Photo: Zek Snaps

Heezy Lee.

Interview: Meet Heezy Lee, the Masked Producer Behind Your Favorite French Rap Hits

We sat down with the masked sonic architect about his work with Niska, MHD, Booba, Aya Nakamura and many more.

Beninese producer Heezy Lee has helped create some of France's biggest musical hits by working with a laundry list of the country's biggest names from Aya Nakamura, Niska, Booba, Damso, Siboy and beyond. The masked 28-year-old is one of the country's most notable sonic architects whose work can't be missed on airwaves and in nightclubs all over the country.

Heezy Lee is known for toplines—the melody or hook of a song. He refers to it as, "Le yaourt que tu commences avant de faire un son, le brouillon de mélodie, le skelet." ("The yogurt from which you start, the draft melody, the skeleton.") His musical abilities, however, are as diverse as the musical genres he draws inspiration from.

Talking with Heezy Lee, it becomes evident that music is innate. He got his start raping, songwriting, and creating beats in his youth in Le Mans, a city in northwestern France on the Sarthe River. Presently, his labor of love is paying off.

This interview has been translated and edited for length & clarity.

Where does your name come from?

The first name I used was Heezy Baby. "Easy baby" was a phrase I used consistently. With time, I came to realize that there are a number of people with the word or a semblance of the word easy in their monikers so I simply added Lee. It's a bit of a play on words and just felt right.

You've collaborated with huge French artists and helped create hit songs like "DKR," "Réseaux," "PMW," "Friday," "Mobali" and "Thibaut Courtois." Tell me about how you view French rap and the space you believe you occupy within the genre?

For starters, in my opinion, we are the best in Europe. We're one of the countries with the highest streaming numbers and Youtube views. One of the greatest things about all of us is that we aren't solely French. There are a number of artists who are Congolese, I'm Béninois, and there are Senegalese and Maghrebians artists. The music is French but we also have a culture that's very African and very international, at the end of the day. I think that's what's major.

With regards to my place, I would say I have a good one. I've proven myself; I didn't get here by cutting corners. I didn't get here by working with a major artist and by things just taking off from there. I started by working with Shay, who is somewhat known. Today, when people call me, they know why they call me. Despite the fact that I do many things—I'm an artist and a producer—I make instrumentals and toplines. My place is a bit complicated. Not everyone knows everything I can do. We stepped on the scene around 2016. There are a few producers from this wave and today, we're all on top. I came on the scene with producers Boumidjal X, Pyroman, Dskonthebeat, Junior a la prod, and others.

Heezy Lee - Qu'est-ce qu'on s'aime

You've been into music since your youth. You began rapping and songwriting with friends in middle school. You would go on to start creating beats in 2008 and full-on producing between 2011 and 2012. In 2017, you dropped "Qu'est-ce qu'on s'aime" and in 2018, you released singles "Boomerang" and "Replay" and are preparing your first album. What can we expect from this project?

I intend to do it all. I'm going to sing and produce. I also won't hesitate to call on friends to send me instrumentals. My process consists of me doing all of my production, I write, I create my yogurt, and because I typically don't finish, I call on friends of mine to help me finish. I don't hesitate to ask for help, but I create the foundation of everything in the calm of my room. The album will consist of everything I know how to do. It will surely be comprised of three parts: rap, afro, and pop.

Your work is defined by working with others. Not only are you a part of a producer group called The Summit but you've worked quite frequently with Le Motif, notably on the recent track "Ma Love." Tell me about the importance of collaboration.

Le Motif is actually in The Summit. The Summit is just a group of friends who organically make beats together. We aren't under contract. Sometimes, you have an idea but you're incapable of finishing it. If I have an afrobeat track, I'll call someone like Dskonthebeat who knows how to create such tracks. One thing I love is energy. I've found that when you mix energies together or when there are multiple energies on a song, you create something that is much more incredible.

More on the above, there's a song that's going to come out with Aya Nakamura and the beginning of the production was sent to me by an unknown producer. We successfully created something grand with him. I could just tell he had such determination. To conclude, allow yourself to be guided by your feelings.

Le Motif - Ma Love (Clip officiel) ft. Heezy Lee

You are the brains behind a variety of French rap songs but a close listen to your music is revelatory of an appreciation for such genres as pop, rock, and techno. How would you describe your sound? Where do you draw inspiration from?

It's simple. I don't have a particular style. Apart from metal, I've listened to everything in my life. I really listen to everything. It's all in emotions, no matter the style. I can make a French variety track just like I can make an angry rock song for myself or someone else. The correlation that will always exist between everything I produce is emotion. That's all there is to it. It's really important for me to touch people. I get inspiration from everywhere. I get it from everything I have listened to over the course of childhood and my life. I listen to all different styles of music. One week I'm listening to Indian music, the next I am listening to zouk, which can inspire me for a trap song despite the fact that the two aren't related.

What is your creative process?

The same as above: finding the right blends, melodies that are touching [or spark emotion]. Touching isn't necessarily making someone cry, a melody can make you happy.

Your face is always hidden behind a mask. Would it be reasonable to assume you crave anonymity?

I wouldn't call it anonymity. At the end of the day, it doesn't make sense for my name to be unknown. I do this for liberty. I know a lot of famous people; we speak, we see each other, and we go out. When I started producing, seeing what was happening with everyone famous I knew when they went out, I decided I didn't want the same to happen to me. Today, several of these same artists tell me they should've done the same as me {masked themselves}. It's all about liberty. All we're doing is making music; you can't not be able to go buy bread. It's inconceivable. It's a nightmare. It's abnormal. People typically ask me why I'm masked but shouldn't the real question be, "Why aren't all artists masked?"

Photo: Zek Snaps

You were nursed by the sounds of African artists such as Koffi Olomide and Papa Wemba. You are Béninois. You've been noted for appreciating Davido. Tell me about your relationship with African music?

I lived in Benin for two to three years. When you live in Benin, you aren't listening to Celine Dion. When you go to parties and at home, it's cassette and VHS tapes of African music. Today, listening to African music is nostalgic, it reminds me of my childhood. All the artists born in France but of African descent will tell you it's nostalgic. It's in your blood. It's a part of me like it's a part of all Africans.

Tell me about being a part of Red Nation Music and Publishing.

I've been in a distribution deal with them for 3 years. Presently, we are focused on multiple placements in France and internationally throughout Europe.

What's next for you?

I think in France there's often this push to put people in a box, and what's different about me is that I can do everything. I co-produced two of the songs on the upcoming Aya Nakamura AYA album, "Plus Jamais" featuring Stormzy and "Ça Blesse."

Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Image

#EndSARS: 1 Year Later And It's Business As Usual For The Nigerian Government

Thousands filled the streets of Nigeria to remember those slain in The #LekkiTollGateMassacre...while the government insists it didn't happen.

This week marks 1 year since Nigerians began protests against police brutality and demanded an end to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The #EndSARS protests took the world by storm as we witnessed Nigerian forces abuse, harass and murder those fighting for a free nation. Reports of illegal detention, profiling, extortion, and extrajudicial killings followed the special task force's existence, forcing the government to demolish the unit on October 11th, 2020. However, protestors remained angered and desperate to be heard. It wasn't until October 20th, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators at Lekki tollgate in the country's capital, Lagos, that the protests came to a fatal end. More than 56 deaths from across the country were reported, while hundreds more were traumatized as the Nigerian government continued to rule by force. The incident sparked global outrage as the Nigerian army refused to acknowledge or admit to firing shots at unarmed protesters in the dead of night.

It's a year later, and nothing has changed.

Young Nigerians claim to still face unnecessary and violent interactions with the police and none of the demands towards systemic changes have been met. Fisayo Soyombo the founder of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, told Al Jazeera, "Yes, there has not been any reform. Police brutality exists till today," while maintaining that his organization has reported "scores" of cases of police brutality over this past year.

During October 2020's protests, Nigerian authorities turned a blind eye and insisted that the youth-led movement was anti-government and intended to overthrow the administration of current President Muhammadu Buhari. During a press conference on Wednesday, in an attempt to discredit the protests, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed hailed the Nigerian army and police forces for the role they played in the #EndSARS protests, going as far as to say that the Lekki Toll Massacre was a "phantom massacre with no bodies." These brazen claims came while protesters continued to gather in several major cities across the country. The minister even went on to shame CNN, Nigerian favorite DJ Switch as well as Amnesty International, for reporting deaths at Lekki. Mohammed pushed even further by saying, "The six soldiers and 37 policemen who died during the EndSARS protests are human beings with families, even though the human rights organizations and CNN simply ignored their deaths, choosing instead to trumpet a phantom massacre."

With the reports of abuse still coming out of the West African nation, an end to the struggle is not in sight. During Wednesday's protest, a journalist for the Daily Post was detained by Nigerian forces while covering the demonstrations.

According to the BBC, additional police units have been set up in the place of SARS, though some resurfacing SARS officers and allies claim to still be around.

Young Nigerians relied heavily on social media during the protests and returned this year to voice their opinions around the first anniversary of an experience that few will be lucky enough to forget.

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How CKay's 'Love Nwantiti' Became the World's Song

Nigerian singer and producer CKay talks to OkayAfrica about the rise of his international chart-topping single "Love Nwantiti," his genre-defying sound and the reasons behind this era of afrobeats dominance.