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Lekan Takes A Contemporary Look At R&B

With only three studio recorded tracks out, singer-songwriter Lekan strikes an understated blend between R&B and soul, filtered through hues of the genre's early 2000s golden years; his plush baritone leaves just enough space for gospel-inspired riffs and catchy hooks pondering love in its many forms. Born in Ohio and a first-generation Nigerian American, the artist’s endearing charm comes from his almost preternatural taste for R&B vocal harmonies, draped in honeyed croons and keen on romanticizing just about any human interaction.

While his tracks ponder everything from the rush of infatuation to finding love in the silence of personal solitude, his discography can be mapped back to his own spiritual core that he uses as a guidebook. Taking a note from artists like D’Angelo, Donny Hathaway, and Aretha Franklin, Lekan is a nostalgic figure in R&B’s contemporary spaces, inspired by the melodic sensitivity that he searches for in his music. In a recent interview, Lekan sat down with Intersect to talk about monogamy, the state of R&B, and the art of manifesting through songwriting.

You’re a fairly new artist and despite a strong musical background, there’s not a lot about you and your career out there on the internet. Could you start off by telling me a little bit about yourself and your background?

I’m a singer, songwriter, and producer from Columbus Ohio. I was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Ohio and I'm the child of a Nigerian immigrant, so I'm a first-generation American. I’m a person who wants to spread love in the world and put my ecosystem in the world so that’s what I feel like a part of my purpose is to just be of service to people.

In previous interviews you’ve described growing up in a musical upbringing, can you tell me what that looked like and how you feel like that influenced your current sound and style?

My pops was a choir director at the church that I was born into, so at an early age I was forced to be around music. My mom and my sister were in the choir, at the time my brother and I were too young to be in it but my dad always made us sit down and observe what was going on so we weren’t distracted or running around. I was mad about it in the beginning but after a while I kind of saw it for what it was, people making something out of nothing. So I started taking up the drums early and then my dad put me in piano lessons. At an early age I started gravitating towards anything musical and as time went on that just started becoming my identity and the best way to express myself.

Your most recent release, “Pray for Me” is a deeply introspective track that thinks about love in terms of the solitude that we practice with ourselves. What about these concepts inspires you? And what is about songwriting and singing that allows you to explore such personal depth within your songs?

I had just moved to LA probably about a month or so before, and it was wintertime when I moved so I was out there feeling like the warmth in the wintertime which was different from what I’ve experienced before being from Ohio. I had taken a trip to Chicago around that time and that was my first time being back in the midwest since I had moved and it was cold, so I felt that cold and it reminded me of everything that I went through in the process of getting to that studio session in LA. That’s where the lyrics “20 degrees it's cold out here for days' ' comes from. Bongo made the beat for me and he had actually played that beat awhile ago for me but it didn’t really speak to me until I heard it back months later when I went into the studio and felt the cold.

What is the story behind your single “Need Somebody”? And what was the creative process like behind filming the music video?

The thought process behind that record, to keep it real, we were just in there making a vibe, just playing around with the beat. The beauty of songwriting and working with other people is you’ll have a conversation about something and end up creating a whole concept out of it. So the concept behind “Need Somebody” was just flowing so freely that it was almost too raw to stop, we were kind of just letting it go. We were just letting ideas flow and following the thought process of everybody needing somebody, even if you already got somebody. You know, who am I to judge, is that necessarily my lifestyle? No, but I personally feel like who I am to say that people don’t have a voice. With that being said the visuals were exactly that concept, everybody needs somebody. It starts off with me talking to someone on the phone who happens to have a dude, he leaves, she leaves, I meet a neighbor we chop it up, she meets the person I’m trying to see later and I meet the girl who’s with the dude the other girl is trying to see. You feel, it honestly feels like LA. THe degree of separation is a lot smaller than you think here so sometimes you’re dealing with somebody and you have no idea who they dealt with before. At the end of the day that reality is very much so a thing. So the track is really kind of conceptualizing that message and relaying it in a tasteful way.

These two songs “Pray for Me” and “Need Somebody” portray relationships in two separate ways and you write vividly about love in so many different situations, self-love, romantic love, complicated love, toxic love etc. What is love to you? And what about this specific emotion allows you to be so honest in your music?

Love is not always as linear as you think and I think it all depends on what you want and what for yourself. Me personally, I want a monogamous relationship and build something that I can share with a partner, that’s what I come from, you know coming from a two parent household, that's what I aspire for. I also believe that there are stages in people’s lives where they have to experiment things and love in different ways, however they feel like they can within themselves so I feel like as long as it’s not detrimental to anybody, I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with you exploring that. I’m a strong believer that the grass is always greener where you water it.

You’ve written songs alongside a plethora of well-established artists. How do these collaborative efforts help your own songwriting? Additionally, how do you feel like these writing sessions with other artists shape your individual artist identity?

It’s empowering, and it's affirming as well. I say that everything happens for a reason so to sit in a room where our paths align to this very moment happened for a reason, and I do my best to not question stuff like that. Vice versa, their paths aligned to be in the room with me as well so my mindset is to make the best of the situation and do our best to put our ego’s aside to just create. And it’s gonna take dialogue and pushing each other, especially the caliber of artist and songwriter that you’re with, iron sharpens iron, so to be in there and coming up with a concept it’s helped to be in there doing it with other artists and songwriters. It also helps me when I approach things for myself and thinking about ‘why do I want to talk about this’ and ‘why is this important’ and then ‘how can I relay this message.’

In one interview you describe your song writing process as a type of manifestation practice, inspired by the things you want to see or feel or things that have already happened. Do you believe in manifestation? And how is your songwriting tied to the way that you view the world or the way you experience emotion?

Absolutely, I believe manifestation is a real thing and your words have power. I think it’s important to keep that in mind and be intentional about the words that you speak. I believe the probability that the words you choose to speak life into continuously of whatever that is happening grows the more and more you speak life into it. That being said for my lyrics, I personally believe in love. I believe love is a huge component for us to grow as a society and for us to be good people. I try to speak into it through my lyrics and think about the experiences of what that is, whether that be for me or somebody else, or if I'm writing from somebody else's perspective. It’s important to think about, even for the records I have out at this time they’re three different perspectives on love but it all circles back to a main theme.

Your music video imagery and the styles that you draw from in your sound both evoke a similar retro nostalgia. What era of music, cinema or even cultural aesthetic do you feel most inspired by?

I would say early 2000’s, as far as my earliest recollection of music and sound are from that era and that’s definitely at the front of my mind. Especially for my visuals when I'm wearing a white beater that’s so common in early 2000’s R&B videos like you’ll see in D’Angelo videos or even a du rag being worn that’s super prominent during that cultural time period. Also warm colors and slow motion videography, if you go back and watch the music video for “Put That Woman First” by Jahiem, you’ll see some type of dialogue with slow motion arguing, that’s so familiar to me and the kind of stuff I'm inspired by right now. But it will definitely grow as time goes on as I become a student of my craft, I could see myself leaning into the 70’s and 80’s and the neo soul era.

There's a common misconception that R&B is “dead” due to its evolution in the past couple of years which has taken it in a different direction than during its “golden years.” What is your take on the genre and its progression over the years? As someone involved in the transformation of its sound, where do you think it's headed in the next couple of years?

I don’t think it's true, but I like the conversation because there’s going to be so many different examples to prove that it’s not dead. I feel like it’s alive and well in all areas, the women are doing their thing, the males are doing their thing. It’s only about to get better, you can’t front on a good melody. I feel like it’s just the evolution of its sound, I feel like there should be no rules but there should be some type of law or code of conduct in all genres to be able to keep some of its essence alive so it doesn’t become all the way diluted. And the essence of the R&B is melodies and love, if you go back to any of the greats the Donny Hathaways, the Stevies, the Marvins, or the Whitney’s or the Anita Bakers, or Aretha’s, all the soulful singers are singing about love.

Who are the top five on your current rotation?

Victoria Monet, Jordan Ward, any gospel playlist, Veeze, and the last one is a tie between Mac Miller’s Swimming and The Internet's Ego Death.

What can listeners expect from you in the next couple of months?

I’m working on my general project right now and it’s coming to its final conclusion, and I'm just making sure everything makes sense so we can put a legit stamp on there and give everyone something to look forward to.


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