Catching Up with Memphis Rapper Bleu Levees About His New EP, Influences, and Impending Fatherhood

By Katie Kelly

Last month, Memphis rapper Bleu Levees dropped his latest project The LSD Tapes Vol 1. The experimental EP spans 3 tracks – all of which impressively showcase his growing stylistic range while still maintaining a cohesive narrative. This duality is no happy accident. To say Bleu Levees is an intentional artist would be an understatement. Every note, every word, every visual is crafted with purpose. We sat down with the rapper to discuss his creative process, becoming a father, and what other projects he has in store for 2024.

Why don’t you start by telling us about your background. How did you start making music?

I’m originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, but I grew up with both the Memphis and New Orleans cultures because my mom’s from Memphis and my dad’s from New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hit, my family and I left the city and moved to Memphis. I was around 11 at the time. 

I didn’t really start doing music until, like, maybe tenth or eleventh grade. I actually first started with poetry. I would write poetry in the back of the class because I was kind of the quiet, shy kid in class. Then I met Berry (shoutout my boy BerryThaGoat) and he really got me into actually expressing myself as an artist. 

So, it kind of took someone else to bring you out of your shell and believe in your talent.

Yea, it took others to kind of bring out my, I guess, creative side and just be more vocal. I feel like with music in general, it allowed me to kind of have a voice outside of having to speak to people to express myself. 

Berry was known as a rapper, but I would kind of play around. I had maybe two pages of poetry and raps written. Out of nowhere, he looks at me and was like, “don’t you rap a little too? You should come spit something,” but I was too nervous so I just gave him my poetry to read and walked away. I actually nervously walked around the school (laughs).

When I came back, I was kind of expecting him to be laughing at my writing, but he was like, “oh this is GOOD.” And we just started hanging out. I would come over to his house and practice writing music. I would watch him create so I could learn how. I think that entire summer after tenth grade I would just be over at his house and we would be writing and releasing music.

How did you come up with the name Bleu Levees?

I actually released my first album under my real name, Michael. I didn’t change my name until like 2017 when I decided to put my music on Spotify in a more professional way.

Bleu Levees came about because I just kind of played on kind of where I’m from and where I wanted to go. I call myself Blue, just like an ode to New Orleans, and like that side of myself. Also, the levees – if the levee didn’t break I wouldn’t be here.

I also wanted to be like a mental levee for people listening to my music – they can kind of chill and not feel all the pressure. Blue I also correlated with Memphis for the Blues and the blue color with Memphis. So, I kind of feel like that all mixed together really nicely.

You touched on the mix of cultures and influences you grew up with, which makes sense because your music really is a blend of different sounds and genres. I’m guessing you have a wide range of artists that inspired you. What are some of your main musical influences?

Honestly, I was a big nu metal fan. I get bored easily so I really moved away from what was “mainstream” or on the radio. I would be listening to Linkin Park, Korn, Gorillaz – Gorillaz is a big influence on me visually and sonically. Then I would say hip-hop wise for sure Lupe Fiasco, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar.

I was also around people who were schooling me on the real history of Memphis rap. So, I got really into like Tommy Wright III, Lord Infamous, Project Pat, Juicy J, Three 6 Mafia, all of that as well.

You also have a very carefully curated artistic aesthetic. It’s clear that you have a specific idea for the visuals that go along with your music. How important is that whole package to you?

I’m a real cinema head (laughs). I just love movies and I love the weird, like underground movies. I love Japanese movies or horror movies – those are probably some of my favorite genres. But I would watch movies and pay attention to what music they paired with each scene, so I guess that correlation was there from the jump. Even when I was younger, I would listen to music and come up with videos in my head so now I write music and already have a visual in my head. I really feel like I’m slick writing music to my own movie. 

Do you want to write your own movie?

Yea, I’m working on scripts now actually – just like a movie and TV series. It’s kind of hard to balance everything out time-wise, you know? To do music professionally, plus the business side and then these other creative things. But it is something I wanna definitely do.

You recently announced that you’re expecting your first child. How do you think that might change you as an artist?

I think it’s already kind of changing me. It’s making me a lot more comfortable being myself. I feel like it’s gonna make me more vulnerable too, which I’m happy for, and I actually want. I think it would be great for my music and my creativity in general. 

I think, too, since I am having a baby girl, it will make me a little bit more aware of what I’m saying and doing, because I know she’ll be listening to my music. So, now I’ll be thinking, “how will she interpret this?” 

I know you’re the type of artist that’s constantly working. Who have you been linking up with lately?

I’ve been working with a producer named EMPEE, he’s a producer for a Memphis group Iron Mic Coalition – they’re like the Memphis Wu-Tang, they’ve been around for the longest. He’s one of those old school producers who just has records and records all around his house and because of that, he introduced me to some completely new artists and new sounds. Like I just watch him work on different samples…I really don’t know anybody that has beats like him. He’s kinda like my superpower.

I’m also working with my boy, AClef Vibes. He’s more, I would say, Memphis trap rap. So, I have this duality in my music because EMPEE does more a boom bap style, like a dark boom bap style, and AClef does more the trap style. Oh, and I can’t forget my boy, Spek. He’s heavy on my album. He’s crazy, his stuff is just crazy.

That’s super dope. Do you have any other Memphis artists that you’ve been working with or want to work with?

Producer wise, IMAKEMADBEATS and I have been working together – we actually got something else that’s coming out. 

Artist wise, I definitely want to work with PreauXX, for sure. I’d love to work with Goldie Rebel, he’s hard. He’s got like a Larry June, Premo Rice type of vibe. I’d love to link up with my boy Coffey…he’s very experimental and I love that. There’s a million others in my head too (laughs).

Let’s talk about your new project, The LSD Tapes Vol 1. This EP feels much more confident and experimental than your last album, A Shade of Bleu. What influenced this project and how did your creative process differ from before?

The LSD Tapes was really made when I was over at my boy EMPEE’s house and he was just playing a bunch of different stuff. I think we were watching this movie. I like to do that – play music, and then I’ll just put a visual or something from YouTube on. 

There’s a full movie on YouTube called The Trip with Peter Fonda from, like, the sixties. It’s about a director that takes LSD for the first time because he’s depressed while going through a divorce. So, he’s playing music and we’re watching this and I’m like “oh what if we do like a tape like that.” So that was our concept and he would just send me beats and I would play around with them and really experiment. LSD is an experience and that’s what I wanted to craft – I wanted it to sound like a full experience without necessarily having to take anything.

Also, this came around a time where it felt like a lot of things in my life were like dying, but in a good way. Situations were ending and I was starting a new chapter. In this sense, the LSD actually stands for Lovely Sorted Death – where it’s all about letting go of things and having a, like, rebirth.

What else can we expect from you this year?

I’m working on my actual album now, it’s gonna be called The Way of the Cat. But in the meantime, while working on The Way of the Cat, I want to put more music out. I want to do more for the LSD Tapes series. My vision is that this project is just volume 1 of 3. I like to work in threes.

I also want to do more shows at art galleries or even kind of a secret, invitation only type night. A secret show. I just want to make it more of an experience because, you know, music is an experience. With me, just expect the unexpected.

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