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First Look Friday: Enter The Wild Fantastic With Atlanta's Own Levi Watson
First Look Friday: Enter The Wild Fantastic With Atlanta's Own Levi Watson
Photo shot by Levi Watson.

First Look Friday: Enter The Wild Fantastic With Atlanta's Own Levi Watson

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo shot by Levi Watson for Okayplayer.

Mystery in music goes a long way. From never releasing an album for retail sale to surprising millions in dropping an album — artists are increasingly playing with the way audiences digest their works. For Atlanta's own Levi Watson, he prefers to live between the shadows to drop outer space sounds that make listeners feel like they're coasting along the Milky Way.

The ATLien from Riverdale has impressed music blogs and journalists the past few years with his mesh of mature convictions and pop culture / video game references. Line after line, bar after bar reveals more about himself utilizing a unique flow and skill set. Levi, an MC with exemplary and intergalactic wordplay, has released projects that have been celebrated by audiophiles near and far.

Yet, as the title of this post would suggest, Levi Watson is our latest First Look Friday subject that we're happy to introduce to our Okayplayer family. A cross between another world Drake and a street-minded Big Gipp, it's elementary as to why his otherworldly presence would set the listener's mind into another dimension. With a bit more life experiences added to his belt, Levi Watson could evoke images outside of being lost in a land of wild ones.

No matter what, though, this abstract-creative, Levi Watson, is worth checking out. In addition to our interview, where we discuss his love of N.E.R.D.; how the Atlanta music scene will evolve and what you should learn from this spotlight. We are happy to exclusively premiere his newest video "VERTIGO 11," which is off his forthcoming project, VERTIGO. Enjoy the sights, sounds and styles of Atlanta's next best thing — Levi Watson!


Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact on both sides of the U.S. What is it that ATLiens are seeing and hearing that the world has yet to discover?

Levi Watson: Atlanta is a pure gem, bro. There is so much more to the music here than what most people know. A lot of people believe that Atlanta has only one sound. They couldn't be more wrong. There are tons of cultures and sub-cultures in the city and within the Metro area that range from the side of town you're on to the type of lifestyle you live. They all come equipped with their own sound.

I currently live in Riverdale, which is South Metro, and the sound that many artists build here is very different from their East or Westside counterparts. So, I think that the world hasn't really and truly realized just how diverse the Atlanta area is. Yes, yes, they haven't discovered that yet.

OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they honed their skills and practiced their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?

LW: This is always such a tough question for me to answer because I have so many that influenced me over the years. But, in keeping the list short, I have to say Pharrell Williams and Gino Vannelli. Chad Hugo and Pharrell literally produced the soundtrack to my entire childhood. For some reason I just always had an appreciation, an ear for their sound — and it was solely their sound.

No one else had it, y'know? Even after they put a hold on producing together, Pharrell still kept piling up such an amazing list of production credits. He's worked with almost all of my favorite rappers and I would love to be added to that list, so if anyone has that Skateboard P connect, tell him to get at me! Seriously.

The way Pharrell carries himself is impressive. He's created some of the most iconic music of our lifetime and look at how humble he is! Look at how centered he is! He doesn't have to throw all his accomplishments in anyone's face and I absolutely love that attitude. I aspire to be that way and I wish more artists and people in general were that genuine. As for Gino Vannelli, he is hands down my favorite artist of all time.

I've never met him before but I look at him like a teacher. His music is so profound and he has guided me through so many critical points in my life. I digress, but I could talk about Gino's music all day, so I'll just stop right here.

OKP: Your song, “Final Fall,” is very dope sounding and has placed you on the radar of music snobs who have a heavy presence in the industry. Can you talk about how life was for you while developing as an artist in Atlanta? How have you reacted to your first bits of press?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo shot by Levi Watson for Okayplayer.

LW: First off, I would like to say that I am thankful for everything. God has truly given me a great opportunity to appeal to ears and eyes all over the globe. I grew up in Riverdale, which is South Metro Atlanta, and artist development in a place like this isn't easy at all. I learned from a young age that I had to turn inward for inspiration a lot of the time. Initially, no one even paid me any attention in my musical pursuits because of the fact that I didn't fit into their perception of what a rapper was.

I was quiet, chunky, "gifted-class" student, so when I was like, "Hey, I'm going to be a rapper," most people just laughed. It was that ridicule that made me take it even more seriously. Of course, we all know that rap and being a rapper doesn't come with a specific look, personality or GPA, but a lot of people made it seem that way when talking down on me. My biggest obstacle was how to apply rap to myself and my life and make it make sense for me.

My personal development was directly linked to my artistic development. The more that I grew as a person, so did I as a MC. It was that moment that I focused on, honed, shaped and crafted—getting better at being a person. As I did that and lived out what being a well-rounded person and lyricist, the love and support started to come my way. How have I reacted to press? Man, it's been an interesting ride to say the least. I think it's amazing that there are people and publications that want to know more about me and what I'm doing. I have been honing my skills for so long, I'm super excited to finally share them with you all and have people care about it.

OKP: Can you also talk about the importance of the music industry scene in Atlanta and where you see it evolving in the next five years?

LW: As it has been said before, Atlanta is the central hub for popular music right now, especially hip-hop. That's just the truth! I think if the city is going to hold onto that title it has to showcase more than just the one sound that everyone knows it for at the moment. Truthfully, any OG in Atlanta will tell you that the city has always been about diversity and I think that it needs to ditch the uniform sound and get back to that. What do I think the scene will be in five years from now? Man, I honestly have no clue, but I do know that there is a significant change in the air!

OKP: There is a strong lack of diversity in the entertainment business, so how does being an artist of color fit into your musical narrative?

LW: Perfectly, man. It fits perfectly. If I wasn't black, I wouldn't have gone through some of the situations that molded me into who I have become musically. If I wasn't that, I wouldn't be this even personally for that matter.

OKP: What are some elements that you’ve learned about yourself that comes out in your music?

LW: I'm a real life melting pot, man. Honestly, I have so many influences, inspirations and aspirations. A lot of them don't always go hand-in-hand. Sometimes they're polar opposites, but they make sense when pertaining to my music because they're all me. I'm the introverted guy whose music made him popular at school. The one who would run the streets with you all night, but still made sure that you turned in that 2,000 word essay.

I'm the one who could play Street Fighter Alpha 2 or Chrono-Trigger all day long, but still hit a no. 8 Kobe Bryant fade away in a game of 21. I feel like my music is a representation of all those things. You can tell there is so much going on within me, but also know that none of it is forced because it is all just naturally who I am.

OKP: What was the first song that you ever wrote entitled? Can you talk about what it was about?

LW: [Laughs] Whaaaat?! The first song? Hmm, I don't really remember it at all. It probably didn't even have a name. Or, it was just so bad that my mind actually shut it out! I do recall that I was like 10 or 11 when I first started putting rhymes together, so yeah, it was probably just walk [laughs]. I wasn't big on song titles at that time anyway, so I just wrote the song and then I'd sign my name in cursive somewhere on the paper like it was some sort of official document. [Laughs] I actually still do that!

OKP: How can your music speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond?

LW: I try to make music that isn't only surface level, but also has a lot of weight to it as well. There are gems in these songs that I'm releasing, man. The deeper the listener wants to go, the more that he or she will find. In the event that they don't want to go that far, they can still enjoy it for its surface value as well. I honestly believe that's what makes people stick around longer.

OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you want to work with this year and why?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo shot by Levi Watson for Okayplayer.

LW: If I could work with anyone this year, it would be Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala. Hands down! If you, the reader, got the connect to any of these players involved — you know what to do! If not, it's all good [laughs]. It'll happen eventually.

OKP:What is the overall message that Levi Watson is trying to present in his music?

LW:  There are tons of messages that I try to present in my music. Some are deeper than others, but I wholly want people to realize that they are the star of their own story. They shouldn't give that role to someone else by trying to conform and be something that they aren't. Celebrate the differences, but don't let them separate us.

That brings me back to the love of unity. It is probably one of the most important messages in my music. It ties us into the whole spiel I gave about being so many different things at one. I want to pull people together and prove that Levi Watson show should have a crowd where the guy or girl next to you doesn't live the same lifestyle as you do.

The person around you might be older, younger, or even dress differently than you, but it all is diverse and reflected in the music.

OKP: Can you break down the inspiration behind your “Situation ZX” song? Could you speak on the creation and production of “Want 2” for the masses?

LW:I was in the Stankonia Studio with The Antydote and Dijon Stylez where the former told me that he had some loosies that he wanted to see if I liked. We went through a few of them and "Situation ZX" and "Want 2" stood out to me. The inspiration for the song was just a bunch of day-to-day situations I have been in or seen, no matter how mundane or grand.

"Want 2" was actually created around the time that VERTIGO, my upcoming album, was initially supposed to release last year. I wanted to have two records drop before the album and that ["Want 2"] was one of them. I just wanted something that sounded insanely cool. "Want 2" was the type of record that no matter where it was on the rotation it just fit. So, when I was working on VERTIGO, I just kept that in the pocket.

Dijon Stylez is the genius that produced that record. He's literally like my brother, along with Garrott, Rizz and Torrin (who's really my blood relative). Dijon is also the executive producer behind VERTIGO, which is incredible! "Want 2" is just one of those joints that I don't really remember too much about the process of making it, but I do appreciate the event of it happening.

OKP: How do you see yourself changing the music industry for the better versus all of the bad stuff that goes on within it?

LW: I just keep my faith in God, continue to do what I feel is right and push to be heard. I know nothing in this world is perfect, especially not the music industry, but I enjoy weighing the pros against the cons. I know I have a gift and a voice that needs to be heard, so this path is the only way for me. Truth be told, I'm more focused on changing myself right now more than "changing the game." Once I can get myself where I need to be, I'll not only have the power to change things, but the wisdom to know what to change.

OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with Levi Watson — what would it be?

LW: It would be to let everyone know that I'm a man who has zeal in everything he does. I believe in myself and I believe in the people. Music is an extremely powerful force in the world, and I'm honored to be someone who is inclined to create it. Also, one should know and learn that I'm for-your-entertainment. If you take anything from this interview, I would hope that it is the desire to give my music a try... I know you'll enjoy it.

Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for more from Levi Watson (and us!) by following him on Twitter @LevixWatson.