Lil Leek Talks New Single “They Don’t Know” and Upcoming Project With Zaytoven

For the first New Artist Spotlight of 2022, rising rapper Lil Leek talks about his brand new single “They Don’t Know,” his mental health journey, and upcoming projects that include his own album and a collaborative EP with Zaytoven.

Congratulations on the release! What inspired the “They Don’t Know” music video?

The “They Don’t Know” music video is inspired by “Stan” (Eminem) and Dave Meyers. My rage, my anger, my emotions, that all played a big part in the video. And every aspect of the video touches on a certain part of the song, you know what I mean?

There’s apathy, there’s mania, there’s depression, there’s anger; almost character acting in a sense. What was it like channeling all the different emotions in the video?

I basically just had to get in character. I had to basically think of it as a movie. I tried to feel some of the things I was feeling back then. A lot of that in the video was real. I literally was screaming, slamming things, and punching things. It was kind of comfortable because it was, I could be me in this video. I let my rage out in this video.

The song’s production is pretty sparse, it’s mainly guitars and snaps. What was the intention behind creating such a sparse soundscape where your lyrics and your voice are pushed to the forefront?

I just wanted everybody to relax. I know bass is good. I love bass, it makes me dance. But I was thinking like, I like music without bass. I’m not really too big on “sound” because I hear sound all day. When I get in a car, I might be silent or I might put something that’s really relaxing, and that’s kind of how I wanted to make this song. I wanted it to be something that you can use as therapy. Something that you don’t necessarily have to dance to; it’s something that can get you through things. That was my inspiration for writing it. With the guitar and the snaps, I just wanted it to be like an old folk tale or like a campfire or a bedtime story.

Is “They Don’t Know” a precursor to a larger project about mental health as it relates to you as it relates to your own journey?

I make a lot of different music, but one of my strong suits, to me, is just making music about, not specifically mental health, but bettering people’s minds and knowledge. Letting them know that things are okay. My album is coming out after my mixtape; it’s gonna be a lot of those kinds of songs. Just a lot of things you can relate to.

How did you get to a place where you felt comfortable with yourself enough to be that honest and that vulnerable in your music?

It was a long journey because it wasn’t just about the music. I had to actually get therapy. I had to actually talk to people and better myself, and help myself grow and glow. So, that was the first aspect of it. And then that’s when I became able to actually learn how to put my words in music and how I can relieve some stress and anxiety by putting this down on a pad. I had to make myself feel comfortable. I had to know who I was and it took some trials and tribulations, it’s definitely a process when you try to understand yourself.

When it comes to being vulnerable in music and exploring themes of mental health, who do you think is doing a good job at that right now?

The thing is, a lot of people don’t really go into mental health, but they go into things we relate to. I like the people that have some substance when it comes to that. The only rap artist I listen to when it comes to that is Rod Wave. He’s really good at putting his feelings on paper. I like people with different sounds too. Childish Gambino, Anderson .Paak, Billie Eilish.

Sometimes when artists use mental health as a central theme in their music, people can perceive it as gimmicky or corny. How do you ensure your music feels authentic to you and to your listeners?

I just am me. I know I’m not a gimmick and I know I’m not corny, so I can only just be me. I don’t really try to think about if they going to think this is corny or not because this is my way of creativity and I do music for me. So music is my therapy and how I express what I got going on.

Would you define music as a sort of coping mechanism for you when you were dealing with a lot of stress?

Yeah. I’m not really too much of a talker in person, but when I get to put my words down, it’s better than my expressions. That’s my way of therapy.

What can you tell us about the album?

So, we got “They Don’t Know” coming out on the 17th of this month with the video. I also have another video coming out called “XO.” I really don’t have an exact date yet. Then the Zaytoven project, that’s coming out in the spring. So, my official project might come out in June. I got a lot of big things to drop before then.

How did you get in contact with Zaytovem?

My dad used to manage this group a long time ago called 4EY [The Future], and they had went and did music with him, but I just went just to be like a fly on the wall, just to learn. So, I wound up rapping to Zaytoven. Years ago he heard my stuff and, he was like, “you hard.” I got some beats from him, but I wasn’t really into [music] as serious as I am now. Now, I literally give this my all, my life. So, now the time is right. I’m like Zay, “Let’s do it,” and he’s like, “Man, I feel that we can go.” We’re gonna have like five or seven songs on there.

What has it been like trying to brand yourself as a rising artist in a world where, TikTok is the biggest thing, and we also have this pandemic that’s still going on?

It’s always gonna be a challenge. I just feel like music is music and good music is undeniable. I’m not saying I got the greatest music, but I like to feel like it. I feel like anything could be played on TikTok, different transition videos, dog videos, you know? definitely can see an advantage in those TikTok songs that specifically sound good on TikTok, but when you hear certain real music, it’s certain things you just can’t turn down.

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