Interview: Trip Lee
Tue, 03 Feb 2015 08:57:03
After one listen to Rise, it's abundantly clear just how powerful of a wordsmith Trip Lee really is. He can spit with the best of them, but he's also got the ability to weave a story that legends like The Notorious B.I.G. and OutKast boast best. Rise serves as a clarion call for the art form itself, displaying Trip's raw talent and so much more...
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Trip Lee talks Rise and so much more.
Did you approach Rise with one overarching vision or vibe in mind, or did it fall into place naturally as you were recording?
I had a basic vision of what I wanted it to sound like when we got started with Gawvi. We really wanted to get in the room together and put our two visions together and see where it went. Some of it was the vision I laid out, while other parts developed as it went on. For example, we used a ton of vocal samples, and that sound developed as we went on. As we kept liking that in different songs, it felt like that was the sound of the album.
What was your message lyrically?
I wanted to challenge people. That’s why I chose the title Rise. I wanted the actual title itself to be a challenge. I wanted to challenge people in different ways to rise up above the low expectations the culture has for us and to live how we were made to live. That goes from a song like “Lights On” to a song like “Beautiful Life 2,” which is talking about my family and ways I’ve sought to rise up. I’m trying to keep that theme laced throughout the whole record.
Was the title track “Rise” particularly special, emotional, and intense for you?
Yeah, when Gawvi and I made that track, we sat and listened to some of our favorite intros to hip-hop albums of all-time. Then, we had an hour-long conversation about what we thought made a great hip-hop intro. We worked on that one. In that sense, it was special. We were on the same page in terms of what we wanted to do and what he created. It was beautiful. I feel like I was able to write something that matched with it well and kick off the album the way we wanted to.
What’s the story behind “I’m Gone?”
I think everybody, no matter where they are, feels some sense of the things they do which they know are wrong but try to get away from but can’t. Part of it is saying, “Man, I want to get away from the things I know I shouldn’t do.” Even more specifically, I’m thinking of the enemy and evil, which tries to pull me in. I’m writing that to the devil, “I know you want to pull me in these directions. I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t believe you. You’re lying, and I don’t need that.” We all make decisions off things we know is the truth. That’s a call, which a lot of people can relate to. I don’t want to be deceived by these lies anymore. I want to live the way I was made to live.
Did you know “Sweet Victory” would close the album?
We were torn on whether to end the album with "Sweet Victory" or "You Don't Know." When each stage of "Sweet Victory" was coming together, I knew it was a special record. I actually rewrote the verses I wrote another time after we had rewritten the hook. They went through a couple of different rewrites because we really felt like it was a special song. We wrote that reprise at the end. Once we heard it all mixed and mastered, we knew we were going to end the record with it. The song connected to me in such a special way because I was talking about things that were close to my heart—namely my difficulties and health struggles over the past couple of years. I wanted to think about what my hope is in the midst of that. That song is one that really connected with people more than any other, and that makes me really happy.
What else has been inspiring you?
I'm always all over the place and on something new. Right now, Logic put out a new record called Under Pressure that I've been checking out. I think it's dope. I had heard about him, but I hadn't heard a lot of his music. In some ways, it's a breath of fresh air. He's doing his own thing. I'm glad hip-hop is continuing to have dudes who don't fit the traditional mold—who are talking about different things. I like Brooke Fraser. Book-wise, I just read a Michael Jordan biography that was incredible and also quite long. It gave really good insight. Whenever I'm reading or listening to something, it's hard for me to shut off the learner in me that wants to see how somebody else does something great and learn how I can do what I do better. That's always there when I'm reading or listening to music. It's what I enjoy about it. It inspires me to do what I do better.
How important is storytelling?
I think storytelling plays a unique role in hip-hop. You can go back to Slick Rick and The Notorious B.I.G. I think some of the best storytelling songs ever are rap tracks. You think of Slick Rick or "Gimme The Loot" from Ready to Die. What Biggie is talking about is terrible—robbing somebody—but he has this conversation with another dude, and you find out it's him back and forth. Think of Eminem on "Stan," which I think is one of the best storytelling songs. Partly because of the amount of words we can cram into a song, I think hip-hop has a unique ability to tell stories even over other musical art forms. That's one of the ways people connect with songs most. They can hear true things. However, when it's in story form, it connects with us on a deeper level because we can put ourselves in the shoes of whoever the story is about.
How different is writing a book from writing an album?
There are some similar things, but they're very different in a lot of ways. It's a whole different sort of discipline to write a book. Writing music, you get a burst of inspiration sometimes. It's easier to work with bursts on an album than a book. Books are such a different medium. I'm a lot more teach-y in my books than in my music. With music, I deliver content, but in a book even more so. "Sweet Victory" talks about my health problem and my hope in the midst of in. The book has a whole chapter devoted to it. I I get into it much deeper and tell my story more. I discuss where I find my hope and point to specific scriptures. They're very different, but they come from the same place.
In music, you have to be conscious of having a verse, a bridge, and a hook...
Absolutely! You can still communicate truth, but you only have three minutes in a song. They're different approaches, but I enjoy both.
If Rise were a movie or combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
That's hard! I just finished watching The Dark Knight trilogy again so I could compare myself to Batman, but I don't think it'd be a legitimate comparison [Laughs]. On the record, I did try to be very open and vulnerable. Some things may feel darker to some, but I like being able to talk about difficult situations and hope in the midst of them. I like feeling hope in the midst of dark situations. Those movies are great though. Christopher Nolan is the man.
What's your favorite Trip Lee song?