With his sophomore album, Cassette City, ready for release on Rapster/!K7 Records, Lushlife took time to speak with DXnext about his musical journey, the new album, and how blurring genre lines has given him a new outlook on Hip Hop.
Influences: Nas, Black Thought, Pete Rock [click to read].
Child Of Music: ďIíve been into music pretty much as far back as I can remember. I started taking piano lessons when I was like four years old and continued that up to high school and college. Also, as a little kid, I was really interested into what was on the radio, and by the time I was in middle school in the early Ď90s I was devouring Hip Hop records. I would take my lunch money, not eat lunch, and Iíd go to the record store and buy a 12-inch. Music has always been a part of my life.Ē
On Being An Emcee/Producer: ďI think thereís a real advantage of being a producer and emcee. In Hip Hop, so many times itís collaborative, and thatís great when you have like a DJ Premier/Guru [click to read] relationship. For me, whatís been really great though is that I can imagine the music and then do the lyrics. I feel like Iím really projecting a singular voice of Lushlife, and so I think of myself as more of a singer/songwriter in that sense. Iím coming up with the music and then doing the rhymes, and that comes out well on how the lyrics interplay with the music. I would say 99% of the time Iím working on the beat first, and it takes me a while to do a verse because I donít just go into the studio and spit; I really work out my verses. It takes me like a day or two to write a 16. So while Iím putting the beat together, I have lines going through my head when Iím walking around and all that. Then it comes together lyrically after that.Ē
Getting His Start Overseas: ďI dropped out of school and decided to fully pursue music when I got an offer from Scenario Records in 2003. They told me they wanted me to be on the ground in the UK to help promote things, so I moved out to London for a little while. Putting out Order of Operations, to be honest with you, the first song I ever made and the first time I ever wrote a rhyme was the second track on that record [ĎDeepest Concentrationí]. It was instructive to me. I was essentially using fruity loops for that entire record. I think what I was doing there was I was learning the ins and outs of how the records that I loved were made. And I donít think I really came into my own with that album in terms of adding something to Hip Hop, and I didnít really put my own thumbprint on the genre.Ē
Growth In Lyrical Ability: ďIn a lot of ways I think one part is very similar in terms of groundwork. But as with anything that grows, my flow has developed, and I have a lot more confidence as an emcee. Also, I think Iíve really honed into what it is I want to say, and how I want to say it, as well as the kind of imagery I use. It was there in its infancy with records like ĎDeepest Concentration,í like I take a lot from the mystic imagery a lot of emcees in the 90ís used with the sun, moon and the stars type of shit. I think I was on that tip then but I refined it into my own style now.Ē
A Piece to Phillyís Puzzle: ďWhatís great about Philly versus a New York is that itís a little more intimate. Artists have the ability to do their own thing without stepping on anyoneís toes. And thereís really a community vibe in the art scene. In terms of a Philly sound, thereís certainly some ďgudda guddaĒ street shit, and thatís a byproduct of how Philly is; itís a pretty gritty place sometimes. But thatís not to take away from dudes like Black Thought, whoís one of my top three emcees of all time. For whatever reason, from '70s soul to current Philly acts, thereís a really fertile music scene and music culture.Ē
The New Album: ďCassette City is basically two years of work. In the summer of 2007 I just finished touring for Order of Operations, and I took a little time off. In that time I thought about what I wanted to do with my next project. In the last several years Iíve grown a lot in terms of my production capabilities, and I also learned how to play the mandolin. And actually I was at an Animal Collective concert and I was watching these dudes play all these instruments and I just had this moment of envy where I wanted to make a record, but when I toured I wanted to be playing the mandolin and guitar, etc. For some reason, in my mind it never really occurred to me that I could do something singular with Hip Hop if I integrated these capabilities of instrumentation into my music. Thatís sort of how the album was born. I wanted to make an album that was undeniably Hip Hop, and still had that core sound, but sort of had elements of indie experimentation. So I mapped out the album track-by-track and wrote a mission statement of what I wanted to achieve on each track. And essentially the last two years Iíve been taking away from that list to the point where I began scoring stuff for live strings and horns. As much inspiration as there was, it was really logistics as well.Ē
Quality Over Quantity: ďIím proud of the 13 songs that came out of my two years of work. But when I said earlier that it takes me two days to write 16 bars, itís not to say that I canít just jump in the booth and spit something. Itís just that I donít want to rhyme about anything. I want to make sure every line I write is truly what I want to say and how I want to say it.Ē
Working With Camp Lo: ďI wanted to create a kind of beat that was reminiscent of Uptown Saturday Night but with my own kind of flavor on it. Working with samples though, thereís something that I hear in my head, but itís a matter of digging until I find something that I can twist and chop until it fits. With that Camp Lo [click to read] track I literally stopped production on everything else, and I went digging everyday for like three to four weeks until I found the basic sample I wanted to use. And that was one of those magic moments where I truly found what I really wanted.Ē
Cassette Cityís Legacy: ďCassette City brings in one sense a Ďback to basicsí element, a classic sound, but at the same time that itís imagining Hip Hopís past, itís also imagining Hip Hopís future with the blurring of genres and a lot of live instrumentation. You know, Kanye West had Jon Brion doing arrangements with strings and all that [on Late Registration], and I really hope that as one man I can bring a new indie flavor. Cassette City is molded by the Hip Hop I loved growing up, but itís definitely taking a step forward in the way itís conceived and structured.Ē
Record Labels: ďI would contend that major labels wonít even exist in its current form by the time Iím making my next album. With the way that music is consumed now, itís a wonder why we really even need major labels anymore. Having said that, my outlook is that Iím willing to do whatever it takes each time around to bring my music to a bigger and broader audience. Because at the end of the day, itís great to have a core set of Hip Hop heads as fans, but I want to be loved equally by critics and heads and also have my music, which I consider to be pop music, in the headphones and iPods of 15-year-old girls in Ohio. If I need a major label to do that, then sign me up.Ē
The Internetís Gift & Curse: ďMy album did get leaked in an early promo form. To be honest with you, at my level if anything thatís good promotion. However, thereís a part of me that says, ĎFuck, I just worked on this for two years and now people can download it on Rapidshare.í My biggest concern though with the internet and my position in it as an artist is that all these cats are posting freestyle after freestyle, day after day just to battle for a little bit of spotlight. But for me, as Iíve been saying, Iím the kind of guy who will take like two months to write one song. In light of that, itís going to be interesting for me to position myself in a world where headlines are changing every minute.Ē