. What’s your position and what’s your game like?
Lee: I can play, I think, two through five depending upon the size of the other guys. If they’re all 6’3″ and under I can play the center. If they’re taller guys I can play the two or the three. I wouldn’t consider myself a point guard, but I can make the nice pass. I can be kind of a point forward. I want that Rock N Jock thing to come back. That’s the real reason I do music. I don’t really have any talent musically at all, I just want to be on Rock N Jock going up against Boyz II Men or that Frankie Muniz kid. That’s what I want.
AB: Or Dan Cortese!
Lee: Dan Cortese! That’s who it is. They gotta bring back Rock N Jock!
AB: Before we get into an in-depth discussion about Dan Cortese, is there anything else you’d like to add about your music or have we covered everything?
Lee: There’s one thing you asked me on your radio show that I wanted to touch on. We were talking about why some of the rap journals say I don’t rap. I think about it and I approach it coming specifically from a rap perspective because it’s always rap that kind of shits on me. I remember when I was in Miami, the Miami New Times voted me Best Rapper for, I think it was 2004, but in the same issue I also got Best Male Vocalist and that freaked out all the guys who strictly sang and it freaked all the MCs out, too. I’ve had writers from RapReviews carry on about “the strength of the group is Lee’s lyrics and it’s also the detriment of the group,” and it struck me that these people speak of rap in this overly intellectualized way and dude is like “Lee is no Black Thought,” and I’m thinking, well I don’t want to be Black Thought. I kept thinking what is it that bothers me so much about when these people say I’m not a rapper and I thought you know what, it’s because they’re putting a ceiling on us. They’re putting a ceiling on what they are wanting to define rap as, where it’s like wait a minute, I’m the person creating this, I’m actually in the trenches, I’m the artist, so let me do my thing and let me test the water over here, let me shift a little bit here, let me bring my new dimension to it. I think if you’re creating and you set out to definitively say “I’m going to make this” you’re not really creating because you gotta hit it with an empty canvas and just let it flow, so when you’re trying to put a ceiling on somebody and say he’s not a rapper or this band doesn’t do this, that and the other, you’re just destroying the entire purity of what music should be. It should be able to just be. That’s my thing.