Steve Lacy has produced a Grammy nominated album, made tracks for Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Tyler, The Creator, and Goldlink, released a solo EP, and hosted his own Tedx Talk. He’s 18. Also, he makes all his music on his phone.
Lacy’s musical journey began in his high school jazz band where he met recording artist Thundercat’s younger brother, who brought Lacy along to work on The Internet’s third studio album Ego Death.
Lacy, who was brought on to play some keys on the record, ended up producing half of the tracks on Ego Death.
The Internet’s mixture of hip-hop, funk, soul music, and alternative rock captivated audiences and critics alike, and before Lacy had graduated high school he had notched a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
When The Internet set out on a nationwide tour, Lacy had to stay at home and go to class.
But from there, Lacy was able to start gathering a pretty ludicrous round of production credits. Producing J. Cole’s “Foldin Clothes” off 4 Your Eyez Only.
Lacy produced the slow-boiling “PRIDE.” off Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.
Lacy told Matt Wilkinson of Beats 1 Radio about how the song came together after DJ Dahi had connected Lacy and Lamar:
“This was the track where he [Lamar] was like ‘Yo, put your number in my phone I need this.’ I went there a couple more times to work on some stuff and this song he was just sure about. He loved this one. Then I hit him up again and he said he’s just finishing up the album so I go ‘Tracklist?’ with the eyeball emojis and he said ‘LOL.’ It was called ‘Wasn’t There’ at the time but it’s called ‘PRIDE’ now. It’s still hitting me I still haven’t fully gripped what I just did but yeah it’s crazy to think I was in a classroom just 6 months ago.”
Yeah, going from a high school classroom to producing on probably the most influential hip-hop album in recent memory is pretty crazy.
Lacy also landed on Goldlink’s album At What Cost on the groovy “Some Girl”.
Then teamed up with Tyler and clear inspiration Frank Ocean on “911/Mr. Lonely”.
It’s obvious what any rap artist is looking for when enlisting Lacy to produce on a record. He’s gonna bring some soulful, funky guitar riffs and crispy-ass retro sounding drum loops.
The source of those infectious drum loops? Garageband. On his iPhone.
Lacy spoke during his TedxTeen talk about wanting a Macbook for four straight Christmases but eventually stumbling upon his beatmaking process on a 5th generation iPod Touch.
“It was an iPod 5th generation Touch and from there, I started to explore music apps like iMPC, BeatMaker 2, GarageBand, and all that sort… I’ve discovered these apps and I’m exploring this world of sound with this little device in my pocket and I realized that I didn’t necessarily need what I thought I did. From there, I just started pressing stuff and figuring it out and just getting some really, really bad beats out at first before I found the piece called the iRig. That’s when I started to combine my knowledge on what a drum beat was along with my guitar playing skills and bass.”
While this sounds kind of creatively limiting, Lacy clearly prefers the method over big studio equipment, which he now has more than enough access to. His iPhone recording technique gives him direct and immediate control over his music.
Producing for some of the most prominent names in hip-hop immediately out of high school is pretty fucking cool, but Lacy’s first cohesive solo project Steve Lacy’s Demo, which he prefers to call a “song series,” is even more impressive.
The project, released last February, which runs less than 15 total minutes, holds such an intense potential.
The first track, “Looks”, with it’s funky guitars and grooving bassline, is the perfect introduction to Lacy’s music. His voice ranges from high to low, clear to filtered. The drums are clear and precise.
That guitar is taken right out of peak funk era, serving more as percussion than your typical leading guitar riff. The only issue with “Looks” is that it’s not longer.
“Dark Red” is the stand out on the project, one of my favorite tracks of the last year. Lacy’s songwriting is equal to his instrumentation. It holds a heaviness, a natural nostalgia, and a truth, making those comparisons to Frank Ocean obvious.
On the track, Lacy can tell his relationship is going slightly off the rails, singing in the opening bars,
“Something bad is ’bout to happen to me
I don’t know what, but I feel it coming
Might be so sad, might leave my nose running
I just hope she don’t wanna leave me”
Lacy then goes into a funky breakdown with Motown call and response on the second half of the song to give himself a little reassurance:
“What if she’s fine
It’s my mind that’s wrong
And I just let bad thoughts
Linger for far too long”
It’s hard to capture the wandering mind of a love-stricken teenager, but on “Dark Red” Lacy is able to articulate that adolescent confusion. That breakdown in the second half of the song (starting at about the 1:40 mark) is so damn perfect, I had to run it back like four times the first time I heard it.
And just peep the drum skills on “Haterlovin”, which sounds like it was taken directly from N.E.R.D’s In Search Of…
Like on In Search Of…, Lacy made a project that is as impressive as much it leaves the listener yearning for more. My lasting impression from the project was, “where the fuck can I get more of this?” and “what would you even call this?” The answer, according to Steve, is plaid. Yes, plaid.
He told Wired about making plaid music.
“Plaid is my genre. I found that at, I was thrift shopping and I was in the Pendleton section. As I realize, scruffling through the shirts, I’m like, this kinda looks like how my music sounds. ‘Cause if you listen to a couple songs it might sound like there’s a lot going on but it doesn’t clash at all. And plaid, it’s a lot going on. It all goes together to be one pattern. And that’s what I call my music.”
Plaid it is then!
This year, Lacy is set to work on a new The Internet album, make more of his own work surely, and continue to link up with artists and bring some funk to their art.
He’s producing all of Ravyn Lenae’s new album and if the first single “Sticky” is any indication, it’s going to be another exciting step in Lacy’s young career.
Steve Lacy isn’t 20 yet, but he’s one of the most intriguing artists in the music world.
2018 looks to be another big year for the kid from Compton and one has the feeling that he’ll have a guiding hand in the direction of music in the near future.