Because this is Southern California and the only thing more reliable than the weather is the oppressive traffic, I missed my scheduled time to speak with 23-year-old rapper, singer, songwriter and producer LevyGrey in the interview trailer at the Smokers Club Festival. Instead, we're chopping it up in the backseat of a rented Toyota Something. Practically speaking, the location is less than ideal, as blasts of bass from the festival rumble the car every couple of seconds. But symbolically, this nondescript vehicle is the perfect metaphor for Levy's burgeoning career: Humble, efficient and definitely going places.
It's the first real trip to California for LevyGrey, who was raised and resides in New York City. With the heat of the cloudless sky tempered by the cool ocean breeze, the weather at Queen Mary Park in Long Beach has been very kind to out-of-town guests like Levy and he seems relaxed and confident following the biggest performance of his career thus far.
Beyond the weather, Levy has many reasons to feel good. In March, he dropped his debut EP Shades, which features five tracks of moody, expertly-produced rap music anchored by Levy's textured vocals and guests like Smoke DZA and T-Pain (watch the video for "For Me" above). The EP kicks off the next phase of LevyGrey's career, which began by clearing samples for artists like Kendrick Lamar and Diddy and includes working on the musical score for the Netflix series "Deuces" and "True To The Game."
AXS.com sat down with LevyGrey at Smokers Club to talk about his new EP, collaborating with Smoke DZA and T-Pain, and his future plans. Check out the interview below, stream Shades by clicking here and keep up with LevyGrey by following him on Instagram.
AXS: What was your vision for the Shades EP?
LevyGrey: Really just to make music again. I just felt like I was boxed in with genre, and what I wanted to do is just combine strings on trap drums and electric guitar solos on 808s. This is the genre-bending thing I'm trying to do. Because an idea or concept can box somebody into allowing them to only do this type of music. So I just wanted to kill off that f*cking concept and this is what the funeral sounded like.
AXS: Who were some of the rappers/ producers that provided inspiration for this project?
LG: I'm looking at my peers. I was fortunate enough to have super-talented friends and artists that I collab with. They keep me on my P's-and-Q's. I always studied the greats. Kanye West is somebody I like to patent my style [from]. But my peers are my biggest motivation. I gotta bring my "A" game.
AXS: Do you have a different approach when working on your own music compared to when you're making beats for others?
LG: It's kinda hard to know when to keep something for yourself as an artist or shop it as a producer. It's hard to figure that out; you want to keep all the fire beats to yourself but sometimes you've got to play chess. That can open a bunch of doors to help [as an] artist.
AXS: You produced a couple songs on the new Smoke DZA album. What do you feed off with him?
LG: DZA, that's big bro man. We're from the same neighborhood, so I seen him growing up. As a kid, I'm looking at these guys like, 'Yo, whatever they're doing, they look like they're winning.' It's just super-surreal to now be in the studio with this guy and to make dope ass music.
The sessions were super smoked-out, foggy, good vibes, you know what I'm saying? I met a bunch of people just being around him. Legends like Pete Rock and stuff like that. I met Hit-Boy. So, yeah man, that's big bro right there. Not For Sale, go bump that.
AXS: What were some of the inspirations in terms of going more musical on Shades?
LG: Before I started making the music I make now, the urban music, I used to be in a rock band. I was the drummer and my iPod playlist was completely different. I was bumping Metallica, Slayer, just a bunch of stuff. And other genres too. Like, Sade is a big inspiration. So musically, I just like to study those guys and take bits and pieces from everybody to make a brand new sound.
AXS: You've made music for Netflix shows, what's it like working in that world?
LG: It was super cool. It was a brand new experience, I had never played with sounds in that way but it was super freeing. Because--I do my music, I have the fans that I have--but to do this, you can escape from that spotlight for a little bit and just create again. I got that feeling like when I made my first song. That feeling was just out of this world. So it felt like I just made my first song again, which is cool.
AXS: Is that something you want to do more of, working in the medium of television and film?
LG: Definitely. I definitely want to get into film, behind-the-scenes or in front of the camera. I'm a big fan of films. As long as I can be creative, I'm gonna try at some point. I might go from film to video games to anything that I can be creative in, that's what I'll be doing.
AXS: Tell us about the new video for "For Me" with T-Pain
LG: We shot it in Atlanta, I forgot which part but it was nice. And we had [T-Pain] come through, it was good vibes, everybody was laughing and chilling. I brought a few of my people up from New York. That sh*t's a movie. It's a movie man.
AXS: What else can your fans look forward to?
LG: Just more content. More videos, more songs dropping. I just want to be active. Definitely gonna try to put together a little tour with some friends of mine, maybe the end of the year.
AXS: Finally, how did it go today and what was it like to perform at your first big festival?
LG: Today was amazing, from start to finish. Just being able to leave the coast that you're in and to perform and actually have people come to see you, it's pretty dope. This is really my first time in Cali, last time I was in Cali, I was here for like a second, I couldn't really enjoy it. But this one's very special. Got a bunch of pictures and stuff like that that I'm gonna look at in 20 years from now and be like, 'Yo, that night was dope.'
This Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.