I first heard about Levii Ru$$ell through ABGOHARD, who posted Levii‘s alarmingly futive video for “MasterMind” on his Facebook page. A member of the cult $upreme $**t™, based out of his hometown of Houston, Levii Ru$$ell is an emerging artist, bent on clamoring sounds full of audacity, surprise, and raw instinct. At that time, he only had three other tracks out. “Anarchy”, “Homicide”, and “Lies”, which all followed the same nervous skips and phobic evasions of “MasterMind”. In only 12 minutes and 59 seconds of airtime, Ru$$ell was able to pinch a nerve that is often dulled by other artists : dense paranoia. His creative control follows suit : Ru$$ell stutter-steps into relationships, meticulously careful of those he associates himself with.
Ru$$ell bears all, exploring his work as an individual and as an artist. For any [self-described] paranoid individual, this personal exposure is bound to be deeply moving. But with no hesitation, no caustic distractions, or florid apparel (well, some at the end), Ru$$ell melts down his trophied experiences of backstabbers, pains, and nervous defense into furtive reliance. Constantly redefining his position on a given song, you have to be quick to catch his character. Don’t blink, you might miss where he goes. But once he’s there, you’ll only be able to sit back and admire as he pulls out another trick from a Hermes silk sleeve. .
– Franklin Weatherfield.
Franklin Weatherfield : So, how’d you pick your name?
Levii Ru$$ell : Well…Levii Ru$$ell, man, is my alter ego. It’s the life and times of Levii Ru$$ell. Like, Levii Ru$$ell is a damnation, a damnation of me. Like all the shit I ever did in my life, and a personality that I have. You know what I’m saying?
All right, like what sorts of things?
When I used to do dirt, man, when I was doing shit I wasn’t supposed to be doing. You know what I’m saying, like, out in the streets with my homies doing stuff with money, everything that embodied me when I’m not with my mother or my immediate family.
All right, so Levii Ru$$ell is like the evil side?
Yeah, basically. It’s the embodiment of me whenever my personality, the touch exterior of it.
Ok, so what’s your real name? [Redacted] what?
[Redacted], ok. So what made you not want to use your government and want to use this alter ego name?
There’s two reasons : the reason I don’t want to use my government name is because I don’t like people knowing my government name a lot or calling me by the name [redacted], you know what I’m saying? And also, [redacted]: I’ve been called [redacted] since I was young like, in sports and everything like that. I had this cool last name. And then when I was young, when I was thinking about rapping, the rapper [redacted] came out. (LAUGHS) So then I said, well I can’t do that no more. I had intended to call myself [redacted] but it was already done. So that kind of shut the door on everything. (CHUCKLES)
Specifically, why’d you choose the name?
The reason why I chose my name is cuz one of my favorite players of all time is Bill Russell. One of the best of all time. At the time that I chose that, everything that I was doing, I felt like I was doing it the best. I wanted to be the best. And have the most, in life. Levii came to me when I was basically just freestyling, and it just happened to come up. I just ran with it once it emerged, randomly.
I figured the Ru$$ell was for Bill.
Cuz of Basketball…
So tell us a little bit (and you can either tell us the story of [yourself] or Levii), but tell us a little bit about where you’re from, how old you are, who raised you, like, those young hopes and dreams. Whatever you think is important about who you are as a person that feeds the artist you are.
I was born in Houston. Coming up, we didn’t have that much. The typical story of a black kid, no father around, you know, struggling, doin everything like that. We were particularly homeless at one point in time, you know. And I have vivid memories of me eating out of trash cans, stuff like that. Sometimes I’d even be sleeping at my mother’s job, at a diner overnight. And eventually…you know, I was young, I ain’t know what was going on, I thought “Cool I’m at Jack In The Box, I can eat all the food I want”, that type of shit. But at the end of the day, when I got older, I understood what position my mother was in. My mother, pregnant with me, on a bus going to work every day and her explaining that to me. When we got kind of boxed in and I started going to school and shit like that, I really started to get into sports, like basketball, mainly basketball and football.
Yeah, you played for Northshore, right?
Oh yeah, I played for Northshore High School, yeah. And, when I was coming up, I was like top shit, I was cold. At Northshore, it’s very hard to be a sophomore on varsity football because they were a powerhouse. It was hard on me, but I worked on my game, I got really passionate about sports. I always thought that was my ticket for getting my mama out. You know, everything is handed to you when somebody sees you as important. And still, that’s when your childish mind will kick in and you think that you can do everything you want and get away with it, you know?
My mother was out there working hard, and I’m into sports and everyone’s giving a helping hand because I’m cold. Then, in the 6th game, I was out on a play and a fullback hit me in my spinal cord, really bad. It was a blindside, he hit me in the back after the play, when the whistle blew and everything. The next game, I hit somebody hard. I was ranked like #4 in the nation, it’s crazy. But when I got hit, it triggered something. The next day I started catching stingers. Stingers are like a pinched nerve. I kept getting those so I went to the trainer and shit, he was top-notch. We went to the doctor, shit started getting real deep and I was like why haven’t they called me a different doctor?.And the last doctor I went to was an x-ray doctor who saw that my spine had a slipped a disk. If I had kept playing, if I had hit somebody or somebody had hit me, I could’ve been paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of my life.
That made me a very angry person, you know what I’m saying? I was very angry. I was very angry at the world… I was getting handed shit but I wasn’t given the respect like other kids were. I was popular and everything like that, but I was the nigga by myself I was quiet and shit, but then people would be like, hey come to my crib blah blah blah, people wouldn’t like the nigga that was quiet, like myself. I punched a hole at the doctor’s office. Like I was that damn mad. I was really going like…I was like, “What the fuck’s going on?” But I really loved sports, I really wanted to go to college for sports. But luckily, I could still play basketball, you know what I’m saying, they couldn’t stop me from playing basketball. So I continued playing basketball, everything like that, which I was really good at. I had a couple offers, D-1, were really looking at me and stuff. Until my junior year. My junior year in high school was one of the most pivotal [pauses] like one of the worst, most fucked up shit I ever been through, like, I wish upon no man the shit I went through my junior year of high school, man.
What happened your junior year?
My junior year, we were playing, it was right before district, I was having a good-ass season, like good-ass season, like good season. And people were like, “y’all gonna be in the play-offs”, you know what I’m saying? Like, y’all goin’ far.
This was playing basketball, right?
Yeah, this was playing basketball. I was good, and like I said, when people hand shit to you, you feel a childish mentality. I was feeling like a hot-head. After playing one of our rival teams we went to this club; it was New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Eve of 2009. No, was it 2009? Ok, 2008. One of those years, I forgot. It’s all intertwined. There was a big party downtown, everybody was out there. Something happened with one of my homies, that nigga was starting to brawl in the club. Me, seeing the niggas I came with, jumped in, really beating people the fuck up. I was trying to leave the club, cuz my homie was outside, and I knew they called the police. So I told my homeboy, “Yo, this dude is blocking the door because he knows my homie is outside”. He blocked the door off and shit. So I was trying to get at my homie and tell this guy “I ain’t even trying to worry about you” and this guy was like “Fuck you, nigga, you gonna catch a fade” blah blah blah so I just knocked the nigga out. Like really, he started sleeping, sitting Indian-style. Like I knocked him out cold, so I’m not worried, if he arrives I’ll whoop his ass, I’m gonna go out there for my homie and get the fuck out of here.
So I went outside, me and my homie heard the cops, the cops were coming off the freeway. What was crazy is I was so worried about them, that the dude who I beat up came outside and was in his car, going, like, going like 45 MPH, he sped up to hit me, like, no remorse, and it was him and three other people in the car. And he hit me. I tried to jump over over the car, and luckily, because if I didn’t jump, I would be dead right now. I still got hit bad. I rolled over the windshield. They said I flew like six feet in the air and I hit the concrete face first. And when I woke up, I was tweaked. I ain’t know what was going on. I woke up and I had blood all up in my mouth and, everybody’s there, all my best friends and my home girls crying and I’m like, what the fuck’s going on? Then I look at my mouth and there’s blood everywhere and shit. The bottom of my lip busted open, my chin busted open. You can see in my video that I have a scar. That’s the line that they used to stitch that shit back up. My foot is cut open, it busted open. I have scars from getting concrete gravel in my arms and my legs, you know? And I passed out again. When I woke back up, I was in the ambulance. All my homies were there telling me “You gotta stay up, man, stay up!” to keep me from going back to sleep. I laid there (the hospital) for like twelve hours with the same blood in my mouth. They told me after I got to the trauma center that I died in the ambulance and they got me revived.
Wait, so you died in the ambulance?
Yeah, I flatlined and they brought me back
Damn. Goddamn. My next question was going to be about like those pivotal moments in your life, those moments that change you forever but that feels like the one. I feel like that really explains the music that I’ve heard from you. Like, I feel like something like that’s going to give you the sound that you’ve got. That’s crazy. That’s a crazy experience.
Do you remember anything? Like did you have one of those out of body experiences or not at all?
All I remember, man, all I remember was darkness. And sweat. I felt like I was sleeping. You know what I’m saying? I wasn’t dreaming shit, I ain’t see no light, I ain’t see nothing. All I saw was dark. Pitch black.
Just pitch black?
Just pitch black, man, like I’m taking a nap. And I woke up, I jumped up and they were like “Clear!”, that type of shit. And I shot open my eyes and had a cast on my leg and I couldn’t move. I was trying to move around and shit and they were like “Calm down!” They had to do a cat scan on me to make sure nothing was wrong, everything like that. So when that happened I was in the hospital for like two days then I got out, but I couldn’t go to school for like eight weeks. Those eight weeks I couldn’t eat real food, I had to drink out of a straw. I had to have somebody give me a bath, bathe me. The worst feeling in the world is feeling defenseless. When you can’t do shit about it, it’s fucked up.
So it was like, nurses that were coming to give you a bath and stuff?
Nah, it was my own people, man. My mother. I had to sit down and fuckin’ cry with my mama about what the fuck I’m doing, what the fuck happened, man. I fucked my life up, point blank. When I came back out, I came back on crutches because I had a cast on my foot, I still had stitches in my foot. I couldn’t talk that well, either. I was slurring a lot, I was on my crutches a lot and people were fuckin’ with me, like talking about ‘poor little tink-tink’ type shit. You know that Kat Williams character? People close to me said it and I would like laugh and it was like a joke between us because those were the people that were there for me, they came out to the hospital and everything, you know what I’m saying? But when other people got a hold of it, it was constant, that shit was crazy. Because I know if I ain’t have my crutches, I would whoop that ass. What was pissing me off was like, when y’all was boxing me when I was [real name], none of y’all niggas were out there fighting me in my own fight, what the fuck? You know what I’m saying? Half of those people weren’t even coming to see me when I was in the house for eight weeks. Like there was a rumor that when I got hit, I was dead.
So do you think that not only the experience of going through that one night but then the months that followed, do you think that that influenced your music at all or your desire to make music?
Yeah, man. It was. After that, like nobody gave two fucks about me. The only people I knew closely, I knew they were my real niggas, you know what I’m saying? And to go down that road, like… I ain’t have shit. My mama was struggling to get it, you know what I’m saying? So I started getting back into shape, getting back into basketball, trying to get some looks back. My coach…when I came back that first week with my crutches, my coach said, “It looks like you were in a fight with a bear and the bear won”. In front of everybody. Everybody. And everyone got quiet and looked at him and he was laughing. And I’m like, “How the fuck is that shit funny?” I said “I almost lost my fucking life, man. And you go crackin’ a joke like that, nigga?” I was mad and he was looking at me and I was going off, man. I didn’t even care. But the month going on after that, you know, I started doin dumb shit. There was a point in time when I got into it with my mother. I felt like I was nobody, and my mother was like “Just calm down”, I was crying. And that led to me leaving the house, going to the West side of town, going with my nigga. And we used to just like, steal. We would rob. And this is some shit I really want to express during this interview, all this shit. Because you can really hear it through my music, you know what I’m saying? I mean, we used to rob niggas for drugs.
Oh, so you were like, you were taking packs?
Yeah, we were stickup boys. And we was in there, we was robbin’ niggas, taking niggas bricks, taking niggas weed. All type of shit. We was doing a lot of shit to get bread. Then that money that I got, because I would go see my mother at some point, I’d come around the house and say, ‘”Look at this, mama”. Then I’d go around my papa’s house, where he lived at, and go to school. But going down that road, going down that path, wasn’t very good, because there’s a lot of..that shit is crazy. It’ll get you paranoid, there’s paranoia. For real.
Yeah, your music definitely sounds paranoid, like the way you switch everything up all the time. It sounds like you’re trying to get away from something.
I feel like that definitely comes through. So what is your musical history? Like how long have you been making music or like been around making music?
With rap, I started young. I was a street star, they were all like ‘”Oh yeah, you go hard’!” all that shit. But I didn’t really get into it until my senior year in high school. That’s when I was like, yeah I can rap, you know what I’m saying? But when I seen Kirko Bangz made it…Kirko went to the same high school as me. Kirko Bangz was a senior when I was a freshman. But when I saw that, you know, damn, Kirko made it, that’s cool, man, anybody can make it. So after that I put all my focus on rap, and just right back into just doing what I wanted to do. I took my shit really really serious like two years ago. So when I took my shit serious, that’s the time that like Tyler, the Creator was coming out. When I saw that I was like, damn…these niggas… I fuck with Tyler, the Creator because I knew what kind of shit he did, you know what I’m saying? (chuckles). Like three years ago, I never would have put shit out, because I never would have punched this shit out and it’d be trash because that’s paper trails, you know what I’m saying?
Did you put out a project before or not yet?
So Vi$ionz is going to be the first one?
Yeah, it’s going to be the first one.
Well yeah, you said that you wanted to change the face of rap in Houston. Why so specific, and what do you think you can do to do that?
The way won’t be specific. It’s the hope that Houston can develop its great culture. I grew up on that shit. Scarface, Geto Boyz, and (DJ) Screw. But, at the end of the day, since it’s such a big city, we could be a powerhouse like New York or LA. You go to LA, and go to the W, you can see anyone you want, but on a regular day. Houston culture is way different. People aren’t interested in music out here. There’s people from out of state that listen to our music more than us. We get like, A$AP Rocky, or Kendrick, and that shit’s sold out. And our local artists can’t get that. And that’s not true in NY. Like you go to some local artist’s show, and it’s just as packed as a bigger artist’s show. Great support for the local community. It isn’t like that here. I want that same feeling in Houston. I want people to come out to a show, or a barbecue in Houston. Like a meet and greet and have fun. We have a lot of local artists out here. The talent is here. It’s just gonna take the right person to put it together. I think I can do that. I think I can put together the right team and have the right music to bring it all together. That’s my main focus.
Let’s actually talk about the crazed production you’ve chosen. Who has produced for you?
PE$O PIDDY and Ounce. They’re both very dope.
And what’s your process like? What’s the studio atmosphere? Like how do you work with tracks that have so many subtleties?
Well, I have a pitched ear. I like shit that catches my attention, that puts me in a trance. I like making music in the moment. So like, if I want the coin flip in the background, or like, a person screaming, I like that. It gives my records the element of surprise. When I make tracks like that, you don’t what’s up next. Most artists, you have a pretty good idea of what’s up next. Sometimes, they’ll “pre-murder” it, but most of the time, while we’re in the session, I’ll have them add things after the fact.
Let’s say you re-recorded “Mastermind”, would it sound much different than the first time you made it?
Well, not really, cuz, before I do the record, I write to it and premeditate. I get the sounds that I want in my head, and then I run with it. Lyrics could stay the same, but sporadic noises could be different depending on the session. Element of surprise, like I said. What you’ll always hear, though, is the “$upreme $**t™” drop, that’s ALWAYS in the background.
Are you also actively looking for new producers right now?
There’s also Joe, SHMX, he’s another producer. But nah man, I’m reedy to work with anyone who got the heat. I’m tired of shit that’s generic as fuck.
Who is a producer that you really respect or admire, or want to work with?
Well, he still comin up, but SpaceGhostPurrp (AKA ICEE). If I have a record from that man, I’mma fuck it up. Forreal. His shit is just retarded. Pharell, too, and Just Blaze.
I’m surprised about Just Blaze.
He had hits man. He’s in a different mindset. With his sound, and how I think, the studio would be the ill shit. I’m down to stay in the studio forever. I’m not leaving until the track is on point. Also, Lil Ugly Mane.
You know L.U.M. is about to bow out.
I don’t know man, I think he just wanted to step out of the light, maybe since the character of L.U.M. was known, he didn’t want to keep on putting in work like that.
Goddam it, he’s nice. Maybe if I give him 10,000 then he’ll do the beat!
So let’s talk about $upreme $**t™, your music collective.
Okay. Well, we call ourselves a “cult”. Not on some evil shit, it’s as in “culture”. We’re a culture of g shit. Like no one in $upreme $**t™ is any type of hoe ass. We all keep it 100. One thing you can really take away is that we’re always down for each other. Like take DT Blanco, she’s from Austin. She’s cold. She’s $upreme $**t™. I feel like she’s gonna be a heavyweight. She spit like a nigga. She spit like a dude. She can compel a man to think that she’s hard. Like we turn up to what she says. Niggas looked at her like “What the fuck?” And another thing, she don’t care. At all. She’s gay. She dresses like a boy. She’s just herself. I fuck with her tough because of that. I also met Sanchez Paris through a mutual friend, when I was first in college. Miko Brisco used to put his shit up, that’s how I found out about her. He and I grew together. I met DT riding the bus together. She felt like I was the only nigga to take her seriously.
What are some of the hard parts of being a part of an up and coming rap collective?
[No hesitation] They don’t take us seriously.
Okay. Um, let’s try this… Since you’re into basketball, what basketball team would you guys be. What year, too.
OOOOOOOO. Um.. The Houston Rockets, when they won back-to-back. Damn, fuck. Drexler, Olajuwon, when shit was really poppin. Early 90s. If $upreme $**t™ were a team, we’d be the Rockets from the good ol’ days.
You think that you guys have the typical “Houston” sound? Or is it not even about that?
No. No. No. My sound, man, it’s just different. Different. I never wanna pigeonhole my style. There’s people that say that my flow isn’t fluid. If it’s not fluid, then it’s new to your ear. Unless people hear something new, they don’t care. Like when A$AP came out… most people from Houston didn’t give a damn. So I keep my style, like, just that you don’t know what I’m up to next.
Your style, down to the beats, switches up a lot. Why do you think that is?
I like giving people a roller coast ride. My music will take them through highs and lows. You can even see those in my videos. I’m a very visual person. Every record I write, it’s a video in my mind.
Yeah it seems like you get bored a lot in your music, with the whole “Now you see me now you don’t” switches. Do you get bored easily in real life, and if so, does that motivate you to work?
Not really. Like when I make my music, I just think about captivating a crowd. Getting them talking. You know? I like that when people hear my work live, they’re not sure what to do. Most people, when they make an album, listeners know what they’re about to do. And I think that the element of surprise works in my favor. It’s like a TV show. At the end, when they have the cliff hanger “To Be Continued”, I just wanna see what’s next. That’s my music. I just wanna keep people guessin about what I’mma do next. That’ll give me longevity. If people know what’s next, then I don;t know what you’re rapping for. If you’re content, then what’s the point?
Do you think that that had some of your experiences we just talked about?
Of course. The highs and lows of my life. The good and the bad. No so-so parts. Nothing was used lightly. I’m completely honest in my music. You gotta have an open mind.
***We took a moment to look into some more personal aspects of Levii’s character that moved away from his upbringing. This was some heavy shit, after all. This second portion revolves around the more lighthearted aspects of Levii Ru$$ell. Meet the rap lover, basketball player, and master of thrifting***
So I was actually reading other people’s opinions of your work. I saw you compared to ODB and Bushwick Bill. How do you feel about being compared in general, and then how do you feel about those specific comparisons?
Well, it’s a privilege. It’s an honor that somebody’s doin that. That someone takes time out of their day to compare me, I really appreciate that. I would like to not be compared to anybody, but I appreciate that forreal. It’s an honor to be compared to Bushwick. He’s a Houston native, and when it comes to ODB… he was a fuckin legend. the most retard lyricist, character, everything in this world, he was the craziest version. I appreciate those, but I feel like I’m my own person. I wanna be able, at one point, to have people look up to me.
I’ve seen you tweet (a few times) about Loyalty. Why is that so important to you?
Loyalty is what makes this world work. Loyalty and values and morals. If you have no morals, you’re a snake. If you have no values, you don’t know what you’re looking for. If you have no loyalty, then why should I let you into my mind? Why would I let you sit there with my child like that? If you’re loyal, you can get all the respect from me. There’s a lot of snakes in the grass out here. Loyalty is money to me. It makes me feel better than money.
Let’s lighten it up. I noticed something in the “Mastermind” video. You kept looking off to the side. Was something going on off on the side?
Really? to that point? (I thought we were lightening up!)
Yeah man. I’m always lookin around. I been shot at before, so I never know what’s up. AND we were up in the woods with fuckin coyotes and and deer runnin around! It’s a good thing for me, to be paranoid. I’m never careless.
You used to play ball for North Shore high. Did you have hoop dreams?
Yeah, but the accident killed all that. Made me less explosive.
Of the rapper//basketball player contingency, who’s you’re favorite?
Master P can hoop. I think Cam’ron can too. Master P though because he played with finesses, like I played. When I used to get to the rack, it takes all finesse.
Why’re you a Heat fan though, especially with these finals against the (San Antonio) Spurs?
I’m a Dwayne Wade fan, honestly. Since high school, too. And I was a fan even when they were down. I like how they handle their franchise. It’s not being a Lebron rider. And with San Antonio, I can’t get into it. Like when I go watch a game, I want to see something exciting. I want my money’s worth. I’m not tryna see anything but a performance.
The real question on people’s minds is your shirt game. That’s critical. Tell us about it.
[Laughs] Impeccable shirt game. It’s just, I like wearing different shit. Like shit no one is wearing. I go to the thrift store, I’m like “AH! this shit cool!” I’m not scared to take chances.
How do you describe the style?
Just, man, I don’t know… Just what I feel at that time. Like I might wear some loopy shit, have niggas like “What is this nigga wearin?” I’mma wear that. Crazy as fuck. Me and my homies be at the thrift store. I want some different shit.
Speaking of colors, why do you fuck with the green juice so much?
I BEEN juicing man, it’s good as fuck! It’s a little detox. You got so much junk food in your body, you just gotta detox your body. It makes me feel better. Like if I do a show, I wanna have people get the full-on experience. I want them to feel me, see me up in the crowd. To be upbeat, I need my nutrition, gotta look good! Be healthy.
Alright last one. Why is Bill Miller the devil?
Ha! Because I worked with him. Sometimes he’s the devil. He asks for shit sometimes man… He’s crazy. Like you’ll get off work and he’ll tell you that he needs you to do shit for him. He frustrates me. I got a few people sayin that out here.
Any last words?
Man, we just tryna rock out all over.
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