Dreamville MC Lute on ‘West 1996 Pt. 2′ & Fatherhood
Charlotte, North Carolina rapper Lute considers the struggle his fuel. The Dreamville signee has penned pensive raps about getting fired from nine-to-five jobs at Walmart and the airport while trying to put food on the table for him and his daughter.
You hear the hunger in his latest offering, West 1996 Pt. 2 (the sequel to the 2014 project of the same name). On the 10-track set, deep cuts like “Still Slummin’,” “Ford’s Prayer” and “Crabs in a Barrel” detail the highs and lows of dream-chasing like losing friends and a significant other, falling behind on rent, shaking depression and even, not getting a sample cleared.
During a recent visit to TIDAL HQ, the 28-year-old wordsmith born Luther Nicholson breaks down his project, love for hip-hop, fatherhood and the most important lessons he’s learned from his label boss, J. Cole.
West Side 1996 Pt. 2 summarizes the past five years of your life. How would you say you’ve grown as a person within that time period?
I believe I’ve grown a lot. I’m a very reserved person and that project really allowed me to open up and I’m more open now as I’m beginning to write new music. I’m really able to dig deeper into what I’m really trying to project out.
How did that process differ from West 1996 part one?
I felt like with part one, I was just really speaking on what’s on the surface and what’s around me. With part two, I’m really speaking about what’s really within. It’s just really what’s on my mind.
1996 was the year you began to love hip-hop.
Well, the year and the era. I love Goodie Mob, OutKast and Wu-Tang but I’m more so an ODB [Ol’ Dirty Bastard] fan. ODB and Andre [3000 of OutKast] weren’t afraid to be themselves. That’s really what I gravitated towards most because around that time, growing up, I really didn’t fit in with a lot of crowds so I was just really trying to find myself.
How did you end up meeting [Dreamville president] Ib, J. Cole and the whole Dreamville team?
I was working at Walmart [in North Carolina] and Cole was out in Florida. A guy had came up to him and asked him about the hip-hop scene in North Carolina and he said put him on, what am I missing? And he was like, have you ever heard of this guy named Lute? And he was like, nah and he went and checked me out on 2DopeBoyz and saw some music I had and videos I had on YouTube. He tried to contact me and it was via Twitter. At that time, I was new to Twitter but I wasn’t following him at the time. I was new to Twitter.
This is 2012 so he’s trying to find the closest person that I was talking to on my Twitter who was following him so he hit up my boy, Scott, and told him, yo I really fuck with your boy, Lute’s music. Have him holler at me. My boy Scott was going crazy because he’s an avid J. Cole fan. He’s like, ‘Yo, you won’t believe this. J. Cole just hit me up.’ He’s texting me this while I’m at work. And I’m sitting there, looking at my phone like bro, stop playing before I get fired. But he kept hitting me up. I kept getting text message after text message so when I went to my lunch break, I was like let me see what he’s talking about so I followed Cole and as soon as I followed Cole, he was like, yo, bro, I really fuck with your music. I can hear the pain in your voice. I’ll be out at the Fillmore [in Charlotte] this weekend for CIAA. Come through and I’ll tell you how I found your music.
Beyond the life experiences, what else do you think separates a Lute song versus other things that may be out there?
[Pauses] It’s really coming from everyday struggle, like these are real events. It’s nothin’ fabricated about it.
What do you credit your humility to?
Just really trusting my process and really trusting and believing that God didn’t bring me this far to drop me off. Really trusting in the people around me. But I would say it was discouraging at times ‘cause before I started, it was like we were generating buzz but likes and retweets weren’t paying my rent. I was still two months behind on my rent, still wondering where the money’s coming from to feed my daughter so it was discouraging at times but I knew I had something, I knew all these things didn’t happen for a reason.
Break down some of the tracks that are on Pt. 2 like “Morning Shift” and “Still Slummin’.”
“Morning Shift” is pretty much the song the accumulation of thoughts that you think about when you wake up in the morning before you clock in for your nine-to-five job. Really just looking at my daughter, just realizing what’s next, what am I gonna do to really keep a roof over my head and keep food on the table. I didn’t have that high school diploma. I didn’t have nothing to fall back on. It was either all or nothing with my nine-to-five or all or nothing with hip-hop.
What have you learned from being a father?
Patience. She’s three now and she’s a Gemini so split personalities. Musically, as an artist and as a father, this whole experience has definitely taught me patience.
What inspired “Still Slummin’”?
I had just got fired from Target. We were breaking our lease because we were three months behind on rent and I had to move back with my mom. I had a cousin that lived next door and I hadn’t seen him in a while so when I went to go see him, I thought it was all love like, ‘Yo, cuzzo, what’s up.’ And he’s like, ‘What are you doing here? I thought you was chilling with Cole or he should at least be signing you. What are you doing back here? It’s good to see you but you shouldn’t be back here.’ “Still Slummin” is from the perspective of my cousin.
What about “Ambitions”?
I got fired a month after I wrote “Ambitions” sitting in my truck writing [the song]. I remember sitting in my truck like damn, I’d much rather be rapping or selling drugs than doing this shit. Then I just stopped like oh, that just may be a dope line. I ended up adding the words later when I went home but I was like I need to save that line for a hook or something.
Was there a song where you felt like breaking out of your shell?
“Crabs in a Barrel” ’cause I didn’t write anything down. I just went straight to the mic and really went there and just vented. [It was inspired by] a sample not getting cleared. I thought we was done so I just went to the mic and was like I’m just about to let everything that’s on my mind off my chest and start to let it go. I was kind of talking about the people who were in my corner at one point but they eventually ended up leaving. I was in a relationship, I had friends, the people that I came into this with wasn’t around anymore so I found a way to incorporate that into there.
What’s been a lesson from Cole that’s stuck with you since this whole journey began?
Well, I remember I talked to Cole one time and [he said] you’re already who you think you are. You just gotta show these people that and that really stuck with me for the longest ‘cause he just basically was really trying to put the confidence in me like, ‘Yo, you gotta get this music out. It’s heartfelt, I can hear it in your voice. You gotta show it to these people.’
Do you ever think about how you’re going to explain your songs to your daughter when she’s older?
Yeah and that’s the reason why I kind of incorporate her into the album because one, if it wasn’t for her, this album wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t even be signed to Dreamville because she was the inspiration behind the push forward to even make another project and also the absence. I remember when I was on the 4 Your Eyez Only tour, I missed her birthday because I was in Memphis. I’ve been absent for this reason but just know that you’re still a part of my life. This is for me to come back home and make sure we have a roof over our head.
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