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!

From the Web

More on Vibe

VIBE/ Nick Rice

18 Best Latinx Albums Of 2018

A number of artists from the scope of latinidad contributed to making 2018 another rich year in music. If hip-hop is the world's most consumed genre, latin pop, reggaeton, latin trap, flamenco and more of the subgenres of Latinx music rested in between.

This includes J Balvin being one of the most streamed artists on Spotify, Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy scoring stellar Grammy nominations, the rising appeal of Harlem rapper Melii, the return of Wisin Y Yandel and Bad Bunny sprinkling the gift that is Latin trap on your getting ready playlists.

But there were also artists who took big risks like Kali Uchis' coy yet forward voice in R&B, Jessie Reyez's dynamic voice and collaborations with the likes of Eminem and many more.

Check out our favorite albums from the best and brightest Latinx artists of the year below.

READ MORE: 25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

Continue Reading
Nick Rice

25 Best Hip-Hop and R&B Music Videos Of 2018

Hip-hop has taken full advantage of visual platforms like YouTube. Keeping the same energy as the days of Rap City: Tha Basement and Direct Effect, music videos are back and bigger than ever.

Hip-hop’s landscape has changed radically since the golden age of music videos. Artists from all different walks of life are roaming the field, constantly raising the bar for music videos. From the trippy aesthetics of new generation rappers like Trippie Redd and Smokepurrp, hilarious efforts of Blac Youngsta and the regal aesthetics from Beyonce and Jay-Z, 2018 has been filled with amazing music videos.

VIBE took a look at these visuals and assembled a collection of the finest hip-hop and R&B music videos of the year. The videos below display the meaningful connection that a director created with an artist that enables the two to capture the emotion and feelings the artist laid down on wax. In no specific order, take a look at the 25 best hip-hop and R&B music videos of 2018.

READ MORE: 25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

Continue Reading
Derrel Todd

Music Sermon: Forget The King of R&B, Raphael Saadiq Is The Son Of Soul

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

This week, Cash Money artist Jacquees set off an internet firestorm when he proclaimed himself to be the “King” of R&B “for (his) generation.” The comment led artists, executives, music fans and #BlackTwitter in general to debate: who is the King of R&B? (Spoiler alert - it’s not Jacquees.)

While a consensus was never reached, the heated discussion illustrated how much the definitions and ideas of R&B and R&B stars varies between age groups. Ironically, one name that seldom appeared in the convo belongs to one of the most consistent and prolific presences in soul and R&B music for the last 30 years: Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq has become like a stealth superhero of soul for the last several years of his career, moving to the background as more writer/composer/musician, so the impulse for many might be to label him as an “old school” artist. But that’d be a misnomer, as he’s still had his hand in some of the most influential music for the current generation. Perhaps he transcends a simple R&B conversation as a self-identified Son of Soul (the difference between R&B and Soul is a topic for another day), but however you want to categorize him, he is not widely-enough acknowledged for how he’s kept us jamming, constantly, for three decades.

Let’s explore the iterations through which “Ray Ray” has blessed us over the years.

TONY! TONI! TONÉ!

During the birth and rise of New Jack Swing and then the subsequent evolution to Hip-Hop Soul, Tony! Toni! Toné! was one of the last of a dying R&B breed: the band. They – and a few years later Mint Condition - were standouts as live musicians in an R&B landscape turning to sample-based production. This set both groups apart, establishing them early on as serious soul acts, and making them forerunners of the neo soul sound to come in the late ‘90s.

Like almost every black musician and/or producer of note in his peer group, Saadiq developed and honed his musical chops in the church. Exposure to Motown and Stax by his blues singer father led him to the bass and served as inspiration for his future style. But he, brother Dwayne and cousin Timothy Christian received their formal Tony! Toni! Toné! training on the road: Raphael and Christian toured as part of Sheila E’s band on Prince’s Parade Tour and Dwayne with gospel great Tramaine Hawkins.

Having been properly trained, educated and tested in blues, soul, gospel, and funk, the three formed Tony! Toni! Toné!. Their first album was a modest success, achieving gold status from the RIAA, but wasn’t a standout. The trio started taking the reins on writing and production on their sophomore effort, and the Tonys as we now know them showed up. They announced both their musical background and intentions with their album titles: The Revival, Sons of Soul, House of Music. They were not there for catchy, formulaic R&B. They developed a signature blues, soul, gospel and funk hybrid, rolled up in modern R&B and hip-hop fusion.

The Revival is arguably a new jack swing album – “Feels Good” is a must-have on any new jack playlist – but they were taking the existing marriage of R&B and hip-hop and adding an even deeper soul element, reaching back to ‘70s sonic roots. It was the sonic equivalent of taking new jack swing chicken and shaking it in a paper bag of old-school musically-seasoned flour.

The group still had the kind of jammin’ uptempos found on their debut, Who?, but started to establish themselves as producers of some of the greatest R&B ballads of the ‘90s.

When you think of the Tonys’ music, aside from “Feels Good,” the first song that comes to mind is probably a slow jam. Most acts are fortunate to get one true signature song in their career. Tony! Toni! Toné! has several, and they’re timeless. Put them on today and see if you don’t hit a body roll.

They also established themselves as formidable soundtrack players (as any 90s act worth their salt did. Remember soundtracks, by the way?). They had cuts on the House Party II and Boyz in the Hood albums.

By Sons of Soul they’d found their pocket, and they pushed the sonic limits of contemporary R&B to the extent that some outlets classified the album as jazz, it was such an outlier. Saadiq recognized that they were doing something important for genre. Something that was connecting old style and new. In an interview about the album in 1994, he expressed what he saw as the group’s role in music. "We've been very blessed to be able to be a group that writes our own songs and people have accepted us from both sides, hip-hop and the R&B…I feel very fortunate to be able to do that here in 1993-94, because like you know, it was starting to be a dying thing that was happening. But I guess we were like the bridge between hip-hop and soul and R&B.”

Going back to the aforementioned King of R&B discussion, Diddy chimed in the conversation (he knows a little something about the topic) to run down some criterion to even be considered. His list included vulnerability and adoration in the lyrics and subject matter, the ability to sing a woman’s “draws” off, and the pen game to write hits. Check, check and check. Sons of Soul deservedly landed at or near the top of a gang of 1994 year-end lists and the Tonys continued to raise the bar for the ballad game. Real talk, the last four and a half minutes of the “Anniversary” album cut are better than some entire R&B albums.

With House of Music, the group sought to even more fully showcase all their influences and inspirations: the Al Green-esque “Thinking of You;” the Stylistics-inspired “Holy Smokes & Gee Wiz;” the Bay Area connect with DJ Quik for some G-Funk with “Let’s Get Down;” the straight-up church moment of the “Lovin’ You” reprise closing out the album, with Christian putting all that good anointing on the Hammond B3 organ. This was our clearest glimpse what Saadiq had in store for the future.

LUCY PEARL

When Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up and Saadiq put together supergroup Lucy Pearl, we realized he was on some other sh*t. First, the very idea to bring En Vogue’s Dawn Lewis, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Saadiq together was genius. Then, oh…what’s this sound? Tony! Toni! Toné! with a little somethin’ extra on it? Saadiq revealed his ability to reinvent himself, stylistically and sonically, and play in different music spaces. Successfully. Hits, check.

WRITER/COMPOSER/PRODUCER/MUSICIAN

After Lucy Pearl, Saadiq embarked on his first solo projects. We’ll get to those, but the more remarkable part of this era was his expansive work as a writer, producer and session musician for others. As mentioned earlier, Tony! Toni! Tone! was an inspiration for neo soul (a term Saadiq loathes), which pulled from ‘60s and ‘70s influences, paired with the return to live instrumentation, mixed with hip-hop swag. Saadiq was a sometime member of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and J Dilla’s Ummah production collective, but had also been working on outside projects since the Tonys were active. Through either the Ummah or alone, Ray was behind hits you may have attributed to someone else.

-D’Angelo, "Lady:" Saadiq co-wrote, co-arranged and co-produced the still-perfect ode to #WCEs (Women Crush Everydays) with D’Angelo.

-Bilal, "Soul Sista:" Soul and R&B great Mtume on the pen, Saadiq on production.

-Angie Stone, "Brotha:" OK, who’s gonna create the 2018 “Unproblematic” edit of the “Brotha” video?

-Total, "Kissing You:" No, this wasn’t Stevie J. Now, imagine this as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song. You can absolutely hear it, right?

-Erykah Badu and Common, "Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop):" Saadiq again proving he’s a master of the perfect fusion of hip-hop and an old soul groove.

-D’Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel):" Saadiq has admitted he later realized he was channeling Jay Dee’s style throughout the D’Angelo session.

SOLO SAADIQ

As a solo artist, Saadiq has accomplished what few can: continuously evolving his sound and aesthetic while yet managing to still always sound like himself. The retro-influence has been a constant in his work, but that influence ranges between decades and musical eras. He’d given us a taste of solo Ray through “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack, but that could easily pass as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song.

With Instant Vintage (again letting you know what he came to do with the title), Saadiq expanded on his existing signature sound of soul, funk, gospel and R&B; a sound he coined “Gospaldelic.”

With Ray Ray, he delivered a modern blaxploitation soundtrack. But then, in 2008, he went all the way back to Motown and the purest soul sound for The Way I See It. Saadiq was committed to an authentic return to ‘60s soul for the entire process. He eschewed slick, modern production techniques for old-school practices, including vintage equipment, all live instrumentation and single-take recordings. He donned slim-cut suits and classic frames for his look, and delivered a retro soul package via the 45 inch LP box set. But it still sounded incredibly fresh and modern, and that is his gift.

His last solo album, 2011’s Stone Rolling, was a progression of The Way I See It, staying in the same retro soul pocket, bringing some funk and rock’n’roll back into.

Or did he?

MILLENNIAL RAY

The thing about Saadiq is that he doesn’t just look a perpetual 30 years old (he’s 52. It don’t crack.). Unlike a lot of “old heads,” he keeps his ear current, as well. Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid are his musical nephews. He praises them and their music often in interviews, heralding them as the current bridge-builders between eras and urban genres. Labelmate Leon Bridges adapted his The Way I See It and Stone Rolling formulas - from the sound to the ‘60s-style dress and imaging - for his own, and had Saadiq’s enthusiastic blessing. He listens to SZA, PJ Morton and Daniel Caesar. And he still has his finger on the pulse of current urban musical movements.

Saadiq was an executive producer on Solange Knowles’ 2016 A Seat at the Table, garnering a Grammy for the anthemic “Cranes in the Sky.”

He’s also helped to bring the full authenticity of the West Coast to Insecure for the past three seasons, serving as the show’s composer.

And he hasn’t abandoned his peers and contemporaries, garnering a “Best Song” Oscar nomination last year with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound’s “Mighty River,” and just recently executive producing John Legend’s first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas. Only time will tell what he brings on the forthcoming solo album he told VIBE about, titled Jimmy Lee.

Whether his name is included in King of R&B conversations or not, Saadiq has been booked and busy in every area of black music since before 1988, keeping both aunties and nieces grooving, with no signs of slowing or stopping.

RELATED: Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

Continue Reading

Top Stories