Interview: Frank Leone

There will always be some MCs that will pick up a microphone and rap and that’s all it will be, but it will still be incredibly dope. On the other hand, there will be other artists that will compose actual music, and it will just happen to be hip hop music. One process of making hip hop music is not superior to the other, there’s just a million ways to go about doing things. It would be boring if everyone went about making rap songs the same way, right? Either way, I feel as if Frank Leone, as a rapper, would fall into the latter category.

The first track I ever heard from Frank Leone was called Cool it. It included the homie Nico Segal, AKA Donnie Trumpet, on the horns and it was probably one of the smoothest joints I had heard in a minute. This was in January of last year. With the way Frank rode the beat like a veteran and flowed so perfectly over the super jazzy melodies of Nico’s trumpet, I figured this dude had been around for a while and I was just sleeping on him. Little did I know that Frank was only seventeen at the time, and he had not been around as long as I had expected.  After I heard that song, I put him in my own personal category of “promising up and comers”. In all honesty, a “promising up and comer” doesn’t really mean much in hip hop now in this day and age with trendy internet rappers popping up by the dozen, but he definitely stuck out to me.

I heard the song on Fake Shore Drive, but I didn’t know where he was from. Maybe it wasn’t even Chicago or the surrounding area at all, maybe it was only on FSD for the Donnie Trumpet feature, who knows? Being the contemporary hip hop nerd I am, I tried to research him a little more, but I couldn’t find out much information about him. I still didn’t know much about him until recently when his name started popping up more and more on the hip hop blogosphere. By this time, I was able to research a little bit more about him as he’s put himself out there and promoted himself much more since January of 2013. In recent months, Frank has put out quite a bit of new music, including two singles to his upcoming album entitled Enter Wild. Much like the track he made with Nico Segal, I was really digging the two singles. I wanted to catch up with him and see what was going on with the him and the album and whatnot. Fortunately I was able to link up with him and chat a bit about his upcoming album, some other projects he’s working on, his hometown, his plans for the future, and of course his pick for the World Cup. Stream the two singles and peep the interview below:

When did you start making music?

I’ve been playing piano since like third grade, but I started rapping in about 2010. That’s when I started producing too.

What made you want to start both producing and rapping at the same time?

I was rapping first and then, like, I’m from a small town called Monticello and there’s not a music scene here, there’s not much of anything because there’s 5,000 people. I was stealing beats off of youtube, and I got sick of that. I was like I’ll try this, and it worked. It was pretty sweet.

What are some of your major influences?

Damn, uhhh, right now for the projects I’m working on? It’s kinda like, For each project I’ll like take new influences, so like, basically there’s the main three. I guess the three people that made me start making music were Kanye, Tyler the Creator and Earl in that order.  Those were the three that made me start making music. Earl made me want to start rapping, Tyler made me want to start producing well, or trying to at least. For this album, Enter Wild, I’ve been listening to a lot of King Krule, and a lot of movie soundtracks like King Kong and Phantom of the Opera, stuff like that. Rap-wise, my inspiration, it kind of just slips in. I listen to a lot of Kendrick, Earl, Nas, and Tribe Called Quest. Stuff like that.

Your beats are quite sample heavy…

Sometimes, not always. I do a lot of taking of sounds, but I never sample sample full stuff. Anytime you hear piano and shit, like that’s all me. I’ll never sample stuff like that, but when I do samples I try and take something that you wouldn’t expect to hear on the music I make. I’ll take some like broadway stuff, and I’ve been listening to like Bulgarian show choirs recently, and I might sample some shit from them, so…

That’s interesting because I saw you tweet something about how you get more inspiration from Broadway musicals than other rappers, care to elaborate on that?

I think, I don’t know, rap is kinda boring to me right now. Just in general, especially in 2014. There’s been a drought of good music. Other than Cilvia Demo, that’s the only new rap album I’ve been listening to. I’ve always been fascinated by Broadway musicals. One time, freshman year of high school we took a school trip to New York and saw Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. That shit was just crazy to me. The amount of production they put into it and the depth of the sound and stuff, that kinda impacted me. That and Les Mis, I feel like, people don’t normally touch it for the type of music I make, but you can really take a lot of inspiration from it. Not just the words themselves, but the energy they are trying to get across. Especially with elements of the French Revolution, that kind of ties into what Enter Wild is about, in a sense.

Off topic, but do you have a favorite World Cup team?

Fuck, no, because I wanted Argentina, but I don’t know. It was tight to see Netherlands beat Spain, because I didn’t really want Spain to win. Hopefully the United States do well for the first fucking time… in a while.

Seems like with the last couple of tracks you’ve dropped recently, you have created a little bit of buzz for yourself.  Have you noticed a change in the amount of attention you’re receiving?

Yeah, kinda, I don’t think it’s big enough for me to celebrate it yet, because I’m definitely not near the peak of it yet. I’ve just been working a lot harder, and like the people that I’m surrounding myself with, we’re just really focusing in. I really want this project to be the one that a lot of people hear. I’ve been kicking it up a notch, work-load wise, kinda just spending all of my time doing this shit. It’s been cool, I had my first headliner in March at U of I and we sold it out actually. Apparently that was the first local, sold out hip hop show that Champaign, IL has ever seen so that was sweet.

You got any shows coming up in Chicago?

We’re working on some right now, like, nothing concrete, but go to Lucki Eck$’s show. That’s all I’m gonna say. Just be there.

So, are you currently still in Monticello?

Yes, but I’m moving to Chicago in the fall for school.

Can you explain the artwork for #CHILDSPLAY?

Yeah, that’s just kind of how I’ve been feeling for a while. I don’t think there is anyone that can give a point of view that is entirely factual because we don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes but it seems to me like Rahm Emanuel just brushes Chicago’s problems under the table every time people bring up Chicago and shit. It’s funny because there was a few people tweeting at me like, “Oh, he’s gonna be on Fallon tonight” and I was just like there’s no way he’s gonna talk about the fact that like his city had like 42 hours without a shooting over Memorial Day or something. Dude just talked about doing the Polar Plunge for 15 minutes and like bringing Fallon back to Chicago. You can’t put the full blame on someone, but I definitely see him as a reason shit doesn’t get done quicker in Chicago.

What kind of plans do you have coming up to promote Enter Wild?

I’m working on a pretty big EP right now with a lot of people, I can’t really talk about it. It was supposed to be out in June actually, but we’re pushing it back because we’re gonna do some crazy stuff with it first. There’s that, and there’s a music video I directed. A video coming soon, so yeah, there’s gonna be a lot of cool stuff before the album comes out. I’m trying to stay busy.

What does the name Enter Wild mean?

Man, I’ve been thinking of a good way to summarize that. I think the best way is to say, it’s basically my view on how to grow up in America and not ruin your life by doing that. A lot of people become adults and everything just seems to suck, but I don’t think it has to be like that. So that’s my way of seeing things.

What can we expect to hear on Enter Wild?

Don’t expect anything, because it’s gonna be crazy. You will be disappointed if you expect anything. The two songs I’ve dropped so far are the two worst on the album in my opinion. I promise the best is yet to come, it’s gonna be good. There will be something for everyone on the album.