FACT Rated is our series digging into the sounds and stories of the most vital breaking artists around right now. This week, Stefan Bindley-Taylor talks to Boston newcomer Vintage Lee, whose “spicy and saucy” rhymes on recent mixtape PiMP are the work of an artist going places, and going there fast.
NAME: Vintage Lee
MUST-HEAR: PiMP (2018)
FOR FANS OF: Uno the Activist, Playboi Carti, Cousin Stizz, Big Leano
Listening to the fearlessly unruly hip-hop of Roxbury rapper Vintage Lee, the last word that springs to mind is ‘shy’. “What can you tell me? What you gon’ tell me? How you gon’ tell me calm down?” she roars on the rowdy ‘Tell Me’, from her cult acclaimed recent mixtape PiMP, with a fieriness that’s not to be messed with. In the run-up to the the rising star’s FACT Rated interview, however, I’m warned by her management she’s actually a little bashful.
When we eventually link up, Lee – whose fast-growing fan base includes cult Boston hero Cousin Stizz – laughs off any suggestion she’s meeker in person than her stage persona. “As a person, I’m confident. I carry myself with confidence, and it carries into my music,” the 21-year-old explains. “When people bump my music, I want them to think of just getting your bag. Or if you’re in your feelings, hop out your feelings, go get it, feel motivated.”
Lee describes her music as “spicy and saucy” rap – a description certainly fitting of her hard-hitting 2015 breakout bop ‘Right Now’ and 2016 follow-up ‘Hennything’s Possible’. Those releases earned her buzz as one of the already-thriving Boston scene’s most exciting new voices, with a sound and energy reflective of the Roxbury area she grew up in. “I try and embody it. Roxbury heads never have nothing to say about nobody, and that’s kinda me. I just stay about my business,” she says. This sense of focus was evident on Lee’s biggest and best project to date, last year’s PiMP – a 10-track firestorm that packed stories about Lee’s life growing up in Roxbury, floated over syrupy, down-tempo beats courtesy of collaborators Tee-WaTT and M. Ali.
While her music may be new to some people, music is nothing new to Vintage Lee, who’s been rapping all her life. “I’ve always been doing it,” she explains. “My sister bought me my first microphone at the age of three.” From there, Lee gradually honed a style of her own. No one rapper inspired her in particular, “but in middle school I was bumping Wayne, NWA, Pimp C, Dipset.” Her mom, meanwhile, “was always playing the oldies: Marvin Gaye, Rick James. I was always looking for more music.” It was this hunger for new sounds that propelled Lee, leading to her first formative recording sessions in her mid-teens, where the impressed reactions from the older heads in that studio lit a fire under her. “I was like 15 or 16, and there was a room full of grown niggas and they just started bopping their head to my music. So I was like: okay, we could do this.”
Though she’s starting to get shine outside of her native Boston scene, it’s still that local community that drives her. “Boston crowd is definitely a different crowd. If we fuck with you, if the energy is right, we will be raging, it gets real slutty. I like performing at home, it’s like a family thing.”
Next in her plot to do her local scene proud is a follow-up to PiMP, which “just might” drop in 2018, she says. For those who can’t wait, Lee recently dropped the sauce-dripping video for ‘Hennything’s Possible’, and a phenomenal freestyle on RapCaviar’s Instagram page earlier this month. But her ambitions extend beyond music. “I wanna break off into doing things with fashion, having a line and things of that nature. I probably wanna get into the production side of things eventually too. At the end of it, just to be a brand. That’s what we’re building around.” Till then, she’s staying true to the mantra that’s got her this far. “Be yourself, be real. Stay down for your homies, family, and friends. Tell real things, real shit that’s happened, not just things to fit in with what’s popular right now. Just do you, say what you gotta say, and be unapologetic about it.” Nothing shy about that.
Stefan Bindley-Taylor is a freelance writer. Find him on Twitter.