Buddy Leezle: Waiting for The World to Catch Up.
It’s a sweltering Wednesday afternoon in Fishtown and nearly everyone roaming the streets looks haggard, beaten down under the heat of the sun. In spite of the air conditioning inside of Gryphon Café, the mood from outside spills over to patrons seated at tables nursing cold drinks.
But not Buddy Leezle.
As he pushes open the door to the café, Leezle’s presence starkly contrasts the general late summer afternoon mood – a huge grin bursts through his beard and, after a handshake, he apologizes for running late.
“I just got back from Seattle,” he says, wiping away beads of sweat forming along his brow before excusing himself to quickly change into a fresh set of clothes.
Jet-setting comes natural to the 36-year-old rapper who grew up as a “military kid” in North Carolina. Leezle has spent time in Atlanta (where he attended American Intercontinental University and formed his first group, Broady Champs), Austin (where he released Instropectrum under the name Buddy Leroy, via Culture Sound Records) and San Francisco (where he hosted parties for Juxtapose Magazine while simultaneously working with overseas producers, including Rustie and Hudson Mohawke) before moving to Philadelphia in 2009.
Having freshly changed into a red Benetton shirt and hat, denim cutoffs and a sleeveless camo vest rounded out with blue-and-red Polo shoes, Leezle is ready to begin talking about Dwellers on the Threshold, his most recent project. Their debut album, Dwellers on the Threshold – Live from the Black Lodge, was recently released through Philadelphia label Actual Records. Dwellers is the first collaboration between Leezle and fellow Actual Records artist Architekt (born: Mike Pipitone) and serves as Leezle’s first release of all original material through the label.
“[Dwellers] is very inspired by Twin Peaks,” Leezle says, acknowledging the creative nod to the Black Lodge featured in David Lynch’s seminal television series.
“What I did was pretty much put myself into [the show] as a character,” he explains while nursing an Italian soda. “Some of the stories that are on the album are me talking from a character that’s not on the show, but from that place.”
He stops and laughs for a moment.
“There’s, like, one song about weed but everything else is Twin Peaks,” he adds.
Dwellers was realized when Leezle, along with several members of the Actual Records roster, moved into a house in North Philly last year. Inside the dwelling, which doubles as their de facto headquarters, someone discovered a box set of the television series. Leezle, familiar with the show from his childhood and “out of shit to watch,” decided to revisit the series alongside Architekt. Vibing out to the show one day led Architekt to make a beat, one that Leezle liked so much he put words to it. That beat turned into another and another until the two had enough tracks to put together an album.
“I’d basically just show Buddy a track and he’d give me a ‘yes’ or a ‘no,’” says Architekt during a phone interview while the producer vacations in Nashville.
“Ultimately, he never said ‘no’ – and that’s a rarity [for Buddy],” he continues, acknowledging Leezle’s selectiveness on what material he works with and his passion for the music that inspires him. “We went down the rabbit hole together working on this record.”
Architekt, known for his dubstep-defined production, notes that Dwellers provided a contrast to his other material. Describing it as “less beat driven with more groove – like avant-jazz meets broken beat,” Architekt explains that after Leezle would send the studio vocals, he would twist and edit the files on his computer. This would allow them to live in the environment of the song and have Leezle’s vocals become more like an instrument.
The album is accompanied with a series of video releases, storyboarded by the duo and directed by Architekt. The first two, “The Great Northern” and “Eraserhood,” premiered in February and September respectively, while the third and fourth music videos, “Twin Peaks” and “Shroomaholics,” are in the works.
Although Leezle is stoked on the reception that Dwellers has received, he’s already gearing up for his next album – The Colorful World of Buddy Benetton. The album will be released under his own name and produced by Mook, a beatmaker from Waterford, Ireland, who worked with Leezle’s first group. While recording Dwellers, Leezle received a series of beats from Mook but was focused on finishing up his project with Architekt.
“I had nothing to write to after the Dwellers project was done, so I had my iTunes on shuffle one day and was like, ‘The fuck is this shit?’” Leezle says upon re-discovering Mook’s beats in his music library. “I was like, ‘Oh shit, it’s that dude,’ and I go back and listen to probably like 50 beats, picked six of them and wrote those shits immediately.”
Within three days, Leezle had finished writing for the half dozen tracks and began sending ideas back and forth with the producer. Recording and mixing wrapped in June of this year before Leezle was set to go on vacation. The Colorful World of Buddy Benetton will be released later this year, and where Dwellers was an experimental departure from Leezle’s catalogue, the former is a return to straight-up hip-hop. Also set for release through Actual Records, the album features the spoken word track “Edgar Allan Poetry” from label founder and Leezle’s housemate Aaron Ruxbin.
“We are lucky that he has stayed in Philly this long,” says Ruxbin during a phone interview, referencing the fact that out of all the places Leezle has called his home base, Philadelphia is his longest standing. “I implore Philly, while they have this man, to see his work. Buddy creates a hunger to dig through his catalogue and keep going back for all his work.”
It’s a catalogue the record label owner hopes to expand on.
“[We’ll release] pretty much anything he wants to release,” says Ruxbin, “because we’re waiting for the world to catch up to him.”