Getting the LOW-DOWN from DA L.E.S
Hip Hop recording artist and record producer Da L.E.S requires little introduction. His prolific career has seen a massive creative output from early fame days with his band “Jozi”, to solo singles and albums and collaborations with fellow South African Hip Hop recording artists, A.K.A and Maggz and many more.
As someone who has successfully been in the “industry” for over 10 years Da L.E.S offers a unique window into the creative process, culture and business of music as a rapper.
The WIRE Magazine was fortunate to peek behind the scenes of a life of a Hip Hop star.
As an established artist, growing up, who were your music influences?
Michael Jackson was my biggest idol, MC hammer, Kriss Kross and Vanilla Ice. After I moved to South Africa I started getting into a lot of rock music which transitioned into old school hip hop.
What hip-hop albums did you listen to?
My brother was a big collector of hip hop albums and I was lucky to listen to his collection. Stand outs were “A tribe called quest…(Still one of my favourite groups in the whole wide world); The native tongue family “De la soul, The Pharcyde, Jungle brothers, Black Sheep Pete Rocks and Wu tang Clan.
You have collab’d with other artists before, it’s a natural part of your musical output. What would be a dream collaboration with a rapper, singer or producer?
There are so many to name, but definitely Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Ty Dollar Sign, Wiz Khalifa Jay Zee of course.
Of your contemporaries on the scene right now, who do you listen to the most?
I listen to a lot of trap at the moment, I love the Migos, Ty Dollar Sign, K camp, Future, Lil baby.
When you were coming up did you have a mentor? Are there still important lessons imparted by your mentor that are relevant to your life today?
I didn’t specifically have one mentor, I just grabbed a bunch of lessons from artists that were in the South African Music industry at the time, one of them was Brenda Fassie, just being around her energy was very inspiring.
Do you feel there is a difference between Hip Hop and Rap?
Hip hop is a way of life, it consists of break dancing, spray painting art, beatboxing, rapping and DJ’ing. These 5 elements express the culture of hip hop what we live embody and what feeds our soul. Rapping is the spoken word expression of Hip hop.
In your experience how has the influence of African culture affected Rap?
When we started as Jozi and brought African music into the rap vernacular it changed everything of how rap music is supposed to sound. Today, everyone is proud of who they are and where they come from and that is expressed in their music…If I look at Afrobeat, it stands as a testimony to African Culture that is so free to adapt and take on new influences and still authentically be itself.
You have been living in South Africa and worked with South African artists for a number of years, how does this influence your music?
Collaborating with South African Artists has definitely had a huge impact on my sound. It is part of my creative language, everyone who has been to my studio knows that’s how I like to work. From being inspired, influenced by a vibe and feeding off energy from that process. To this end I have worked with a number of talented artists in the SA rap industry.
What is your creative process? Do you first lay down the lyrics or hook or do you start with a beat?
My process is getting into my studio, pulling up a couple of beats that talented producers send me from all over the world and I just say what comes to mind and what I’m feeling…I don’t always write things down, I used to, now I experience a great sense of freedom by saying spontaneously what comes into my head. There are certain things that I do like to write about however,when I’m addressing a specific issue.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us what you are currently inspired by that’s going into your new album?
I have group of producers and artists that I usually work with, but I do add new producers and artists all the time…The next album is mainly going to be new artists and producers, as I’ve mentioned I love collaborating and exchanging energy and ideas in music, and 2020 will bring new sounds and ideas in a big way.
2020 feels like a monumental year with you being just over 10 years in the biz…What has been the most challenging moments in your career?
Always keeping things exciting, if you are not inspired and excited…it shows in your work…for the past 2 years I haven’t been making music and was more focused on other projects with 2020 seeing me me maturing into the next level of business. There are however definitely a few surprises in store for 2020, both creatively and business wise.
C.S.A.’s monthly cultural portal, The WIRE connects the dots of culture. With concise stories, many with video content, take a premium dive into the world of African entertainment & cultural fluidity. It’s one thing to be hip to what’s happening but it is another to know why.