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Spence Lee: What It Means To Be Asian In The Music Industry

November 15, 2022

Read the full interview on SheenMagazine.com!

Spence Lee just released his newest single and visual for “On God,” and it’s already accumulated over 1.2 million views and counting on Youtube. On the record, he spits, “On God, I’m living a legend. On God, I know my direction. On God, I’m really respected. On God, I’m thumbing through blessings.”

Spence Lee has been enthralled with music since he can remember, recalling his mom pulling up home videos of him singing his favorite songs in the car. In fact, he used to close his eyes while taking a shower, envisioning himself performing at festivals. A true moment of manifestation, this year Spence shut down the stage during 88Rising’s Head in the Clouds Forever set at Coachella — proving no dream is too big to achieve.

Through a friend from home, Spence Lee had the opportunity to style Rae Sremmurd for their “Up Like Trump” music video. From there, he met Mike WiLL Made-It who went on to sign him to his Ear Drummers imprint. Additionally, he’s part of the 88Rising family.

Sheen spoke with Spence Lee to discuss his roots in Jersey, how he landed with 88Rising,and his relationships with his parents.

For those who don’t know, who is Spence Lee?

I’m a multi-dimensional artist, revolutionary leader and a spiritually conscious celestial being. [laughs] Just a young man trying to inspire and serve the glory of God through my work. My mission with this art is to unite people from all different places, all different races, all different spaces. Just trying to bring ppl together in a positive way, no matter where you’re from. I feel like I can bridge a lot of culture and a lot of gaps in the world through my art.

How was it growing up in New Jersey?

I was born and raised in Somerset, New Jersey, a township called Franklin. It was lit when I was growing up, it was very diverse. It was very unique in the fact that it was demographically diverse. The minority in the public system was white people, then blacks, Hispanics, and Asians made up the majority. It was a lot of different cultures mixing together: playing sports together, going to class together, learning together, growing together. What comes with that is a high palate: wide range of music, food, culture, fashion, all that.

Everybody from my town knows how to dance to Jersey club, grew up listening to all different types of music. We all grew up knowing how to freestyle a little bit, turning up with each other and having that love from an early age. That’s how I met a lot of the people who I still work with to this day, who are still on my song credits, still on my team, still on my business team. We had a lot of inspiring mentors too. We had a lot of people in the school system like art teachers and music directors. We had a lot of role models who pushed us to pursue our creative endeavors. There’s a lot of people from the town, who ended up doing great things.

 

How did you tap in with 88Rising? That’s the family.

Mike was already in contact with 88. Mike’s like “hey, you know who 88Rising is?” I’m like “yeah, they got all the Asians on lock. They running.” Mike said “yeah, that’d be a good idea for us if we partner up with them. We can really bridge the gap between East and West and bring them closer together.” It makes a lot of sense and 88 showed a lot of love too. They genuinely listen to my music, totally believes in me as an artist and as a person. I vibe with them.

It’s a big thing: Mike Will, Spence, and 88 teaming up, we can do a lot of great things. Especially knowing the conversation with Sean from the first time I talked to him, we were on the same vibe with advancing Asian culture. Making sure we’re portrayed accurately, honestly, and thoroughly in our art and the media we put out, because there’s so many Asian stories in America, Europe, and Southeast Asia. All of it, and it’s all different too. The more of us that are able to get our story and our families’ stories out there, the more prominent our voice will be and the more people will understand the complexity of our culture, the richness of our cultures and how we all come from different things.

That’s very important for me because as Asians, we know we aren’t accurately portrayed all the time in the media, but really in history. I know from my generation, a lot of us grew up and missed that era of Bruce Lee because he was gone before we were born. We didn’t have a lot of people from America at least, to look up to in entertainment or even in sports. It’s important to have all the talented, powerful, energetic Asians put in that spotlight so people can see them. The kids especially because I’d do everything for the inner child in me. I know the inner child in me would want to see somebody that’s a strong figure. Not an overbearing person, but a confident and genuine person. A human being that can inspire me. It’s very important what 88’s doing, what Ear Drummers are doing and what I’m doing. All of us together, because it’s important for real.

How do your parents feel about the music?

My parents love it. My mom’s my biggest supporter, she knows all of my songs. I recorded a lot of my music in my mom’s house, music blasting. She saw the vision from day one, she never once doubted me. She always said “keep going, keep doing your thing. You’re going to make it.” That was very important to me because my mom grew up different too. She’s a refugee from Vietnam. She came over before she was 10, very young. Escaping the war.

When they put her on that plane to get to America, they told her she was an orphan, but she knew her parents weren’t dead. She just got separated from them… so for 20 years almost, she didn’t have contact with her parents in Vietnam. She finally did but during that time, she didn’t know where her parents were. She’s growing up in Washington Heights, New York. She’s making it though, because she’s got that spirit. That’s my mother. She grew up different. She got up out of the mud, literally. She understands the importance of having your own path. She was always recognizing I can draw, I could write poetry. I could make music when I was young, and she definitely encouraged that.

Tell us more about your dad’s background?  

Same thing with my dad. My dad was an artist, he was a photographer and an illustrator. My dad was born and raised in Brooklyn. His parents came from China in the 60s. My dad came from very humble beginnings as well. They understood the art. Only thing with my dad, he said “You gotta go to school,” because that’s how he got up out of the mud. I can’t blame somebody’s perspective based on their experience, so I understood that. But in the back of my mind: alright, that’s cool. Yeah, I’ma go to school. My plan A is get this art off the ground so I can really pursue it and not have to go to school. That’s what I did.

Eventually, he saw like “Okay, I see what you’re doing. As long as you stand up on your own two, you about your business. You’re doing your thing, you’re on grown man timing. I see you’ve got fans, you’re inspiring people and I like your music.” He’s definitely proud of me. He’s encouraging me.

I understand a lot of people have parents that don’t support their art. There were times where I’d definitely clash with my dad. I’d tell him “nah, I’m doing music. I’m not going to school for that reason you’re saying. I’m not thinking about my career path or what my major’s gonna be.” He’d always be like “you’re bugging,” going at it sometimes with me. At the end of the day, I said “nah, you’re going to realize because you are too nice at drawing and too nice at art for you not to understand once I show you that I’m nice.” I knew eventually he’d come around because when I was a kid, from what I remember of my dad, I knew him as first and foremost a strong Asian male figure. Secondly, I knew this man was really an artist. I’m not gonna forget that, so that gave me hope during those times where I felt I had no support.

Eventually, my dad came around. I remember one time I’m playing my music in the car and he said “who’s this?” I said “yeah, that’s me.” He said “what, that’s you?” Yeah, that’s me. “That’s you singing on the hook too?” Yeah, that’s me. He’s like “Whoa, I like that.” That’s when I knew, alright I’m getting somewhere. I’ma be alright.

Photo Credits: Sage Chavis

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