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The Vinyl Say: Hip hop artist, DJ, and music veteran Basik Lee 

Each edition of The Vinyl Say features a different local musician, with interviews taking place at Graveface Records & Curiosities. All we have is a store full of albums to draw from; no gig or album to promote, no pre-planned talking points. The idea is simple - walk around a record store and talk about albums, influences, and music.

Basik Lee has been a leading purveyor of hip hop in Savannah for many years, as a solo artist and part of the beloved collective Dope Sandwich. He’s also a DJ and regularly performs throughout the city in one configuration or another. He spearheaded hip hop night at The Jinx, and he’s an all-around music aficionado.

Today, Basik Lee has The Vinyl Say.

click to enlarge Basik Lee - PHOTO BY SASCHA HAUK
  • Photo by Sascha Hauk
  • Basik Lee

Basik Lee browses the Graveface Records inventory, with a look of excitement in his eye.

Do you go record shopping a lot?

Honestly, the thing that sucks is that I work so much DJ-ing, I never have time to sit at home. And I don’t have a full setup at home to just sit and listen, so it’s rare that I have time. I’m looking around right now and thinking, “Damn, I haven’t done this in forever.”

Are you kind of into everything, musically-speaking?

Yeah! I’m sitting here going through some of the tucked-away stuff in the back, looking for samples and little sounds.

Let’s talk about that—what did you find back here?

(Walks to the back of the store) Most of the time, I don't even go off of what I know. I'll just look at something and say, "Okay, this looks nice." I don't like a lot of newer records, and most of the time I'm looking for something that has more than one song on it so I can do more with it. If it has one song on it, I want multiple versions—especially instrumental and acapella versions. It makes it more fun for me.

What kind of music did you grow up on?

I'm originally from New Jersey, and I grew up on a lot of house music. House and hip hop, of course. It's funny, if you'd have asked me as a kid I would have never wanted to be a rapper. It was just always around; it was like basketball or football. It was a hobby, so I didn't think anything of it. Everybody did it.

My dad had a lot of different things he listened to. He listened to, like, George Michael, and he’d buy Ladysmith Black Mambazo records.

That’s some cool stuff.

Oh, yeah. He got their stuff because he started listening to Paul Simon. There was a lot of jazz—Coltrane and stuff like that. My mom was the opposite; she didn’t listen to jazz. She liked Luther Vandross, and she was more about gospel and R&B singers.

But in my neighborhood, I lived around every race you can think of. Most of my friends were Trinidadian, Jamacian, Domenican, Chinese, Hispanic.

Oh, so you’re hearing a lot of world music in your neighborhood.

Yeah, all the time. Mostly reggae, just because a lot of my friends were Trinidadian. It was always around.

That must’ve made its way into your subconscious in terms of the music you choose on the DJ and production side.

I actually started DJing because of Dope Sandwich. We’d tour and play places that were out of town and didn’t have their own DJ. Our DJ would be DJing the whole night after we'd do a 30-minute set.

Wow!

I felt so bad [laughs]. But we all started learning to DJ because we felt so bad that he had to be up there all night. We started doing it, and then I got good at it. One of the dudes moved away, and the other decided that he wanted to open up a restaurant. So all of the jobs they had, I ended up pretty much acquiring because of that. From there, it just snowballed to where I just did it.

So, growing up in Jersey—when would that have been?

I was born in 1979, and lived in Jersey until '98.

So it would've been during the "golden age" of hip hop, then?

Oh, yeah. I always tell people, I feel like I was spoiled growing up. Naughty By Nature used to walk around my neighborhood, and so did Redman. My art teacher in high school was Queen Latifah's mom. It was just always around, so I thought nothing of it. Recently, I was asked what the first concert was that I ever paid for and I realized that I've never paid for a concert [laughs]. I would just end up knowing people. There was one concert that I won tickets from, from Hot 97. That was Busta Rhymes, The Fugees, Nas, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and Keith Sweat—I still don't understand why he was part of that lineup [laughs].

Woah! That's nuts.

Yeah, and it was the night that Tupac passed away. I still remember it being announced on stage. Things like that, I was always around those moments. My older brother tells me this one story of the movie Beat Street. He and his crew actually tried out for it, and they got a callback. But he got home at 1 in the morning, so my mom and dad grounded him and he never got to go back [laughs].

Nobody understood hip hop back then, you know? People just thought it was a passing phase.

I was watching a documentary series on hip hop, specifically KRS-One who’s one of my favorites. The lineage of all of that stuff is so incredible, connecting from the Latin Quarter through KRS, LL Cool J, Tribe, all of that stuff.

It’s crazy to think about. It’s also frustrating and weird to me, because when we were doing Dope Sandwich we were always trying to figure out who to meet and how to get into that world. We did a good couple of shows—we’d open up for The Pharcyde, and we opened for Black Sheep.

I even found out later from one of my cousins, who wasn’t even into hip hop—I was talking to her about A Tribe Called Quest and mentioned the name Jarobi. She said, “Jarobi White?” I said, “Yeah.” She goes, “That’s our cousin!”

It’s crazy how entire cultural movements can start in neighborhoods like that, and you don’t realize you’re connected.

It really is crazy. Everybody around my way idolized Redman. Redman, Queen Latifah, Apache—everyone was like, “Yo, these are the motherfuckers. Holy shit.” It was always like that, though. I didn’t think anything of it, and then when I moved to the South I realized the places that did hip hop weren’t around downtown.

Let’s find some more records!

(We walk towards the middle of the store, where hip hop, jazz, and blues records reside. Basik pulls out a Howlin’ Wolf record.)

Is that the kind of stuff that you'll gravitate towards if you're sampling?

Yeah. Blues, jazz—eclectic, older records. Anything mid-70s and older. It was a different way of recording. There was no sampling, and you had one shot to get the recording. It was a different dynamic.

And they're lower fidelity, so they sound more interesting and you can do more with them.

Right. That, and the musicianship can be heard more. I love live albums, because it shows off what people can do. We used to have a thing on hip hop night where we'd talk about how you can either be a stage rapper or a studio rapper. Nobody wants to be a studio rapper, but you find a lot of them. That's why I love live albums—I want to hear if you can work that stage.

There's definitely a difference.

There are a lot of rappers I ended up getting a lot more respect for, because I wasn't about their style but they do a show I go, "Goddamn. I can't knock your stuff."

(Grabs Jay-Z’s In My Lifetime, Vol. 1)

This is probably one of my favorite albums of all time, because it sounded like he was just talking. When you hear someone who sounds like they’re trying, it sounds whack. He just made it seem like he’s just walking down the block and these rhymes are coming out.

(Pulls out a J. Dilla record)

J. Dilla! The greatest ever, perhaps.

Yes! His production—it’s funny, it’s one of those things where I didn’t even realize how much J. Dilla I knew. He worked with Busta, Tribe, everybody. You think you don’t know his sound, but you do.

cs
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Sean Kelly

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