Boston has cosigned the Roxbury 21-year-old out to prove that Hennything's Possible.
Photo by Nina Westervelt, courtesy of Vintage Lee
All it took to get on the phone for the first time with Vintage Lee was a mention of her name. I was at Boston rap blog Steady Leanin's 2016 South By Southwest showcase, and I casually remarked to Cousin Stizz that I had heard his fellow Boston artist's insanely addictive cut "Hennything's Possible" a few weeks prior. Without hesitating, he rang her up. The conversation was nothing more than a bunch of shouting and laughter, but it was clear that there was already a kinship between Vintage Lee and the Boston rap community.
"Boston just took me in," she told me over the phone earlier this week, when we connected for the second time. If Stizz and friends Michael Christmas and OG Swaggerdick were the first wave of rappers to come out of Boston's emerging scene, then Lee is at the forefront of the next one. "I released my first track like a year and a half ago," she continued. "After that, it was a wrap. I linked [with producer] Tee-Watt first and then everything else happened. Stizz hit me like the day he heard my shit, and then after that, Michael hit me."
She was shyer and less forthcoming than before, as well as compared to those more outspoken hometown counterparts. But whatever candor she lacked on the phone, she more than makes up for on PiMP, her debut project, premiering below, where her personality shines through with a swagger that is markedly her own.
In fall 2015, the 21-year-old MC released her debut single "Right Now," a dissonant, bass-heavy cut where—like Stizz did with his debut tape Suffolk County—Lee gives her own shout out to her Boston neighborhood, Roxbury, and to her crew. But what Lee really does with this first song, and what we subsequently see on her later tracks, is introduce her style: slurred, leisurely vocals, tinged with an almost southern accent, and equally laid-back ad-libs. She says it all in the first verse: "Roxbury's Finest Pimp, that's why I walk with a limp / That's why I sauce when I walk and I drip."
A few months later, Lee returned with her most noteworthy track yet, the braggadocious party anthem "Hennythings Possible," another song steeped in her music and fashion aesthetics (and completely on brand with rap's favorite liquor, Hennessy). Both of these songs are early indicators of what Lee's music is really about: " PiMP is really just doin' you," she told me resolutely. "Hell yeah, just doin' you."
Vintage Lee pointed to her mom, who "was always playing old school jams and shit, like Rick James" as her route into music. The first hip-hop song that caught Lee's attention was 50 Cent's "Candy Shop." When she got to high school, her main focus became varsity basketball, but rap was always an interest. "But if I was on a bus or in the cafeteria and there was a beat, then I would be rapping," she says. When she tore some ligaments in her foot after high school and had to stop playing, she directed her energy toward music, watching as Boston's hip-hop scene began to take off.
PiMP—a nickname Lee earned when she was 16 because of "the way she moved"—is a project can best be described as unhurried. The Boston MC makes her way through the ten tracks at a relaxed pace, rapping, it often feels like, through a haze of weed smoke and off the Henny. Standout tracks include the bouncy "Lean Lean," and "Pass," the most spirited song off PiMP. On "New Stash," the beat is lighter, spurred by a flute; Lee, in turn, feels lighter, her adlibs coming in at a faster pace and altering her flow. Virginia producer Tee-WaTT—Stizz's longtime collaborator, who's also worked with Boston rapper Big Leano—worked on more than half of PiMP.
"[Rap] gave me a voice because then you have younger females who are gay, too, and wanna rap, but they're gonna be like, 'Oh I don't wanna rap about this because of how people might think it's perceived,'" Lee mused. "But in my mind if a dude can rap and be like, 'Suck my dick, do this, do that,' then I can rap about the same thing. It's just it doesn't look as bad for a guy because it's a male-dominated industry, and they can talk about sex more openly." She laughed, "I do talk about fuckin' bitches a lot." But that comes from her personality, which shines through on PiMP.
"Having enough confidence in yourself to move how you wanna move, not be too tied down—when it comes to my music, I feel like it just translates over," she continued. "I'm just true to myself, so like whatever you see in regular me you'll get, in Vintage form."
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