By Sam Hadelman
Photos by Sam Hadelman
Lee Bezel has known from his very early days at Bishop Woods Middle School what he was put on this Earth to do: rap. When speaking to him, the evidence of this assertion is ever-present. He carries himself like a veteran in the game, with stellar confidence and stunning technicality lining the walls of his work. Though he has manifested this destiny from adolescence, now it is time for the rest of us to see his fully-fleshed out vision for his career.
Bezel’s ascension into the limelight is a direct result of his smash-hit, “Big Duffy”, which notably gained traction after being selected to be in the latest version of NBA 2k20, the famed basketball video game, by superstar Kevin Durant and business-mogul Steve Stoute. This was not only a monumental moment for Bezel, but the Connecticut hip-hop scene as a whole. Connecticut hip-hop has radically redefined itself in the past few years, and Lee Bezel is now at the epicenter of this metamorphosis. “Big Duffy” has emerged as the seminal Connecticut hip-hop record of late, and for Bezel the song will never run stale, “For me this literally is all I ever wanted in life, to be a rapper. When I hear my song, or people come up to me talking about ‘You’re the kid from 2K?’, or ‘I love Big Duffy!’ or I get the DMs, it never gets old to me. When it comes up in the game, it never gets old. I don’t think I’ll ever get to that point.”
“Big Duffy”, which is sitting at 800k plays across all platforms, may have been Bezel’s way of getting his foot in the door, but he has much more in-store for listeners. Right now, he is currently working on a slew of content, all of which is still in the process of being developed, though one thing is for sure: this is Lee Bezel’s year. Though he has been held back by the never-ending, always present, pandemic, it truly has given him the opportunity to slow down and hone his craft, an opportunity rarely taken by up-and-coming artists in today’s hyper-digital, instant-gratification age. He has recently taken precautionary steps to get the business end of his career in order, a move that is a rising trend within this generation of younger rap artists who have seen their idols succumb to the predatory purveyors of the music industry. Time-in-time again, we have seen previous generations’ biggest artists fall victim to manipulative actors, ill-intended contracts, and the coercive nature of the business itself, and Lee Bezel does not intend to follow suit. This is ultimately so important to Bezel because he wants to be taken with the utmost seriousness on the business end of music, and furthermore his pursuits are not without reason. It is much easier to succeed in the business when the looming thought of being taken advantage of has dispersed, and that is the reality Bezel is chasing.
One of the most important factors that comes into play for Bezel, and yet again separates him from his peers, is that he owns the masters, the rights to the original recording of a song, which also dictates who technically owns and profits off the record. Self-ownership is a trend that is developing in the music industry that could revolutionize how the careers of our favorite artists manifests. Specifically, Bezel was able to do this through the vindicating work that United Masters, a music distribution company started by the aforementioned Steve Stoute, has done for him. In fact, it was a contest within United Masters that ultimately placed “Big Duffy” in NBA 2K20.
One of the more paradoxical footnotes in the story of Bezel is how calm and nonchalant his real-life presence is in comparison to his spit-fire, unceasing existence on the mic. This attribute presents a unique dichotomy, where Lee Bezel truly becomes a different figure entirely when spitting his 16 bars, but to him, it’s the same Lee. He explains it like this, “When I’m in the booth, yes I can say it’s a different person or whatever, but it’s more because I’m not the type of person to be out there like that, when I get in the booth it’s my time to be the life of of the party or that guy people can think is this cool dude or whatever.” He later would compare this polarity to that of which Jim Carey experienced in the film “The Mask”, as if the music is just an outlet to release his deepest inhibitions, all whilst still maintaining his true identity. He is at his utmost comfortable position when spitting on the mic. The microphone is much more akin to a megaphone in Bezel’s case, a medium for him to preach his message to the masses, all while staying unabashedly himself. With raps concerning his future ambitions, current environment, and daily experiences, Bezel’s work gives a cinematic perspective of his youthful condition over flawless instrumentals. Particularly on his hit record “Big Duffy”, Bezel gives an encapsulating overview of these topics, which is a notable characteristic of the song that makes it so unique. In a world where marketability and analytics rampantly rule the rap game, Bezel’s most pressing concern is presenting the most thorough and true version of his figure. He is an organic artist in a sea of synthesized songbirds, and that is what sets him apart the furthest. Rather than solely chasing fame or clout, Bezel’s preliminary goal is not only to carve a legacy for himself, but to make sure those he loves around him are set for life.
Bezel saw New Haven as a blank canvas to illustrate his story, using his lived experience in the region to conjure up his intricate output. The sound of New Haven is quite fluid, and this ever-changing landscape has been something that Bezel has aspired to define, rather than him being defined by it, “I feel like seeing how everybody else was moving, and living here, and the way I grew up, I feel like it just helped me be myself, like try and do my own thing and not to stand out, but not blend in at the same time. It helped me create my own lane, cause you hear me and you hear everybody else I don’t feel like…….you don’t hear me and think I’m from Connecticut, but at the same time Connecticut helped that.” That is the crux of Bezel’s work; he is equally inspired by his environment as much as he is trying to characterize it. When going into deeper detail about the most impactful aspects of his upbringing and career, Bezel says his mother, his team, and his arts collective, OTL Worldwide, have been the driving forces behind him achieving his aspirations, and the gas that fuels his ambitions. With having these people by his side, he feels as though he can confidently take on the world, regardless of how unforgiving it may be.
The question now that is on the mind of the diaspora of hip-hop heads is, where does he go from here? If you were to ask Bezel, absolute, boundless success is on the forefront of his aspirations. He is not attempting to be the rapper of the moment, but rather that of a generation. Bezel is from a cohort of Gen-Z artists whose idols are G Herbo and Lil Uzi Vert, rather than solely the forefathers of the genre, Biggie and 2Pac. In fact, Bezel has yet to even hear the monumental, cardinal hip-hop album Get Rich or Die Tryin’ by 50 Cent, even though he should be awarded some slack seeing as though he was 2 years old when it dropped. Bezel is a personification of the cultural shift we are seeing in hip-hop today; he is stuck between the zeitgeist of old-tier hip-hop standards and the emerging, exciting frontier of new hip-hop. He is the coveted middle child, as J. Cole would proclaim, between two immovable objects smashing into each other concurrently. Being in this position in the family dynamic of hip-hop made the recent passings of superstars Juice WRLD and Pop Smoke weigh exponentially on his heart, and in fact, made him reflect introspectively about his own existence. “It made me think, let me give my all to the music, so say God forbid something bad happens to me, I just would hope I leave...a lot of good music and a lot of finished music, where people don’t have to speculate whether ‘he would do this’ or want this person here. So even if I have music left to put out, or if I can at least put out certain things, like say I put out a debut project and people love it, at least I’m leaving something people love.”
Lee Bezel is living out his wildest dreams, all whilst being quarantined in the city where it all started for him. Though the pandemic may have made his path more demanding than expected, he is poised to conquer goals beyond the bounds of his imagination. If you really want to micro-analyze his unique positioning in the current post-apocalyptic rap game, take into account that he has yet to perform since dropping “Big Duffy” because of a once-in-a-lifetime worldwide pandemic. Though he will not be touring anytime soon, as is a fact for any artists in the United States, he already has a vision for what he wants his homecoming coronation to be. “I wanna do a ‘Lee Bezel and Friends’ type of thing where I can throw a huge concert, have local people that I listen to open up, and have some cool guests come as well.” Bezel obviously has a multitude of huge plans if this pandemic ever subsides, but for now, he has only had one true show, stepping on stage to recite one of his first tracks, “Rolls” at a friends birthday party. He has all the moving parts in his career’s composition to jump past any expectation set before him, and with due time his vision will be widely presented for the world to see. He is a personification of everything the music industry should aspire to be, and even as the stakes get higher, he truly can be nothing but completely and holistically himself. Bezel has known from the cradle what he was put on this Earth to do, now it’s time for the rest of us to catch up, before it’s too late.