Detroit artist Stoop Lee is firmly rooted in the present while paying homage to the past. Counting artists like Grover Washington, Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, and J Dilla as key influences, Lee crafts a style of hip-hop deeply rooted in soul music and jazz. But that doesn’t mean Lee is stuffy or retro, he just believes in intentionality in the music he creates and listens to. As a proud son of Detroit, Lee carries on the city’s rich musical tradition, while creating his own vision of its future.
The following has been lightly edited.
What are your current influences?
These days I’ve been listening to a decent amount of jazz and indie stuff. I was at my barbershop recently and my barber always plays a lot of stuff that I grew up listening to. It’s not on purpose, she’s around the same age as my parents. She plays a lot of stuff that’s nostalgic for me. Recently, she played Mr. Magic by Grover Washington and it took me down the road of listening to Grover Washington, the Average White Band, and other real jazzy things. And I’m always listening to J Dilla.
What are some of your all-time influences?
Definitely Kanye West, everything up to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Michael Jackson is a huge influence, especially Off The Wall. D’Angelo and Voodoo is a huge influence as far as the pockets, melodies, and harmonies he picks. Erica Badu is another huge influence because of her very organic, soulful sound.
What’s the most overrated right now?
The whole idea of playlists is overrated. Of course, being an independent artist, you want to get on playlists and have your music on streaming services. But the whole idea of benign force-fed music from the streaming services’ algorithms is bad. It’s made listening to music become such a lazy thing. I don’t listen to playlists; I’ll listen to radio shows to discover new music. I’ll actually put in the work to go and find it.
What’s the most underrated right now?
I think the most underrated are the artists who are actually taking chances to do new things. People who actually make full bodies of work and art that will last versus just making stuff that will be successful. That forward-thinking attitude is underrated. There are a lot of people who are really trying to push the boundaries and really trying to progress music. It’s just getting overlooked because people just want things that are snackable.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Before all this stuff – quarantine and whatever – I was super into playing basketball. I’m starting to get more comfortable with trying to play again, but I’m not quite there yet as far as playing five-on-five and doing the whole contact thing. I got into skateboarding, and I’m just learning how to skate and that’s something that you can definitely do in a group setting and still be safe. If I have an hour or so, I’ll just go outside and skate and that’s something that’s just been really inspiring.
What do you hope the next year will be like for you?
I’m hoping things open up even more. I miss performing live. I hope I’m able to play in front of people in a way that’s not Zoom performances. I want it to be an in-person, live thing with instruments and everything and you can actually feel the music again.
Bonus Question: You’re a Detroit musician, living and making music in the city. That comes with a heavy historical legacy and responsibility. How are you able to manage expectations of what your music should while exploring what your music could be?
It’s a rich, rich history that I’m proud to be a part of. One of the greatest songwriters of all time, Stevie Wonder, is from Detroit. As far as influencing me when I create, the musical roots and stuff is what I grew up with. So I feel like it’s just kind of in me, it’s my musical DNA. When I create it’s also like showing another side of Detroit that people haven’t heard yet. Detroit is like a flag that I’m super proud to hold on my back, as well. I feel like I’m sharing a part of this story–my story–this is me. It’s pride. I love to represent the city and its musical history at another point on its timeline.