It’s already close to 8pm when I arrive at the studio Luke Christopher uses to create his music. It’s a non descript building that I have to drive around a few times before I realize its my destination. It sits on a long boulevard just far enough into the San Fernando Valley to feel like you’ve left LA for a moment. The doctor’s officiesque waiting room belies what truly exists deeper into the studio.
I am greeted by Luke’s manager Tim, who isn’t the nervous helicopter type one expects a newer artist to have. He leads us to a dimly lit hallway that seems half studio and half space mountain with triply lighting, small laser beams drifting around the room. There are various rooms dedicated to music making as we walk our way down the hall. There’s a room with a piano where I can hear Luke is playing some keys when I arrive. At the end of the soundproofed hallway is a dark chamber with a deep soft couch and a variety of large screens and recording equipment. The slow moving laser beams drift around the room as they tempt constant distraction.
I am greeted by Luke’s manager Tim, who isn’t the nervous helicopter type one expects a newer artist to have. He leads us down a dimly lit hallway that seems half studio and half space mountain complete with violet trippy lighting. There are various rooms dedicated to music making as we walk our way down the hall. There’s a room with a piano where I can hear Luke is playing some keys when I arrive. At the end of the soundproofed hallway is a dark chamber with a deep soft couch and a variety of large screens and recording equipment. There is a laser grid beamed against the far wall that gives the room an otherworldly feel.
When Luke enters he does not have the persona that I expected. He is young and for someone who has attained what he has by his age, there isn’t even a hint of arrogance in the way he walks or the feeling that he’s doing you the favor when he introduces himself. He looks you dead in the eye when he talks which is a tad unnerving to me as I’ve become accustomed to a face in the ever present IPhone and an extended hand. When Luke speaks he sounds like a man that could have been granting interviews for decades. He is cool and collected and there is an undeniable confidence about him but it doesn’t put up walls. In fact, it’s dynamic and makes you want to know more.
I had listened to his music before hand and was struck by the layers and creativity that he puts into his songs. His music lacks the tired clichés that have plagued hip-hop music the previous decade. They are each carefully curated and lack the expected heavy bass, hard rapping, refrain and repeat that I have come to expect from modern main stream hip hop artists. When we sit down to talk, I see that even in the dim light of the room he has the clarity and assuredness about him that is infused into his music.
I ask him what inspires his songs he says that it can be a variety of things from watching rain on the desert landscape pass on a drive to Vegas or sitting at his piano and starting a melody. Luke pauses for a moment to think before saying that his music ought to be diverse, something that sounds like all his favorite artists instead of just one of them. And his music reflects exactly that ideal. His songs deeply layered with sounds that aren’t usually associated with hip-hop yet his songs have a decidedly hip-hop core in them.
Ever curious about a young artist’s method, I asked how we ended up in our current location. As a songwriter, producer and artist, Luke said he needed a space to create that was his own, without limitations. For an artist that writes his own music and involved in all aspects of the material, the song making process can be long. “I’m not the guy that has everything prearranged. I need a place from 9am-3am to do my thing… it’s easier to make songs like this.”
But Luke says he wasn’t always the mix master he is now. He started as a kid when his cousin would show Luke and his brother how to take nursery rhymes and “flip” them into rap songs. As Luke grew older, his brother and cousin lost interest in rapping. Meanwhile Luke would still sit in class or hide under the bed and write rhymes and songs. When he wanted a certain hook or beat that he couldn’t find he would simply sing it or make it.
In his younger years, he moved from LA to Las Vegas and then back to LA again. He never lost his interest in making music and at 17 after shopping himself around signed a publishing deal with A&R executive Ron Fair, (who also mentored hit makers such as the Pussycat Dolls, The Black Eyed Peas and Christina Aguilera) at Interscope records. At the signing his whole family was present, including his grandmother. He says it felt good for them to see why he spent all those years “making music under the bed.” But Interscope was not to be. In a true LA twist, Ron Fair left Interscope shortly after signing Luke. Ron was the prime reason he signed with Interscope over other record labels. It was Ron’s guidance that lured him in. With his reason for signing gone Luke began to question what he was doing at Interscope.
Let out of his contract Luke was soon approached by Mark Pitts , A&R at RCA records and Bystorm. Mark Pitts is the legendary man behind such artists as Notorious B.I.G., Faith Evans, Usher and J. Cole. He has helped steer the careers of Mary J Blige, Chris Brown, Ciara and Miguel to name just a few. To be perfectly blunt, Mark Pitts KNOWS good music and Mark Pitts knows artistry.
When Ron Fair ended up at Virgin Records Luke was faced with a choice of who to sign with. Ultimately Luke opted for the guidance of Mark Pitts. He says that he picked Mark because “He understands the journey I want to make. I don’t want to have a hit song and then chase that song. I want my album to mean something…It’s the wild wild west in the game, there a bunch of hit songs and a bunch of one hit wonders.”
He adds, “Mark is the OG…he’s pretty much an artist himself. He’s not successful because he has so many dope songs, he’s successful because he knows what a good song is.”
Luke has yet to release a full album. So far he’s released “mixtapes”, a sort of EP that evoke images of the golden age of hip hop when the aspiring artist intended to build his/her name on the streets. These mixtapes are a way to introduce his sound to different people while recording his full studio album. “There a bunch of people that say ‘I love that song’ but have no idea who it is…so when I put out an album people will listen because of who it is.”
In a world where nothing is sacred, keeping an album under wraps until release dates seem to be a thing of the past. Artists like Drake and even Madonna have both suffered leaks of anticipated albums forcing them to re-strategize their release plans and even release albums that already have half the songs pirated on the internet. I ask Luke what he thinks of this somewhat new development and he gives me an answer I didn’t expect from a young man that grew up only knowing the Internet.
“Its hard now to make music people want to pay for. To have an album that sticks out and be dope they have to be really good.” He pauses for a moment when I ask him if he would release an album with half the songs leaked. “In a way releasing an album early is like a throw away, you don’t get to feel the cultivated album. An album is so much cooler when you hear it for the first time.
When you hear a Luke Christopher song for the first time it’s striking how many layers are present in the music. In a music world where most mainstream hip hop songs are the endless “get money, get women, turn up, repeat” Luke’s music is fresh and refreshing in that the lyrics aren’t the endless self stroking of the ego or proclamations of grandeur. He doesn’t write or sing what he thinks others want to hear. Its like he’s making music because that’s what’s in his blood.
So I wondered what goes into his musical process. What creative energy shapes the songs he makes? He said he finds his inspiration everywhere, in a rainstorm on the way to Las Vegas or in everyday observations of people. Some of his songs have a conversational quality that he tells me can be real or imagined. Many times when writes a song he already has the visuals in mind in the same way a writer crafts a story around a person they have already produced in their imagination before a finger even hits the keyboard. “In todays world the video is synonymous with the song.” Luke says.
Since the visual component of his music is integrated into his mind upon inception the team he chooses to make his music videos must be made carefully. “He has to be clever,” Luke says of a potential director. “If I see popping bottles and big booty bitches its not going to work. I’ve seen all that.”
I ask him about what he thinks of modern hip hop. He answers without hesitation, “I rarely listen to hip hop nowadays…and when I do its old shit. “ He thinks for a moment. “ I listen to James Blake, Sam Smith, Passion Pit…but rarely hip hop because it sounds the same.” He also says he doesn’t feel the pressure that might be expected on a young artist. He doesn’t stress about not having the cookie cutter sound because “people like real shit more…a lot of people don’t even realize there’s better shit out there.”
Luke has accomplished a lot for a new artist. He has already been featured on a track with Common and worked with big names such as Usher and Wiz Khalifa. “Its crazy, it’s always been about the music.” He says that if he doesn’t love a song he doesn’t put it out.
He was star struck only once when he was at a John Legend party and Stevie Wonder just walked in dressed casually. He said he was like “Fuck! That’s Stevie, I used to listen to him when my dad was driving in the car!”
I ask him a somewhat expected question. What is the best career advice he’s received? He gives me an unexpected answer. “Cliché advice from the right people is probably the most powerful stuff, when they give you that cliché advice and you see in their eyes that they really mean it… Common and J. Cole both told me ‘do your shit and don’t let anyone fuck with it.’ Do You is cliché but it means something coming from them.” Earlier Luke had mentioned that he feels J. Cole is one of the few in hip-hop that is truly pushing limit. Luke says that J. Cole was looking for success and the minute he did his own thing he found it.
I ask if he ever thinks about quitting. Luke says emphatically that he never has those thoughts that so many aspiring artists have heard in the back of their minds about giving up. “I don’t do this because I want a crib and car. This has always been just what I do… Not if it gets too hard I’m gonna quit… Its part of my anatomy… Even if artists were paid 5 dollars and hour and broke and it wasn’t a glamorous lifestyle, I’d be a broke artist on the street.” A lot of people say those types of things but with Luke, it’s believable. In our final few minutes I steer the conversation toward the ultimate question. Who does he want to be in the music world? I don’t want to compete with the guys of the moment. I want to compete with Kanye and Michael Jackson.” He isn’t filtering his answer. He continues, “If you want eternal songs, It has to mean something to people. You can always tell when an artist means something to people, like at a concert -people are in heaven when they are there. It reminds them of times, of things” He thinks for a moment and then looks back at me “…Art has got to live forever.”
Interview and words by Matt Harshbarger