Whether he’s buoying a crowd behind the mic, or orchestrating chest-rattling bass in the studio, rapper, producer, and engineer Steezie maintains his tranquility.
The name “Steezie” is an amalgamation of the words “style” and “ease;” words that the Raleigh-based artist has built his persona around.
For a look at that internal placidity in action, check out the music video for his 2017 single, “MI AMOR.” Steezie jumps, spins, and grooves around The Raleigh Rose Garden. His dancing could easily motivate a crowd and anchor a party, but his easygoing smile and economy of movement all feel utterly effortless.
Steezie rarely strays from an unblemished vocal delivery and low-pitched placement. His flow is the star; he’ll spit rapid-fire for several bars before stretching out syllables like taffy.
Steezie’s lyrics compliment the image of effortless mastery he’s cultivated. Generally featuring his skills as a lover and his ability to foresee snakes in the grass, he positions himself as a man in command, always a little slyer than his enemies.
Originally from Harare, Zimbabwe, Steezie’s move to the States coincided with his decision to make music. He spent the following ten years learning his craft, and cut his teeth performing in Raleigh.
When I met Steezie over Hangouts, I found that his particular brand of passionate equilibrium carried over from his public persona to his personal life. He’s happy to share, enthusiastic about his projects and the development of the Raleigh rap scene, but he sustains an unruffled air at all times.
I spoke with Steezie about the sounds coming out of the Raleigh rap scene, how he navigates his time in the studio, and how his roots have shaped his style.
What are your favorite places in Raleigh?
Oh, I love Kings Barcade. I definitely love…The Pour House is a nice spot. Except that they don’t accept people under twenty-one, which is a killer because people in that age range listen to our music a lot. I like The Ritz. That was definitely the best place I’ve performed at. The Wicked Witch is another spot that I’ve been to. That’s really good. Those are some of my favorite spots, definitely, in downtown Raleigh.
What are a few of your favorite shows you’ve performed in, and what made them your favorite?
I performed one time in Boone at a college event. It was a frat party and that was one of my favorites. The energy inside this frat house was really crazy. They rooted for us from the start to the end, and they were just on point the whole time. The energy didn’t stop from start to finish. It was not a big venue or anything crazy. When you’re in something that everyone is participating in, and involved, and everyone is cheering for you, it’s something special.
Is crowd energy what makes a show for you?
Generally, yes, crowd energy is definitely the biggest factor. I would also say this; the Ritz was a great place that I performed at, even though it was a different crowd from…basically from young to old. It wasn’t a targeted group of people. So it was hard to capture the crowd with that different sound. It was a weird experience, but it was great. It was the biggest stage I’ve performed at.
In addition to being a rapper and an artist, you’re also a producer and an engineer.
Yes, I do engineer for myself. When I started out as an artist, and I had friends that I saw were creating and making beats and engineering, I used to sit back and I felt left out, so I was like, “Yo, I’m going to see what that’s about.”
So I got into the studio and started making beats and producing, and while I was producing I got connected with different artists from around the city. And they were trying to hop on my beats, and sometimes I didn’t get to record them because I didn’t know anybody that recorded people. So I started learning how to engineer. It’s all connected together: producing, engineering, and artistry. It’s all connected together, it all helped out.
And it’s created something special, not only for myself but for the upcoming scene here in North Carolina. I get to see so much talent come through and being able to get on a verse, or make the beat, or engineer the song is…I want to be involved in any type of way, you know? So that’s why I love it.
If you had to typify the sound coming out of the Raleigh rap scene right now, how would you describe it in a few words?
Well, right now it’s evolving because we have so many different sides and parts of Raleigh. I don’t even know if you can even give us a stamp on a sound, because we have an old school sound from Rapsody, she’s got that boom bap. So we’ve got that type of sound, we have artists that make trap music, we have R&B…we got so much to offer. Like I can’t even put it all in one box. So it’s really everywhere, that’s the interesting part. It’s just gonna take the right years to come and listen and find this area and hear what we have going on. It’s something special.
It’s terrific. What would you say are the greatest challenges facing the scene as it develops?
The greatest challenges right now…I just feel like people…I feel like people should connect more and not so much have an expectation towards situations that have other people involved. Like shows, or going into a studio, or collaborating with an artist. I think people’s first impressions towards artists are not really good. I think people should go out there and really get to understand the artist and get to creating. It doesn’t matter if you’re a musical artist, or photographer, or a video person. I think we should open up to each other a lot more, because we have so much to offer for each other.
Everybody wants to get that coastline, from Atlanta and New York and L.A. and stuff…but the people are here, within us, like the producers are here around us, the video people are here around us, so everybody should just reach out more. Go to events. Go to the studio. Go link up with a video person, talk to them, you know, be friends with them. Besides just music, just connect with them so things can move forward.
That makes sense to me. Let’s talk genre for a sec. You have a really interesting old school hip hop approach to genre, in that you pull from a wide palette of sounds. There’s a real R&B feel in “Sublime,” and you’ve got an alt-rock feel with “Evaporate.”
You also definitely use sounds that are associated with hip hop. What inspires you to use that old school approach and pull from a variety of genres?
I’m so eager to make different types of sounds, and show people what I’m capable of making. Because I don’t want to be boxed into one type of genre.
I want to break that boundary, because right now, what being an artist is about…people have a certain sound. Like when you hear a certain sound, you’re automatically associated with one artist. Oh, that’s- that’s him. My whole like thing is like, I want to do songs that people don’t realize it’s me. They’ll be, like, “Yo, who is this?” And then they’re like, “Oh, he doesn’t even make that type of stuff,” you know? I feel like being a producer too helps out a lot, because I have so much to pick from, sounds to pick from, that I can just go to. I have old school sounds, and I can’t take out that old school root for me. I love it. I feel like it will always stay alive.
Absolutely. One of the hallmarks of your flow that I wanted to draw attention to is how effortless it seems. Even if you’re doing something that’s technically difficult, it always feels natural, like you’re not breaking a sweat. You pair that with a really organic sampling style. How did that approach evolve?
That approach is just…it’s just me. It’s Steez! My whole name is “style and ease,” that’s how the root came together. That just who I am. And I’m very introverted. I’m quiet. You know, I have…most of the time I’m just quiet. And I take things with a lighter approach. So that’s how I approach my music. Like I don’t need to prove anything. I’m making the art from from my heart, not to prove the point that I’m the hottest out or anything like that.
That makes sense.
Yeah. But I definitely have songs where I am not quiet. Like, it’s that party vibe, I still have that party side in me a lot. So it’s going to come. Right now I’m in a slow type of music, my music is slow-tempoed, but I’m bringing that fast energy very soon, so I’m excited for that.
Because you have these aspects of you as a producer, as an engineer, and then you frequently generate your own beats to rap over, what in your mind makes for an iconic beat- a great beat to rap to?
Right now, what makes a great beat is something really raw and organic. Something that just flows within you. Like, if you were to sit there and make a beat for ten, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes. I know that sounds like a rush, but if you’re just trusting your gut, you just trust your gut will place things where they are supposed to be. It’s about trusting yourself. The producer that trusts themselves, and believes they can make something in a small amount of time just by going with the flow and the energy in that time, are the greatest producers right now. Because it’s simple, it has to be open for the artist to throw different different types of cadences to it. So that’s what makes a great beat. Something open and vibey for the artist to get on and do that thing.
So it’s all about instinct.
Yes. This is really about instinct. You got to be raw at it. Because when you’re in the studio, the process is you have an artist behind you. And they don’t want to sit and wait for you to make a beat in like, a whole hour. By that time, most of the time artists are already like…the ideas have really flown out their head. So if you’re making it right on the spot, you’re done with it in ten minutes, and you know the artist gets on it and that way the energy is captured right there. Everybody’s just passing around this energy. It’s crazy. It’s magic.
It’s like catching lightning in a bottle.
Seriously. So that’s how you create something great right there.
Very cool. I wanted to touch on that you’re originally from Harare, Zimbabwe.
And you moved here in 2008. What was that transition like?
It was really different. Because it wasn’t like I was not aware of the culture here. I knew the culture here. Like, you know, I was watching music videos. I was listening to Lil Wayne, I was listening to a lot of artists from here. And I knew a lot- I thought I knew a lot, but when I got here it was way different. I got to know what’s going on. It took me some time to get to understand how people are. You know, everybody’s different. So it took me some time to kind of adjust to the people here. And I got used to it, and I just grew into it. So it was great. It was awesome.
How do you integrate American influences with Zimbabwean influences? You’ve mentioned in the past that it affects your cadence. Tell me more about that.
“In Atlanta, their accent and flow and cadence is there and like- it’s just straightforward. Like for me, I had my accent. I can kind of blend in, so people could understand me. You know what I’m sayin’? I feel like that was one thing that I had to spend some time working. I had to find a certain place where I can fit my voice. And that soft cadence, it’s something that I had started out with and it was great. But I know I have so much more inside. So it’s been really great finding that.”
Photo courtesy of Steezie.