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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Kobe Bryant sits alone on the bench before a basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs at the Staples Center on Sunday, April 4, 2010 in Los Angeles.
Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG

Where Have You Gone, Kobe Bean Bryant?

I am in shock and I am traumatized. Any death hurts you, if you have any sense of humanity, and especially if it is not expected, out of the blue, and clocks you with a ferocious uppercut, between the eyes, in such a way that the tempo of your day, month, year, is completely concussed, knowing that you will never—never—forget this particular passing of a life. It was the Brooklyn rapper The Notorious B.I.G. who said, like the prophet he was, “Sometimes I hear death knockin’ at my front door.” It was the English poet John Donne who said, like the church cleric he was, “death diminishes me...therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Well, as we used to say in hip-hop, let the poppers pop and let the breakers break and, my Lord, let the grievers swoon and let the choirs sing sad spirituals because the bell is tolling for Kobe Bean Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and the seven other passengers aboard the helicopter that crashed in Calabasas, California, into hilly, rough terrain, after trying to steer its way through a syrupy fog on a West Coast Sunday morning. When I awoke home in New York, I did what I normally do: I scanned both my cell phone and my laptop for news of the day. It was amazing to see that LeBron James had just passed Kobe to become the third-highest scorer in the history of the National Basketball Association—after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at number one and Karl Malone at number two. It was doubly amazing to note that the top four scorers in NBA history had all played, at some point, with the Los Angeles Lakers, with Kobe’s the longest tenure, at 20 years, from his debut in 1996 to his retirement in 2016. I next read Kobe Bryant’s tweet congratulating LBJ publicly for surpassing him. Little did I know, little did any of us know, that that would be his last tweet ever. I assumed it would be just another mundane Sunday until the evening when I was set to watch Lizzo and Billie Eilish and others at the Grammys.

But then I got an urgent text from a trusted friend and fellow journalist, asking me if I had heard about Kobe. I gasped; I was speechless; the tears came, and I wanted to shove them back into my eye sockets. I did not dare believe Kobe Bryant, born on August 23, 1978, was dead, at the still tender age of 41. My first social media post could not utter the words; I simply said I had heard distressing news about him. Then I texted back and forth with several others, hoping, praying, for some sort of miracle. It is not that I am celebrity-obsessed. I am not. But the reality is that stars, be they entertainers or athletes or politicians or “The Royals,” take up space in our collective mental, in our collective soul—if they are around long enough—like blood relatives, like a father, a mother, a sister, a brother, an uncle, an aunt, a cousin. They become parts of us, and we are a part of them. Be they James Dean or Marilyn Monroe or Dr. King or John Lennon or Natalie Wood or Princess Diana or Aaliyah or Amy Winehouse or Kobe Bean Bryant, when they go, pieces of us go with them. We rise and fall with them, we laugh and cry with them, we win and lose with them. So when a person with the level of global recognition of a Kobe Bryant dies and dies so tragically, we feel as if we have lost a beloved family member. We are immediately in mourning, as everything about us has faded to black, as black as the lethal Black Mamba snake Kobe channeled as his alter-ego on the court. We are there at the funeral or memorial service, a-hootin' and a-hollerin’, as parts of our being attempt to climb into the coffin, the way Kobe climbed into the heads and over the outstretched hands of helpless opponents. We double over in pain as our bodies slump to the floor, the way Kobe’s did when he shredded his Achilles near the end of his career.

And what a career it was. I first learned of Kobe Bryant when he was a high school phenomenon in a suburb of Philadelphia in 1995, 1996. I learned that his father was former NBA player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, a journeyman athlete who once played with the legendary Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers in the mid-1970s. I learned that Joe never became a star player, so he bounced around a lot, in Philly, where Kobe was born, to places like Italy, where the only boy of three Bryant children would pick up Italian and other languages along the way. I learned that he was named after the famous beef in Kobe, Japan, and his middle name, a cosmic chopping of his Dad’s nickname. I learned that Kobe worshipped NBA superstar Michael Jordan, who was then in the middle of his six championships with the Chicago Bulls. Indeed, Kobe fanned out on MJ so much that he would stick out his tongue in a similar manner when going for a shot, and also wore a wrist band high up on a bicep just like Mike, too.

It was hard to say what Kobe Bryant would become in those first years, particularly since he was only 17 and straight outta high school when drafted. Kobe took soul-pop princess Brandy to his senior prom and even made a hip-hop record that did not do much. He was a teen idol project of Mr. NBA logo himself, Jerry West, acquired in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets on draft day, pairing Kobe with the league’s reigning big man, Shaquille O’Neal, and eventually Michael Jordan’s Bulls coach, Phil Jackson.

As Kobe morphed from close-cropped hair to a wild and angled afro to nearly bald during his 20-year career, I cannot say that I always understood or appreciated him, at least not in the beginning. It was obvious he was a gifted natural scorer, but there were also his nasty feuds with Shaq and Coach Jackson, and allegations that he was a selfish, just-give-me-the-damn-ball player in a team sport. No matter, because first came three straight championships with Shaq, then two more with Pau Gasol, proving the point that Kobe, the most dominant alpha male hoopster of his times, could win without O’Neal. Wedged in there are two Olympic gold medals with Lebron and company in 2008 and 2012; a regular-season MVP; two scoring titles; the second-most points in an NBA game ever (81); four All-Star game MVP awards; a slam dunk contest title; 18 All-star game appearances in his 20 years; and the dizzying epilogue to it all: 60 points in his very last game.

Indeed, there is an ancestral baton-passing from Dr. J, to Michael Jordan, to Kobe Bryant, to LeBron James. Unbelievable and unapologetic work ethic, stunningly fearless leadership, and a charisma coupled with a killer instinct that defined each of their eras. While Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player ever, fact is Kobe Bryant is the bridge from MJ to LeBron, a top-3 to top-5 player, easily, and also the player most like Mike that NBA players of recent times have seen, as many were too young to have witnessed Jordan, and regard MJ as an unreachable and mythical God. While Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retrieved basketball from the trash-bin of late-night tv reruns, and Michael Jordan made it crazy, sexy, and cool and an international religion in that Jesus sort of way, I would argue that Kobe Bryant took the sport to the promised land of becoming the national past-time that baseball once was, paralleling the sped-up society America was becoming because of the tech revolution. Put another way, Michael Jordan was crisp, after-work R&B with massive pop appeal while Kobe was defiantly hip-hop, a Negro with an attitude and a gigantic boulder on his shoulder.

He came into the league the same year as Allen Iverson, who was selected number one overall, and of the twelve picks ahead of Kobe at number thirteen, it’s only Iverson and Ray Allen that are Hall of Fame level, like Kobe. Kobe Bean Bryant simply outworked and out-hustled every single player of his class, stretching his mandate from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, from Tupac and Biggie to Drake and Meek Mill, from SkyPagers to iPhones, from CDs to Spotify, from MTV to Netflix.

Scrape and strip away all of that, and there Kobe Bryant was, the Black Mamba I saw play in person on more than a few occasions: a six-foot-six specimen of a humanoid who came into the NBA as a teenager, tall and lanky and wide-eyed, and left it muscled and statesman-like, having willed his frame from every manner of finger and hand and shoulders injuries, including his miraculous return from that torn Achilles. He had the encyclopedic IQ of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the Cirque du Soleil flexibility of Michael Jordan and Dr. J, and the insatiable appetite to win of Bill Russell and Jerry West. Watching Kobe Bryant play basketball was like watching The Nicholas Brothers tap and contort and leap through the most brilliant dance routine in film history in “Stormy Weather,” defying gravity and common sense in spite of the many ways Black men had been told to stay in their place. No, watching Kobe Bryant play basketball was like being there when Langston Hughes spit blood poetry from his Harlem veins, putting to words what the eyes and heart done seen, carrying the dreams of an entire people across rivers, with no shame. No, watching Kobe Bryant play basketball was like James Brown live on stage singing, scatting, screaming, dancing, splitting, freestyling his Blackness in mid-movement as if he were an ordained Yoruba priest refusing to be stuck at the bottom of a slave ship. No, watching Kobe Bryant play basketball was like watching African ballet, except with a basketball and baggy shorts, where Black male minds and Black male bodies like Kobe Bryant’s acted as if they, not a White man, had invented this game, cutting, slashing, hanging on rims, up on their toes, back on the heels of their feet, basketball representing a freedom for Kobe that could not even be explained by a Langston Hughes poem.

I saw Kobe drive past people for lay-ups. I saw Kobe dunk. I saw Kobe shoot mid-range jumpers. I saw Kobe hit three-point daggers. No matter what you, I, anyone thought of Kobe’s way of playing basketball, you simply could never take your eyes from him. He whipped his chiseled body, the way we colored folks were whipped on those steamy Southern plantations, except he had full control of his brain, and his body, and understood that he was going to be a different kind of man, a different kind of Black man, one where sports was merely a means to the prize, not the prize itself. And the big prize for Kobe Bryant was to be his own boss for the rest of his life—

But, if there is one major blemish on his public record, it is the sexual assault allegation by a young woman who worked at a resort in Eagle, Colorado in the summer of 2003. Kobe had at this point been married a few years to Vanessa and was the father of a daughter. The case damaged his reputation at the time badly, ended several corporate endorsement deals, soured many from him, and foreshadowed the #MeToo movement. But, interestingly enough, Kobe Bryant remains one of the only famous accused men to say words like these in the aftermath of such an allegation, and after the accuser had refused to testify:

"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter."

The accuser filed a separate civil lawsuit against Bryant, which the two sides settled privately, and Kobe apologized, something which is rare for most men to do, particularly with that kind of allegation. But I thought of the incident when, two years after he had retired, his movie, “Dear Basketball,” was both nominated for and won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Was Kobe Bryant given a pass because of his celebrity and status and long allegiance to the Los Angeles community, which included Hollywood? Or did someone take note of that admission and apology made around the sexual assault case and believed Kobe had learned from that horrible mistake?

I do not know, I am not here to judge, and I think about the fact that Gianna and two other daughters would be born to Vanessa and Kobe after that incident. I think about the ultimate alpha male living in a female-centered household and what that must have done for him, for his growth as a man, as a father, as a husband. And I think about the many photos I have seen of Gianna and Kobe at basketball games, the obviously beautiful and effortless love between father and daughter, and what it must have meant to Kobe to be able to mentor Gianna’s clear passion for the sport that had made her Dad a world-wide superstar, a filmmaker, an author, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a millionaire several times over, an ex-athlete who was sprinting full speed ahead into the second act of his life. A mentorship that led to their being on that helicopter together when it crashed.

I ache for this loss, for our loss, for Kobe, for Gianna, for the seven other human beings on that ill-fated copter ride. Ash is to ash and dust is to dust, and the physical being of Kobe Bryant has been snatched from us, forever. I ache for his wife, Vanessa, I ache for his three remaining daughters, Natalia, age 17, Bianka, age 3, and Capri, not yet 1, and whose middle name happens to be Kobe. Forget what Kobe Bean Bryant means to us as a champion athlete. I cannot imagine what it is like to lose a partner, a parent, a sibling, in such a cruel and barbaric way. There is just something very perverted about experiencing this in real-time. There is just something very maddening about the fact that there is nothing we can do to bring him, her, them, back.

View this post on Instagram

Merry Christmas 🙏🏾🎄🎁

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on Dec 25, 2019 at 11:20am PST

Finally, I think of a song Simon & Garfunkel wrote long ago called “Mrs. Robinson,” where they ask whatever happened to a once-great athlete who represented the spirit of an entire people. As America and the planet mourns the passing of Kobe, as we cry tears for a person who was trying to do the right thing in a time of many doing wrong, I reimagine those lyrics for the Black Mamba and I end it here because I have no other words—

Where have you gone, Kobe Bean Bryant

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you

Woo, woo, woo

What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson

Kobe Bean has left and gone away

Hey, hey, hey 

Hey, hey, hey

 

Kevin Powell is a poet, journalist, civil and human rights activist, public speaker, and author of 14 books, including his autobiography, 'The Education of Kevin Powell.'

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Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks for an open man during Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center on June 4, 2000 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Tom Hauck

NEXT: Kobe Bryant

This story appeared in the April 2000 issue of VIBE, months before he won his first of five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. Written by Isaac Paris

Okay, Sherlock, we know Kobe Bryant is way past the verge of stardom. As an all-star shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, he gets thousands of fans screaming with excitement every other night. Bryant's baseline drives are as smooth as Nate Dogg's vocals, and his slam dunks bump like a gritty bass line from a DJ Premier track.

Now, with his debut rap album, Visions (Columbia), due in March, the 21-year-old is poised to follow in the footsteps of teammate Shaquille O'Neal (who he occasionally exchanges verses with in the locker room) and prove that his skills aren't limited to flying above the rim. Although Bryant realizes that being the man on the hardwood is no guarantee that you can actually hold it down in the studio (NBA stars/inept MCs like Gary Payton and Jason Kidd can attest to that), Visions proves his wordsmith capabilities are ample enough to allow him to play with the big dogs.

"People are gonna be surprised," Bryant says self-assuredly. "Toward the latter stages [of recording], I was real comfortable. I was like, 'I got this sh*t!'" In fact, tonight in his Milwaukee hotel room––on the eve of a game against the Bucks––Bryant's more pressed with defending the unproven mike skills of his homegirl that he is his own.

"Tyra can sing," he says of supermodel Tyra Banks, who makes her singing debut on Visions' first single, the buoyant "K.O.B.E." Destiny's Child, the Roots' Black Thought, 50 Cent, and Beanie Sigel also support the hoopster on the CD.

"The album is pretty hard. People expect me to come a little more commercial than I did," says Bryant. "At first it was all battle raps, but I really wanted to give the total picture of what was going on around me, like money, jewelry, women, and trust issues."

Nevertheless, money, hoes, and clothes aren't the only things this player knows. He also knows how to win. The following night, after No. 8 scores 22 points as the Lakers thrash the Bucks, he's convinced he'll be just as successful rapping as he is playing on his championship-contending team. "[On the mic] you want respect. If I want something I'm gonna get it. Just buy the album and see for yourself."

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Tyler the Creator attends the 62nd annual GRAMMY Awards on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

11 Takeaways From The 2020 Grammys

There are many factors that go into winning a Grammy, the most coveted music prize of the industry. It’s more than “is the song good?” Sometimes it’s based on campaigning, other times it’s based on what voters feel should be the industry standard. However, the fun doesn’t come until after the ceremony, where all the winners have been revealed and it’s time to process what it all means for the larger picture and the future of recording.

The 62nd Annual Grammy Awards was met with controversy this year thanks to a lawsuit against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences from ousted CEO, Deborah Dugan. Through her explosive claims and allegations, the voting process has gotten even less transparent— and we’re left with more questions and mysteries than answers. Still, artists and media moved forward, and the focus has temporarily shifted back to the music and the awards.

Here are 11 takeaways from VIBE that capture the essence of key wins (and snubs) at the Grammy Awards.

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