Lee West, 30, is an up and coming Bay Area artist who will soon release his album Mr. West The Gentleman. A few weeks ago he sat down with CSUITEMUSIC Managing Editor, Michaela P. Shelton for an exclusive interview.
What kind of music do you make and how did you become an artist?
I am an energetic, feel good, hip hop connoisseur for the fun, the love, the sex, the life, the pain, the heartache. Predominantly now my music is focused more so on pertaining to enjoying life, making women feel good, not belittled, I want woman to feel sexy, empowered, wanted and cherished. How I started with music was back in 2004, like a bunch of high school buddies got together and started rapping around, because that’s when everybody was listening to Diligentz, The Pack, Too $hort, E-40, Mistah Fab, just a bunch of local Bay Area artists. But the type of music I did then is nowhere like what I do now, it was more about the hyphy, getting turnt up, fooling with that chick, this chick, there was a lot of growing up for me I guess you could say. With my music realm I just took a different route and broke away from the group. I’ve been solo now since 2013, but the group I was in was called Young Stunnaz *Laughs*, I’m laughing cause of the group, we could of came up with something better than that. The other members went on to do what they did in life and I decided to stay with the music.
Why did you create Team West Entertainment?
I created Team West Entertainment last August. I’m still working out the kinks, there’s a lot to know as an entrepreneur, but after seeing the attention I got even from my merchandise alone and the music on top of that I was like oh! I got something here *smiles*. Let’s see what other avenues I can mosey on down.
Did you always know you wanted to pursue music?
No I was a football player who wanted to play sports, football and basketball. Eighth grade I wanted to be like MJ and once I got to high school I got exposed to playing organized football cause growing up I never got a chance to so I didn’t know what it was like to play for an actual football team, and then that was it. But I didn’t always want to do music, I wanted to play sports that was my first first love, I wanted to be a professional athlete. I went to Boise State for a little bit, then I had my son and that’s when I stopped doing sports altogether, took care of my lil man, got a job, music wasn’t even existing then.
What made you decide to use your real name as your artist name?
Cause that’s who I am, Lee West is an artist to me. In high school my favorite class was creative writing and Lee West was creative and I was writing poems, so as an artist I realized I didn’t need a gimmicky name. I happen to be a Jr., I just didn’t put my middle initial or my suffix on there. When people hear my name they’re like oh that’s your stage name and I’m like that’s my real name too and they’re like it sounds like a superstar already and I’m like aw thank you, I appreciate that.
In what ways do you promote yourself?
Going to other events and showing support to other artists, telling them what I’m doing. Doing shows in different cities and states and people are like oh who is this guy? I like your set, you were dope. I’m my own walking billboard. You know I got my shirts and my hoodies, my beanies and my wristbands. I’m thinking of getting more merchandise, but I have to see what else people are interested in, some girl hit me up saying she would totally love a Team West bikini and I was like girl *laughs*.
Why should people listen to you as opposed to other artists?
Well I don’t want to knock nobody’s hustle at all, but listen to me because you want to feel the organic love, the genuine concern, the passion of an artist, because I’m not just writing stuff that people can relate to, but real life experiences from other people’s standpoints. Not everyone is going to like everything that I put out, but there are some people that can tie into it and that’s what I love the most. When you look at Lee West I want to connect with my fan base, I like to sit out there and talk to them, write em a message, I’ll send em an email, I just mailed off my CD to all my fans for free. You ask yourself as an artist, what would you want from your favorite artist? And I would want to sit down and have a conversation with my favorite artist, no egos.
Now we are going to switch gears and get a little more personal. What kind of child were you growing up?
High school I was the biggest flirt, class clown dude. I had my stuff together but when I was younger I wouldn’t say I was a troublemaker, but I got into some trouble. But I was always the ladies man, there was girls that I liked and I chased after them. When we had reading circles I would try to put my hands underneath their booties while we were reading, I was bad *laughs*. I had a thing for booties when I was young, that’s like my weakness. I wasn’t bad though, not til high school that’s when I started fighting.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in your life?
When I had to fight for custody of my son. My son’s mom wanted full custody like three months after he was born, because we weren’t together, that was probably the hardest thing ever, because I was 19 and I had no idea what I was doing. That was by far the hardest thing I had to deal with, because I didn’t know what the hell I was getting myself into, I didn’t know anything about court and records being subpoenaed. It is a lot to learn at 19, because you’re not in that realm, it’s like no you have to do this now and you have to stick with it. And it’s not something I talk about in my music, I leave that alone, because my son’s mom and I have a cool relationship and I don’t want to be one of those dudes that throws his baby mama under the bus, but we grew over the years and we got a lot better, but the beginning of that, that’s why I have these grey hairs, I was stressed out.
What is the hardest obstacle you’ve faced as an artist?
Right now I would say the maximum exposure like getting your music out there to everybody and trusting people in the industry with your money. You don’t know who’s actually going to use your money wisely, because at the end of the day what you invest in yourself you’d like to see a return plus profit. Cause if I’m investing say $950 into myself, I’m looking to make $1,800 so that it covers that and I got something off the top. Even if it’s only a $100 off the top, that’s a win. But you don’t know, until you try, that’s the scariest part about the music industry, because if you say you’re going to do it all alone, you’re going to keep hitting these walls.
How did you get the opportunity to open to Eric Bellinger?
I pay attention to see who’s coming into our city, and I look for who’s coming outside our city. I work with the booking company Sean Healy, and I apply for gigs and they have to accept you. When Eric Bellinger was coming to Oakland it was like should I try to get on that ticket and they were like if you do it we have to send it over to his team and they have to screen your music and you want it to be your R&B tracks. I was like oh Lee you got some heat boi you better go head and send this grown man s***! *Laughs* His team was rocking with the music and the booking team hit me back and said it’s a go and after that I said aight let me put together a plan for this show and that’s when I bought five dozen roses and handed them out to the crowd. I was the only artist to do it and it was a good time. Being on the stage is something nobody can ever take away from me and I enjoy entertaining.
If you could only pick three artists to listen to for the rest of your life, who would you listen to?
J.Cole, Ace Hood and Nipsey Hussle, those three, because they make like street motivational type s*** that’s gonna get you hype and turnt, it’s real life s*** that pertains to like corporate and in the streets. It’s f****** mind blowing s*** that these artists come up with. I would hope they all write their own s**** but IDK. But those three dudes I believe they all write their own s***, I’m rockin with them.
What advice do you have for other aspiring artists?
Get a good group of people around you that truly support you and never give up on what you believe in. Everyday live life like it’s your last and if you’re at a point where you go to sleep at night and you’re satisfied, then you’ve reached it. I’m not satisfied when I go to sleep, so it’s always something I continue to do. And you got to have that hunger, that type of dog inside of you, that burning desire to want more as an artist. Utilize all your resources that you can, start off with all the free ones first and foremost and then do your research on the ones you have to pay for and see how they can help elevate you as an artist to the next level. And not just do things in your own backyard, but branch out across New York and whatever the case may be. Cause what will be unique is Nas on a hyphy beat not Nas on a New York beat cause you already know what that sounds like. Just find ways to be innovative and you can change the game, but always be true to you, don’t ever be a sell out or try to copy someone else, let that artist be that artist. My advice to artists is don’t change up, but if you do change only make it an elevational change. You want it to be progressive.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I highly advise other artists in the independent spectrum to look into starting a business for themselves. Take and want your own funds from yourself. You can hire someone to be your manager, you can hire someone to run your company, but let it be your company, that all the money is coming back and filtered through, so you know what’s going on with your stuff. Nothing wrong with going out there and getting a record deal cause I’m pretty sure it could help jump start a lot of things for you, but you want to be a part of your own destiny. Why would you slave for someone else when you could live out yours?
Michaela P. Shelton is Managing Editor of CSUITEMUSIC.com
Read more from Michaela at Darealmichaela1.com