Features, Interviews

First Day Feature: Oliver Lee talks songwriting, his weekly music series and more

A native of Milwaukee who spent time in San Diego, Wisconsin’s Oliver Lee brings midwestern soul and west coast hip hop together seamlessly. A lifelong musician and a (literal) veteran who first picked up a guitar at 10 years old, Oliver’s passion for the craft is part of his being. He’s currently in the midst of putting out one song a week, every week with no excuses. These songs fall into a cycle of weekly singles airing every Monday on Oliver’s Soundcloud. From freestyles over famous beats to full original compositions (including his own production), Oliver Lee is having a blast with the challenge of creating and releasing on a tight schedule. Alongside the singles, he has 2 more projects up his sleeve for 2019…His debut EP, Less is More, is up next. 

Oliver and I recently had a chance to chop it up about all things good, peep the product:

Tell me about the Milwaukee hip hop scene. Describe its sound. Who are its trailblazers/your biggest influences from that particular scene?

From my perspective, the Milwaukee scene is booming. 

I haven’t lived there since 2013, but all my homies and peers are dropping hella music and doing a ton of shows. The local station, 88.9, has their awards; people are really tuned in, and it’s been a ton of fun to watch. 

The Milwaukee sound is also diverse…It’s fresh. Everybody I listen to has their own lane; I can’t put it into one category, but it’s thriving. As far as influences/trailblazers go: Ishdarr, Klassik, WebsterX, my guy Genesis Renji, to name a few. I listen to all these dudes regularly, and they’re all dope as fuck.

Same, but for San Diego:

San Diego is on the same level if not more turned up though: Rob Stone, John Givez, Hardini, Amon, Oway, 88thagang, just to name a few, these cats have been fucking up the industry. I’m telling you: the world needs to pay attention.

To build off that, whose career would you like to emulate on a national or international level? How does said artist inspire you/what about their movement appeals to you?

I think about J Cole’s story; I can relate, moving to San Diego at 19 without a whole lot and building up. I guess it’s inspiring because he did that shit but in New York and at a different time. I became a fan back in like 2012, so seeing his rise to present day, or any artist really come up, pushes me to go harder.

How does the weather and vibe of each area (Wisconsin and Cali) affect your writing and production? Explain.

Man Wisconsin is cold as fuck in the winter. I used to play in some bands and hauling around gear in 10 degree weather sucks. Aside from that, I don’t think it changed my songwriting…It’s more so grown over the years and become something I want to perfect and dial into. But Daygo has the best weather…in the whole country so yeah, I’ma leave it at that.

How has the “song a week” series fostered your growth as an artist?

Dropping one song a week on SoundCloud is something I’ve seen a couple of artists do. All of those artists are successful, so I had to give it a try and it’s pushed me. It’s helped me cultivate a lot in the last 16 weeks. I’m tryna go for the whole year, but we’ll see. 

I know some of the joints feature your production, while some records feature outside production and others are mixtape joints. I tend to feel more free on mixtape joints over popular production because I know it will never clear and I’m more or less having fun. I feel more pressure on records I know will be on official albums or EP’s of mine. Is it the same for you? Speak on whether or not your process differs depending on the nature of the joint.

Yeah, I totally feel that. Doing those freestyles, and not taking it as seriously has been beneficial for me as well, cuz I really just try to apply that to every song, at least to not overthink too much. I’ve been working on my next project “Perspectivez’ (exclusively produced by Deuce Lbs) inseam with these weekly singles, so it’s all kinda blending together, and I think that helps take off the edge. At first, trying to tackle this much music seemed daunting…But in reality, it helped me get more organized and consistent.

But to answer the question: My process is pretty similar regardless of where the song is gonna end up.

Elaborate more on the genesis of your artistry. I know it started with instrumentation…Would you consider yourself a producer first? What software/equipment informs your production nowadays?

I started playing guitar at 10, then drums a little later. I can kinda play bass but not really. I don’t know, playing music is something I’ve always done and just feels natural. I would say I was more of a songwriter first though. I wasn’t really producing shit back then, but I was still writing, and I use Logic Pro to record and make beats now.

What are the biggest roadblocks you personally face as an artist? Explain. How do they bleed into your records?

Probably the same as every other artist: anxiety, depression, the natural stresses of life, money lol. I touch on mental illness and trying to numb myself in my music. Escaping reality, I think we all want to do that sometimes. 

I’m fascinated by the duality of the internet’s effects on the industry. On one hand, I think the ease of accessibility cheapens and devalues artistry. The saturation grinds my gears and wasn’t an issue back when I started because people had invest and show and prove on a grander scale before they were accepted. Where do you stand in this conversation?

Sheesh…I mean shit..get in where you fit in. I think social media is proving to become somewhat harmful overall, but it’s a great tool as an artist if used correctly. I heard recently it’s something like 20-30,000 songs released daily to Spotify, Apple Music, all that shit…I feel like you still have to find a way to cut through all the noise and stand out. I think it’s about adapting and growing, and maybe it’s always been about that, but the internet definitely helps.

5 desert island albums and why.

Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap (pure classics), Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City (still hard and in rotation), Future – Dirty Sprite 2 (it was an era…), Outkast – ATLiens (more timeless classics), The Roots – How I Got Over (it’s just always been hella dope to me)

Being a producer and an emcee, rank your top 5 producer/emcees:

In no order: Pharrell, J Cole, Kanye, Dj Quik, J Dilla

Where are you in a year and how are you getting there? Same question for 5 years (I like 5’s). 

I think I may be in Atlanta in a year, but I could be wrong. Hopefully, I’ll have toured, and put out a few EP’s while working on a longer project, 

In 5 years I’ll be in San Diego, and still making music, on a larger scale…

Finally, compare and contrast the two EPs you have coming. When is each coming? And what else do the people need to know and expect? 

Perspectivez, which comes out December 24th of this year, is a constant build-up throughout the whole 5 songs. My guy Deuce Lb$ (@deucelbs) from Milwaukee produced the whole thing; its got an airy, upbeat feeling to it and pretty catchy. All you need to know is that it will be available on all platforms and for download on my website, (leezyraps.com) everywhere December 24th.

The second project (which doesn’t have a name yet) is slower, more melodic, kinda RnB feeling…Just stay tuned. I got a lot of new material, videos and all kinds of shit on the way. I’m super excited for EVERYTHING!

Follow Oliver Lee on IG (@OliverLee) and check for his music on Soundcloud and Spotify: