“The process of collaboration and having other voices on there so that it’s not just my voice and not regurgitating things that I want them to say was very important.”
Boston via Providence hip-hop artist Lewis Morris can bust rhymes, slam some poetry, and self-produce tracks. On top of all that, he’s a teaching artist-in-residence at MassArt, his alma mater.
He’s also a prolific music maker with a growing discography, and Morris just dropped an outstanding new project, Don’t Be Nice, on Aug 21. The release features collaborations with Providence rappers Slitty Wrists and Jesse The Tree, Pawtucket artist Drent, and Boston hip-hop revolutionary SublimeLuv, among others.
Morris and I spoke about the Hub’s positives and negatives, the influences behind his beatmaking skills, and even some topics outside of music-making.
How has it been living in Boston since you moved here from Providence?
It’s really interesting. The thing I really love about Providence is that it has that big city feel but life and time moves a little bit slower than it does in a city like Boston. In Boston, everyone is in a rush, everybody’s going somewhere, and you feel like you can’t take the time to do things. It’s definitely been an adjustment back after spending most of my adult life here as a college student at MassArt and moving back to my hometown in Providence to gain some perspective. Honestly, I love Boston, I really do, but I feel that my partner and I’s time here is temporary and we want to make our forever roots in Providence in the very near future. The art scene is really good in Boston, the music scene is great, and that’s been the main motivating factor for me creating more music, so it’s not all negative.
With Don’t Be Nice, what did you want to accomplish that you haven’t been able to with your previous releases?
One of the main things that I’ve been sort of thinking a lot about in the last few years is collaboration. All of my favorite moments from a lot of my previous albums involve other people, whether they’re singin’, they’re rappin’, etc. I feel as though I haven’t really been able to do things like that in the past with some of my previous projects; like my last one, Alive, was a very insular sort of thing that involved a lot of focus on putting the mirror to myself and seeing who I am in an honest way. With Don’t Be Nice, it’s all about the process of sharing. A lot of it was inspired by my gigs at poetry slams and open mics and I think it’s that process of sharing and giving some of yourself to an audience of people you don’t know that’s a big, big thing for this one.
The process of collaboration and having other voices on there so that it’s not just my voice and not regurgitating things that I want them to say was very important. I wanted it to be like an open mic, in a way.
I definitely got that vibe. You also make your own beats. What do you view as your main influences when it comes to choosing samples… structure… writing songs?
I think I have a lot of different influences that take a bunch of little bits and pieces from different producers. The main one among them is probably DJ Premier; he’s always been my biggest influence in everything I do whether that be music, poetry, or whatever. I look at his artistry, and the way that he chops samples is effectively simple yet complex in a way that isn’t immediately apparent. I also look at other producers like the Alchemist, especially in the way he structures his albums and how they’re sequenced with songs flowing into each other. After listening to his most recent project, Alfredo, that he did with Freddie Gibbs, I wanted to make something that felt like it was designed to be listened to all the way through in one sitting.
You could listen to the individual tracks, but you’ll get a more fully immersive experience by listening to the entire thing in one go. It was mainly those two influences that played a big part in how I approach the beats and the production on the new album.
Ahead of the album, you released the single “Rush.” What made you want to put the track out by itself? It sounds like a wrestling promo.
That’s Scorpio Sky from All Elite Wrestling. It’s one of his promos that he did on the YouTube show AEW Dark, and he’s been doing a lot of stuff on there, but I honestly think his talent and what he can do is far above what is essentially a free wrestling show that’s online. I felt a certain connection to that promo because I do feel like I’m a little bit slept on and I do feel like I’m pretty consistent with my stuff. What I don’t have that a lot of other people have is the ability to self-promote [laughs]; I sometimes feel pretty humble about myself, and I try to not pump myself up too much. I have a confidence about myself that really is too easy to mute.
The idea behind “Rush” is me rediscovering that confidence and me being able to be honest with myself about who I am as an artist and what I want to do going forward. The decision to release the song separately was born out of me listening to the entire album straight through. It was originally on there up until I made some decisions on final cuts and during that process I figured that it just didn’t fit. I think I made the right decision, but at the same time it’s a track that I wanted people to hear and it’s the best of the ones that didn’t make the cut. There are a lot of ones I made that are just awful [laughs] and I think that’s the best one out of the ones that I excised from the final track list.
I thought it would be cool to throw it up on Soundcloud and give people a glimpse into some of the themes I tackled on Don’t Be Nice before I released the album. That’s what I was thinking with that.
You’ve stated that Don’t Be Nice will be your last release for a while. What do you plan on doing going forward?
This will be my last solo release for the time being, so I have a couple of collaborative projects coming through the pipeline that I really want to do because it takes some pressure off of me. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the collaborative efforts that I’ve done in the past with people like Paul Willis from Sacramento and others. I have a project coming out called Scam Likely with Jesse The Tree and SeanDizzyBlade that’s going to be really cool.
I want to do a lot of projects where I’m just producing and there’s someone else rapping or singing; I really want to go into that side of things and focus primarily on that. In terms of other stuff, I’d love to jump back into writing poetry because I really haven’t seriously written anything in that vein in two years and I think it’s time for me to rectify that.
Also, I plan on doing what I usually do with teaching and education, which has always been a core focus of my career. My long-term goal is to bring what I do with music and what I do with teaching closer together so that it’s one in the same. That was part of the process around Don’t Be Nice too, but I think I can take that even further going forward. That’s really the reason why I wanted to take a break from solo projects for a while, so I can figure out a way to make that long-term goal a reality.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.