Welcome to #TBT Mixtape, Billboard’s new series that showcases artists’ very own throwback-themed playlists exclusive to Billboard’s Spotify account. The curated set features the artists’ favorite tracks from their youth and childhood.
This week’s spin comes from Amos Lee. The soulful singer-songwriter’s lengthy tenure has included many career milestones including a No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 with 2011’s Mission Bell, which featured collaborations with Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, and Calexico, and sold more than 1.5 million records and received more than 100 million streams across platforms.
The road warrior has also earned a bevy of major co-signs from legendary artists, with support slots for the likes of Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, and Adele, with the latter handpicking Lee for her 21 tour after sharing two of his live YouTube clips on Twitter, boasting: “I’ve loved Amos for ages.”
Lee returned last week with the release of his latest LP My New Moon, inspired by his philanthropic endeavors and relationships with organizations like Musicians on Call and the Wounded Warrior Project. On the album, Lee tapped into many of his own personal experiences of giving back, including a song “Little Light” that was inspired by a close bond with a nine-year-old fan named Maya, who he met via the Melodic Caring Project during her battle with cancer. They even performed together earlier this summer in Seattle (pictured below).
In celebration of the record’s uplifting and healing spirit, today Lee put together this week’s #TBT Mixtape as an ode to his early youth and the sonic influences that first inspired his own journey.
“I mostly listened to hip-hop and R&B as a kid. My first cassette was the Beastie Boys, followed by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. My interest in the Beasties early on was the vulgarity, which I relished when bumping on my little yellow boombox,” Lee says. “Boogie Down Productions was another early favorite. When I was 10, ‘Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)’ grabbed my attention. I’d never heard a song about the pitfalls of greed. That notion didn’t last long in hip-hop, but BDP had a different ‘blueprint’ so to speak.”
Smooth R&B was an especially important genre for Lee as a young man. “All the smooth ’90s R&B was my jam. It’s where I started singing in the shower. Luther [Vandross] is the greatest singer of all time, and the phrasing on [1981’s ‘A House Is Not a Home’] is next level,” he says. “The Bonnie and B.B. tunes were womb tunes, which my mom supposedly played for me. Born with the blues, I guess.”
But it’s the era of 1991-1995 hip-hop that stands out for the legendary talent. “All the boom-bap ’90s hip-hop was and still is my sweet spot as a listener. ’91-’95 feels real to me. Kind of like ’70-’74 in R&B/funk. Not to say that’s the only golden age, but I feel confident putting on an album of that era and knowing I’ll love something about it,” he adds.
All that said, the singer-songwriter also holds a place in his heart for the somewhat cheesier disco-pop of his youngest days. “I’d be remiss to not include [Rick Dees’] ‘Disco Duck’ and [Barry Manilow’s] “Copacabana,'” he admits. “I was like four or something when I heard the song about a showgirl and the tragedy surrounding her. Piqued my weird little mind. I’ve always loved story songs and smooth R&B. Sexy, soulful, and sad. How’s about it.”
Give the playlist a spin, and also check out some throwback snaps of the artist below.