Audio Engineer Kesha Lee in Atlanta, in a Pandemic: 'I Can't Be in Lockdown in the Studio'

Kesha Lee
Fernando Decillis

Kesha Lee

Lee finished working on Lil Uzi Vert's 'Eternal Atake' just in time to make it back to Atlanta, where she's self-isolating and adjusting to having nothing to do for the first time in years.

Since getting her start through a chance meeting with Gucci Mane, Atlanta-based audio engineer Kesha Lee has worked on chart-toppers like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” and Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” and is now the go-to audio engineer for rappers including Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert. She spent the past two-and-a-half years working on Uzi’s Eternal Atake album in the artist’s native Philadelphia, before it was released on March 6 -- mere weeks before the near-national lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus began.

As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Lee each week to chronicle her experience throughout the crisis. (See the full series here.)

Are you relieved that Eternal Atake came out when it did? 

I was happy it was out before this happened, because I think we would have still been working. And if we were still working, we wouldn’t have thought too much of it. I had heard about [the pandemic], but I definitely wasn’t thinking about it, because that last week was so intense. When you’re in the studio, you don’t know what’s going on in the outside world and how serious things are. And then when you finally do, you’re like, “I’ve got to take this seriously.”

What did you think once you realized the scope of the situation?

As more and more stuff was getting closed, I was thinking, “I need to be in a place where, if everything was to be locked down, I would be comfortable.” I definitely can’t be in lockdown in a hotel or in the studio.

You then returned to Atlanta. What was it like to go from basically living in the studio in Philadelphia to being at home 24/7?

It was super easy to adjust, because this break was way needed. It’s crazy what’s going on in the world, but for me, not having to work is a good feeling, so I can really enjoy this downtime. I love what I do, and I find it hard to say “no” just because I want some time to myself. There are some people who are still recording, but I’m not doing any recording sessions. If someone wants me to mix something, I will. Uzi recently put out “Sasuke,” and I did that one. Like I said, this is a blessing in disguise, because it happened at a time where I needed this downtime, so it’s not really affecting me. If it goes on for a while -- like, three or four months -- then yeah. But right now, I’m enjoying being able to do what I want.

Has this experience made you reassess how you’ll approach work in the future?

I definitely am gearing up to be able to do stuff from home, but not really because of the pandemic. It’s just [I want] to do it from a set location. It will change a little. I definitely will be working 24/7 [when the pandemic passes], but not recording 24/7.

How have you been spending your time?

I’ve been organizing and getting my personal life together. I was looking through all these pictures of my life and there were times where I was really happy. There was one apartment I stayed in, in the hood. It was $725 for two bedrooms, and each year the rent only went up by $10. I was like, “What was so special about that apartment?” In the dining room, I had photography stuff set up and in another room I had music stuff set up, and I felt really creative in that apartment. I was trying to figure out, “How can I recreate that with where I am?” I’ve been creating a dance and workout area and then I have a little area for me to do music and do videos and pictures and content, because I want to have a YouTube page for engineering.

What do you miss most about pre-pandemic life?

Church. When I came home [from Philadelphia], I was excited to go to church, but then all this happened. And then my favorite restaurants. Atlanta has a lot of mom and pop kind of places, and a lot of them aren’t on Uber Eats; they’re just temporarily closed. I’m like, “Will they open up again?” Being on the road -- being in California or New York or anywhere -- the food is not like Southern food.

What would you be doing right now if it weren’t for the pandemic?
After Eternal Atake, I was going to go on this extravagant vacation for two weeks. That’s definitely not going to happen anytime soon, but I’m not eager to go. I’m happy to be able to work on my other goals.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is now allowing businesses to reopen -- a decision that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has criticized. What's your take?
I know people are going to the parks, and I love running outside, but I haven’t. I'm not going to go anywhere.