After the success of TNGHT, his collaborative project with Hudson Mohawke, Canadian producer Lunice Fermin Pierre II decided to take a step back and focus on his solo work.
Lunice’s first two EPs, 2010’s Stacker Upper and 2011’s One Hunned, explored the sound of commercial rap music, and it’s safe to say the industry took notice. Besides the repurposing of TNGHT’s ‘R U Ready’ for Kanye West’s Yeezus highlight ‘Blood On The Leaves’, Lunice has since worked with the likes of Rockie Fresh, Angel Haze, and Le1f.
After four years of refocused work, the Montreal-based producer is finally preparing to bring his vision full circle with his debut album 360 later this year. Lunice first teased a glimpse of the project in 2014 with the music video for ‘Can’t Wait To’, and recently returned with the 180 EP, a collection of four tracks written between 2011 and 2012 which serves as a bridge to showcase Lunice’s growth, and a taste of what’s to come.
Fresh off a set of tour dates with Madonna, Lunice spoke to FACT about how he’s honed his live performance and worked to position himself for success, and hinted at what to expect on his debut album.
“[Madonna] would come through and say what’s up, and give me props like, ‘Go get it!'”
What was it like touring with Madonna?
It was honestly the most organized tour I’ve been on in my life. She’s been doing this for a really long time and she’s kept the like-minded people she’s come across over her career, so you’re surrounded by experts non stop—people who know their stuff in and out and do it efficiently.
My first night with her was in Edmonton, and the first impression I got from the whole team – from the film director and lighting director to the people fixing the clothes – was amazing. The people fixing the clothes would even offer their services to iron my shirt, which is always something I have done myself! [Laughs] Everything works. I always take note of those things so I can be 110% when I tour, even if I’m sick. I treat showtime as showtime, no matter what. I don’t show up as a character, I show up as a performer.
Did you get a chance to interact with her?
Yeah, and I didn’t expect it either! She’s super cool, and from time to time she would finish soundcheck and stick around while I went on. Sometimes she would come through and say what’s up, and give me props like, “Go get it!” Just welcome to the family vibes, and everything at the highest level.
I read that Madonna’s kids were the ones who introduced her to your music. Did you meet them?
Yes! Her son was actually the camera operator the first night, and he’s been doing it on the tour. They actually work hard. One of them’s taking care of the VIP section, from setting it up to breaking it down. The other one works front-of-house in terms of cutting between the footage, and sometimes filming live while I was performing. They’re learning everything on the fly with the best people in the industry, so it’s really cool. It’s pretty inspiring how Madonna sets people up to be working with each other and be something greater.
You described your first EP Stacker Upper as an experiment with commercial rap music, and the follow-up One Hunned as being about the “blockbuster feel”, so what was the concept behind 180?
That’s actually a great question. Yeah, Stacker Upper and One Hunned were me experimenting with commercial rap with different instrumentation. That’s what I say when people ask me what type of music I make. I just say rap music, because I’m from the hip-hop culture. From then on, and the TNGHT stuff, I’ve been starting to see a bit of the rap industry and where it’s going. Now I’m in a position where I feel I’m understanding where I could be, between the experimental and rap scenes within my own skill set. That’s something that a whole movement has been pushing forward, but I’m realizing [what] I can do as an individual to impact it. It’s something I wanted my album to live up to, and that’s when I really zoned into a lot of different things. That’s why the album’s called 360, because it’s a whole 360-view of what I’m trying to do and research. 180 is only half of that, where it’s just a very simple setup, and then when the album comes down, it will solidify my whole idea.
How long have you been writing this album?
At this point, I’m going into my fourth year already. When I started this project with two songs three and a half years ago, the first thing I thought was, “don’t make it an album”. I swear to god, that was my first thought. I don’t want to give people the impression that this is my first album and I’m overthinking it. I sat on those two songs and I grew with it, and that’s what became my creative process, which is 80% conceptualizing and 20% application. I may listen to it a couple times, or I may not listen to it for a whole month. It’s so I can gather different information from different cultures, my surroundings, and come back to it with a whole new perspective.
I’ve gotten to a point now where I love imperfection and I love that I don’t know as much as some music geniuses. I take that like I’m proud and I make something out of it. I know that what I make is because of how I’ve thought about, and no one else. From that kind of thinking I’ve become so much more comfortable with what I’m trying to do, and what I’m trying to work for.
I focused a lot on live performance in the last two and a half years. I’ve been out touring more than I’ve been working on music, but in the sense that I’ve been taking notes. I would push myself to see how much more performative I could get, and that’s how I became so much more of a performing artist. The album is like a program to the performance. That’s what I’m getting to at the moment.
“You have to love yourself before you expand. That’s the whole idea.”
Are there any vocalists on the album?
I got CJ Flemings, and this other Montreal rapper called Speng who doesn’t have anything out at the moment. He’s a friend of CJ, and just a good kid. I’ve got these kids on the come-up, and it’s a lot of people who I want to help push because I believe in it. I also have something with Azealia Banks on the album, which is a really great one. She’s mentioned it on her Twitter actually, a song called ‘Crown’.
Rustie said that for his most recent album, EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE, he made a conscious effort to move away from vocalists. Is that something you made an effort to do after working with Le1f, Angel Haze, and Rockie Fresh?
Oh yeah, or else my album would be all features. You see what I mean about the three, four years of trying to grow? If it weren’t for that, I would have accidentally put too many features. At the end of the day, people like you for you. You want to make sure you please people, but you have to love yourself before you expand. That’s the whole idea.
Jacques Greene once said he couldn’t believe you and HudMo did such big things off just a laptop. What equipment do you use at the moment?
I keep it very streamlined. When you go to my studio it’s just a creative workshop. On one side you have a living room, and on the other side is the studio. The reason I made it like that was if I had an artist in who wasn’t a producer, they could come up with ideas while I’m working on things. When you come to the studio, you see the speakers and a USB mixer I connect to my computer or laptop. I use FL Studio, and with that I have maybe one or two synths, and the other is just a MIDI keyboard with all my VSTs. Before I was always thinking about buying a bunch of equipment, and now when I can afford equipment I think I would only get into it for a certain sound or palette I’m specifically looking for. Otherwise I’m going to keep things streamlined and modular in a sense, so if someone comes in they can just plug in and throw things around.
You and Jacques Greene brought the LuckyMe guys over for their first show in Montreal, right?
Yeah, that was for Turbo Crunk.
Do you have any standout memories the first time you met Rustie, Hudson Mohawke, Mike Slott and The Blessings?
The biggest was definitely HudMo head-locking me as soon as we met. Then after he let me go, I saw Rustie just run on top of a Mercedes-Benz – just fucking gunning it and running on top a parked Benz. I never saw such a thing, these people, man. And the talk of Buckfast, which I didn’t know about until i got to Scotland. That shit is so real.
You, Rustie, and Hudson Mohawke are pioneers of what’s become known as the “electronic trap” sound. I know you guys don’t like the label, but what about it do you not like?
What I don’t like is not necessarily the recognition, but more how culture works sometimes, in the sense that people want to collectively label something. But over time, I’ve learned that that’s a way for a public conscience to understand something. I know it’s a battle of people always trying to put me in the box, and I used to be like, I’m not this, I’m not that. But they can’t make sense of anything in a collective if they can’t describe it with one word. So I’ll give them whatever they want to say, but I’m going to keep my whole way of seeing it consistent.
When I give interviews I just say I make rap music. I’m just contributing to the hip-hop culture, because that’s really what I’m doing. If you put it really simple, I’m not trying to blow some minds or change anything, I’m just trying to contribute to the hip-hop culture because that’s what’s progressive. If you’re saying it’s electronic trap stuff, then good, it’s that for you. For me, it’s just rap music. It made me much more at peace with things, and I’m so happy.
There’s also a negative connotation that goes along with trap music.
That’s the thing, right? You can almost say that for any culture though, and that’s why I’m disappointed in how culture reacts to trends. It’s always very negative in general, but that’s how the world’s been for a very long time. With that in mind, I will always try and keep myself consistent with what I believe in. I used to be that kind of guy who would go to festivals and be like, “Why are these girls half-naked? This is so annoying, what are their parents thinking?” I want to be feminist, and over time I realized that if I want to be all equal, I should let them live so I can live myself.
And that goes for negative feedback as well. For the Madonna shows there’s a generation gap. When people don’t understand, they leave hateful messages. On my Instagram, people put well thought-out comments about how my show was bad. But I respond to them, and respect their feedback. I used to see those comments and be like, whatever, you’re just a hater, but for me now it’s like, I’m sorry I didn’t translate to you. I’ve always got something to improve on my side, so when we cross paths again maybe we can see eye to eye. I’m never going to call my shit perfect. There’s infinite room for improvement, so that’s why I’m going to keep going. If they don’t get it right now, hopefully in the future we do get each other at some point in our lifetime.