Over the years, the city of Chicago has birthed a plethora of hot acts, with the latest being Valee.
Tracks like “Shell” and “I Got Whatever” are what allowed Valee to become the newest artist to sprout in the Midwest. His delivery is more cozy than rudimentary, and his ability to whip up catchy hooks has him penciled in as a promising prospect. After flirting with several labels, he ultimately aligned himself with fellow Chicago cohort: Kanye West.
Earlier this year, he announced his deal with G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam and released a six-track EP titled, Good Job, You Found Me. Laced with booming trap beats, Valee keeps his listeners enthralled with whimsical one-liners. On “Miami,” Valee boasts about his opulence, while allowing his newest ally and boss, Pusha T to sprinkle his lyrical flavor over the deafening track. With co-signs ranging from Kanye, Pusha T, Chance the Rapper and A$AP Rocky, it’s hard to deny Valee’s entry into the rap game.
Billboard spoke with Valee about his new deal with G.O.O.D. Music, working with Chance the Rapper, getting advice from Kanye West and A$AP Rocky, and why he enjoys listening to 2 Chainz. Check it out below.
So, the story goes that you began rapping after you was going to the store to buy a video game console, but changed your mind and bought a mic? What system were you going to buy?
I was asking people, “Playstation or XBOX?” I used to be at home bored and I was gonna get a game system. I ended up going to Guitar Center outta nowhere. I was like, “Damn, I did used to make music,” and I was bored at home. I wasn’t going to put this game system to use. I went to Guitar Center and got speakers, cords, mics and everything I needed to make beats. I seen the microphone and I was like, “Damn, I did use to record myself and rap a little bit. Let me get a mic real quick.” And that was like the best investment ever.
You ever bought a system after that or nah?
No. I bought my son one and I play his like once a year. I’m glad I didn’t buy no game system or I would have never —
So you saw the Guitar Center and it just clicked?
I was driving on my way to like a Best Buy and I was like, “You know what? Let me go to Guitar Center and see what they got.” And I ended up walking out of there with everything I needed.
I know some of your influences are Kanye, Three Six, and Project Pat. Give me an album from each of them that were instrumental to your career creatively.
Kanye, I like College Dropout. I also saw the video for “Black Skinhead” and I was like, “This is different. This is interesting.” Project Pat, I like Ghetty Green and even when he had introduced Gangsta Boo. She had a couple records and all these people knew how to pick beats. Project Pat was before the time of pickin’ the Metro Boomin’ type stuff. A lot people don’t know that Mannie Fresh is one of my favorite producers because I used to just be fascinated with how he would be producing stuff. He’d be silly too when he raps. He’d be so silly, the only person being silly. When he put out a CD that was like 40 songs or something like that.
I remember one of your early tracks was called “Benji & Nina.” How would you compare yourself from the Benji & Nina days to where you’re at right now in terms of your skill-set and your artistry?
Better and more comfortable. That “Benji & Nina,” remember I was telling you that Rio and I hadn’t ever did any songs together so we had about three or four sessions and he was like, “Bro, what kind of beats are you looking for? Play me something.” And I was like, “No, I don’t like the shit that I got. Keep going and we gon’ find something.” I had to leave one day and he started on the “Benji & Nina” beat. I’m like, “I gotta go but I think that’s it. When I come back, I’ll have something for it.” When I came back, I did “Benji & Nina.”
That was the first record anybody had done with him where everybody he played it for, they’re fighting over who wants to get on it. He called me like, “Now, I know I’ve been telling you everybody wants to get on it, but Ty Money, he would be a good look. You need to go and let him do it.” And I’m like, “Shit, aight, let’s do it.” That’s how “Benjo & Nina” came out and people liked that and that’s what motivated me to make more and more music.
You also do beats. You did “Shell” and “Like Mine.” Do you have enjoyment rapping over your own beats as opposed to a Cardo or ChaseTheMoney? I know you have a strong chemistry with Chase.
I really only make my own beats when I feel like I can’t wait on somebody or it’s taking too long to get a nice beat to rap on. Rio and them, they’re proud of me when I make a beat, rap on it, and then play it for them. He’s like, “I like when you make your own beats.” I’m working without waiting on the next man. But with that making beats stuff, it makes it a little difficult because you gotta stop being an artist and turn into a producer. You can’t blend the two. You can’t be an artist while you’re producing, because you’ll be over-critiquing the producer part.
Are you more critical of yourself as a rapper or as a producer?
Probably equally both of ’em.
You’ve worked with Chase and you’ve also worked with Tay Creations. How would you compare the chemistry you have with Chase and the chemistry you have with Tay when you lock in the studio? What is it about each producer and what do they bring out of you?
Something different, definitely. Tay is like a ChaseTheMoney but he’s more unorthodox on the production. Chase is more so, whatever he plays, it’s got something to it. Rio’s beats are very full, like a voice could be on it and/or a rap. They’re some perfect producers to me. I’d rather work with the people I have rather than a Metro Boomin’ or a Southside. I would work with Metro but you wouldn’t see me tryna gravitate or be all Metro Boomin’ or anything like that. I work with the same people.
Is it intentional that most of your records are under three minutes?
Yeah. People’s attention spans are very short. People would come over and watch Worldstar while I’m working on getting my second verse done on a song. I got this beat playing and I’m like I don’t know if I like it yet, and so we turn on Worldstar and Gucci Mane or 2 Chainz got the top $10,000 box [laughs]. So we play it. Before the second verse comes on, somebody’s talking about Auntie Anne’s.
Sometimes, that second verse, people are already bored. They’re just not gonna turn a song off out of respect. The next time they play that song, ain’t no second verse. They get the point. That’s all people need because there’s so much stuff to play. People don’t have three minutes to listen to one song by one person. You get a minute and a half because they need to give the next person a minute and a half.
I’m big on tattoos and I always love the story behind ’em. That flower tatt that you have, does it hold more meaning to you now as opposed to when you first got it? And what was the story behind it?
I went and got a diamond or two. I had that shit for like a week and didn’t like the danger-ness of it, because I’m rough. So I took those out and had these marks right here and put tattoos over the marks. Sometimes, when I get bored, I need something to do to make me go harder. “Why you get these tattoos?” I’m like, “Shit, I don’t know. I’m an artist.” I do my own tattoos. I’ve done a lot and I’ve gotten real good at doing tattoos and then I stopped because I like to be free. Tattooing may take like two hours to draw out then eight or nine hours to complete. That’s twelve hours I want to not be in a chair.
I love the “Are U Live” record with you, Chance the Rapper and Jeremih. I saw the whole dynamic switch up and it seemed like they were catering to your sound. How did that track come about?
That goes back to the question about the chemistry between me and ChaseTheMoney. One morning, [Chance] sent me four beats in an email. Later that evening, Jeremih called me to come to the studio. I pulled up and after we shoot at a couple of his records, I said, “J, I’m finna send you these four beats.” I forwarded him the email and the one he kept playing back. He was like, “This one is saying something to me, man.” We had some girls there and I go in there and freestyle the hook.
They liked it and we tell the girls to repeat after me. After they did that, we actually freestyled that first verse. That was our second take. He’s in one room recording, I was in another room recording . We just knew when to talk and when to shut up. It was perfect. I ain’t ever did nothing like that. We just freestyled it and I was like, “That was pretty cool.”
Take me back to the day you inked your G.O.O.D. contract.
I was scared, excited. You’re happy for what’s going on and you take the time out to acknowledge it and appreciate it, but you’re also scared because it’s just the beginning and you want to keep it going and work ten times harder. In my head, I’m like what am I gonna make now? Sometimes I don’t really get to be excited because I’m thinking about tomorrow. I need time to appreciate today. There’s just so much to do.
With you being with G.O.O.D., I’m sure you get a ton of advice. Who gave you the best advice on how to approach this rap game?
[Kanye] of course has given fantastic advice. Pusha hits me up in person and he gives great advice. Outside of G.O.O.D. Music, A$AP Rocky is a great advice giver and a great person to learn from. He’s just more outspoken but not as outspoken as Kanye. Just being around people like that with that kind of energy, because I’m real laid back, it opens me up some more. And just to know these people aren’t boujee, like A$AP isn’t boujee at all. Being at a show with him backstage, just cool vibes. Some artists that make a lot of money, they’re not so easy to get along with. But these people actually help me want to do cool stuff and new music, and put some ideas together that’s in the air.
If you could pick one word to describe this chapter of your life, what would it be and why?
Prosperity, I suppose. Prosperity is gonna keep the boat going. Every time something good happens or I’m supposed to be excited about something, I’m like, “Okay, how do we prosper from here?” The pursuit, this part is the pursuit.
If you could pick one song or album that you’d say is the soundtrack to your life right now, what would you choose and why?
I’m not really sure because I don’t listen to much music since I’ve started doing music. All the words that’s being used, coming through speakers. I hear a new beat, I don’t hear no words somebody just said five minutes ago. It makes me think of different stuff to say and makes it easier for me to be different or diverse.
I get it. I don’t blame you for not listening to music because you probably can’t listen to a nine minute track.
I listen to music for beat selection. I’m real thirsty to listen to the new 2 Chainz. Since Bankroll Fresh died, there’s not many people who are fun and silly. I don’t really have many people to study or look at and be enthused by. We got 2 Chainz and Bankroll, and it used to be Lil Wayne. The last best freestyle he did was the one on BET a year ago with his normal voice. If he rapped like that now, he’d be the best fuckin’ rapper out. I just have to look at things like who to study from or who’s choosing nice beats. It tells you where to go and how to be.