Read Part 1 here.
I recently interviewed the LEP Bogus Boys for the Chicago Tribune. They’re an interesting group, forthcoming and professional, largely agreeing with each other and building on what each other had said as if they’d discussed many of these same issues many times before amongst themselves. I get the impression that they work incredibly hard; if an act is coming in from out of town, they are on stage opening, they spend hours in the studio (and probably the gym), film multiple videos per release, and politic with other artists. Their manager E has clearly hustled his way through the networking game; he recently brought damn near all of New York’s hip-hop bloggers and DJs to Chicago for a listening session.
Photos courtesy Daniel Drake.
The first time the group’s music really hit me was with the release of “Fall Back.” It didn’t sound quite as professional as a lot of rap at the time; the drums sounded slightly off, and there was an amateurishness that kept me at a remove; but the horn riff & Count’s steady delivery had an undeniable appeal, and I came back to it–and the mixtape it was from–more than a few times. The release of “Going In for the Kill,” though, was a huge leap forward; the video is an iconic one, and the duo went from having virtually no national profile to creating the definitive version of one of the year’s most over-used samples. No one thinks you’re talking about French Montana’s version when you mention “Going In For the Kill” in conversation.
LEP are the most interesting generic gangster rap group out today; it sounds backhanded, and the degree to which it is depends on your investment in the sensibility they’re reviving. They’re aiming to embody the cliche and the archetype of classic American gangster rap. They have ambitious videos, blockbuster beats, and straightforward concepts. But somehow, this has made them stand out more; in an era where everyone is either explicitly retro or relentlessly modern, they have a contemporary sound wedded to a classicist old-soul approach. Rather than aiming for the hyperrealism of contemporary hip-hop, they shifted towards the theatrical, the constructed, the fictional. While ‘fiction’ is something most rappers shy away from — and LEP, in this interview, stick to the notion that what they tell are true-to-life stories — the group’s authenticity is only significant inasmuch as it informs their style. The stories they tell don’t ring false; instead, they’re obviously representational, films rather than documentaries.
It’s this ambition, I think, that lets them punch above their weight class. Commentators on Fake Shore Drive occasionally argue that Count should leave the group behind, and while his rap style is definitely crucial to the group, I think that what has separated them from a lot of similarly-talented artists is that they seem to yearn to be something bigger than themselves. Noz compared their style to Rick Ross’ on the Fader blog, and I think that, of anyone, Ross is the one who best reflects a similar approach. Larger-than-life cinematic ambition, a theatrical flair, that is retro but only in an abstract, spiritual sense.
Anyway, here are some excerpts from the interview I conducted with Count, Moonie and the group’s manager Eric “E” Jones. We spoke over drinks at a bar in Logan Square this past September.
On their early experiences with music:
COUNT: I was listening to stuff like NWA, man. Couldn’t help but listen to old dusties because my mom was playing it in the house. Listened to house music because you couldn’t get away from that in Chicago. You really couldn’t get away from church music neither in the house. I listened to a lot of stuff, man, all kinds of music. And there was sometimes, when videos first came out, they were just playing basically rock videos, and you look at it and listen to it so many times and then you start liking it, so you know … I just liked all kinds of music. Nirvana, “Smells like Teen Spirit.” House music, like I said, you couldn’t evade that — can’t forget the DJ, man [consults with the others] Frankie Knuckles, man.
On the first tape/record he purchased on his own as a kid:
COUNT: Run-DMC, “Walk This Way.”
MOONIE: Something like … NWA. I was a fan of EPMD, too. I liked them a lot as well. The duo groups, crazy that me and [Count] are in a group now, coming up as solo artists–they had [more] group albums back then, actually. To grow up and be in a group, you know…. I liked stuff like Eazy E, NWA pretty much. Fan of Dr. Dre, NWA, Snoop Dogg. Jay-Z. Who didn’t like Jay-Z? Take it down south, I was always a fan of Ludacris too, because I pretty much liked how he always stayed in his lane. Luda did Luda! Regardless of whatever, they were gangbanging, or talking about selling dope. Luda was just a comical rapper who was fresh to me. [But] I listen to whatever. I don’t have a person where I’m just like, I like this, I’m a person who likes all music. Classical, rock, jazz, whatever it is. I’m a fan of all music.
On how the group got together:
COUNT: It was about thirteen years ago, man, we met up. I met him, E, it was a crazy story. He used to come down to the Ickes, you know, lotta money, lotta cars. Girls or whatever. But he had a girl that stayed down there, so he would come down there a lot. We were plotting on him, to rob him or whatever. And someone introduced me to him another time, and that’s when I was rapping down there just for fun. And somebody was like, I know somebody starting up a label, one of the first one or two labels ever in Chicago. I’m like, oh, that’s what’s up. Come to find out, [it was] the guy that I’m plotting on. He gave me the history on him, that wouldn’t have been a good move. To make a long story short, I’m glad it didn’t go like that, because now we have bigger endeavors, big moves being made, that’s my brother. We have thirteen years in. Moonie, we been together 13 years but he went away a couple years. THat put us on hold for a little bit, but as soon as he got back we got right back on it, from the ground up, independent.
Moonie on his experience in prison:
MOONIE: I’d definitely say it changed some things about my life. It’s just a chapter in my book that I’m past now. It taught me to be patient and take things more serious. Every day isn’t promised to you. And damn sure it taught me to appreciate freedom….
…Well, the things I regret… You know, sometimes when you get caught up in the lifestyle you never think about what could happen, sometimes you live for the moment. And sometimes when you live for the moment, you don’t think about the future, you know? You just think about what’s going on right now. I gotta get it, it’s quick, it’s easy. The moment when something happens, that’s when you start thinking about the future. What I regret is thinking about the moment, not the future. At that time, with what went down with me and my situation, I also regretted being selfish. Because I was only thinking about myself. To a certain degree–but it was mostly for me, though. I can honestly say that. Now that chapter in my book is passed, and I’m just doing a lot of things differently in my life. I don’t only think about myself, I think about my peers that’s around me, you know, because what I do affects everyone. We living through each other, but we also have to make the right decisions, and being in jail was definitely the part that made me see that, dude, you have to grow up. You gotta start thinking about what you’re doing, you gotta grow up. That just because it’s sitting right in front of your face doesn’t mean that it’s always good, you know.
COUNT: We don’t advocate that lifestyle, of the street. I definitely wouldn’t tell nobody to go do it. But it gives us a story to tell, man, we go through things. God got a plan for everybody, we go through things that make us better as people and sometimes God uses us as tools. People might look up to us, you know, we’ve got a fanbase as well, a young fanbase as well. We’re not preaching to them but they’re not gonna listen to you if you haven’t been through it. We’ve been through it so we’re able to give back to our community and tell ’em, don’t do it, reasons why not to do it. And then in our music, we’ve got true stories so they can understand, yeah, they really went through it, they’re telling us not to do it, there must be something to it.
E: They can like the music, but they don’t have to do it. You can live vicariously through the music.
On the videos they’ve put together:
COUNT: We basically come up with our own treatments. We’ve been doing a lot of videos for some years, and we just sit back and just look like, it’s getting really boring just doing what we call “performance shots,” just rapping or whatever, so we want to take it to another level, where we can look at it like, man, that’s dope. Just make it a movie, man, let’s take it to the next level. We gigging now trying to take our music to the next level. [Going In for the Kill] was like a mini-movie, that was a piece of a movie, in fact. [It] was a section out of our movie coming out called Bogus Boys. But even before that, though, we just had visions of making it theatrical, make it entertaining to look at, not just us rapping.
On beat selection and musical approach:
COUNT: We just go with what feels good and sounds good. We come to the studio, man, we get beats sent to us all the time. We also go out, hit the road man, go to different states, mess with different producers, get in the studio with them. Having a beat come on, whether it’s a south beat, a crossover rock beat, samples, whatever man, we just go by what sounds good, we gonna put our story to it. Don’t get that type of stigma we just do that one certain type or we go looking for a certain type of song….Very flexible, man, we just, good music, we with it.
On what keeps them motivated to get where they are today:
COUNT: Die-hard fans, man, but we came too far. We put in a lot independent, had a lot of doors slammed in our face. As well as some opening up to us, some people real receptive to us, helping us out with our projects, a lot of websites, a lot of people in the industry, man, want to see us win, so that gives us motivation. When they slam the door in our face, it just gives us the motivation to go harder. We’re not taking no for an answer. We put a lot into this, and we’re gonna see this through. We’re talented and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be where we want to be.
MOONIE: We understood when we came into this game that we were gonna get more no’s than yes’s. I think it was just like last year when we were in line and we saw Drake. And I was like, man, there go Drake right there, and before I could say something to him he approached us and was like, “man, I love you guys, I love the music that you’re doing. I’m a fan, my hat’s off to you guys.” You know, when you hear something like that, that just gives you an extra breath just to keep going, just go a little bit more. You know you’re onto something, when people like that, the heirarchies of the game are acknowledging you.
E: See what happens in the struggle that we’re going through, it only makes us stronger. The Chicago music scene is struggling. There’s some decent people that can do more for the city that haven’t. When you start always looking for help, you start looking inside yourself and pull the best out of you. So a long time ago we stopped asking for help. We’ve been in the deals with Sony. And they didn’t know what to do with LEP. And people were getting afraid, shying away from us. We didn’t want to pay the DJs and go into payola. So what we started doing was investing in ourselves, started shooting more videos, started doing more with LEP instead of what everybody else wanted us to do. We started doing what works for LEP and at the end of the day it’s paid off. It’s OK to accept guidance from other people, but at the end of the day you’ve got to take your music, your craft, your skills, and chime in on what you really need to do and push it out the way it needs to be. Like Count was saying earlier, we don’t advocate violence, but we’re going to explain to you where we came from, what we’re going through, and what the people around us have been through. So we got a story to tell. Especially coming out of Chicago where we’re not privileged to have record labels here, like the Def Jams, the Universals, the Sonys. We have to really create some noise down here in the midwest to actually get the recognition we needed. And at this point in time we were actually chasing that deal, we was chasing it! And when we actually decided–we started getting booked without the label, what do we really need them for? We’d like to make a business relationship work, only if it makes sense. Because we don’t want to give up our creative control, our freedom, to be put on the shelf.
On the 360 degree major label deal:
COUNT: You know what man, somebody told me, I forget who it was, not too long ago. Artists like Elvis Presley were offered 360 deals back in the day, that was how it really started out. It’s like a gift and a curse to me, man. If somebody gives you a 360 and they want everything of what you produce, they’re gonna work for you. They’re gonna make sure you get some work, so they can get paid. So it can work for somebody, especially somebody — no disrespect to nobody — especially somebody who got kinda lazy. Or just don’t have what it takes to just get out. Some people have talent, man, and don’t have get-up-and-go or good business sense. So 360 deals will work for you. You’ve got somebody working for you, you’re getting paid. Our staff, our CEO, man, he basically makes the decisions on that so I’m gonna turn that over to him. I don’t think it’s all bad.
E: Pretty much you answered properly. For some people that need that kind of help — I mean we all need help to a certain extent — but not to a point where we need to be spoon-fed. I think we pretty much control a lot of stuff that goes on inside — we do all the work ourselves, from getting on blog sites, getting on MTV, we’re self-contained. So you’ve got people that can’t see that far. Even like for us, the 360 deals, for people that — it can help you if you don’t have the resources. But for somebody like us, we got this thing turning ourselves so the only thing a label could do is jump in and push it. But it would make sense for us to give them a 360 deal, or if they’re doing like 5% of everything–it would really have to make sense for us to get into bed with them.
On Chicago hip-hop artists:
COUNT: Man, I like ’em all, I support ’em all, there’s too many to name. You got your gangster rappers, your Bump J’s, your Sly’s, your Bo Deal’s, you got your Kids in the Hall, Rockie Fresh, Cool Kids, King Louie. We support ’em. It’s a city, we brothers, this city needs to be uplifting. On that note, we support ’em all. Let it be known, LEP Bogus Boys support all Chicago artists.
E: We growing up, LEP growing up. Def Jam offered us a deal. E1 offered us a deal. Sony even called us back. We just going with the right deal that makes the right decision for LEP. Because I honestly do feel like we have the city on our back. And they watch what we do. You asked earlier about the movies, we make our videos like movies, cinematic, that’s how Michael Jackson made his videos back in the day. We try to bring the best out, man, work extra hard. That’s one thing about us, we work work work. We’ve got six videos right now that we haven’t released. It’s funny that we’re gonna talk with MTV tomorrow because we’ve got so many videos we’re releasing two at a time. We’re releasing the Mobb Deep and the 2 Chainz video at the same time. We might do the Rick Ross with the Raheem DeVaughn. Because we’re working hard. We’re just working hard. We’re not playing with them. If they’re twiddling their thumbs, or they’re worried about what we’re doing, that’s the worst thing you can do, because we’re in the studio, we’re in the basement, we’re shooting our videos, a lot of times our social lives suffer. You’ve got to sacrifice something if you really want this to work.
COUNT: I just want to add to that, man, LEP man, we support all artists. We use this expression, like to kick the door down, because Chicago a consumer market, they want to keep us as buyers. We want to take them lashes like Jesus Christ, man, and get through the door, open the door for other artists who can’t see past that. They might get discouraged when they get the door slammed on ’em, or it’s just not happening for them quick enough, or they run out of resoures, run out of funds, know what I’m saying. So we’ve been blessed to still keep going even though we’ve had doors slammed in our face. We brothers in the struggle, man. We represent the struggle, we represent the people, gonna do it for the city and do it for hip-hop.
On different musical approaches:
COUNT: You know what man, people got to understand too that we human beings. We like to go to clubs, we do live our life. We do like women. We do like cars, we do like money, we like clothes. So don’t put that stigma on us, like, we can’t do a club song, we like to go to the clubs, we like club music. We’ll make a song about women, we get mad too, we might disrespect–well, not disrespect, but we might feel this way towards a woman that day. It’s not calculated, it’s how we feel that day. We like all types of things, man, you can’t stick us with just one thing. We got girlfriends, some of us got kids, we got mamas. We lose guys, that died, and go to jail. We feel remorse for certain things we do. So music is a way of expressing, so when we express something, don’t be like, oh well, that’s a gangster rap group, why are they talking about God? We believe in God, we fear God. You’re never too gangster for God. So we talk about a lot of different things, there’s a lot of different things in our lives.
E: Fact is, being here in the midwest, we take a little bit from everybody. We take a little 808 from down south, we can take some of a bassline from an LA beat. One thing about us is that we can do any kind of music and people won’t look at us funny. But I still think that we have our own lingo, our own style that people haven’t tapped into. This is still really an untapped market. And that’s what LEP is here to do. The first record we came out with–because they wanted us to put the Gucci out first–and we came out with the Chicago song. Well, we wanted people to know what Chicago’s really like, our perception of Chicago. Because contrary to a lot of artists that doing their thing out here, we represent the have-nots. This city is 99 and one third percent gangster. Since Al Capone and probably before him.
On the clothing sold through their website:
MOONIE: Yeah, I think the first week we put the clothes out, we sold a hundred tees–shout out to everybody who went to lepbogusboys.com and bought some apparel, salute to y’all.
E: He’s being modest, he does most of the designs, the leather jackets and the hoodies. Moonie do all the clothing, the color schemes, a lot of that is Moonie’s work.
COUNT: THis is the G Count, man, and my favorite out of all of them, and Moonie put this together man, we got the blue jean jackets, the blue jean LEP Bogus BOys jackets, that’s my favorite, it’s the freshest, got every color, make sure you go get that. We got some dope apparel, we got some letterman jackets, some varsity jackets, soccer jackets, coach jackets.
E: This is crazy, we got a few people in Chicago who supported us, Chicago supported us, but a lot of our following is from overseas. From Switzerland, Denmark, France, China–we was hoping that they didn’t start making their own shirts–that means that people are watching us around the globe. It’s only a matter of time, it just keeps growing and growing, you know.
Count: We been getting shows, like 3-4 shows booked per week, man, and God’s blessing us it’s enough, to keep us going, keep us relevant, keeping our visuals out there man. Gas in the tour bus, to go state to state, hotels and things. They paying us for shows, we get the hotels and all that come with it. It’s balancing out, it’s all legitimate.
E: A lot of our fanbase is on the East Coast, believe it or not. We started out in Kentucky, we hit Atlanta, but after we did a little bit of the South, we went up on the East Coast, we’ve done Boston, we’ve done Connecticut, we’ve done Providence, New York. And they just love us on the East Coast. Because I guess we’ve got an East Coast feel, but we gangster enough to be in the South. Half our fanbase be like blacks, hood, mixing with other races, that’s actually caucasian, asian, hispanic. We got a lot of hispanic fans. The hood come and see us but we got these other people who come like we fuck with you too.
COUNT: LEP started in the hood, in Chicago, on the streets. Wrap vans, just only in Chicago. From that point we started going to small towns in Illinois, Springfield, then you start hitting midwest cities, Iowas, Ohios. Then out of the clear blue we started getting booked at shows like SOB’s, South by Southwest, that opened us up to whole different markets man, caucasian markets, asian markets. All different races of people who love hip-hop. So now it’s not just hood venues, we doing festivals and things like that.
E: South by Southwest we did 14 shows. Fifteen shows. So we only down there like three or four days, they was working us hard. But we walked away with a bigger fanbase. Like we just got booked to do the AC3 festival down in Atlanta.
Artists Count listens to these days:
COUNT: I keep abreast of what’s going on, the hottest new groups. Now I’m listening to Meek Mill, still listen to Ross, still listen to Jeezy. I’m getting into things like Tyler the Creator. I’m aware of these people, whether I’m a fan of the music or not, I support it all. For the most part, we are in the studio 20 hours a day, so I’m likely to hear nothing but LEP man.