In his essay In Praise of Shadows, Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki wrote of how, in adopting Western technology, illuminating their homes in bright electric light, the Japanese lost the aesthetic virtues of their older interior design. The traditional method of paper lamps in sparsely-furnished rooms had given this "world of shadows" a "mystery and depth superior to that of any wall painting or ornament." To Tanizaki, the shade cast by overhanging eaves, the foggy texture of unpolished silver, the darkened lavatory of wood grain, unlike the clinical white tile of the West, cultivated an atmosphere of "immutable tranquility."
This could also easily describe the absolute calm of the art of Valee, whose work thrives in a world of shadows. The mysterious Chicago rapper drew genuine excitement from peers across the country even before he'd signed to Kanye West's GOOD Music label. In an era when aspiring public figures broadcast constantly in an effort to maximize their brand value, where rappers live their lives in an unsparing spotlight of tweets and TMZ headlines, Valee stands apart. With short songs and a soft-spoken style, his unpredictable raps sketch subjects with a droll eye for detail over a bass-heavy canvas. This is trap music for the connoisseur, for fans of clever lyrics and effortless style. His blunt lyrics fixate on the here-and-now, recited with deceptive simplicity, as if he were rapping as much to hear himself speak, as for any audience.
Valee Taylor grew up on Chicago's South Side, beginning in the Robert Taylor Homes and moving frequently when they were demolished. In school, he did just enough work to get by. He had a tendency to throw temper tantrums, and he was kicked out of numerous schools. His energy seemed destructive: when he received toys as a child, Valee broke them. But he now sees its purpose. "I think I was just figuring out how stuff works," he says. "How I can make it faster, how I can change the wheels on the car."
By his teenage years, he'd relaxed some, though he still liked his music loud--No Limit, Cash Money, and Project Pat. He had begun to focus on what he calls the "end-of-the-day perspective," a kind of practical philosophy: "You know how people get stressed out, and you have that one friend who says, 'Well, look at the bright side,' or 'Well, at the end of the day…' I just think that way from the start so I never really get stressed out about anything. Smoke a blunt, ignore it, go to the store or something."
At 19 he started a business, offering maintenance work to schools in the area. From the money he'd made, he rented a loft he could "barely afford" and bought a nice car. "I always want nice stuff, so if I see something I like and I want it, I may not be able to all the way afford it. But you've got 30 days to figure out how to start making more money." In contrast with the constant hustle of the rap industry, Valee's day-to-day when he began recording was simple; he'd worked on cars, putting rims on people's cars. But really: "I never really had anything to do. I would get in my car and download mixtapes. The latest Bankroll Fresh. I wasn't really doing anything. I've always floated." The day his career began, he intended to buy a gaming system, but stopped at Guitar Center instead.
His music came out on a series of mixtapes, often curated by producers like Rio Mac and Chase the Money. Much as he did with toys, then cars, he enjoys the process of dismantling, then rebuilding, his music, playing with its internal architecture: "Sometimes I rap and cut and copy and paste and move parts around and it changes the whole song, for the better." Though he works hard to improve, his philosophy prioritizes working smart. He compares his process to school science projects; because his last name was towards the end of the alphabet, he'd see two weeks of other people's work before having to produce his own, giving him an edge. "If I like 2 Chainz and Bankroll Fresh, and I liked the beats they pick, when it comes time for me to rap, and it comes time for me to pick a beat, I have to act as if it is something they want and wish they had first. Once I do that, my job is twice as easy. I've cut half the hard work out."
In 2017, he was signed to Kanye West's GOOD Music label, and released his GOOD Music debut, GOOD job, you found me. Yet his strategy remains unchanged. "I just wanted to make beats better than what I hear on my mixtapes or on the radio, and I wanted to rap on it. I wasn't thinking about anyone else at all. I just have to keep that mindset. The moment that starts changing, I might feel like I don't have to do music any more. It's not supposed to feel like a job. It can't feel like a job."
"We tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty. But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light--his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow." --Junichiro Tanizaki
Super Sport Subwoofer Street Version
In an era when aspiring public figures broadcast constantly in an effort to maximize their brand value, Valee's coolly laconic stands apart. With short songs and a soft-spoken style, his unpredictable raps sketch subjects with a droll eye for detail over a bass-heavy canvas. This is trap music for the connoisseur, for fans of clever lyrics and effortless style. Valee grew up on Chicago's South Side. When he received toys as a child, he would break them apart to figure out how they worked, a method he applies to his own process with music today: "Sometimes I rap and cut and copy and paste and move parts around and it changes the whole song, for the better." His music career began when, intent on buying a gaming system, he stopped at Guitar Center instead. "I just wanted to make beats better than what I hear on my mixtapes or on the radio, and I wanted to rap on it. I wasn't thinking about anyone else at all." His counterintuitive approach across five mixtapes and his GOOD Music debut EP, GOOD job, you found me, has captured the ears of artists and music aficionados alike, drawn to his unorthodox approach.