Steven-Lee

DJ Spotlight: Fall 'In Love Crazy Love' With Steven Lee

Kicking back in SoHo’s hip café, Aroma, you might suspect that the man who just breezed through the coffee shop with a messy-yet-styled blonde coif and noticeably toned physique just stepped straight out of a Nike photo shoot. However, he’s not just another brainless male model. In fact, this is the man who produced, arguably one of the most influential dance records of the last decade. But Steven Lee is sort of over it.

“I’m trying to get out of [that] Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing [phase] and get off the one hit thing,” Lee tells VIBE pointedly. “I’ve put out 50+ records, but when you have a record that everybody knows and people keep doing remixes of it, it’s hard to get to the “next chapter” although a High Class problem I guess” The Portland-bred, New York-based producer, best known for co-producing #1 single “Shake It” under his former duo moniker, Lee Cabrera, made of Steven Lee and Albert Cabrera, is ready to move into the spotlight as he gears up to release his first solo album. Lee now has a team of A-list producing superstars he’s working with, which includes major names such as Scott Storch (Beyonce, 50 Cent, Dr Dre, Pink),Vincent di Pasquale (Nelly Furtado, Missy Elliot, Madonna), ILL Factor (Skylar Grey, Kelly Rowland, Kevin Rudolf & Lil Wayne), and four- time Grammy-winning producer- engineer, Jimmy Douglass (John Legend, Pharrell, Justin Timberlake) amongst many others.

After introducing himself and sitting down, Lee opened up about the success of “Shake It,” his brand-spanking new team and influences on the next record, as well as collaborations with The Voice UK finalist & super talent Bo Bruce, Axwell, David Guetta & Armand Van Helden featured artist, Tara McDonald and Red One protégé Zander Bleck. And these are just a few of the names Lee can mention on the record.

Check out our exclusive head-to-head with Steven Lee after listening to his fresh new track, “Love Crazy Love,” featuring Carol C and fall in love with Lee—revitalized.

VIBE: How did you get involved with music?
Steven Lee: I was born in a music family with my mom, aunt & uncle all being self taught pedigree musicians. My mother was signed, she & my aunt were in a band for years & mom lead the worship in church since I can remember. Having an older brother and growing up to his music had a huge influence too. I was just an athlete but loved music just never had the time to learn early how to play until later. I moved to New York and was engulfed into the music scene. Prior to that, I went to a couple of raves in Portland, Oregon but only because I was a break-dancer. I learned how to break to house music and Mark Farina, Doc Martin, Donald Glaude and these names little did I know, five to six years later, I’d be playing on bills with. Started listening to Danny Tenaglia and Erick Morillo, got a job with Strictly Rhythm and that was that! At 21, I wrote a record as Lee Cabrera “Shake It” and it went #1. Kind of a very fast track, lucky, fortunate & blessed way [to do things.]

Do you ever get sick of hearing “Shake It?”
No I’ll play it for life but this whole project is about going solo, about letting go of the Lee Cabrera tag but with a big smile for all the amazing accomplishments we achieved. Lee Cabrera was two people—Albert Cabrera and myself. There was no breakup. He was in the business a long time, as long as I was old, and maybe he didn’t realize things were going to blow up the way they did. We all made a lot of money with “Shake It” and with all the shows, the remixes and the album deal with MOS so as short as the partnership was, it was certainly lucrative.

Would you say there’s an image or sound change with you going solo?
The image has always been who I am. I’ve been a hardcore athlete since I was a kid and it was the best segue for this business because if you don’t have a little bit of confidence and if you don’t know how to take any criticism, then the music business is not for you but nor is athletics. The two are separate beasts, but they are very similar in what it takes to get to the top. So, is there a change? I mean we have to evolve musically. I don’t want to sound like everybody else. Electronic dance music [or EDM], which is a terrible abbreviation that just stuck, really all sounds the same to me from a studio perspective. Sure, the synths are different. Sure, the vocals are different, but these breakdowns and these arrangements are very cookie cutter. For me, it’s just about doing the best I can in staying creative like we did with Lee Cabrera. There are so many millions of records that you have to stand out. You got to find the unique sound but yet that will still appeal to the billions of dance music fans out there and that’s the fight, which is great. It’s a good position to be in.

How did you get involved with people like Vincent di Pasquale, ILL Factor and Jimmy Douglass?
I handpicked a dream team. Obviously, their accolades are amazing. They have more Grammys and trophies than probably the entire EDM artists out there put together and you got to salute guys like that. We all became friends and I propositioned the team and said, ‘Look, I want to do a project that stands out. I want great pop music, great dance music, but stuff that’s going to work on the dance floor as well.’ Six weeks later, here we are with 25 records deep so it’s now picking and choosing which ones are going to work.

Who are some influences on the new record?
I’m definitely going backwards in sound to get the future sound. “The best records in the world were influenced by the ones that were the best records in the world!”
I’m pulling out records from eight years ago that have a similar sound, but they’re totally different as well and It’s really making a lot of noise for me. so I guess that’s the statement. I’m going backwards to go forwards when I’m in the studio and when touring. We all have reference tracks but do I reference Hardwell or Avicii? Do I pull up their records on my Ableton and stare at them and say ‘I want to make the alter ego to this?’ No, as I think they own that sound, they got there first or they broke it first and kudos to them. The real challenge is giving the masses what they want but with a curve ball! I throw a mean curve!

Who is killing the game in the music industry right now?
I love the indie stuff. I love Kidnap Kid, Foamo from Gorgon City is on fire as is GC but I am really loving RAC another Portland badass. Every record RAC makes is that much better and he always has those key ingredients that make the record relevant enough to work for the masses. Every time I hear GRUM, it scares me, he’s the Prydz of his genre and takes your face off with every tune and you can always tell he has plenty more. The EDM guys are doing it too. I love what Kaskade does. I will give him the props. If I can follow a career in this industry, Kaskade’s a good one. He’s just a good guy as well. He’s got just enough swagger and just enough modesty and I love that about him. He puts on a great show. It’s all about the music. You can’t count out guys like Steve Angello and Axwell. These guys are extremely talented and will be around for a long time and they’ve earned it.

Who would be a dream collaborator for you?
I’m doing it right now. The team I built and the collabs I’m doing are all dream collabs, but I hope after they done with me, the feelings are mutual. I mean Scott Storch really? He’s just the best of the best period! He’s remained hungry and you just can’t mess with his talent. He’s doing a ton of EDM stuff right now and it’s scary, trust me, I’ve heard it. He’s recently done a record with [Steve] Aoki, another with Dash Berlin, [and] he just played me a record he did with Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike and it’s LARGE. Vince (Di Pasquale, ILL (Factor), Bo Bruce, Sam O (Obernik), Jimmy (Douglass), Lazarus...legends of talent so yeah, my dream collabs are dream realities, fortunately.

What about vocalist-wise?
Stevie Nicks would be a dream, just because I grew up with my mom singing “Dreams” to me. But on the new school tip theres Skylar Grey, Yukimi from Little Dragon, ASTR, Sky Ferreira, Jessie Ware, MO and Banks that are all all stars for me. Bo Bruce has a God given gift in her voice. Zander Bleck has range like Kobe (Bryant). My homegirl KLP the Ozzie is a rising talent and my boy Eric Lumiere is also a super standout. I got a great team. Instead of having dreams, they’re just making it happen, it’s all about execution with this album.

Do you think working with all these A-list production people has changed your view on the music industry at all?
The cream rises to the top. I’m certainly not the biggest entity in the room and that’s humbling. As artists, we do everything we can to provoke people to have an impression on us, so we’re always talking about ourselves. It’s nice being able to build this team and to have guys that I salute, because at the end of the day, I’m on tour 80 to 100 times a year and they’re not and they’re the best at what they do, so I can go an best the best at what I do. There’s a certain thing that I bring into the room that can never ever be replaced and that is, I know what works in front of 10,000 people, and I know what works in front of 700 people. When it comes to Jimmy Douglass, there is nobody better when it comes to making a record sound the way it should sound. He’s a legend and his craft just continues to evolve and get better. When I sit down with ILL Factor, I’ve never seen a guy put together a record so quickly. He’s got a record laid out in seconds so we can get right to the moneymaking melody. Vincent di Pasquale is one of my best friends and the sprocket to this entire project. Nothing comes or go’s without touching his talented hands. So yeah, it’s nice and my views are in HD and I got a front row seat to the worlds best. I just take notes!

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Courtesy of DubShot Records

Boomshots: The Unstoppable Rise Of Dre Island

"We rise to the top," Dre Island sings on "We Pray," his massive collab with Popcaan, "cause we know what it takes."

Building on that theme of musical and spiritual elevation, the multi-talented musician—singer, deejay, songwriter, producer, and pianist—has just released his debut album Now I Rise. The project features the aforementioned "We Pray" as well as crucial collaborations with the likes of Jesse Royal and Chronixx. "Ah mi family dem deh," says Dre Island, who has toured Europe backed by Chronixx's band Zincfence Redemption. A graduate of Kingston’s Calabar high school—alma mater of both Jr. Gong and Vybz Kartel—Andre Johnson aka Dre Island is a living link between the vaunted “roots revival” movement and the sound of the Jamaican streets.

“The revival is really within the people," he says. "Reggae music never stop. Reggae artists always been touring. So it’s just the people’s awareness.” During a time when reggae and dancehall stand at a crossroads, Dre Island has emerged as one of the few artists capable of bringing together dancehall vibes and the ancient roots traditions—not to mention outernational connections like "People" his collaboration with UK talents Cadenza and Jorja Smith. “An island is a small land mass surrounded by water,” the artist told Boomshots correspondent Reshma B in their first interview. “But if you read further it’s also a place where you go to find yourself.”

Released through a joint-venture partnership with New York-based DubShot Records and the artist's own Kingston Hills Entertainment imprint, Now I Rise is a 13-track set that includes the hit single “We Pray” featuring Popcaan, “My City,” as well as the recently released “Be Okay” feat Jesse Royal. Never-before-heard tracks include “Days of Stone” featuring Chronixx and “Run to Me” featuring Alandon as well as tracks produced by the likes of Jam2, Anju Blaxx, Teetimus, Winta James, Dretegs Music and Barkley Productions. The artist is now managed by Sharon Burke, founder of the Solid Agency in Kingston, Jamaica. Earlier this month, Dre Island premiered the official music video (directed by Fernando Hevetia) for the last song on the album, “Still Remain.”

“This album speaks of arising, growth, new beginnings and emerging from the ashes," Dre Island states. "At this time, these are all the things we need based on what is happening right now. The truth is, since 2015 I have been advertising that the album is coming. It has been five years and the time is right. As an artist and person Dre Island move different. I embrace Rasta and this way of life, but I am not part of any group like Boboshanti or Twelve Tribes. Everything I do is inspired by the father. I am moved to drop this album at this time because I am divinely inspired to do so. When you look at a song like “We Pray” I can take no credit for a song like that. Yes I wrote the lyrics and built the rhythm and I voice the track, but it's a prayer, not just a song so how a man fi tek credit for something that come from above.”

Dre Island and Boomshots have been linking up from early in his musical journey. During a recent trip to New York City, he sat down with Reshma B to speak about the new project and his unstoppable rise. Check the reasoning:

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Carlos Perez

Anuel AA Breaks Free

In 2015, an entourage of close to 30 men drew guns among one another during a traditional Christmas parranda in Puerto Rico. The scene turned into something straight out of a movie when a pair of gangsters clandestinely attempted to kidnap local rapper Anuel AA. After a brief scuffle and flagrant shouting match, however, the man born Emmanuel Gazmey Santiago went on to finish the evening’s holiday spree in the boisterous company of his loyal posse.

Months later, after ushering in the new year on a promising note by featuring on one of Latin trap’s first global hits – De La Ghetto’s sex anthem “La Ocasion” with Arcangel and Ozuna – someone delivered Anuel AA a divine premonition of sorts: “If you keep talking about this stuff in your songs, something really ugly is going to happen to you.”

A Puerto Rican music legend, Hector “El Father” of reggaeton-turned-son of God, paid Anuel a visit to share his foreboding message. “He and I did not know each other,” explained Anuel, who prides himself on waxing poetics about the real-life experiences Hector was concerned with, “but God spoke to him and Hector felt he needed to reach out to me. When he warned me, he said it with so much conviction that he even cried.”

Having forged a legacy of his own as one of the key trailblazing reggaeton entertainers of the ‘90s who later signed a deal with JAY-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Hector – now a devoted Christian – understood life imitated art when it came to Anuel’s lyrics.

“My lyrics talked a lot about God and the devil, so when he told me that,” Anuel continued, “I knew I needed to make some changes. Those themes, good versus evil, they were my mark and what separated me from the rest.”

On April 3, 2016, just two weeks after meeting with Hector, Anuel was arrested and held in Guaynabo’s correctional institution on charges of illegal gun possession. Following his biggest musical break yet, just as he was touching the cusp of international stardom, a court judge sentenced Anuel to 30 months in federal prison without bail.

Raised east of San Juan, in the Puerto Rican city of Carolina, Anuel AA has a lot in common with many of my favorite MCs: he’s charming, resolute, and lyrically gifted, yet marred by a criminal past, complicit misogyny and the constant struggle between right and wrong. “I had no choice but to carry those weapons with me, because of the issues I had on the street,” the rapper said to VIBE Viva over the phone, while quarantined in Miami. “I thought to myself I’d rather be locked up than found dead.”

Indeed, Anuel had evaded his probable demise when he was nearly abducted and landed right behind bars months later, fulfilling a prophecy that cost him both his freedom and a flourishing start at the tipping point of trap music en Español. “I was being forced to reckon with all the bad things I had done for money in the past,” Anuel expressed, regretfully. “I started reading the Bible for the first time and realized that my talent and blessings came from God, not anywhere else.”

Anuel had begun to take music seriously around the same time his father, José Gazmey, was laid off from his coveted A&R position at Sony Music. With his back against the wall, a scrappy Anuel left home at 15 and began to engage in felonious activity to help provide for his family and finance his music endeavors.

Like many rappers on the island, Anuel was influenced by popular culture and trends on the mainland, most discernibly by contemporary trap. Anuel understood the genre’s synonymy with street life and the drug enterprise and immediately took to Messiah El Artista, a Dominican-American rapper VIBE profiled for championing Spanish-language trap music all over New York.

“I figured if Latin trap was doing well in New York, it was for sure going to pop in Puerto Rico,” said Anuel, who had signed with the Latino division of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group the year prior to his arrest. “I spent about a month in New York before I returned to Puerto Rico. Then I started to release all the songs I had, one by one, and they began to gain popularity.”

While artists like J. Balvin helped breathe new life into the reggaeton genre in Colombia, Anuel wanted to spearhead a movement in Puerto Rico with a sound all their own. “I recorded the ‘Esclava’ remix with Bryant Myers and it might not have taken off worldwide, but it became a huge trap song in Puerto Rico.”

Akin to the heydays of reggaeton, an Afro-Caribbean genre-fusing hip-hop and reggae that originated in Puerto Rico, trap music was considered lowbrow and was heavily criticized for its vulgarity, violence, and explicit lyrics. Puerto Rican critics and artists alike had very little faith in the music’s potential and therefore denounced it. “DJ Luian, who is like a brother to me, couldn’t understand why I wanted to put all my energy into music that none of our artists wanted to sing.”

“Reggaeton went dormant for years,” he continued. “It was necessary to make trap music, because it felt like reggaeton was stuck in another era.” A self-described student of the late and oft-controversial Tupac Shakur, Anuel thought reggaeton had reached its pinnacle and believed Latin trap would be its successor.

Songs like “Nunca Sapo,” where Anuel channels Rick Ross’ Teflon Don ethos and spits a grimy slow-tempo flow over a sinister 808-laden instrumental, helped put a face to Anuel’s little-known name in the US. On cuts like Farruko’s “Liberace,” Anuel speeds up his delivery for fun and plays on the “Versace” rhythm popularized by Migos, who all hail from Atlanta—the widely credited birthplace of trap music.

For Anuel, whose life mantra “real hasta la muerte” is now a famous hashtag, music aspirations had little to do with radio play. Anuel, 27, was largely concerned with dominating the digital space, especially while incarcerated. Despite his arrest, he continued to release music from behind prison walls while his team fed his massive following up-to-date content.

Hear This Music CEO, DJ Luian heeded what Anuel was trying to accomplish and began to work with Bad Bunny, the Latin Grammy-winning artist and star voice of the current Latin trap movement. “When I was locked up, Luian helped develop Bad Bunny and he basically became in charge of keeping trap alive while I was away,” said Anuel, who ironically came under fire recently and was accused of throwing shade at Bad Bunny for the video treatment of “Yo Perreo Sola,” in which the rapper-singer dresses in drag as a stance against toxic masculinity.

“I couldn’t believe something like this was going viral,” Anuel interrupted anxiously before I could expound on a question concerning their relationship. “It looked like it was something that was edited or put together to make my Instagram posts read that way. I immediately texted Bad Bunny about it and he was like, ‘Don’t worry, people are always going to be talking sh*t.’”

Anuel considers Bad Bunny a genius at what he does and maintains that despite not knowing each other very well, he and his fellow compatriot are friendly collaborators with a working rapport: “When he and I do a new song together, what will people say then?”

Today, the collective jury will reach a verdict upon listening to Anuel’s newly-released sophomore studio album Emmanuel, where fans will find a track titled “Hasta Que Dios Diga,” a sultry, mid-tempo reggaeton number. Fans can expect to hear a star-studded project riddled with guest features, including Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee, Enrique Iglesias, J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Karol G, to name a few.

Discussing life during a global pandemic, Anuel spoke fondly of his partner-in-rhyme, Colombian singer-songwriter Karol G. “She’s the love of my life. She’s been there with me through the good and bad. People who really love you are the ones who stand firm by you when things are bleak. In my toughest moments, Karol was there. She’s shown me how to be a better man,” he gushed.

“Karol comes off as super feminine—which she is, but Karol also has a really tough masculine side,” Anuel laughed heartily on the other end of the line. “She rides motorcycles and likes taking them up these crazy hills. She rides jet skis too! She’s like a dude, haha. We work well together and we give each other advice all the time.”

The pair are making the most of quarantine life in South Florida, releasing a self-directed and self-shot music video for their joint single “Follow,” a reference to flirting over social media in the era of social-distancing, the idea that shooting one’s proverbial shot can lead to a budding romance.

On July 17, 2018, Anuel dropped his debut studio album, Real Hasta La Muerte, hours before he was released from jail. By September, the RIAA certified his introduction to the game platinum, garnering the attention of Roc Nation artist Meek Mill. When the Philly wordsmith released his fourth studio LP in November of the same year, followers were geeked to learn Anuel had earned himself a place on Meek’s highly anticipated Championships album with “Uptown Vibes.”

I always wanted you and anuel aa to make a track together bc i feel like he’s the meek mill of spanish trap , how was it working with him ?

— Nagga (@naggareports) December 17, 2018

“Recording with Meek Mill for me was like when Allen Iverson played with Michael Jordan for the first time,” Anuel said, singing praises about their first-ever partnership. “I’m a huge fan of Meek; when his music took off I was still in the streets, so I related and identified with a lot of the things he was saying.”

“Meek doesn’t understand a lick of Spanish,” he mused in jest, “but he’s always with a bunch of Latinos. When I speak to him he says, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying, but my Spanish [speaking] ni**as tell me you be talking that sh*t!’”

Anuel leveraged his knack for storytelling and released “3 de Abril” earlier this year, an emotional freestyle about the day he was arrested and a graphic snapshot of his trials and tribulations.

“I did things without caring about the consequences. I thought I was a man because I was street smart. Now I know what it’s like to lose everything, so I wanted to talk more about my life and the experiences of me and my family,” Anuel described the inspiration behind the song.

Following the release of “3 de Abril,” Anuel again turned hip-hop heads when he and Lil Pump shared a fiery audiovisual for their collaborative effort “Illuminati,” stamping Pump's first new song since summer 2019. This year, Anuel also has songs with Colombian pop empress Shakira (“Me Gusta”) and with the late Juice WRLD (“No Me Ames”).

Albeit Anuel and Juice WRLD never got to meet in person, Anuel learned about the Chicago rapper from listening to his singles on the radio in jail. “The same year I won Billboard Latin’s Artist of The Year award, Juice WRLD won New Artist at the American Billboard Awards. We ended up recording the song after that but held off on releasing it for a bit because he and I had respective singles coming out at the same time,” Anuel explained.

“By the time we were finally ready to premiere it, Juice WRLD had passed away. We were never able to record together in person, but at least we got to feature him on the video. I know the tribute gave his fans and family some needed strength.”

Less than 30 minutes have gone by and already I am forced to wrap my conversation with Boricua’s burgeoning superstar:

Anuel, explain “real hasta la muerte” for me. Why exactly is this mantra of yours so important? 

“I can’t betray anyone. I don’t know what it’s like to really betray someone. I’m very loyal to my circle, my family, and those I hold close to me. Being real is what keeps me humble. It doesn’t matter how much money I make or how much I accomplish. What’s critical is staying real to myself and keeping my feet on the ground. That’s what helps keep me going.”

This interview was translated from Spanish to English and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Exclusive: BBD's Mike Bivins And Ricky Bell Speak On Funk Fest 'Garage Concert Series' And George Floyd's Murder

The early '90s wouldn't be the same without Bell Biv DeVoe's style of hip-hop, smoothed out on the R&B tip with a pop feel appeal to it. Even as a stark departure sound and style-wise from their New Edition group days, BBD  literally ushered in a new tint to the already hot sounds of Teddy Riley's "New Jack Swing" of the mid to late '80s. Their universal party anthem single, "Poison," cures any wack wallflower growing jam and will forever be the barbeque favorite of your aunt and uncle to sprain an ankle to while dancing.

So today, May 28th at 9 pm EST on FunkFestTV.com, it's only right that the crew known as BBD brings that same energy to the comfort of our homes, with "The Garage Concert Series" during these quarantine times via a streaming deal with the 19-year-old urban music festival, Funk Fest. The series is billed as a jam session that comes to you with the flavor of a bare-bones home garage performance that gets to the organic feel of the music. Joining BBD in this landmark event will be recent Verzuz social media battle stars, Jagged Edge.

Tonight's festivities will be in honor of aiding those in need through the newly created charity by the trio named BBD Cares. This community initiative focuses on the seniors of Laurel Ridge Rehabilitation Care Center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Proceeds from the moderately priced pay-per-view performance will go to those impacted by the grip of Covid-19. "We’re proud to launch the Garage Concert Series and our BBD Cares effort to raise money and awareness during a time when our communities, our culture, and our society need healing," said Ricky Bell.

Both Mike Bivins and Bell spoke to R&B Spotlight founder, Cory Taylor for VIBE on ZOOM to detail the idea and plans for the Funk Fest and Garage Concert series, as well as expound on the turbulent times we are currently experiencing in society. While explaining how hard things are to bare, music being an outlet helps in healing and this digital event looks to continue to flourish in expanding that notion. “The Garage Concert Series, which we conceptualized and named after other culture-shifting brands like Amazon and Microsoft that started in their garage, is our contribution to the global community,” states Bivens.

Be sure to watch their interview with us and log on to FunkfFestTV.com at 9 pm EST for a blast to the past of good music for a great cause. Ronnie DeVoe sums it up best, “our goal is to continue to spread the love while raising money for those who are most in need.”

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