‘Nude Beach’ is the powerful new EP by Belleisle Hip Hop artist Levi Rowan.
Hip Hop is often associated with large urban centres where artists are forced to compete with one another for attention and a chance at the big time. But in New Brunswick, things are a lot different. The population of our urban centres amount to little more than a few city blocks in say Toronto or Vancouver. That’s why it comes as no surprise when new voices in the genre sprout up in places like Tobique First Nation, Riverview or in this case, Belleisle.
Belleisle, New Brunswick is cottage country. It’s a rural community divided by Kings and Queens Counties where agriculture and farming largely outweigh the bling and the flash of big city life. It’s not exactly where you’d expect to find a new voice creating some surprisingly good Hip Hop, but thankfully, Belleisle is home to 17 year old Levi Rowan who near the end of 2016, raised the bar for other artists to follow in the year to come with his latest release.
On his new EP Nude Beach, Rowan raps about growing up in a world where possessions are seen as a sign of maturity, sidestepping the dominant forces in youth culture to offer a surprisingly mature series of observations on what it’s like to be a teenager in this day and age.
After receiving a copy of his EP in our inbox, we jumped at the chance to chat about Nude Beach and learn more about the artist and his music. We talk about the overall recording, the guest producers and the standout track, Nobody.
Grid City Magazine: Your EP starts off with a blast of poetry. From a listener’s perspective, it’s a great way to get our attention without hiding behind beats. Your strength is in your words and Speak sets us up to tune into what you’re singing about in greater detail as the EP progresses. What was it that made you decide to introduce the EP this way?
Levi Rowan: I wanted to start off the EP by giving the listener an understanding of the title Nude Beach. I’m not referring to any physical nudity or any sexual innuendo, but being emotionally naked in my thoughts. I see Hip Hop as poetry. I wanted to let the listener know that they are in for a thought provoking mature piece of work that will let them into my head and see things through my eyes. To me, if people can’t hear past the beats then really your lyrics are just filler. I don’t want that for my music.
Growin’ Up touches on a lot of materialism associated with youth culture and it sounds like you’re trying to get away from that a bit and see life for what is it – a series of experiences. Is that correct?
Yes, the beginning of Growin’ Up was showcasing my disgust for my generation, but also my disgust for myself as I am completely engulfed by all that it entails. It’s also an inside look at my youth and how being the weak kid and being picked on constantly had negative effects on my future. After I finally fucked up the bully at school, I made a negative name for myself in my community. Parents didn’t want me hanging out with their kids and I was being told in school that I should have been more like my siblings and that my parents must have been so disappointed in me for being in trouble all the time. Hearing stuff like that on a daily basis made me believe I was this person that my surroundings had fabricated. Music was the thing that showed my community that I wasn’t that person.
You’ve got a lot of rhythm play in to your vocal delivery, expanding and compressing phrases around a constant beat. Someone Else is a great example of this. Can you talk a bit about your writing process when it comes to putting lyrics to music?
My writing process isn’t really normal. I don’t like to write verses down in a certain order. I like to write the entire 16 or however many bars as one giant piece and then flow it as I go. I listen to an instrumental probably ten times and then it naturally comes off my tongue when I put it down.
I think lyrics are such an important element of Hip Hop and I hope that people don’t get so caught up in a hot sounding kick that they don’t care what the artist is saying. You’ll see me writing everywhere and on everything, sometimes I’ll miss entire lessons in school because I’m writing something or hearing a sound and thinking how I can incorporate that into a track.
On Someone Else, I talk about depression at the top. How even though somebody’s gorgeous or somebody’s got the flyest clothes, there’s always somebody better waiting to steal your girl or steal your spot.
What can you tell us about Jaee Jaee and her work on this project?
Jaee Jaee is a producer from the UK that I met online as a fluke. We happened to be a part of the same Facebook page for music and I messaged her about collaborating and she said yes. We made two songs on this EP, and I’ll be working with her again soon. I love creating my own beats, but sometimes someone will send me a track that has a certain vibe to it that I immediately know I want to work with them. The track doesn’t have to be necessarily amazing from a production standpoint, but certain chords and rattles I can’t turn down.
I worked with Eukarest (Daniel James) on A to D which he produced and it was the same there. I met him through my brother Adam who is part of the bands Motherhood and The Waking Night, and Dan is just an amazing guy who is genuinely interested in helping me as an artist. He mastered the album as well, and I think he did a fantastic job.
Nobody is a brilliant track. The music is unreal-good. Can you tell me a bit about this track, words and beats?
Nobody is a very political track. I wanted to talk about the fact that we only see one side of this world. This planet really is a mess and the issue is that when money is involved, the blind eye that’s turned just gets more bloodshot instead of seeing the real issues. Kids are getting involved in the shadiness of the world at such a young age. I’m a part of that category and it makes me frightened for the future. We’ve all become so politically correct that we’ve stopped honestly being correct.
The beat for this track was actually made on my phone using GarageBand. I tell people this and they usually find it hilarious. Before I purchased a MacBook, my only decent program for producing was GarageBand on my phone and so every track produced by me on this EP (Confidence, Never Getting Old, Growin’ Up, Nobody, Speak) was produced on my phone, which was extremely difficult in some ways but in others made me better at using whatever I had to my advantage. The guitar riff was a loop, but the chord change was just trial and error, and really was the hardest part of fabricating this track.
I wanted to make the chorus a contrast to the rest of the song blending the Western feel with the Hip Hop people expect from me. The chorus is just stating that this world is not a giving one, and not a caring one. People are ready to dump you to get ahead and so it’s important that you only rely on yourself. The reason I changed the beat at the end into a Hip Hop one is because I loved the transition Mac Miller makes in his song 100 Grandkids near the end. He completely flips the song and goes from a mildly happy tone to a kick driven, raw Hip Hop track. I wanted to do the same thing with this track and showcase all of my abilities in one song, and I wanted people to get chills when I came in with a message and a vengeance.
I guess the last big question is, when can we expect to see you perform live?
I will be performing at the Youth For Youth event at Rothesay Netherwood on April 1st which raises money for homeless youth in the Saint John area. I’ll also be performing at the Growin’ Up Prom Festival doing an hour long set in June.