The underground phenom from North Carolina has certainly created a buzz since the drop of his incredible mixtape, West1996. A humble rapper from a rather quiet city in the hip hop world, Lute is a budding emcee with a notable, Golden-Age sound and honest, heart-felt lyrics. With a co-sign from 2DopeBoyz and Pete Rock himself, this rapper practically had West1996 in a bag with its release. But, he’s still working hard and is determined to put his hometown on the map. So I had the chance to talk to him over the phone about his life in hip hop and it was quite an interesting conversation. Read below to find out about the man behind the music:
Q: Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us where you’re from to start off?
A: “I’m Lute, I’m from Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m a part of the Forever FC crew.”
Q: Speaking of the Forever FC, what does that stand for and what’s that all about?
A: “Ok, our first name when we all came together and decided to do something together, it was called “Freshman Class.” Now that we added… we had added our boy Ry recently and so we just decided to keep the name FC, Freshman Class, and just named it Forever FC.”
A: “Well… we’ve all been friends, we’ve all been brothers. We all met in the studio actually. Ever since then, we’ve been hitting it off; doing songs together. Actually, me and Jimmy Kel$o [have] been friends for a long time – since middle school. Me and [SchylerChaise] got to know each other and I knew Ry soon after that, because Ry and [SchylerChaise] were together. But we all just came together and did music.”Q: Aight, awesome. So getting more into your background, who were your musical idols growing up? Who did you listen to?
A: “I listened to Nas, man. I listened to André 3000, OutKast, Goodie Mob. You know, my parents are a whole lot older than all my friends, so really I actually grew up on the older music, like Smokey Robinson, Sonny Boy Williamson, Luther Vandross, all that, all the old school stuff. I didn’t get into hip hop until my brother went into the military and told me to look after all his CDs. That’s when I started to get the search in and doing all the research and listening up to the hip hop and stuff like that.”
Q: Who would you say was your favorite hip hop artist of all time?
A: “Of all time? André 3000, man.”
A: “And Big K.R.I.T. soon after. Yea, Big K.R.I.T. and André.”
Q: When was it that you started making hip hop music? You said you got into it… but when was it that you started rapping?
A: “Man… I’ve been rapping for a long time, man. When I first put my pen to paper, I was about, I don’t know, 8 years old.”
Q: Wow [laughs].
A: “Yeah, 8 years old. I sucked, I mean, I’m not going to lie, I was horrible [laughs], but that was when I first put my pen to paper and just started writing about what was on my mind.”
Q: When was the first official rap that you ever made? When was that and what was that, if you remember?
A: “My first official song that I recorded?”
A: “My first official song recorded was actually with Jimmy Kel$o. We were about 13-14 [years old] and I forget the instrumental, but we rapped over that, I listened to it [and] we went crazy over it, because, you know, that was our first time really recording. We [would] write and would spit over beats, but we never recorded anything, so our first time recording was crazy. I mean it was nerve-racking at the same time because you’re just recording and recording in general at that time and age was kind of intimidating. But to actually here it come together and hear it behind the beat, it was crazy. It was real inspiring.”
Q: Just so everyone knows, how did the name Lute come to being?
A: “Well, my first name is obviously Luther. And Lute is just short for Luther. People used to call me Luke, but I hated that because I felt Luke Skywalker was such a, I don’t know… I think Luke Skywalker is a lame character…”
A: “So, I changed it and just put the “t” there, so it became Lute, instead of Luke. Then you had Uncle Luke so I got really confused with that.”
Q: Yeah, that makes sense. So what is your inspiration for creating songs, in general or specifically?
A: “My city, my brothers and just the way I live. I don’t think that people understand that what I wrote on West96 is what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen and who I am. That’s all I can give to people as far as music.”
Q: Speaking on the West96 cover, was there a specific reference to the Illmatic cover? I know you’re cover is very similar with you as a child in front of the house…
Q: Was that like an ode to Illmatic or what was that?
A: “Right, it was kind of like… It’s hard to explain. A lot of people ask that question: “was I paying homage to Nas?” Yes, in a sense I was paying homage to Nas, but I was also trying to paint a picture of the southern aspect of hip hop. People don’t really expect the south to have that many hip hop influences. Especially being from Charlotte, people don’t consider hip hop to be living in Charlotte. So I just took that and ran with it; I tried to show that there is a southern aspect of hip hop down here and Charlotte does have that same essence of hip hop that they would [have] anywhere else, as far as up north and west-coast.”
Q: [West96] just came out a little bit ago, how have the receptions been so far forit? A: “Man… it’s been crazy. It’s really been crazy. It’s been getting love from a lot of places; overseas, and Canada, Portland, Seattle. I met J. Cole, Pete Rock, Big Pooh. I actually did a song with Big Pooh. Shared a show with King Mez, I mean it’s been cool. I’m loving it right now.”
Q: You actually met Pete Rock?
A: “Nah, I talked to him over the phone…”
Q: Ahh, well still that’s sick…
A: “Because “80 Proof” was his instrumental, but I met J. Cole.”
Q: Wow, that’s crazy.
A: “Yeah, it was cool.”
Q: Now what would you say is your favorite song from the album?
A: “My favorite song from the album? My favorite song from the album… “That’s [How] It Goes” and “West Nine 6.” Because “That’s [How] It Goes” was a true story, not saying that all my songs on there aren’t true stories, but that was the one that hit close to home for me because I was actually talking about me and my relationship with my girl and just how people are and how I see things in my everyday life.”
Q: Yeah, I gotta’ say, just personally, “Real2Real” – that’s my song [laughs].
A: “Yeah, a lot of people say “Real2Real,” and then they say… what was it? Some people say the “Intro,” and then they’ll say… Not the last song, well the one with Jimmy…”
Q: “All About the Money”?
A: “Yeah, “All About the Money,” but the other one with 9 Mil, they love that song.”
Q: Yeah, yeah, I mean, the whole thing is great, but “Real2Real…” when I first heard that song, I was going nuts [laughs].
A: “[Laughs] Yo, you know what and I don’t even know if people know that that’s [“Larry Bird”] Riff Raff instrumental.”
Q: Oh really? Yeah, I didn’t know that.
A: “Yeah [laughs]. But, yeah, I love “Real2Real.”
Q: How does it feel to finally have your music heard by the masses?
A: “It’s awesome because… another thing people don’t know is I dropped a mixtape. I want to say a year before [West96] and it did nothin’! I mean I dropped it, it was alright, I got a little bit of feedback, but that was it.”
Q: What was the name of it?
A: “It was called The Road to Southwest Blvd., which is the street that I’m from. It was on YouTube and it was on our Facebook. I didn’t have a Twitter at the time, but it did so horrible that I took it off. I took it off YouTube, I took it down from Facebook ‘cause it just didn’t get that much buzz. When I put together West96, I was thinking the same thing, I was like “aight, whatever.” I had just gotten a Twitter, so I was like, you know what, I’m going to post this on Twitter, leave it be and I’m just going to let it happen. Soon enough, it just blew up overnight. In one night, it got like 1000 plays. Compared to The Road to Southwest Blvd. that, in one night, it got, like, 150 plays.”
Q: Damn. Well, I don’t know if you knew this, but how I discovered your album that we posted was from a tweet that Pete Rock sent out.
A: “Oh really?”
Q: Yeah, ‘cause you had be on “80 Proof,” on the instrumental, and he did like a co-sign. I don’t know if you saw that tweet.
A: “Nah, I didn’t see that!”
Q: Yeah, he sent out a tweet, ‘cause we follow him, and he said something like “Aw man, you gotta’ check this out – dopest thing outta Charlotte. And so I clicked the YouTube link and it was “80 Proof,” and I was freaking out.
Q: I researched, found your website and that’s how I found you was through that Pete Rock tweet.
A: “Wow, that’s crazy, man. And that’s what I’m saying, when Pete Rock co-signed the whole “80 Proof…” We were actually on a rooftop shooting the video for “80 Proof” and getting photos on this rooftop downtown. We so happened to see a tweet from somebody, from one of our friends, Makeda, we so happened to see her retweet it and we were like, wait a minute, Complex? Pete Rock? This doesn’t make sense, so we went and looked at it and was like, oh wow. That’s ironic and it’s amazing how things happen because we were in the midst of being on the rooftop shooting that for that video.”
Q: Coming back to Forever FC, you guys just released your collaboration mixtape, 704.
A: “Yes, sir!”
Q: I saw on the back that it had 2DopeBoyz on it, did they co-sign that?
A: “Yeah, it was 2DopeBoyz Presents: Forever FC 704 Mixtape.”
Q: How was it making that album?
A: “It was work, I’ma tell you that. We did that album in one week. We had a few shoes lined up and we had two shoes back-to-back. We had one in Raleigh [North Carolina] with King Mez and then we had one here, so we didn’t have that much time to work on it. So we did that in one week. It was hectic, but we got it out there. It was fun, too, at the same time, because we all feed off each other, so if we’re all in the room together, putting something together, it’s going to get done and it’s going to be good.”
Q: Crazy, man… cool. So have you heard any receptions about it so far? How are people receiving it?
A: “They thought it was good because they finally got to understand… they finally got to know a little more about Forever FC and who’s all a part of it. Because before, we had our Tumblr and we got a lot of people on our Tumblr and they don’t really know who’s who. So they finally got to really see who’s really Forever FC; who’s in the group, who’s affiliated, who’s not affiliated. We got good feedback though.”
Q: Yeah, at first, people were a little confused on who was who. I know that SchylerChaise has got his own thing going on, you got Jimmy Kel$o, we’re waiting on Ry right?
A: “Right. [Laughs] You know, that’s funny that you say that because everywhere I go or everywhere we go, ‘cause Ry works, he works as much as I do. If it’s me, Jimmy and [SchylerChaise], but when we [are] out, people always ask, “Yeah, your tapes are dope and stuff, but when’s that new Ry coming out? When’s that Ry tape coming out?” [Laughs] Man… we’re waiting just like y’all are!”
Q: [Laughs] Well it was funny because I heard him on “Queen City Slummin’” and I just… that verse was insane, so when I was looking around at all your other guys’ stuff, I didn’t see [Ry] had anything out.
A: “Yeah Ry, he’s not in a rush to get a mixtape out, you know? He’s just taking his time, just chillin’. We waitin’ on him, too!”
Q: Do you feel…I don’t want to put any judgment or pressure on you, but would you feel like you’re the head of Forever FC? I mean, I feel like your album has gotten the most attention and the most praise out of all you guys.
A: “Right, but nah I’m not. Like SchylerChaise was saying, I’m kind of the heart of Forever FC, but I’m not the head, the leader… I’m just a part of a group with my brothers. We all don’t have any leaders, we just complete the whole thing. If it’s not one, it’s all of us, so it’s kind of a collective thing.”
Q: Definitely, that’s cool. What would you say separates you from other rappers that are out right now?
A: “What separates me? I don’t know, I just have a lot of different views, I have a lot of different inspirations… I don’t know, my stuff just comes from the heart, man. I don’t smoke weed, so it’s not comin’ from the weed. Everything that I write is sober [laughs], I’m always sober, so what I’m giving you is from the heart, it’s not coming from anything else. That’s what I think separates me; not saying people don’t make music from the heart, but what I write is real.”
Q: So what is it that you want people to get from your music?
A: “That everybody struggles. Whatever you’re going through, it’s not worse than what somebody else is going through. Pretty much what I write about or what I want people to get from it is just to live your life…the best way you know possible. You know, you don’t have to be a drug dealer…you don’t have to be a doctor, you don’t have to have a college degree… Just live your life the best way you know possible; those the things you want, then hey, go get it. But I feel like…just live, that’s all my message is: to live your life the best way you know possible.”
Q: Definitely. How do you see the state of hip hop now as compared to the past, and what do you hope for the future?
A: “Now… for the future I think it’s ‘bout to get a little more crazy, like I really think it’s picking up (hip hop wise). You got your Kendrick Lamars, Makeda, man… There’s some people… Hip hop, it’s evolving. You got your people like Joey Bada$$; I think hip hop is really getting up there… Big K.R.I.T. The future for hip hop is crazy, I think it’s really bright.”
Q: How do you see it now as compared to the past?
A: “How do I see it now compared to the past? The past was a little more grungy, I’ll give it that. But now, I think it’s more lyrical. And the wordplay… the wordplay today, compared to back then is ten times [crazier]. Especially when you got people like [Kendrick] Lamar out there, the wordplay today is ridiculous.”
Q: Yea, yea, definitely [laughs] especially after that small hump we had to get over, like, 2007-2008, like the auto-tune.
A: “Exactly, exactly. Well you know, I can’t forget A$ap Rocky either, because he’s definitely paving a lane for people, as far as being creative. Hip hop today is bright, the future for it is bright.”
A: “Because people are starting to be more themselves.”
Q: If you could change one thing about hip hop right now, what would it be and why?
A: “Honestly, I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t change anything. For the simple fact that you can’t really tell someone to not be who they are or what they’re trying to be. So I would keep it the same, you know? Just see how it turns out. Everybody’s putting themselves out on a limb; just see how it turns out.”
Q: Alright. So, I understand through tweeting back and forth with Ry, you have a new project in the works? Would you care to talk about that?
A: “[Laughs] Yeah, yeah I’m working on a new project, treating it like an album. I got the name already, but I’m not releasing it because it could possibly change, but it’s going to be just as controversial as West96.”
Q: So are you going to drop any singles, or is it just going to come out of the blue [laughs]?
A: “I don’t know, we’re just going to have to find out, man. We’re just going to have to figure that out as we go. But I will tell you, it’s going to be crazy! I can promise you that, I can promise you…”
Q: Yeah, that’s what Ry’s saying.
Q: How far along are you with it? You feel like 50%, 75%?
A: “I’m still in the beginning stages of it, still working on a few kinks here and there. It’ll definitely be out this year. Yeah this year, but I’m really taking my time on this one. West96 I took my time on that one, but I’m going to take my time on this one to make it a little more album-wise, so you really get more songs. It’s going to be a little longer than West96. You know, get a little more views, because I know West96 had a narrow view, so this one’s going to be a little more wider.”
Q: Are you using someone else’s instrumentals?
A: “Nah, it’s going to all be original. It’s going to be all original, yes sir!”
A: “I have some features, too! I’m not going to tell you who, but it’s going to have some features on there, too, that’s why I said it’s going to be crazy, man! You just gotta’ stay tuned, man, it’s going to be wild!”
Q: Well I’m waiting [laughs]; definitely want to hear that! If it’s as crazy as Ry says then it’s going to be blow up.
A: “No doubt. Yeah, it’s going to be crazy. Couple surprises.”
Q: Would you ever consider signing a major record deal?
A: “…Actually, no, not really. I think we just like sticking it out. You know, maybe even have our own record label later on down the line. But as far as right now, we’re just chilling.”
Q: Yeah, I know a lot of guys they’d rather go independent.
A: “Yeah, because it’s a lot of hassle, a lot of headaches. We just chilling, doing our thing. If it’s the right time or if it’s presented to us at that right time at that moment, then we’ll think about it then, but as of right now, it hasn’t been thought about. All we’re really focusing on right now is getting our music out.”
Q: Definitely. Just out of curiosity, 9th Wonder’s from Carolina, would you ever think of doing a collaboration, or at least getting in touch with him, seeing what could happen?
A: “Yeah, because Raleigh [North Carolina], as far as the door for hip hop, is a lot bigger than Charlotte, like ten times bigger than Charlotte. We went to do the show with King Mez and seeing how the crowd reacted to the hip hop, it’s completely different – it’s a whole ‘nother scene. But I would definitely do a collab with 9th Wonder. His beats are crazy, man, who wouldn’t collab with 9th Wonder?”
Q: You said before that you had a connection, or at least talked to Big Pooh, right? So you already got your foot in the door…
A: “Right, yeah we did a song together on his album.”
Q: Upcoming or is it already released?
A: “I think it’s upcoming. Yeah, it’s an upcoming album.”
Q: Oh, gotta’ look out for that one.
A: “Yeah! I love that song, man. That track was pretty real.”
Q: So what’s on your iPod?
A: “I’m not going to lie to you: Project Pat: Getty Green, I got a lot of Gucci Mane.”
Q: Gucci Mane?
A: “[Laughs] I listen to a lot of Chief Keef. I’m not going to lie, I love Chief Keef.”
A: “A$ap Rocky’s on my iPod, a lot of Three 6 Mafia. SchylerChaise, HighImRy… I got Makeda on my iPod, I got Str8 Drop, I don’t know if y’all are familiar with them yet, but y’all will be soon. Who else I got…?”
Q: It’s funny because you listen to those guys, but it doesn’t emulate in your songs.
A: “Yeah, it’s funny because a lot people don’t understand. I’ma tell you the three albums that molded me into who I am today: Project Pat: Getty Green, Nas: Illmatic, and Goodie Mob: Soul Food. Those are the three albums that molded me into the person that I am today. The music that comes out, that’s what you’re going to hear. You’re going to hear those three albums. Even in “West Nine 6”, you hear a little Gucci Mane, you hear a little Gucci Mane in that song! [Laughs] And people just don’t notice that because it’s in hip hop form. But I do have a few Gucci Mane parts in there that people don’t notice.”
Q: Yeah because when I first saw that Pete Rock co-sign on Twitter, and I first went to Bandcamp and saw that cover… it is eleven tracks like Illmatic is, I though that this was you rhyming over Illmatic beats. So I thought that this was just a guy doing a tribute to Nas.
A: “Yeah, but see, somebody did that before, so I didn’t exactly plan it out to be exactly like Illmatic [with] eleven songs. I did not plan any of that stuff out. Even the beats, I didn’t plan it out.”
Q: Well, when I finally listened to it, I didn’t think it sounded like Illmatic, I just thought at first, looking at the cover it was like Illmatic. But you definitely got your own sound.
A: “And I’m not going to lie, when I first dropped West96, the hip hop community tore me a new one. They chewed my ass out about that cover. They posted it on 2DopeBoyz and I got so much negative feedback about it. Like, I just thought it was going to be a whole ‘nother Road to Southwest Blvd. because I had gotten so much negative feedback. And it was funny that I got the negative feedback because I was getting the feedback before people were playing the songs! Because they just… they didn’t like it because they thought I tried to re-do the Nas thing. Then they played it and I got all this good feedback. And I started [to] notice that people were just going off the cover and not listening to the songs yet. Then they got to listen to the songs and they’re like, “Ohh, ok. He’s just referencing the Nas: Illmatic cover and paying homage, instead of just trying to completely take over that whole situation.”
Q: Well that’s just kind of ignorant of them [laughs].
A: “Right, it was very ignorant, but I paid the negative feedback attention. But, I’m not going to lie, they tore me a new one, they chewed my ass out with that cover when I first dropped it. Because I know they got those kids like, “He’s trying to be Nas” and “Oh, the cover is wack because he’s trying to be like Nas.” But they never listened to the songs and they never realized that I’m referencing that the south has that same hip hop content that [the] up-north do and the west coast is like. Hip hop is here in Charlotte, too.”
Q: Yeah, I mean, Fashawn just a few years ago did Ode to Illmatic and then you had eLZhi with Elmatic last year and everybody loved it [laughs], so… I mean, they didn’t even give you a chance so that’s just ignorant on their part, really.
A: “Yup. Yeah, they didn’t give me a chance, man [laughs], at all when I first dropped it.”
Q: That’s there loss – it’s a great album. So would you give any shout outs or last words?
A: “Yeah, I just want to shout out the ForeverFC.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Shout out [to] St8 Drop Gang, Makeda. I want to shout out my city, Charlotte, North Carolina. The Charlotte shirts are available on ForeverFC.com and we do have Charlotte hats coming out…very, very soon, sponsored by Black Sheep, it’s a little skate shop here in Charlotte, North Carolina.”
Q: Snapback or fitted?
A: “Snapback, they’re snapback. Yeah, and I want to shout out Big Pooh, J. Cole, Pete Rock, all the people that inspired me to do this and keep going, so I really want to thank everybody. Oh, and DJ DR, he’s been our backbone so far. I just want to shout out those people and the west side.”
Q: Aight, definitely. Well, I’m definitely looking out for that next project, but thank you so much man for doing this with us!
A: “Shout out to you guys! I appreciate you having me and doing this interview, man.”
Q: Yeah, thank you, no problem.
A: “Yeah, man, keep in touch, thank you!”
And there you have it. Be sure to visit www.ForeverFC.com and support the group! Shout out to Amy BuGoudi and Saloan Rochelle for setting up this interview!