[MUSIC] Tracey Lee: The Journey
It’s interviews as such that make me love what I do. With this feature, we are blessed with the opportunity of catching up with rapper Tracey Lee! Despite the fact he’s been away from the limelight for 16-years, anyone who was a hip-hop fan throughout the nineties knows just who I’m talking about. Tracey Lee was in the same circle as most of the biggest artists of that era. His debut album, ‘Many Facez’, yielded the huge singled “The Theme”, and “Keep Your Hands High” with The Notorious B.I.G.. Despite the level of success Tracey reached with this album, the shift of the entertainment industry as a whole resulted in his dropping from Universal Music.
With this feature, we’ll actually serve multiple purposes. First, we’ll see how he was able to miraculously turn his life around after losing his record deal, and being kicked out of his mother’s home as a result. The biggest triumph in it all is the fact that he earned his Juris Doctorate, and has since become a licensed entertainment attorney. Tracey is definitely leading the pack, as this is the first time you’ve seen any rapper become an attorney. Not only that, but he’s now making a triumphant return to music. It’s definitely a new site to see a practicing attorney in the scene as an artist, but that is the beauty it. This is a piece that will show artists what they can do in the face of defeat. It also shows them what they can do when they take control of their lives in the right way and apply themselves. Tracey has negotiated contracts now for some pretty powerful artists, who you’ll learn about later in the article, but what’s amazing is now he can now
negotiate is own future projects, should he ever go that route. At this point, that isn’t even a thought. In addition to his law practice work, he’s running his own companies alongside his wife, and ultimately showing other artists that it can be done.
In our interview, we talked about everything from his deal he had with Universal, to being dropped, kicked out, and going back to school. He also talks about starting his family, having his first child, and his ultimate return to music. He lets us in on the very things he took for granted as an artist signed to a major label, that now he’s most certainly up on, and trust that many other artists are in the same boat. A law degree will surely clean that all up though. Knowledge is definitely power! With a more mature style, will he be accepted in today’s climate? Is his law degree a benefit, or disadvantage? He’s telling it all with no filter. We’re taking you through Tracey’s journey, right here at Urban Grandstand Digital.
Urban Grandstand Digital: What’s been going on man? It’s been a long time since you’ve been out there.
Tracey Lee: Oh man, a lot. I guess when I left Universal, which was in 2001, I was trying to figure out my next mission and purpose. The trials and tribulations of the music industry took me to law school. I got my law degree in 2006.
Urban Grandstand Digital: So this was in entertainment law?
Tracey Lee: Yea, well when you talk about a JD (Juris Doctorate) you talk about all aspects, but I decided to concentrate on entertainment once I became a licensed Attorney. Entertainment is where I came from. It’s a natural progression. It was not only to protect myself in future endeavors, but also those behind me.
Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s funny talking about a Juris Doctorate because at one point, I started on a path of doing the same, but I opted to just go for my Masters in Journalism and keep that going. I think it’s outstanding that you did it though. Like you said, it helps as far as learning the business and dealing with the snakes.
Tracey Lee: Absolutely, and trust me, I had no intention on becoming a lawyer. That was the furthest thing from my mind, but because of the situations I put myself in, I knew I had to wake up and be smart about it.
Urban Grandstand Digital: So have you started practicing law now that you have the degree in hand?
Tracey Lee: Actually, I’ve negotiated a few contracts. I worked with Eric Roberson, who is considered the number one independent R&B artist. I still negotiate his contracts, or production agreements to be more specific. Algebra Blessett, I also negotiate for her as well.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Man. Algebra Blessett! Absolutely love her music. She’s someone we’re definitely looking to connect with for the magazine.
Tracey Lee: That’s what’s up. That’s my sister. We go way back, and we’ve done things musically together. Now she has me for her legal stuff. I’ve also done some work with Kelly Rowland. So it’s like, in the midst of being an artist and being creative with the music, I still use my skill set as a lawyer to pick and choose who I deal with in the industry. I also use it to school younger cats who are trying to get in the game. They need it the most because they are the ones who get miseducated and misguided the most about the music industry. I was one of them.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I would think; though, that when you’re in negotiations, the last thing anyone would expect is that you know contract law, and are actually an Attorney.
Tracey Lee: Right, but you know, hopefully and prayerfully, through interviews like this and exposure I look to get in the next 6-months to a year, people will begin to realize that I’m a lawyer. This could also make things more difficult for me though. Now, they know they can’t just sell me anything.
Urban Grandstand: So where are you headed in returning to music?
Tracey Lee: Absolutely. Truth of the matter is I left it from a commercial perspective, but I never stopped doing music. I have tons of songs I’ve done throughout the last 15 or 16 years. This now is my first independent release. I’m a partner with my wife, Left Entertainment. I feel like this is God’s gift. This is the gift he gave to me to profess, perfect and put out into the world. So I release the ESQ Revelations. It’s a culmination of the last 16 years, basically telling the story I’ve been through, the journey I took, why it took me so long, and the purpose here moving forth.
Urban Grandstand Digital: So obviously, the last time you were out there was with Universal, so you were with the majors. What will be the biggest difference now in the fact that you’re independent, and the biggest benefit? I for one think it’s so much better to be independent when you’ve been in this for so long.
Tracey Lee: No question. One of the things I’ve discovered being independent are some of the things I took for granted being on a major. It was more of the administrative aspect than the creative aspect. Things like registering every song with BMI so that you keep tabs on your spins. Making sure you have all codes in place, UPC codes, ISRC codes, and making sure these things are in place so you actually get paid for your work when somebody is playing your record. These are the things I took for granted, but with that said, I don’t mind doing the work. I know now that I control everything that happens. I understand where all my streams of income are coming from.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Not only that, but when you put it in someone else’s hands to do, they tend to slip up when they don’t benefit. By you doing it all, you know it’s done, or if it’s not done then you know why you didn’t get a check.
Tracey Lee: (laughing) Exactly. I can’t point the finger at anyone. Being signed to a label gives you the wiggle room to play the blame game.
Urban Grandstand Digital: How has it been returning to the forefront of music? It’s been a long time since people have heard from you.
Tracey Lee: I’m not gon’ front. I’ll keep it all the way 100. It’s been an uphill battle. You have your naysayers, asking why they should listen or give it a chance. I run into that a lot, but I have faith. I have the utmost confidence that once you do put your ear on the music it’ll blow you away. But here’s the other challenge. The music game has changed, not only from business, but the creative aspect. I have not assimilated with the new sound that is in the commercial market place. I’m from the old school, for lack of a better term. I’m from a school where the sound was different; it wasn’t synthesized, and it was more live instrumentation. It was more boom bap. More kicks and snares. More breaks. These are the things I bring to the table now, which may seem newer to the new generation, but it’s really an adaptation of the old sound, and the old way of doing things. Even from a lyrical standpoint, I’m not simplistic at all. I take pride in owning my craft as a lyricist. I take my time with everything I say. I’m not degrading women. I’m not fornicating, and I’m not selling the youth on an idea of drinking and drugging as a lifestyle. I’ve grown and matured. I’ve lived. I’m not saying I’m a saint, but I lived through that. There’s a new message out here.
Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s great because that’s what you and I want to hear with hip-hop, but do you feel like it puts you at a disadvantage because with everything you’re not doing, everyone else is doing it.
Tracey Lee: It’s interesting that you say it. It’s like the glass half empty, glass half full. Some people say it’s a disadvantage, but I think it’s an advantage because now I’m doing something nobody else is doing. I’m giving you a message. The majority of people will say it’s a disadvantage. Matter of fact, in the gym today, this cat that bought my album said “I love it, but you know some people say it’s ten years too late”. I’m like, who dictates that it’s ten years too late? Is it because you haven’t heard from me in a while? Have you even heard the music to make that determination? Nine times out of ten, you haven’t heard the music. You’re just going on the surface.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I think with anything, you have people who criticize and speculate. It’s just like with Urban Grandstand Digital! We don’t cover when Drake and Chris Brown are fighting, and stuff like that, because to me, it’s supposed to be about the art form, and the talent that’s being presented. All the other stuff is a distraction. But to many, that places us at a disadvantage because society wants to hear the drama and see the madness.
Tracey Lee: But actually you’re working at an advantage. Now we have some place to go if we really want to get into the culture and get a different perspective.
Urban Grandstand Digital: People that you’ve worked with in the past, like Busta Rhymes, do you find that there is support from them with your return? And I only mentioned him because actually, a few days ago I was listening to the track you’d done with him in the late nineties.
Tracey Lee: Not yet. I haven’t run into Busta, or anyone I was affiliated with in the past. That’s just because I haven’t been on the scene. I’m sure when I do see them, it’ll be love. People will be caught by surprise. A few may say what is he doing here? That’s what I look forward. I want to see these people’s faces. I know there are probably some naysayers that counted me out, and it’s funny that when I run across people and hear that I’m a lawyer now, and the reaction you see when they hear I have a new album, this is almost like an oxymoron. It’s definitely a novelty. They’ve never seen anything like this before. I’m looking forward to the reaction.
Urban Grandstand Digital: So talk more about the new material:
Tracey Lee: It’s a combination of the music I grew up on. It’s definitely hip-hop. It’s definitely boom bap. It’s heavy percussion, sample driven, and a mature sound. It’s live instrumentation and background vocals. Heavy lyrical. It’s taking you on a journey of my life over the last 16 years. Getting dropped from the label, to going to law school, to trying to find my way, being flat broke, working at a furniture store in Atlanta. My mom kicked me out of the crib after I got dropped. She said you have to find your way. It’s about me growing up and maturing, and meeting my future wife. It’s about us figuring out what our journey would be together, and eventually having our first child. It’s my life, and I put it all on wax. If you go to my website, or iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play, you can get it. We’re just working now to get traction as far as radio is concerned, but that’s a whole different political game.
Urban Grandstand Digital: So what do we get next? What else is coming up?
Tracey Lee: Shows are definitely on the horizon. We’re in the process of building with a booking agent to see about venues, and who we can attach ourselves to along the same demographic. We’re also looking forward to speaking on panels, lecturing, and different things like that.
Urban Grandstand Digital: So I have to ask where Cleveland fits into the grand scheme in terms of shows?
Tracey Lee: Oh hey man, listen! If we can get there, I’d love to. Cleveland was a big deal for me. I’ve come there a couple times.
Urban Grandstand Live: It’s still a big deal too man. We would love to see you here though.
Tracey Lee: Absolutely. The entire Midwest was a great market for me. Y’all are a problem right now. Y’all got Johnny Football up there, Lebron James! It’s a lot happening.
Urban Grandstand: What else is going on that everyone should know?
Tracey Lee: I must reiterate, Tracey Lee ESQ, The Revelation! In all digital stores! Also on my website. TraceyLeeMusic.com. In addition, we run a company called Lleft Entertainment. We have a publishing side that my wife deals with! We have books out there for the kids. A few books! You can go to Nelsonpublishingbooks.com, or Lleftent.com. They make great stocking stuffers.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I think it’s great that you’ve come back and tapped into so many different things. I mean music, publishing and books, and law obviously! These things will surely keep you out there.
Tracey Lee: Absolutely. What we’re trying to do it tap into the black family and black culture. One of our biggest peeves is making sure these kids read. Put down the Play Station, put a book in front of your face and read. It’s a lot going on in society right now, and they obviously don’t care about us. We want to make sire we are taking care of our own.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Any final words at all?
Tracey Lee: We covered Lleftent.com, traceyleemusic.com, nelsonpublishingbooks.com, Facebook under Tracey Lee Fanpage, Twiteer at @traylee, and I’m on instagram at @traceyleeesq and besides that, thank you for the opportunity to get our voices heard. I want to tell the people that when they’re introduced to new music, don’t be afraid to press play!