Le$ is a purveyor of moods, happy feelings, clear motivations and even clearer intentions, whether on wax or when he's supposed to be relaxing away from his day job. When he's allowing others to preview music that's been available only to him, a select few friends and go-to producer Happy Perez, his eyes lower, face scanning the room to see who's nodding and who's thumbing through social media. He clutches a red cup and takes a few sips before eventually cracking a smile.
"Y'all can listen to it again," he laughs once everything finishes up. "I've been hearing that shit since April."
Everything about his new project, Steak x Shrimp Vol. 2, moves in large tones. There's merchandise from Le$' SxS brand splayed out over control boards, a large display with the words "EATIN SINCE 1985" underneath a large fork and knife design hugging a nearby wall. DJ Drama is the tape's host, shit talking as if he's working with a cousin of his he's been hyping up for months. The production is knee-deep in Houston's syrupy, molasses-thick brand of blues. Heavy 808s, guitar licks that hum like a 456 engine and Le$'s voice thinner thanks to plenty of weed filtering through his lungs but focus sharp.
"Best believe we ain't dropping no more free shit," he says, summarizing a career built on frequent releases and quick strikes like the mixtape version of a Nike site. "16 free tapes is enough!"
Holding court at the legendary SugarHill Studios on Houston's Southeast side, Le$'s listening session felt more like a king looking at his audience, aiming to satisfy. The rapper has enthralled the city for the last four-plus years with free releases, most of them with DJ Mr. Rogers steering the ship. Le$'s coming-out party came on the atmospheric E36 in 2013 and then a slew of projects under the Jet Life banner. He's not pretentious, just locked in and considerate of the moment. There are laughs when Slim Thug's cut appears on the tape, offering well-wishes and congratulations. Bun B's voice beckons from mythical clouds on the tape's second track following "Clean Den a Bitch," and all you can imagine is him once more being this omnipresent figure. Acts like Doeman and Yves showed their support, nodding and bouncing to beats as if waiting to join in.
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"I'm worry 'bout the paper, fuck the hip-hop," Le$ raps on "Lifer" with his Jet Life boss Curren$y. Later he affirms the New Orleans pioneer's belief in his talents on the tape's closer, "I Ain't Got the Time." All of it feels like rotund riding music, with guitar wails so silky you can't help doing your best air-guitar. In the universe of Steak x Shrimp, there is Le$, a thankful yet constantly thinking individual. He may not exactly be King Solomon, but no artist may have a more demanding fan base.
That same fan base showed up heavily to the listening party, crowding around the rapper while attempting to win merchandise from the Steak x Shrimp line. One boasted about knowing the first video Le$ and director Jorey Films worked on together. It earned him a jersey a size bigger than his slight frame, which is still filling out.
Le$, looking like the rap version of Mean Joe Greene, told him, "Shit, wear a hoodie underneath it!"
Steak x Shrimp Vol. 2 drops November 22 on various mixtape platforms. A no-DJ version, minus DJ Drama, will hit iTunes soon after. An EP with ten original songs tentatively releases on November 1.