Southern Rap’s History lives on, along Le$’ music.

Southern Rap’s History lives on, along Le$’ music.

As far as my design, it’s just one of a kind
Just a product of experience and knowledge combined, Le$

Some may mistake him for a newcomer and yet he’s a young OG. Active in the scene for more than 10 years, Le$ is one of the most prestigious MCs of the underground. In numerous ways, his craft speaks to the greatness of Southern hip-hop.

« UGK raised that’s right »

Born Lester Matthews III, Le$ has, over the years, built a prolific catalog, placing an affirmed identity as his creative fulcrum.

Claiming his native New Orleans and Houston as home, he’s deeply-rooted in both cultures through hip-hop and his family’s jazz background. As a youth, Le$ used to play drums, his father was a saxophone artist and his uncle, Mark A Brooks, is a renowed Louisiana jazz artist who appeared in the Academy-Award winning movie Ray, as part of Ray Charles’ band.

In 2009, Le$ went to concerts and clubs across Houston to hand-out demos. He eventually caught the attention of DJ Mr Rogers who gave him 10 beats to record on. The MC completed the mission in one day, making the 10 tracks the foundation for his very first project Settle 4 Le$. The rest is history.

After joining Slim Thug’s Boss Hogg Outlawz, Le$ had a short season as a Curren$y’s Jet Life affiliate. He then spread his wings and created his own movement.

« The South Got Something To Say »

New York City, August 3, 1995. The hip-hop world is gathered at the Madison Square Garden for The Source Awards, in the context of the burning East Coast/West Coast tensions. When Outkast’s Andre 3000 and Big Boi heard their name as the winners of The Best New Group Award, they were instantly covered by boos. The room’s reaction was the confirmation of what southern rappers had been feeling for years, the total disdain of the so-called regional elites for who they were and where they came from. In front of such adversity, you can either submit or stand your ground. On the stage, Andre 3000 chose the latter option and spoke for an entire community :

«  It’s like we got a demo that nobody wants to hear, But it’s like this tho’, the south got something to say that’s all I got to say » Andre 3000

In a night where Suge Knight and Puff Daddy sent shots, that were hardly subliminal, at each other, The East Coast and the West Coast, at odds, didn’t knew it then but Andre 3000‘s words were nothing but prophetic.

This event was the final trigger that pushed the south to build its own greatness in spite of other regions’ disregard. It changed the face of hip-hop forever.

The Sound of the Southern Hip Hop : Dirty South Rap

An ever-evolving entity, Southern rap has brought so much to hip-hop, its path towards hip-hop domination started with the rise of entities straying away from East Coast trademark boom-bap and West Coast G-Funk.

In the footsteps of the Geto Boys, groups like UGK and The Dungeon Family collective (Outkast, Goodie Mob, Cool Breeze and producing team Organized Noize) played a pivotal role in the definition of southern hip-hop by bringing sophisticated live instrumentations in the mix when sampling was the standard. To do so, they drew from musical education but also from church, where many artists got their start from. In the early 90’s, The Dungeon Family found a home at Rico Wade’s mother’s house in Atlanta. The basement beneath the house was the sanctuary where the collective clothed the expression of their generation with funk aesthetic, soul, gospel and negro spiritual.

Around the same time, in Port Arthur, UGK’s Pimp C was encouraged by his mother and his step-father to integrate instruments like the church organ in his compositions. As he also drew inspiration from funk and the blues, he developed a sound that he would dub country rap tunes. Consequently, those entities implemented the very first staples of African-American music to what Cool Breeze and the Goodie Mob would refer to as « The Dirty South ».

Southern Rap's History lives on, along Le$' music. 1
UGK’s Pimp C & Bun B

Right behind them, a plethora of forces saw the light of day. Across the mid-90’s Houston fell under the lethargic spell of DJ Screw’s Chopped and Screwed, New Orleans had the bouncy sound of Mannie Fresh and the inescapable Master P with his label No Limit while Memphis had 8-Ball & MJG’s playerism and Three 6 Mafia’s horrorcore. While the pioneers were cementing their legend, the successors kept amplifying the movement. Eventually, in the 2000s, The Dirty South took a definitive hold over hip-hop by mutating at an uncontrolable rate through crunk, snap and trap music and by bringing new households name like Lil Wayne, T.I, or Ludacris almost as Trojan horses. In 2021, you won’t find many rap artists able to achieve commercial success without a Southern hip-hop trait.

The Southern rappers that made history

It’s all the complexities and forms that have shaped Southern rap that are proudly being told in Le$’ music. Of all the southern mainstays, none seem to have influenced him more than the legendary UGK (Underground Kingz). In him, Bun B and the late great Pimp C might have one of their best heir. Soul samples, jazz touches, blues and the savory ingredients of country rap tunes are the instrumental facets of his refined craft, which is deployed in many shades, ranging from multicolored neons to the colors of dawn. Developed with architects such as DJ Mr Rogers, Happy Perez, or Things With Todd, Le$’ sound is nostalgic but resolutely timeless.

A Music marked by the Houston Car Culture

« Now we all ride out, bout’ 20 SLABS deep » Beautiful Day

With tracks like « Ride Dirty », « Ball X Parlay », « Forever Trill », « Thoed » or « Steady Dippin », Le$’ all catalog will make it hard for one not to pick-up on Houston’s lingo. H-Town’ slang is as rich and inventive as the MC’s range of flows is sophisticated and effortless. Through it all, what transpires is how much of a fixture car culture is in Houston. Actually, it is all crystallized around Slabs, the iconic customized cars with elbow wheels (known as swangas), candy paint, a powerful sound system and a fifth wheel on the back of the car, Houstonians see them everyday around their way.

Years before Le$, slabs vibrated to the revolutionary Chopped & Screwed sound of the late great DJ Screw. To this day, many people seen at the wheel of a Slab will bang the legendary Screw Tapes in which, DJ Screw himself, Fat Pat, his brother Big Hawk, ESG, Lil Keke, Big Moe, Al-D, Mike D, Big Pokey, MR 3-2 (who was an influence to Snoop Dogg) and the whole Screwed Up Click, carved the name of their crew in Houston and hip-hop history. In some of those tapes rang the voice of rapper Big Floyd, but since a tragic day in Minnesota the whole world will forever know him under his real name, George Floyd. Every June 27th the city commemorates DJ Screw and the famous « June 27th » freestyle of 1996, many see it as an holiday and one day it might really be official. In the meantime, Le$ will take us to the Screwed Up Records & Tapes store with his « Caddy », paying hommage to Fat Pat‘s « Lets Ride Freestyle ».

Cadillacs, Chevrolet, BMW, Nissan GT-R, Honda Civic, trust Le$ to give you an open door on a fascinating parade of motherships and whips. If it is due, in part, to Houston culture, it’s undeniable that the MC has his own relationship with the automobile culture as a whole. From american classics to foreign cars, it’s an integral part of who he is and what he does, a car seems to go with every situation. Our host will drive a Jeep with the doors off in the summer (« Doors Off »), then be soul-searching like Ace Boogie in a BMWHouston Zoo ») or After Midnight, turn into a nocturnal animal, moving fast all through the city, sittin’ low and racing into the sunset (« 3rd Gear »). It’s part of his lifestyle as much as it is a part of his escapism and it shows. His work really gets you there, you get to be a part of the kickbacks, the contemplative rides under Texas blazing sun and the dreamy late night cruises.

An inspiration for clever and intricate wordplay about his path, car culture most importantly served as the metaphorical theme behind 2013’s E36 and Gran Turismo, two classic mixtapes that, years later, can be considered as the nucleus from which the rapper has developed his sound, a sound that he has never compromised.

Houston conflicts between Northside and Southside

« Old school foreign, no foes but we bang Screw » ( « Shotgun »)

That last line from 2013 is one of Le$’ rare allusion to the tumultuous past of Houston, a time where the Southside and the Northside had what they would call plex. In the 90’s, the Screwed Up Click who represented the Southside were at odds with Michael ‘5000’ Watts and OG Ron C’s Swishahouse who were from the Northside. Eventually the differences died down and MC’s from both crews collaborated with each other representing Houston as a whole.

In the 2000s, Swishahouse, who was already self-sufficient and established locally, made hip-hop turn towards Houston and came to national prominence. With artists like Paul Wall, Mike Jones and with Slim Thug by their side (who already had his own entity Boss Hogg Outlawz) the label brought monumental hip-hop classics like « Sittin Sidewayz » and « Still Tippin ». Indirectly, Swishahouse’s success actually shed a new light on DJ Screw as outsiders assimilated the label’s sound with Chopped & Screwed. More than 20 years after his death, the spectrum of his sound infiltrates a vast majority of mainstream hip-hop albums, from Kendrick Lamar to Drake.

Before his death in 2007, Pimp C was one of the strongest voices advocating for unity among the Houston hip-hop scene. Today, the vision of Bun B‘s partner is a reality and Le$ is one of the artists that truly manifests it. From Geto Boys, UGK to the Screwed Up Click and Swishahouse, without forgetting Big Mike or Devin The Dude, the historical voices of H-Town live in his chapter. Through a sample, a reference or a feature, whenever their spirit ring in his music, it feels like Le$ is telling us, on behalf of every Houstonian : « this is where we come from. »

Le$ H-Town-Mural
Le$ in front H-Town Mural commemorating DJ Screw, Big Hawk, Big Moe, Pimp C, Bushwick Bill and MR 3-2

The South Controversy

« I’m from the South
I’m a Southern Girl
Home of the burnin church
Don’t know much about the world
Home of the pocket stones
Home of the booty songs
Home of the finger wave that lasts
All night long » Erykah Badu on 1999’ « Southern Girl »

Throughout its history, Southern hip-hop has had its fair share of controversy.

In fact, southern acts have, on numerous occasions, been at the center of debates in terms of censorship and explicit content. The Miami-based 2 Live Crew appears among the famous cases. In 1990, the group’s album As Nasty As They Wanna Be had been ruled obscene and illegal to sell by then US district court judge Jorge Gonzalez. The group’s follow up, Banned in the USA, was the first album to bear the RIAA Parental Advisory warning sticker. In the 2000s, Southern rap came back at the center of controversy due to the highly-sexualized imagery found in several acts’ content. From Lil’ Flip to Ludacris, a lot of visuals ended up composing a big portion of BET UNCUT, a nightly program that aired explicit music videos from 2001 to 2006.

Southern Rap's History lives on, along Le$' music. 2
RIAA Parental Advisory Label

Notably, because of the aforementioned aspects, the Dirty South has, time and time again, been labeled as hollow, ratchet and devoid of depth. When Nas claimed that hip-hop was dead in 2006, New York many, except for southerners of course, had their fingers pointed towards the South.

a. Hedonism and materialism

Sure, hip-hop in the south has displayed imagery that won’t help to uproot certain clichés, the materialistic elation, the partying, the hedonistic and flamboyant lifestyles under the scorching, sticky weather have been unescapable. It is the scene that introduced purple drank, molly and places like Onyx and Magic City to the world. It is the scene where strip-clubs play an instrumental part in the breaking of new music.

Nonetheless, does that mean that the South killed hip-hop ? Does that mean that southern acts save profundity for the sound but that they have nothing to say. That’d be saying that this scene has nothing profound to draw from.

If you can’t escape your environment, you can’t escape your history either.

b. The Damage of Slavery

When it comes to African American and Caribbean American history, the South has such a crucial place. With states like Mississipi, Georgia, Alabama or Louisiana, the South is the region that gathers the states with the highest percentage of African Americans. That factor is mainly due to slavery, and the repercussions of that somber period have taken black southerners through an amalgam of horror, pain, culture, solidarity and pride. The South is the region that witnessed, first-hand, the creation of the pro-slavery-pro-white supremacy Confederate States of America in the 1860s, it’s the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan, it is the home of the burned churches. The South is also the deep creole heritage in Louisiana, the impressive mix of urban and rural areas, the legacy and the exemple set by Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it’s the land of the black churches that supported the Civil Rights Movements and the rise of Martin Luther King.

The weight of that history obviously rings in southern hip-hop too. Through Outkast, the Dirty South told how kids in Altanta, in the late 70s-early 80s, lived in fear of Wayne Williams. Through Goodie Mob, the Dirty South let the world know about Soul Food. Through Lil’ Wayne‘s « Georgia Bush », the Dirty South became the voice of New Orleans‘ anger towards a government that left a city defenseless against Hurricane Katrina. Through UGK, Master P, David Banner and many others, the Dirty South has put in the forefront the southerners’ pride for their culture, for a drawl that has too often been mocked. And there are so much more examples to demonstrate how deep The Dirty South is.

Furthermore, if it wasn’t for Houston’s Geto Boys, the depth attributed to other hip-hop territories might have never been like it is. With their 1991’s classic « My Mind Playing Tricks On Me », Scarface, Willie D and Bushwick Bill set a new blueprint by focusing on the paranoïa, the pain and the loneliness that come with the street life. From Jay-Z to The Notorious BIG and 2 Pac, you’ll have a hard time finding a hip-hop legend, particularly from the 90’s, that hasn’t taken a page out of Scarface’s book.

Scarface and the Geto Boys are a prime example of what Southern rap has been since the beginning. It has never been one-dimensional, just like it invites you to the good and the glamour of home, it’ll show you the bad and the ugly, sometimes all at the same time.

c. Talking about God, Politics, Family and Pimping in the same line

Looking at its history, Southern hip-hop has, perhaps more than any other territory, embraced its own contradictions, its own disparity, its way of being unapologetically human. The genre echoes the passionate church sermons, the political speeches and the family values as much as the pimp slick talk and the hustler’s coded-street slang. All those perspectives – and many more – constitute the different parts of the same body, they complement each other and contribute to the broad painting of the southern experience. For all those reasons, no perspective is to be ostracized.

At the crossing of all those voices, L-e-dolla is the boastful playa persona and the down to earth, praying man, the hedonism and the community’s consciousness, rolled up in one. With him, as much as with the Dirty South, we’re going to « live, laugh, love, lie, cry, try, die and do it again ». That’s as real trill as one can be, as truthful and profound a genre can be.

Who is Le$?

Le$ Houston MC

In the image of Southern hospitality, Le$’ music is what should be called an experience. Nicknamed Chico or L-e-Dolla, this emcee is a great host, as he says it himself he’s « providing the vibe, y’all just sit back and listen ».

First things first, Le$’ style differs from the usual larger-than-life rapper persona. He’s not afraid to be regular. In substance he’s the guy that doesn’t have to put on a tough act to be cool and respected. Through his references and mixtapes titles, he lets people know that he’s not that different than us. Like many of his generation, he’s into video games (Dreamcast, Gran Turismo, Shutoko Battle, Lotus Turbo Challenge), he got his movies like Paid In Full (Ace), Step-Brothers (The Catalina Wine Mixer) or Fast & Furious, and he’d rather chill, smoke and indulge in some beverage in his leisure time (Olde English).

Ironically, as soon as one gets into his catalog, Le$ will open the door on what happens outside. With his recognizable nasal voice and smooth rhyme patterns, he’ll introduce everyone to the Houston way of life, the good spots, the slang and so on. Flippin through the city is the operating mode.

If one of of his famous songs takes you to Whataburger, Le$ will also guide you towards the seafood of Houston-born Pappadeaux. As matter of fact, there’s ABSOLUTELY no way not to hear him talk about Steak & Shrimp, a dish that has historically been mentionned in Southern rap as a symbol representing the everyman’s aspiration for a certain quality of life. Seeing the MC – dubbed Mr. Steak & Shrimp – name a flamboyant mixtape-series, and a brand, after it was only right.

Le$’ Lifestyle Rap

Through what he calls lifestyle rap, Le$ purveys his share of slick, swanky braggadocio, he will brag about the allure and the interior of his cars, about his achievements and how, out of all the playas out there, he’s the guy to roll with. After all, the man said it himself « his grind is a stunt ». His rhymes, delivered with unerring ease, offer the guilty pleasure of feeling like the flamboyant center of attention much like blaxploitation movies make you feel like you can take the man out all by yourself or have a heroine like Pam Grier as your partner in crime. Vicariously, you’ll become one of the playas that get chose, the refined car connoisseur that looks like a million bucks and smells like marijuana or the entrepreneur with belongings that’ll probably have your neighbors wondering what you do for a living.

« Tryna make it home without killing or be killed/ I doubt they’ll ever know the way this feels » (« For The Summer »)

All those things considered, it is with the same lifestyle rap that Mr. Steak & Shrimp shows depth and personal thoughts. Trying to not dwell on negativity doesn’t mean that Le$ is oblivious of his surroundings, in fact, he can’t be, he doesn’t have that luxury. Despite all the good vibes our host sends our way, a couple of lines will make you understand that he knows how it feels to live in an environment where anybody can get got. Very often in his rhymes, survivor’s guilt roams around, it ends up striking with flashes of mothers crying at the arraignements and the funerals of his friends Made In Amerikkka »). Even on a Beautiful Day, being the one that has missed a couple of bullets that his homies ain’t ducked REM »), Le$ has to remember that he’s driving with the same type of rims that one of his friends got killed for Crown »).

Le$ pictures the traumas of the Black community

Heartfelt pieces appeared very early in Le$‘ career. « Raised up by the bayous » of New Orleans and deeply-rooted in his creole origins, the rapper was directly impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In The Beautiful Struggle (2010), he captured the continuing despair of his native city in the aftermath of the hurricane on « Muddy Waters ». In the same project he touched on the story of young men trying to figure life out and on the futility of street life on « Rollin On ». Soon after, he had the self-explanatory « Meditation » and « Pray For Me » out of The Struggle Continues (2012).

« Sick of seeing white folks monetize black pain, sick of fake woke nigg*z misleading these young brains » (« Sick »)

Let’s be clear, in no way, shape or form does Le$ try to be a concious rapper. However, he will sporadically talk about the wrongs of his country ,notably, because they hit too close to home. The rapper didn’t need the recent episodes of police brutality to realize that he’s trapped between « the gift of being black » and the curse of a country that sees his gift as a crime, « they want us dead or locked up behind a wall », he said on « Lofi ». Recently, he took the time to expel a lot of repressed feelings on his song « Sick ». Between guilt, pant-up anger and doubt, he expressed his overall exhaustion with police brutality and with the gruesome businesses that profit off black pain.

Even tough Le$ is all about protecting his energy, it’s obvious that those circumstamces have taken a toll on him. At this point, the texture of his voice alone, which is way more cutting than in his early-career, carries the burden of Trouble In Paradise.

« Can’t even front I’ve been stressed/ maybe a little depressed,

had to remember I’m blessed, God had to give me a test » The Mad King

Question : In front of such traumatic experiences, how does Le$ preserve his sanity ? Better yet, how does he come up with a sound that, at times, is so chill that you would think that everything is all good, all the way, all the time ? While he will admit that there’s a lot of self-medication, a lot of smoking and drinking to take the pain away, above all, the MC’s foundation is family and prayer.

Le$’ core values: Family and Spirituality

Whenever Le$ examines his ways, what shaped him or his fondest memories, it often involves a family member. Each of his loved ones seems to bring pieces of who he is. Next to the remembrance of rap sessions with his cousin in an LS400 or of the fun times in the latter’s « Backseat », Le$ finds his own stubborn ways in his father, an uncle from whom he picked up the habit of saying « peace » to greet people, all the women that raised him and told him « not to love a hoe », the prayers of his grandmother and of course his mother that he thanks for his faith. Every chance he gets, Le$ will mention how much he wants to make his mother proud, just like his rap heroes, she is a major figure in his music, she’s the very first person he’ll think about at the other hand of the world (« Wangan ») and the person to whom he has « made promises that he still gotta keep. »

Pick any project that Le$ has put out over the course of his career, not one goes without him touching on his spirituality. To make things clearer, praying seems as vital to him as his love for cars is indisputable. Obviously a believer in the power of words, Le$ is real specific about the things that he prays for. At one point, he’ll pray in hope that all his « nigg*z live all of their dream », then for « his soul to never die », for his « prayers to meet him halfway » or more simply to be forgiven for his sins ( « Our Father »). If the MC never questions the Higher Power, at one point he did briefly ponder upon the established institution that is religion on 2017’s track called « Shark Week » : « Feel like we raised on a lie/ Now i’m questioning religion cuz’ the way it divides/ If it’s all about love won’t we open our eyes ? /All this hatred gonna be our demise. »

Since « the devil comes in all shapes like a fine ho‘ » (« From Where To Eternity »), Le$ will be the first one to express remorse every time he’ll feel like he’s slipping away from his spiritual ground. For him, there’s no science in the way to go about life, it’s just « hustle and pray » (« Long Ride »). In the middle of the contrasted forces that live in his music, it’s the references to his family and his faith that put everything in perspective. Thus, through the madness, the doubts, the losses, the victories, the family moments, the bliss and whatever life has in store for him, the MC will always say that he is « Ble$$ed ».

« I swear the devil is a lie/ Every minute is intense/

I thank my momma for my faith cuz’ through it all I know I’m blessed » 77 Mclaren

If the complexity and the history breathing in his music is a given, Le$ has shown different dimensions in his wrinting too and that for the simple reason that his content is true to who he is. What makes the ensemble captivating, is that his different facets are not kept separate, they’re totally blended, they complement each other even in contradiction.

« Each one teach one » : Le$’ motto for the art of giving game

Call it giving game, droppin gem or droppin jewels, giving game is the art of passing down knowledge and words of wisdom to help one maneuver in the field they’re in.

When it comes to that art, Le$ is cut from a rare cloth, giving game is an imperishable feature of his craft. The MC said it frankly in « Haneda », he’s not in the metaphors, he’s « droppin jewels». The game he distills translates to all aspects of life, It can be about protecting your circle :

« Know they ain’t solid if they keep switchin their day ones » (« Speedin »)

Manifesting things in your life :

« if you see it in your dreams then it’s already yours/ just make the right moves and you’ll see it for sure » (« Zebra Cakes »)

Or the care you have to put in prayer :

« Remember when you pray him, he might get you what you ask for » (« Bimmer X Jeeps »)

And there’s plenty more where that came from. As he put it in 2010’s « Cadillac Dreams », these are « keys to survival, keys to success ».

« It ain’t about what you did but it’s what you do / make sure you’re living by your word and you’re staying true/ cuz’ when it’s all said and done it’s the only thing you got » Le$ on song Night Hawk

In a way, this principle of giving game is connected to the « Each one teach one » slogan which has been travelling through different eras and cultures. During slavery, that philosophy led literate slaves to teach those who didn’t know how to read and write to empower them. In fact, several studies reveal that literacy was not just a way for a few slaves to find ways to forge passes and free themselves, it was one of the keys for them to dispute and expel out of their minds the atrocious idea that they had been created as inferior beings.

The concept traveled for generations and today it refers to the idea of transmission and passing down knowledge earned from the elders or through experience so one can be empowered and go forward.

This might be one of the reasons for the south’s domination over hip-hop. It seems like there’s still a bridge between the elders and the younger generation. The newcomers pick up game from the OGs and get to carry the torch to push the movement further. In due time, they’ll become the new OGs.

In the jazzy « Double Clutch » (2019), L-e-dolla said : « you gotta get it before you give game ». From experience, from the game he got from southern legends, from his years with Slim Thug and Curren$y, he learned and set himself to be his own boss.

Le$’ Work ethic

« It ain’t on me, it’s in me I never needed a crown »  (« Too Smooth »)

With, at least, over 40 projects under his belt, saying that Le$ believes in strong work ethic is a euphemism. The MC puts at least 3 to 4 projects a year without ever spoiling his artistry. In 2017, for example, as an independent, he released four of his best albums back to back : Midnight Club, Summer Madness, The Catalina Wine Mixer and Chico. Right after that, he kept going with projects like the chiaroscuro Trouble In Paradise, the darker Texas Rattlesnake, Lost In Japan (inspired by his tour in Japan) or the sunnier Expansion Pack 2.0. Different shades, same intensity, more quality.

This relentless output is proof of Le$‘ total control over his music and more than anything, it proves that he practices what he preaches. Indeed, if there’s one theme that has been installed in his music since he first hit the scene it’s self-motivation. What’s special about the way he tackles it, is that he anchors his ambition in different spectrums.

First, there are the tough, ferocious tunes like « 77 McLaren », « The Hustle » or « Made In Amerikkka » that’ll provide a sense of urgency revealing how visceral his ambition is. Then, you have the quintessential smooth tracks that our host is most known for. From the flashy « Ride Dirty », to « Formula 1 (lap 2) » or the elegant « FWTS », those are the type of relaxing songs where the MC puts his trademark « Composure » on full display.

Last but certainly not least, you have the beautiful hymns where Le$ carves his vision in an emotional and sentimental setting. Take the starry-eyed melody of « 1 Thang », the calm of « Dreamin », the quietness of « Backroads » or the ecclesiastic sound of « Long Ride », those type of pieces pop up all over the rapper’s catalog, they’ll never fail to transport you into a peaceful, pleasant melancholy, a little « Paradise » away from home and its madness where you can immerse yourself in introspection and assess what really drives you, what’s behind your motivation. Behind his, L-e-Dolla sees his mother, his family, his team but also the « good souls who ain’t got to say goodbye ».

With that mindset, progression is a constant and mandatory goal. By the late 2010s, Le$ drew from his musical education to learn how to produce himself. In the process he entirely produced a follow-up to his classic Gran Turismo (2019) and last year he crystallized his message with the uncluttered DIOS. On top of producing the entire album himself, Le$ made a beautiful double-entendre out of its title, using it in its literal meaning (God in Spanish) and as an acronym for Did It Ourselves.

« I was raised by the greats Bun B, Pimp C, Dungeon Family and ‘Face, Cash Money, Rap-A-Lot » (« What’s Going Down »)

If you try to have a convo about the most important independent labels in hip-hop’s history, the name of Houston’s Rap-A-Lot and New Orleans’s No Limit or Cash Money will come up fast. Right after them, Swishahouse and Three 6 Mafia’s Hypnotize Minds can be seen in the same lineage. Those labels built themselves to self-sufficiency without national recognition or major record labels’ support. In fact, it’s the majors that had to seek them out for a partnership.

For his major debut, Slim Thug chose the self-explanatory title of Already Platinum, In 1998 New Orleans’ Cash Money Records signed a 30 million deal for a partnership with Universal Music Group.

If this inclination towards independence started as a reaction to majors’ indifference, it became a regional trait that has influenced other territories … in a major way. It remains strong today with an entity like Atlanta’s powerhouse Quality Control Music, the home of Migos and Lil’ Baby.

Le$ DIOS
(c) Jorge Casanova

For Mr. Steak & Shrimp, this propensity also speaks to a no middle-man mentality. His entrepreneurial spirit is propelling him from « Cadillac Dreams » to « Mergers & Acquisition », from building his rep with free mixtapes to establishing his own movement. With his business-partner and videographer Jorge Casanova, he named his structure and brand in concert with the album DIOS. Last November, the MC has made his presence in Houston‘s way of life even more tangible with the opening of the DIOS store.

A closer-look at the underground circuit will be enough to see that Le$ has influenced a couple of artists, in terms of aesthetic, sound and business-model, perhaps more than people can imagine.

Never Settle 4 Le$: No compromise

To start the new decade, Le$ reached a new milestone by sharing the EP Distant with Bun B, which makes him the first rapper to share a project with the Underground King since the passing of Pimp C. Listening to the OG and the heir giving game in abundance, it’s hard to not think about their collab on 2015’s track « UGK’z ». In that song, Bun B gave the ideal introduction :

« Being an Underground King means that you won’t comprise yourself                                                                

For money, for fame, for power, for flesh                                                                                                          

No matter what these offer to you, no matter what people try to give you,

you don’t let those things define you                                                                                                                  

Only you can define yourself, only you can make you an Underground King »

Le$ did not only follow those words, he fulfilled a vision.

In the image of southern rap, Le$ never strayed away from the traits he inherited, he built upon them, set himself apart from the rest and, ultimately, grew in stature. If Andre 3000’s declaration at the 95’ Source Awards was the mantra of southern rap, Did It Ourselves sure could be the words of its triumph. It coincides with the way Le$ has fashioned what is and what will be regarded as a memorable career.

« Going backwards is a motion I would never do » Le$

Alfred Dilou

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