Interview by: Eternity Martis
When I first meet LaShawn Powell, also known by his stage name, Elcee, the first thing I notice is how surprisingly down-to-earth he is. I’d say I agree with rapper Earl Sweatshirt when he boils it down to Toronto rappers being “grandma nice”, but that couldn’t be the case. Born in Nova Scotia, and raised between Windsor and Toronto, Elcee’s graciousness is not a symptom of too-nice carebear T.O rappers, nor a facade- it’s an admirable, innate characteristic.
Elcee has been recoding music for the past few years, but it wasn’t until the release of his #SoundCloudSundays series that a true, dedicated artist was born. And what makes an artist true? One that has the courage to be forthright about his experiences, and has the desire to inspire the same bravery in others. He mixes Hip-Hop with R&B, Rap, and beats ranging from dreamy to bass-thumping, all without needing to justify or label himself.
Articulate, well-spoken, and composed, Elcee is careful about what he says and how he says it. He understands the fine line between narcissism and confidence, and that no success comes without struggle.
I sat down with Elcee to discuss music, success, and personal growth, as well as his upcoming project, LeoSoul, produced by Bonham and set to drop July 23rd. Read the interview below.
TCUS: How did you get into Hip-Hop?
Elcee: I grew up in a household of music, so I was listening to Hip-Hop with brother a lot, but probably around grade 2 or 3 is when I started. But prior to that, my mom was always into Motown and Gospel, stuff like that. I grew up listening to Temptations and artists with those stylistics. That kind of makes me appreciate Hip-Hop more; even though there’s not really a separation of the genres of Hip-Hop and Rap, I enjoyed the singing part that Hip-Hop included.
TCUS: Whose musical influences have stuck with you throughout the years?
Elcee: It would probably be the Motown music and listening to Hip-Hop; artists like Tupac were huge inspirations to me. Looking back now, it was all good music and I enjoyed the sounds of it all. My friendship groups were always multicultural, so I always heard different genres of music. Even though I was listening to Hip-Hop and Motown in my household, at my friends’ house they were listening to Blink-182 or Red Hot Chili Peppers, so I liked the dynamics of all of that music, and trying to kinda add them all together and appreciate them all at once.
TCUS: In your track, “For My City”, produced by Nick Rio, I got a sense of real patriotism, and almost a defensiveness of Toronto against the Hip-Hop scene of the States. Why did you think it was important to pay homage to your city and what do you think Toronto contributes to Hip-Hop as a whole?
Elcee: First thing to note is that song is actually from 2012. There’s a second verse on there by an artist known as Arys and initially it was for my project that I ended up taking off the internet. I never really felt like any of my songs were anthems, but I feel like it was something that really stapled me to the city and showed where I come from. I feel like Toronto itself brings so much versatility to the industry, again, based on multiculturalism. We’re one of the most diverse cities in the world, so having all that surrounding us, we adapt so much from different cultures and implement it in our own lifestyle and in our own growth. So when I think about Toronto, I don’t think about it as just “Hip-Hop”, per say, I feel like we’re all just recording artists, we all just like to make music as a whole. Toronto does have its own distinct sound as of now in terms of production and stuff, but every artist in Toronto sounds so different, in a good way.
TCUS: You’re originally from Nova Scotia, but born and raised in Toronto. You make sure to mention both in your website biography, Twitter, and in some of your tracks. Why is that important to you?
Elcee: I was born in Nova Scotia, and I was raised back and forth between Windsor, Ontario, and Toronto. I spent my adolescent years in Windsor, and closer to adulthood I spent in Toronto. I think it’s important to mention them all because I feel like they all built me. Even though I was literally born in Nova Scotia then six weeks later moved back to Toronto, my mom’s whole side of the family heritage is from Nova Scotia. A lot of the things that I naturally do are built off that are Nova Scotian habits and tendencies. Like me being obnoxious when I’m around a lot of people is me being Nova Scotian. It’s not from Windsor and it’s not from Toronto. Even all of my lingo is mixed up. I don’t really have the patois thing going on, but I can understand it. So for me, it’s making sure that people know my roots, and that I know my roots which is one of my key points about myself, so that I always remember where I’m from and where I’ve grown from.
TCUS: So you began uploading a new track each week as part of your #SoundCloudSundays series. Your first track, “Thought You Knew”, produced by Crown Jones, features the instrumental theme song of the soap opera, The Young and the Restless. It was quite an unexpected twist, and I’m sure I’m justified when I ask, on behalf of your listeners, why did you choose this as the backdrop of your track?
Elcee: You know what- it was just really random. The producer at the beginning of the song, Crown Jones, he produced it and he wanted me to feature on it but he never released it. But, ironically, my mom used to always watch it so when I heard it, I kinda had a feeling as to where I wanted to go with it, which is kinda weird.
TCUS: You’ve been really candid and open about your life and your thoughts throughout all your tracks. In “Help”, you talk about addiction; in “A Story of Lust”, you talk about your commitment struggles and a woman close to you that you considered family; in “Outsider”, you suggest a darker adolescence and your attempts to reinvent yourself. What kind of struggles has influenced your music and why do you think it was important to reach out and share them?
Elcee: When I first started doing music, I’d just freestyle with my friends until one of my friends said, “Oh, you should record”. Even till today, it’s been a coping mechanism for me to deal with my issues. Some people workout when they feel stressed out of whatever; when I have a lot of things on my mind, the easiest way is to write it down. So that’s my initial approach to music as a whole, as an artist. When I first started making songs, I never released anything, and my friends started telling me that I really needed to start releasing some stuff. With music, especially if you’re writing it yourself, there’s so many different routes that you can take with music as well. You could be a punch line rapper where you have tons of witty rhymes, you could be very personable, or you could just tell stories. I feel like J Cole does a lot of that as well- he does really good storytelling; Ghostface does too.
I feel like the easiest way for me to really get stuff out there is to speak about all of my experiences. Coming from a background where I’ve worked with a lot of youth, the easiest way to connect with them is sharing your own story, and then they wanna actually talk to you because they’re like, “Oh I can understand him now. I feel like he’s more relatable.” So that’s kinda why I stick to discussing my experiences in my music. What drives me to keep doing the music is to listen back to the songs and hear my growth from them from a time in my life when I felt that way, which is kinda cool.
TCUS: Any particular struggles that you wanna share?
Elcee: My family- my mom in particular, really wants me to go to a post-secondary school, and right after high school I almost went directly in to it, but I knew I wasn’t ready mentally. It wasn’t really what I wanted, and that’s part of the struggles I still have now- that I bounce back and forth. With the music itself there was a point where I was thinking like, why am I doing this? What’s the point of really doing this? There’s so many people that do music and don’t succeed. I could just go and work a 9 to 5 and get guaranteed money. So some of those fears still trickle into my mind, my mentality, and my thoughts, and that’s where I talk about success in my music.
A lot of my more recent stuff is more about the idea of success. I was thinking a lot about the Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore situation, and I was like, Macklemore is really successful in everything that he did, and so is Kendrick Lamar. The Grammy would have been cool for Kendrick Lamar, but realistically, first off, we don’t even know if he wanted the Grammy in the first place, or if it affects him that much. If he wanted a Grammy, he would have changed his music to gear it towards getting a Grammy. I feel that he knows the reason why he didn’t get a Grammy, and Macklemore knows why he did get one.
There’s so much more politics in success than there is the actual self-growth, because we always watch and see what other people think about us when we’re moving forward. That’s my biggest struggle right now, which is remembering to view success as how I want it- doing what I enjoy doing, and making money off of it. Those are my main goals. Being rich is cool, but if I’m middle-class forever- if I’m good middle-class and I’m not behind on my bills and I have good credit, then I’m good with that.
TCUS: You had mentioned just a few minutes ago that some rappers are personable, some are really witty, some throw out one-liners. From just meeting you, I see you as very personable; but in a lot of your tracks, it seems like you have a bit of an ego.
Elcee: [Laughs] I’m a Leo. I’m a lion. We’re pretty modest and courageous, but confident. I feel like an ego and confidence have such a thin line that it’s hard to meet that threshold. Sometimes when I hear my songs, I feel like I have this ego, but because I know mentally where I can grow more, I feel like you just have to be very confident when you put your stuff out and when you say something, so that people believe in what you’re saying. I think it’s more of that than anything, and that my ego is only to boost my belief in myself- so I feel like I can do anything.
I was listening to Lil’ Wayne’s Dedication 2 and in one of his tracks he talks about how he’s the greatest rapper alive and he says something along the lines of he doesn’t mean he’s better than everyone- He’s not better than anyone- but he FEELS like the greatest rapper alive. I feel like that’s the mentality that all of us should have when we’re trying to pursue anything. For example, if I was cleaning garbage’s, then I’m gonna be the best garbage cleaner alive. That should be your thought process with everything; that way you can really extract your strengths and put them towards it.
TCUS: Tell me about LeoSoul.
Elcee: It’s almost done actually! I have some feature artists included on the album such as Sese, Ghost, whose from Vancouver, and TY- The Come Up Show has featured him a few times. For the most part, I wanna stick with the theme of the Leo characteristics cause I feel like that’s a huge part of who I am. I didn’t really believe in astrology at first, but reading up on it in the last few years and especially recently, I’ve been seeing some of the similarities with the characteristics that I have, and that I’ve been told I have.
LeoSoul has three segments to it. One segment is about my experience with girls, one segment is about success, and the third segment is just a witty, fun segment where I’m just talking shit.
TCUS: Like an ego segment?
Elcee: [Laughs] Yeah.
TCUS: You’ve also been working with producer Bonham (formerly known as TREET$) more consistently on this new project.
Elcee: TREET$ really showed me a lot of love and support on one of my songs earlier last year. I reached out and we’ve been working together ever since. If it wasn’t for his production while I was working on my first solo project last year, things would not have picked up in the way they did. I feel like the production carries what you’re gonna say and it carries your emotions into the music. On top of that, his production is amazing, so I feel like that’s what really helped me complete LeoSoul and connect with so many people. If TREET$ and I hadn’t established our relationship, I would have been still working with random producers. They’re all so good as well, but our collaborations weren’t as consistent as TREET$ and my relationship has been. If it wasn’t for his production on LeoSoul, I’d still be where I was last year.
TCUS: As the weeks went on during your #SoundCloudSundays series, I’ve heard a significant change in refinement, style and even confidence in your music, as if we can hear you developing into the multi-genre artist, Elcee, that you want to portray with each passing week. Have you felt that #SoundCloudSundays have helped you achieve any kind of growth, whether it be personal or musically?
Elcee: I think it was actually the structure by which I chose to release the songs. I kinda chose them randomly for a some weeks, for the first few #SCS I chose the oldest songs, and towards the end of #SCS were the newer ones. While I was recording them over the 2 years I’ve been recording music, I could hear the growth in my music, and I could hear the difference in how I was delivering my message, and how I flowed and everything.
I think it was probably week 8 where the transition was to the newer songs. Because I was always listening to them by myself, I could enjoy all of them, but when I laid them out in order afterwards, then I could hear the growth. I could hear from the beginning where I was still decent and I still had a nice delivery and stuff, but I wasn’t too confident in what I was saying…I was kinda just saying stuff in general. And then it got into actual stories of my life, where before they were just things that happened, that I remembered. So the songs just got more refined into a smaller narrative for each song. As I was I was listening to them and releasing him I could not only see that growth, but could assess it from the response I received from the people listening.
With the older songs, I was just experimenting. I was writing it, recording it- done. With the newer songs, I freestyled to it, recorded it, listened to it, got some feedback from friends, and switched it up again, so there’s more thought put into the recent ones, especially with the LeoSoul project.
TCUS: You take being a Hip-Hop artist a step further by engaging the community and working with L.O.V.E., a youth violence prevention organization that allows young people to explore creative means such as photography and spoken word to express themselves. How do you contribute to L.O.V.E. and how does the organization contribute to the way YOU present your music, given the serious level of violence present in Hip-Hop and Rap?
Elcee: Initially with L.O.V.E., I just started out as one of the youth. Actually, they offered a video program so I was like, “I’m gonna take advantage of this” and I went and I realized that they didn’t know anything about video- they were new at it as well but they wanted to get kids’ messages out through video, just any means to get it out there. That’s why I stuck around because I understood their concept of connecting with youth and having youth connect with youth. After I accomplished the leadership program, they would have me go to outreaches and speak to grade sevens, and I’d be in grade eleven or twelve.
Now I’m not as involved, but I’m more of an ambassador for L.O.V.E. I actually stopped by few days ago, so if they ever need help with the video production, I can help them with that, or if they want help in the outreach and they need alumni’s to come out, I can do that too. But what I think they really gave to me, or how I voice my thoughts is just remembering that when I speak, there are different groups that are listening to me. Between that and being honest to yourself first- you shouldn’t just say something because you feel it’s the “right” thing to say- that’s where my music has led to.
I did a six-episode show with L.O.V.E. on Rogers T.V., and I remember while doing that, I’d go to the clubs and drink at night-and in Toronto, if you go to the clubs you almost get into a fight every night- so when I was going out there and there was times I almost got into a fight, I would think, if I end up in the newspaper for getting into a fight or worse, and one of the other youth see me, not only does that reflect on me as a person, but on the organization as well. So I have to remember what I represent, and that I have to carry that with myself as I walk through my day-to-day life.
TCUS: Final question- where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Elcee: Probably still in Toronto. I’m thinking of moving to Virginia for a little bit, depending on how things work, there I might just stay there. Maybe go to school for music production…. I feel like I’m never gonna get married, but if that happens that will be spontaneous, but I think I still see myself still being involved with media as a whole, probably still doing music whether people are listening to it or not, just for myself, and with a small circle of friends.
Take a sneak peak at Elcee’s upcoming project LeoSoul due out July 23rd, by checking out this EXCLUSIVE track produced by Fluence. “Testerossa Dreams”.