Lee Mazin Talks the Art of Rap, Gender Equality and the Importance of Interacting With an Audience
The fight for women’s rights and getting their voices heard started in 1919 with the passing of the 19th amendment, but it didn’t stop there. A century later, they are still breaking nearly impossible barriers.
Rap, a subculture of hip-hop, is no exception to this. The genre calls for more than rhyming lyrics, MCing, and a somewhat catchy beat. It takes skill. And like with many other pastimes, rapping was mainly thought to be a “man’s thing,” but in recent years that’s been gradually changing.
Enter Lee Mazin, a young woman from Philadelphia who like major stars Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim and Iggy Azalea is currently on her way to topping the charts and seizing the spotlight in the hills of Hollywood. Yet before she had signed on with Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers label, things hadn’t always been so clear and easy for her. Originally, Mazin was attending college and majoring in psychology, a choice she admits to having regretted.
“I was actually going to transfer schools and change my major after freshman year, but during the break, it was kind of when I stumbled upon music. It all worked itself out in some weird way,” she says.
With a positive attitude, a large group of supporters and a newfound place for her passion, Mazin didn’t have anywhere to go but forward with her music career. She credits most of her confidence to the support she was given by her mother since day one.
Reminding us that success in the music industry should be measured solely on one’s creativity and talent and not on X and Y-chromosomes, the self-described loyal and outspoken Mazin spoke with us about her future changing from unpredictable to unstoppable, gender equality and, of course, her inspiring and often addictive music.
GALO: When trying to keep up with rap songs, I often find it much too difficult to rap along, especially without taking a breath in-between phrases or a sip of water. Yet, you do it with such ease, as if the verses were the air you breathe. How long would you say it took you to perfect that flow? Do certain words ever prove to be difficult still?
Lee Mazin: I am from Philly, so, like, all we know is spittin’ bars and a lot of lyrics. I grew up around [rap music] and [was always] watching it, so it kind of came natural. It didn’t really take a lot of time. I remember the first time I really got recognition for rapping, and I actually got everyone to like me because I knew how to flow and I knew how to spit, so it kind of came more natural to me. But I’ve always had a thing with words that have double r’s or double w’s, such as “worldwide” or “railroad.” But I eventually get it; it just might take me a little while because I get tongue-tied.
GALO: Not only are you able to spit words out quickly and elegantly, but you also broke straight into an industry highly dominated by male artists. That has to count for something. What pushed you down this road?
LM: I was always good with words. I wrote poems and stories, and I still write a lot even though I do music. I personally write journals, stories, and just all of that type of stuff. That too kind of came natural. I always hung out with my friends and I would always kick it freestyle off the top of my head. I could talk about what we were going to do that day or we would joke around with each other. One day, I got recorded and it got put on Facebook, and that is kind of how I got recognized a little bit on the Internet.
Honestly, you just have to go in it and not look at it as a male-dominant profession, like with sports. If you go in it like, “Oh, I am a female and they’re all guys and they’re going to beat me, or they’re going to have more over me,” then that is going to be instilled in your mind and you will automatically go into it with a negative feel. But if you go into it like, “I can do what they do better than them,” then you will go into it with a stronger mindset, and then you won’t look at it as sexist. I’m from Philly, so I thrive off flows and I like to see people spit raw. Of course, I love making songs because I’m a writer as well, but I love bars and lyrics and making flows with aggression. I feel like nowadays more females flow better.
Video courtesy of Lee Mazin.
GALO: While it is clear that male artists are dominating the mainstream waves still, there was a time when women had a far more significant presence in the industry. They changed the way of music and redefined rap. So my question to you is, do you think that women’s rap and hip-hop is finally having a resurgence?
LM: Right now, at this moment, I definitely feel that way. There are just so many female [rappers] emerging. Some of them may not make it all the way to mainstream, but they are getting closer and more aware, especially females in hip-hop. It was so dead [in the industry before] and everybody was just trying to break in one female. They focused on believing that there could only be one female at a time (or maybe two). But I feel like now that’s broken and females are coming out of everywhere, and I love it. I think it’s so dope that we are all unified. You can have a thousand male rappers that may have their own beats and their differences, but they are accepted. I feel like within the next couple years, we females are going to take over and we will be able to do remakes and hop on each others’ tracks like males do.
GALO: In 2012, artist Meek Mill signed you onto his Dreamchaser’s label as their first female artist. In 2014, in an interview with MTV, you said that being the only female came with pluses and minuses. Care to explain further? Would you say that a year later this has changed at all?
LM: I mean, you get to hang around the guys and they treat you like a queen or princess and you get special attention, but at the same time, it is still a “male profession.” We females always have to [work] harder. If you don’t go into it like, “Oh, he’s going to have more fans than me,” then you’ll be good. Yeah, I was the only female and it had its ups and downs — and I was around boys all day. In any situation, it is going to have its ups and downs, not even just on a musical level. I’m still around boys a lot and boys can be boys, but girls can be girls, too.
GALO: With that said, would you say that sexism is still as prevalent in the music industry as it was a few decades ago or do you feel there is more gender equality for female singers, such as in terms of the decisions made regarding the record as well as one’s own image? In your opinion, what still needs to be changed in the industry in order to achieve true gender equality?
LM: I do think there is more gender equality, but at the same time, there is still an upkeeping that we females have to keep. Then there are expectations that women won’t ever be able to shake, but that is like with anything, not just the entertainment field. I mean, guys can get away with so much. They can have their hair cut any way, look scruffy and dingy, and they can still get away with it. As much as we don’t necessarily want it to be true, people judge females off looks before anything else. If your hair’s not done, you’re going to get talked about. If your makeup isn’t right or you miss one “boat” nowadays, it is like “Oh God.” And now the Internet has a big part in it and everything on there is about image. We as females just need to push through [it] and stick together. For females, it’s so easy for us to be competitive, and this is why we are constantly compared to one another, which starts catfights. If we just worked through it all together, as one force, we could figure it out.
Video courtesy of Lee Mazin.
GALO: As in the video for “Yesterday,” it is clear that your vocal talent is not limited to rap alone. Your range is actually quite impressive. Will we see you mixing styles together during live performances and in upcoming songs and albums?
LM: I actually have quite a few songs that transition. I write a lot and I even have some songs that I sing straight through. Some I just sing on the hook or the bridge. It’s a mixture, and I don’t want to get stuck in just the rap groove, though it is my more predominant route. I can venture out, though. My single that is out now, “She Got It,” is actually like a mid-point between singing, harmonization, and rapping together.
GALO: Concerts usually have a certain energy to them. The anticipation and buzz builds as fans await their favorite performer. It almost feels electric. However, that is only half of the recipe. It is up to the performer to draw on that energy and take it to further heights. What would you define as your “trick” in getting the audience going? How do you typically engage the audience and what is your favorite part about live performances?
LM: Always interact with the crowd. When you notice that they are there, you realize that you’ve come for a purpose. The more you interact with them, the more they’re like, “Yeah, she’s acting cool like she’s just a friend up there freestyling.”
I always come out with a bang and I usually introduce myself — whether it’s my show or I’m a guest headlining. Then, I always give them a sample of my freestylin’ with a few bars. I like to give them a mixture: singing, rapping, freestyling, all of the above. The crowd is the best because it can always make you perform better, especially a more alive crowd with more energy.
GALO: I absolutely love your song “Surrender.” I can feel the emotion with every single word. One of my favorite lines is, “Sometimes I just feel like my back’s against the wall, so many friends, but still no one to call.” This line is so relatable to a generation being brought up in a world rampant with social media and technology — we’re surrounded by people, yet at the same time, more lonely than ever before. And the simplicity of the video made those feelings even stronger. Could you discuss what this song is about and how it came to manifest? And why did you choose to go with a more modest video when the words and music are so powerful — was it to give them even more significance and spotlight?
LM: Well, me, my friend Mario and the producer Mr. Bipolar (Rico), who is also a friend of mine, were in the studio. We were all vibin’ when we came up with the hook. And then from there, I just wanted to spit about what was going on with me at the time. From that point forward, we just made the magic happen. You can hear the pain in his voice and you can hear the pain in my voice. So it was, like, a really dope record. With the video, I wanted [it to be] simple, so that you could understand the lyrics and not try to add a storyline [to] it. I felt the Grand Canyon was the best place to do it, because you get to see the city behind me and the song basically says, “I won’t give up, look how far I’ve come.” The Grand Canyon tied into the video [by showing how] I started as nothing, [but how] now I’m in Hollywood making moves I never would have imagined making.
GALO: Continuing on with that thought, your newest single, “She Got It,” has quite the following. What would you say inspired the title? Is the song based on an event that happened or perhaps a person? I personally like the repetition and the beat. Perhaps, you could also walk me through the emotions behind the song?
LM: I wanted to do a song based on being an entertainer and to show that we females got here on our own. I mean, you always hear guys say, “She got it,” because of her looks or maybe how it’s all about image. But I wanted to make a song that wasn’t only about how a girl looks good, but a song that all women could relate to — whether it’s about taking care of your kids when you’re older, [or] you’ve got a job or go to school, or just anything where you could say “she got it” differently. It’s definitely more about empowering women that they can do it on their own because “they got it.”
GALO: I’ve written a few songs myself, but often get too frustrated because the music or lyrics seem wrong — something feels off. How do you know when a song is “just right,” like that moment where all the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit together? Do you ever have to start from scratch? If so, how do you deal with the stress?
LM: Honestly, you just get a feeling like, “Hey, that’s the one and my friends are going to love this” or “No, I don’t want to do this.” It’s just like the feeling on a record, when you know that the song is “the one.” When we lay the whole track down and play it back, I just get a feeling and then everyone in the studio is like, “Yeah, this is the one.” Then you play it for your peers, producers and the executives at the labels and they say the same thing. [That’s when] you really know. It’s a chain reaction.
And yes, of course, I’ve had to start over, but I don’t really consider that stress. Sometimes you record a song and realize that it doesn’t fit, or maybe the beat needs to be changed. Sometimes the lyrics need to be thrown away and you have to come up with a whole new concept. It is all a part of the creative mind.
GALO: You’re in a position where you can not only help others, which we’ve already seen with your work with PhiLEE Weekend, but where your words and music can make a difference in someone’s life. Pat Benatar, for instance, achieved this with her song “Hell is for Children.” How do you hope your music touches people’s lives? Is there perhaps a particular group of people you wish to reach?
LM: I really, really want to be able to reach females all over, of all ages. But I want my fan base to be widespread ranging from any race, sex, age, and nationality. I just want to empower people to know that they can do and achieve whatever they want.
GALO: If I am informed correctly, your birthday is tomorrow (June 25th). Happy early birthday! Do you have anything planned for your special day? How about a present that you are really hoping to receive?
LM: Yes, it is, thank you! Well, I actually have a private dinner set up. I have a club attendance and my mom is actually coming to L.A. That’s my best present right there.
GALO: At such a young age, you’ve already come so far, what do you hope to achieve by your next birthday?
LM: By my next birthday, what do I want to achieve? I want the world.
GALO: I feel like this question is asked a lot, but I am genuinely interested in your answer. If you could predict where you will be musically in 10 years, where would that be? Where do you want to be?
LM: I want to be, no will be, a Grammy awarded artist. I want to be recognized for not only rapping, but also singing and acting. I want to die a legend.
Video courtesy of Lee Mazin.
Stay up to date on Lee Mazin’s current and upcoming endeavors by following her on Twitter @leemazin.