LEE SCOTT is a rapper, producer and fashion guru hailing from Castlefields, Runcorn, who has spent the majority of his adult life in Liverpool. After first gaining national attention in his early 20s through a series of classic underground projects, he then went on to create the label Blah Records as a medium through which he could release his and his friends’ brand of uncompromising hip hop.
That was way back in 2006 (before Facebook existed), and the landscape of British urban music has changed dramatically since then. Grime made a resurgence, gaining mainstream attention; the drill movement resonated with the youth and found a new home over here; and UK hip hop artists started getting a lot more exposure. Co-signs off industry peers, a few inspired signings (Black Josh, Stinkin Slumrok, Bisk, Danny Lover) and a constant stream of quality product has seen Lee play his role in this renaissance, with the Blah sound almost becoming a sub-genre in its own right.
I’ve known Lee since around the time the label was formed and have watched his brainchild slowly become a reality. I decided to bell him when I was drunk to ask him various intrusive questions about his rise and rise, and interrupt him whenever he was about to disclose anything of worth. Every time I call him, there’s always something new happening, he’s always doing something. This time was no different…
Bang On: “What ya up to?”
Lee: “I’m just in the studio, working on Cult Mountain 3, sounding boss like. Did you
see the track I was on with Dike?”
I had, it was dope.
Cult Mountain is a supergroup made up of Trellion, Milkavelli, Lee Scott and Sumgii who have been co-signed by The Alchemist and whose merch is sported by Skepta, among others. Their popularity is understandable, but this facet of Lee’s artistry feels as natural as any other and makes no plays towards the popularity it has gone on to acquire. The video for Whoa, on the other hand, which had dropped a couple of weeks earlier, saw Lee collaborate with Dirty Dike of High Focus Records again (the pair released a collaborative album last year which also gained him exposure to a whole new demographic).
I always find it hard to imagine rappers gelling easily in a studio environment. Often ego and bravado can stifle what would otherwise be a hive of creativity and productivity. It may be effortless alongside close friends, but the ability to adapt without compromising is something that Lee seems to have mastered to the point where he can make a home for himself in a wide variety of scenarios with a plethora of different individuals and aesthetics. I was eager to find out how this came about and how aware of it he was.
“Well, once I sort of got out of the mentality of, like, doing battles and all that, I got rid of that mentality of competing,” Lee says. “Like, you know the way in hip hop documentaries there’s always that guy that says, ‘It’s a sport!’ Well, for me, it’s not. When I’m making tracks I’m not going to try and write the best verse ever, I’m just going to try and make the best verse for this track. I cared a bit less – in a good way. That gave me confidence, too – to not second-guess myself. Then that made me, like, way more productive too.”
“Way more productive” equates to five projects in 2018 and “a load of features too”. Last year, Lee’s work ran across Attack Of The 50,000 (ft. Sweg Lawds from Outer Space, with Black Josh), Oh, The Fun We’re All Having, ADHD Concerto 77 (with Nobodies Home), Hock Tu 3 (with Reklews) and Lou Reed 2000. That’s impressive. The lack of a competitive drive may seem a strange catalyst for productivity, but this has led to a work ethic that must be respected as on a par with any of the hustler rappers out there who are heralded for this seemingly unsustainable, anaerobic output.
“When I stopped smoking weed I got way more productive too. It’s not something I like to go on about, and I can’t do what they do, but being honest I think I am one of the few people who is considered of a certain level technically or whatever, this style, who also puts out shitloads of music… I’m only saying that cos I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head right now.”
I still can’t.
Blah fans are referred to as ‘the cult’, an immersive experience has been cultivated for them by a seeming ever-presence. Every month a new release fleshes out the aesthetic and lifestyle depicted through art and sound. The merch has been pivotal too – through being more creative and daring than many of their contemporaries they have created their own lane. This has all been overseen and curated by Lee, he explained its importance.
“The real level-up on the merch happened with the 616 shit. You know how Odd Future came out they were wearing Supreme? But they don’t like… own Supreme? Well, we just thought, let’s do that but it will be our own clothing brand as opposed to someone else’s. We have the means, so why not? Obviously, we’d done Blah merch before the 616 thing, but the connections we made through that just helped. That’s where I really go in with mad designs. Scarves, jackets and all that. I suppose I was like: if am going to do it, I’m going to do it differently, in my own way, just the music.”
If Lee doesn’t fit the aesthetic of the average hustler rapper, he might not fit the typical mould of a fashionista, either. “When I was a kid I wanted a Helly Hansen because I liked the colours and the way they looked, so I saved up and found one in Cheshire Oaks and bought it. It was only years later that I saw Raekwon wearing one. So, when people say it’s not hip hop, that’s just funny to me because it’s just another creative outlet that I’m expressing myself through genuinely, so I’m not even trying
to be hip hop, but I kind of am anyway. People who don’t get that are probably the same ones that are telling me what type of music to make and accusing other people of only listening to us ’cos we’re cool or whatever.”
Somewhat of an anomaly, and certainly an enigma of sorts, his inability to pigeonhole himself into an easily digestible one-dimensional character might lead to the greatest peril of all geniuses: being misunderstood. His dry humour and use of irony and satire always seemed apparent, but I wondered whether this was lost on some of his audience.
“Yeh, I read something the other day in a review, it was positive, like, but it went on about my ‘dark persona’. I was like: ‘Huh?’ If I say something and it’s a bit harsh or whatever, it’s not a character or anything, it’s just a bit of a joke and I think people are just taking it literal like, they need to relax. I had this tune called Mid-Afternoon too, about being so broke ya bring up, like, 20p debts ya mate owes ya from last week – that’s not dark, we’ve all been there.”
In our long, meandering conversation I got no hint of this ‘dark persona’, in fact Lee seems to be in a really good place in his life at the moment. Achieving goals and committing to his passion full time as his sole source of revenue, his current status can in no way be understated and his grind cannot go un-respected. I asked him if he had ever thought of giving up?
“Yeh, one time, I weren’t really discussing it with anyone. I was signing on in Dingle and on one occasion it just struck me, like, ‘This is not enough money to live on’. I was smoking too much weed, I weren’t eating enough, I was completely broke and I weren’t even putting out tunes. They changed all the laws around that time and brought in ‘work placements’ where you would just go and work somewhere all day for no money, so I just had to decide at that moment, like, sink or swim. I started getting working tax credits, went self-employed and just went for it. I tried to do a normal job before then and I didn’t think, ‘I’m too good for this’ as such, I just thought, ‘If I keep doing this I’m going to jump off a cliff’. So I knew what I had to do and I did it.”
Even though we were talking over the phone, I knew from this brief pause that Lee looked out of the window and saw a shooting star at that exact moment. Rather than tell me about it, he let it inspire his words.
“I went on a suicide mission and I’m glad I did. Last week of November 2012 I went on Working Tax Credit and I’ve been off benefits now for five years. I fuckin’ love it, la, all of it, naming tracks, making the artwork, designing the clothes. If I’m not doing one thing, I’m doing another. I love it.”