"Nowadays a lot of people are gaining buzz because of the people they know, and I guess that's always how the industry has been," Columbus rapper L.e for the Uncool said. "But I never want anyone to like my music or mess with my music just because I know somebody."
Make no mistake: L.e wants as many people as possible to hear "The Measure," the 13-track collection he released for free online Tuesday. But he wants widespread appeal on his own merits and his own terms.
Most Columbus rap fans first encountered L.e as the strangest-sounding member of ambitious hip-hop collective Fly.Union, boasting the sort of high-pitched, nasally flow you might expect out of a cartoon character. But last summer L.e and his Fly.Union collaborators mutually agreed to part ways - essentially, L.e's squeaky-clean approach to lyrics and life didn't match Fly.U's aspirations anymore.
At first, he wasn't sure whether to continue rapping, but after a surge of support from fellow musicians, he dropped his debut "The Anti-Parachute Theory" a month after going solo. That led to an underground hit, "Polo On My Body," produced by Columbus super-producer A.U. In turn, the track afforded L.e the chance to tour and develop friendships with some respected names in rap.
But if L.e was clear about one thing during an interview last week at the Arena Grand, it was his desire to blaze his own path to success without relying on name-dropping. Thus, the same unbending approach that caused him to go solo also moved L.e to ruthlessly cut several guest verses from "The Measure" and replace them with more rhymes of his own.
Those lyrics paint a broad picture of L.e - "I let my mind wander a little more," he said - but what stands out most is his tributes to the minds that have shaped him, from Kanye West to Cornel West. He also throws out a diss here and there: "They say money talk, but to keep it real with you/ I never wanted to speak the language of Oprah Winfrey."
L.e did compromise his vision for "The Measure" in one significant way. He originally conceived the project as a "grimy," no-hooks affair inspired by the likes of Gang Starr and Wu-Tang. But The 3rd/Elevator Music producer Rashad Thomas, who supplied the beats for all 13 tracks and produces under the name Rashad, convinced L.e to add a little pop flair to the proceedings. Considering Rashad's strong track record and long personal history with L.e, the rapper was willing to listen.
"Rashad has always been kind of like a big brother to me," L.e said. "Our relationship goes beyond music."
The pair spent months huddled together at Rashad's recording studio, The Sugar Shack, tinkering with beats and rhymes until "The Measure" measured up to their expectations.
"I would go over to the Shack and we would just sit and cook," L.e said.
Now that the entree is complete, L.e is serious about getting it to the public. A huge online promotional blitz has so far included numerous flashy video clips and a relentless Twitter campaign.
"It might be hitting people in the head too much. It might be spammed to everybody," L.e said. "People's moms might get 'The Measure' in their e-mail, maybe."