Imagine getting ready to drop a project and one of the best rappers in the world calls you the night of and tells you to “hold on to it for him.” That’s exactly the reality of budding Charlotte rapper back in 2014. He was all set to drop his tape West 1996 Part 2, when he got a call from J.Cole himself asking him not to drop it. Over the next 3 years Lute would get a taste of label politics, learning how to clear samples, getting signed to Cole’s Dreamville imprint, and a host of other lessons that didn’t involve the release of his project.
Through all that, Lute never gave up and his hard work is about pay off something serious. It’s been roughly 3 years since Cole called, and we’re just getting the project from Lute. Optimistic and excited, he’s ready for being next up on Dreamville and the music proves that. He hails from Charlotte where the music scene is super underground, and with this release he hopes to dismiss this notion. We got to sat down with Lute to talk about the album, the story of the J. Cole call, his daughter,finding a ton of youtube producers and more. Enjoy below.
RESPECT.: Where did the idea of calling yourself Lute come from?
Lute: My friends had already been calling me Lute throughout High School, so I was just like well I’m hiding behind this Lil ace name why don’t I just go with Lute and be more of myself. My real name is Luther.
RESPECT.: What was growing up in Charlotte like and how did that impact your music?
Lute: I grew up on the Westside it’s kind of low income over there, so I was able to see a wide range of stuff and growing up in that environment just really shaped my music. Charlotte never really had a hip-hop scene growing up like that, like locally it wasn’t a scene, it was a melting pot of different scenes because we had people from New York coming, people from California, Atlanta so it was a melting pot of all types of genres and music.
RESPECT.: So would you say all those different scenes shaped Charlotte music at that time?
Lute: Yeah, cause the music scene here now is crazy. It’s very underground, but at the same time it’s this wide range of genres, but all talking about the same content. The funny thing is people from Charlotte, aren’t from Charlotte, to be from Charlotte is rare as hell.
RESPECT.: So where do you see Charlotte going? With an artist like you being at the forefront.
Lute: It’s crazy, like honestly, it’s not even just me I feel like the scene Is growing so much. It’s a lot of different acts that people haven’t discovered yet, or they haven’t had the platform to really extend how much they want to. It’s going to be something to really look at soon.
RESPECT.: Can you give me a few artists from the top of your head that I should look for?
RESPECT.: So, after listening to the album I hear a lot of distinct instruments and everybody doesn’t go that route so what inspired that do you come from a music background?
Lute: My parents are older, so I didn’t grow up listening to Hip-Hop, I grew up listening to The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye. My parents are hella old, like my dad is 72, and my mom is damn near 70 so growing up musically that’s the type of stuff I was listening to, like jazz and blues. It wasn’t until my brother had left for the military, he dipped and left a bag of CD’s for me to listen to. I went through those, and that’s where I found all the old school joints. Nas, Goodie Mob’s, Outkast and all that.
RESPECT.: Didn’t you find his stash of music and that’s what got you into rap?
Lute: Yeah, pretty much going through them CD’s is what got me listening to Hip-Hop. Even in the neighborhood, I was a kid that was in the crib so I wasn’t catching on like that to Hip-Hop at the time, but once I started connecting with the music and listening to my brother’s CD’s and realizing what was going on around me it was like damn.
RESPECT.: When you found his albums, give me the two that you liked the most and for what reason.
Lute: Goodie Mob, Soulfood cause Cee-Lo like one of my favorite artists. It was just that connection that soulfulness, that vibe. Then there was a ODB joint in there, and ODB is like my number one, top favorite artist of all time.
RESPECT.: I noticed on the album you try your hand at singing a little bit. Do you sing?
Lute: I try to, I try, but I can’t hold a note though. (Laughs)
RESPECT.: Can you tell me the significance of 1996 and why you named the project that?
Lute: It was right around the time I fell in love with Hip-Hop. The whole meaning behind West 1996 was, I was trying to paint a picture that my story was my hoods Illmatic. So that’s why I had the Nas cover for the first one, it was like I was telling a story from the people in my environment and from my perspective. Now part 2, I was letting people know where I was coming from and how I grew up. So, part 2 is like letting people really know who I am.
RESPECT.: Take me to the day you’re about to drop & J. Cole calls. What was that like?
Lute: I was on the computer, I was getting links together. He texts me first to ask me was I free, and then I hit him up and he was like “Yo I listened to the project, I think it’s fire it’s hard. You about to drop it today?” I told him like yeah I’m bouta drop it in a couple hours cause it was like 2 or 3 in the morning. I was gon drop it at like 10. So I was getting the links up making sure I was getting it right and making sure everything worked. He was like yeah that’s fine, but this s**t is so fire, I feel like I want to help, I’m not sure yet I don’t know how, but if you could hold on to it for me I can try to get in the right hands. At first he wasn’t even trying to sign me, he was just talking about getting it to the right people. Eventually he was just like f**k it, I’m gon sign this dude. That initial conversation was just about getting it to the right people and getting it in the right hands so that he could really help me out. It wasn’t about him holding it to sign me or anything.
RESPECT.: So after all that what’s your relationship with Cole?
Lute: I just look at him as a bigger brother. He gives me tips and different techniques on how to keep my mind moving, and keep music flowing. To be in this position it’s dope to get feedback on how to progress in my music.
RESPECT.: Tell me the difference between the album before Cole got it, and after Cole got it.
Lute: Every song on the project changed at least twice. It’s a big difference, a lot of things changed cause me being underground and not being signed I could just grab some s**t off youtube spit over it, drop and call it a day. After I got signed I didn’t know anything about getting samples cleared and all that other s**t so we had to go back and find all those youtube producers that I had got the beats from and then we had to get the samples cleared. Some n***as we couldn’t find, and some samples didn’t get cleared. At one point in time I thought I was gon have to redo the whole project, which I didn’t want to do. At the time we was getting al the samples cleared, and trying to find all these different people I’m in a whole different period in my life so I didn’t want the asthetic of the project to change.
RESPECT.: What impact does your daughter have on both your music and you, seeing as she’s on the cover and mentioned a lot throughout the album.
Lute: She had a huge impact cause at first I was like what the f**k am I gonna do? It’s a scary feeling — when she came it was a happy feeling, but at the same time it’s a scary feeling as well. I had just got fired, and was like damn, I gotta figure this out. She really was the motivation behind my music, and without her there wouldn’t be a West 96’ Part 2. I was about to get a job and try to move up and be a manager and s**t. I wasn’t thinking about music. I wasn’t thinking about going to the studio, I was thinking about when that next check was coming.
RESPECT.: So you were about to quit music?
Lute: Yeah. I was about to be like that’s it. I can’t just be chasing something I’m not sure is gon happen or not. I had faith, don’t get me wrong, but taking care of my daughter was a lot more important.
RESPECT.: If you had to describe your music what would you describe it as?
Lute: My music is to show people are far greater than their circumstances. I just feel like despite what you go through, or despite what people think of you, you still got room to be who you want to be.
RESPECT.: What’s your favorite song off the project?
Lute: My favorite song would have to be either “Ford’s Prayer” or “Crabs in a Barrel.”
RESPECT.: Why those two?
Lute: “Crabs in a Barrel” was really a freestyle, and I was so fed up with what was going on at the time. All of the songs on the project are from 2014 and 2015. The only song I went in the studio and did was “Crabs in a Barrel” and that was maybe a month or two ago. It was a freestyle, I didn’t write nothing down that was how I felt. I was venting, and that’s why it’s my favorite one.
RESPECT.: What was your thought process while the project was in limbo since all of it has been recorded for so long?
Lute: That whole process helped me grow as an artist, and as a person. There were times where I had my doubts. This project went through so much. Every song there’s a different version of it, because of all the stuff I went through with each song over the years.