As 2012 winds down, it’s time to guess which artists are set to breakthrough and define 2013. 22-year-old producer Lunice F. Pierre II is emerging as a shoe-in. Calling his sound “blockbuster instrumental rap,” the Montreal-based Lunice is steadily securing connections and weaving his own web of artistic foils: He rolls with the Mad Decent and LuckyMe label camps, forms half of TNGHT with Hudson Mohawke, and is closing out the year by signing off on collaborations with a new generation rappers: Angel Haze, Deniro Farrar, and M.M.G.’s latest signing, Rockie Fresh. Lunice’s sound is also starting to solidify into something of a signature blend, with his fusion of perky synth riffs and electronic beats proving a choice bed for rap vocals from all regions.
As befits a producer whose stock is on the rise, Lunice was in jovial spirits when Hive called him up. He’d just returned from a spree of shows overseas and shared tips on snagging a free flight upgrade. (In short: Suck up to whoever’s holding court at the check-in desk and pre-select your seat in a row of the plane likely to be occupied by a family, thereby increasing your chances of being bumped up a class should the economy section fill-up.) Lunice’s stint relaxing at home won’t last long though, as he’ll be hitting New York City on Friday for a TNGHT show. Ahead of his latest accumulation of frequent flier miles, we spoke to him about his adoration of Memphis hip-hop, the ethics of emulating other producers, and the secret brew that inspires TNGHT studio sessions.
While you were traveling recently you tweeted about how Memphis rap was big in Helsinki.
Hell yeah! This dude who comes from Helsinki was telling me how they’d been about it since the early ’90s, like when the whole Memphis hip-hop movement started. People in Helsinki were about it! He was happy I played out some old joints that way. I never knew there was a whole scene happening there — and it’s still there to this day, with these old Three 6 Mafia tapes circulating.
Why do you think the Memphis sound works overseas like that?
I think, to me, what I like about it personally is knowing that it’s from way back, like in the early-’90s, and that was when the east coast New York style of rapping — like the Big L flow — was dominant. Southern rap was doing its own thing but it wasn’t huge like it is today. Memphis, to me, was ahead of their time without even knowing it: They were trying different ways of rapping while tapping into that paranoia vibe — that was just the subject matter — but in terms of composition the music was very forward-thinking. If you listen to the stuff today, like A$AP Rocky and those dudes who are my age, they’re dudes who love that stuff and they’re modernizing it and interpreting it in their own way. The early Memphis flows sound like modern flows today, but back then nobody would hear about it other than the ‘hood. It got me thinking about how they came to come up with these flows and rhymes and beats and it seems there were people around the world with similar taste.
What did you think when you first heard a Three 6 Mafia song?
I was young. At first, I was into more something like Busta Rhymes than Three 6 — I understood it more — but as I got older and into my teen years, that’s when I started to appreciate where it was coming from and how they were going about their music.
When you’re on tour, does it ever surprise you that people in certain countries are into specific regional scenes?
I mean, I know as a DJ you would adapt yourself to wherever you’re playing. That’s natural, that you’d want to play certain records for certain areas to get people hype. Like I’ll play out my own beats and I’ll throw in certain songs that are specific to me. So I’ll play my own music that someone might recognize, and then all of a sudden I’ll play a Young Jeezy track because I want to show them how it enriches itself and how it connects like that. That’s my mentality. It’s live and it’s improvised; it’s my music with whatever else I find interesting at the moment.
When you first started producing, were there any producers whose music you mimiced?
For me, when I started producing, I needed some kind of guide, and one of the first people I looked up to was 9th Wonder. I was trying to explore how he puts beats together. At some point I’d try and not make a 9th Wonder-style beat from scratch, but I’d try and re-do a beat that 9th Wonder did, just in terms of understanding how he got to do the track and how he got to make whatever song he made. In the process of trying to emulate 9th Wonder I learned a lot about producing. I’d never show that music to someone — it’s personal! — but it’s part of the learning experience. Some people may emulate a certain feeling; some people may emulate a certain learning process. I take it as a compliment if I hear someone sounding like me. Like, I’d never go up to someone and say, “Yo, you’re stealing my shit!”
Have you heard that happen often?
There was this one dude — I think his name was Serious Mike or something — and he was really obvious and he literally straight up stole our TNGHT track “R U Ready,” the one that Kanye [West] used for his fashion show. He literally re-did it from the ground up! He didn’t know that the sample said, “Are you ready” so he made up his own sample saying some weird mumbled thing. And he actually kinda released it as his own work! Now that’s stealing! That gives me the right to say “You’re a bitch!” But other than if it gets to the moment someone puts the song out, it’s okay to emulate up until that point.
How did you feel when you heard the song?
Ha! It’s the same feeling as, say, a Nazi goes in your face and calls you a n*gga — not that it’s racist but it’s hilarious! If a dude comes up to me and calls me a n*gga, I’m gonna be like, “Are you serious? It’s 2012!” We weren’t mad; we were laughing. It was like, “Hey, you just messed your own career up!” We were blown away about it.
The other person in TNGHT is Hudson Mohawke. How did you guys first decide to work together?
We’ve known each other for like five years or so. We used to have this night called Turbo Crunk and we were huge fans of the LuckyMe collective. They seemed similar: They had a hip-hop background, were coming from the hip-hop culture, but they wanted to do something new. So we booked some of them and had a huge showcase. But when we actually started working was more when I heard [Hudson's] remix of Gucci Mane‘s “Party Animal.” The reason why was he made a straight-forward rap track, where everyone else tried to do a different type of remix. It was amazing. I told him we should do straight-up rap music, get rappers on it. Eventually when I ended up in London I had a few days off and we hit up the studio and did a bunch of tracks the same night.
Based on Instagram, do some of your studio sessions involve mixing the Scottish soda Irn Bru with whiskey?
Ha, they do!
How does it taste?
It’s actually decent! People should try it out. I know Irn Bru’s a ghetto-ass drink. Whenever I’m in the north in the UK I’m like, “Give me that Irn Bru and that whiskey!” It was an accident the first time I did it. I just put something in the drink and I made people taste it and it was okay. Now it’s for special occasions.
Do you have a name for this drink?
Man, I don’t know! [Pauses.] It should be Irn Man!
Moving on, when you dropped the track “All I Know” with Deniro Farrar, he told us that you guys have more music you’ve recorded together ready to go.
Yeah, though it’s not necessarily a full-length project. What happened was, at the beginning of the year I said I want to work with rappers and so that’s what I’ve been doing. Me and Deniro have a second track we worked on that we’re gonna put out soon. But at the same time I’ve worked with Angel Haze and been in the studio with Rockie Fresh and Casey Veggies. It’s about building connections with rappers and finding out who you can be creative with rather than just who fits your schedule. It’s about like-minded people who want to move forward and bring something refreshing — ’cause you can’t really say “new” these days! — to the people. There’s a bunch of rappers I’ve been working with lately. It’s cool.
As a producer, what do you look for in a rapper you want to collaborate with?
The types of rappers I work with, I always think about the tone of voice first. Deniro has a dope voice. It’s on some ghetto crime shit, but the content is … it’s not like he’s necessarily storytelling, but it’s not like going all in like punchline after punchline. He takes the time to build up anticipation in the flow. I always appreciate someone who has the idea of building a structure and using a climax in whatever they practice. That’s one of the things that always intrigues me when I meet rappers.
Is that something you feel fewer rappers do these days?
It’s hard to tell ’cause there’s so many rappers these days! I know where they’re sort of coming from though, like they’re out there and they’re hungry so they have to put out the heaviest lines and go crazy with the punchlines. But it’s like, nah, it’s already been done! We had Big L! That style has already been established so try and bring back what people overlook rather than trying to be like, “Yo, I’m bringing in a whole new flow!” That’s why A$AP Rocky‘s flow totally stands out to me. He sort of brings back that whole Memphis flow thing. It’s been overlooked. So you bring it back in your own way and it makes it more refreshing and it becomes your own thing. But the cycle is just human behavior really.
What can people expect to hear from you next?
I’m working with a bunch of rappers and doing a lot of studio sessions in terms of big names which I can’t really say. Although that’s great as I never thought I’d be at that point and working with them. Early next year I’ll start to work on my full-length album. I’ve already started it but I’ll be full-on early next year. With TNGHT, we’re working with a bunch of rappers right now. After we put out a single with a vocalist, then we’ll consider putting out an EP from all the other songs we’ve done. We want to build a foundation first with a bunch of rappers and establish who raps with us within the rap world. My album’s gonna be the same too.
You mentioned working with a bunch of rappers. Can you reveal any names?
Um, can I talk? No, I can’t! The solo stuff is me working with Rockie Fresh and Casey Veggies, like mostly dudes that are my age. Solo wise, I’m trying to build with people my age and trying to be their producer. Every group has their own circle of friends and their own producer within that circle, so I’m building connections with people my age. Beyond that, the people who are established and already in the game, I can’t name them yet.
Beyond producing, you also grabbed a cameo in Azealia Banks‘ “212″ video. How did that come about?
It’s really simple — she’s a friend. I met her through MachineDrum four years ago. She was chilling in Montreal at the time — the video was shot there — and she just hollered at me. We were just chilling all week, like not ever working at music, and she was like, “Hey, I’m shooting this video. Do you want to come through, have a cameo in it and have some fun?” That was it, and we went through and did it!