Hugh Lee is “just a kid from Chicago,” with dreams of making it in the rap game. The rising, independent rapper prides himself in the substance of his lyrics, recounting real-life experiences from growing up in the projects. Effortlessly, he creates records for listeners to connect and relate to, overcoming the obstacles that come with being a black male from Chicago.
The moniker Hugh Lee derives from his Huley (first name Chris), broken up into two. He states, “I’m not the typical rapper, I’m more on the nerdy side. I’m from the West Side of Chicago, Austin neighborhood, telling that whole nostalgia of where I’m from.”
Beyond the music, Hugh is 2x Emmy-nominated, with a huge fascination in television and film. Earlier this year in March, he released his sophomore mixtape titled “CABRINI,” spearheaded by singles “Sawbuck” and “Carbrini.
AllHipHop caught up with Hugh, who had just left a meeting with Mistah FAB up in Oakland. Read below as we discuss his roots to Chicago, desire to help others, and a fire remix for “Cabrini” on the way.
AllHipHop: What was it like growing up in the West Side of Chicago?
Hugh Lee: Intense, it was crazy. Saw a lot of things, got involved with a lot of things early on. I use those experiences to teach the other kids that they don’t have to go the route that I did.
AllHipHop: At what point did you realize the music thing was for real?
Hugh Lee: Well I never did music until I got to college, I was playing around with it. I made a song with one of my buddies, we ended up getting signed to a little mom-and-pop indie label off my first song I ever made. I dropped out of college and started doing music. At that moment, I decided “oh if I’m going to leave school and really pursue this, I’m not going to half-ass it. I’m going all in.”
AllHipHop: Who were you bumping growing up and stuff?
Hugh Lee: When I was growing up, I liked DJ Quik, LL Cool J. In 2008, I used to listen to Childish Gambino way at the beginning before anyone else. No one knew who he was at the time, I don’t even know how I found him. I listened when he first came out.
AllHipHop: What was it like seeing his career skyrocket?
Hugh Lee: Insane! I was going to his concert way before his first album, when his EP came out. I had a fake ID so I got in. I remember during that time, it was 500 capacity. He’d finish the show and come talk to every single person. I see the arenas and him playing these global things like dang! It’s dope to see someone who has a similar mindset, who’s from not the best neighborhood and doesn’t have to conform to that whole image. Still make a name for himself and people still identify and connect with him most importantly.
AllHipHop: What inspired the record “Factitious”?
Hugh Lee: Just me growing up in Chicago, seeing how really segregated the city is. I want to be very careful not to say racist, but it’s very segregated. Certain things I’ve noticed weren’t necessarily right to me. How the further you go from the center of the city to the downtown loop of Chicago, you can see the dramatic change in the income levels. It’s reflected in the neighborhoods and the job opportunities. Even myself, not being able to open my own business in my own neighborhood due to redlining and red zones.
AllHipHop: Your IG says mental health educator, talk about that.
Hugh Lee: While I was in college, I worked at a mental health facility working with children with autism. At first, I was working there because it paid more than any other job. As I worked there more and more, I actually became involved and more interested in the field. Eventually went back to get my degree in Psychology, then worked as an ABA therapist for a while when I moved to LA — before things took off musically.
AllHipHop: Where’d you shoot the visual for “Sawbuck”?
Hugh Lee: I shot that in the cornfields of Indiana. I knew I was going to drop another video, but I wanted that one to be where I was prior to dropping the album. I dropped that before I dropped the mixtape — sorry everyone’s got me calling it an album now. I see it all over, everyone says “oh it’s your debut album?” I thought it was a mixtape, but now I’m calling it an album too. [chuckles]
AllHipHop: 3 things you need in the studio?
Hugh Lee: Absolute darkness. I don’t like any lights, I need it completely dark to feel that energy of nothingness and really create from within. I need the music of course. That’s it, just myself. Not having phones and those things because I don’t write everything, I freestyle.
AllHipHop: What can we expect music-wise?
Hugh Lee: “CABRINI” just dropped, that’s doing great numbers, it’s on track to be my biggest video to date, so a consistent push of that. I have a few more videos, as well as shooting a short film to accompany that project.
AllHipHop: What do you want fans to get from your story?
Hugh Lee: From my story that there’s someone that thinks and feels like you, grew up in the same environment and doesn’t isolate. Most of the “backpack” rappers isolate the drill scene, I incorporate the drill scene with me. It doesn’t have to be that separation between drill and backpack, it could be one collaborative thing.
AllHipHop: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
Hugh Lee: I’d probably be a teacher somewhere, teaching music or videography honestly. I like kids, so something along that line.
AllHipHop: Who’s in your Top 5?
Hugh Lee: Greatest of all-time, #1 is Jay Z. #2, Weezy. #3, Rakim #4, that’s a tough one. I’ma have to tie between Big Daddy Kane and Pac. #5, Ice Cube.
AllHipHop: How was opening up for Big Sean on his Hall of Fame tour?
Hugh Lee: That was intense. Me and my buddy saved up a whole bunch of money. They had a whole bunch of pay to play shows so we paid to open up for them on 10 different shows back to back. We got a car, drove to each city and grinded. You know the indie grind, we were just starting out. Selling the merch, trying to hustle our way up like everyone else in the industry. Paying our dues if you will, but it was fun. The crowds were huge, I enjoyed myself.
AllHipHop: Anything else you would want to let us know?
Hugh Lee: The “Cabrini” remix video with King Louie should be dropping soon, I’m excited for that. It’s the biggest song from the project so far, especially in streams and notoriety in the city.
AllHipHop: Talk about linking with him, I know he’s from Chicago.
Hugh Lee: Yeah! He’s also from Cabrini, we know a lot of the same people. I’d been wanting to work with him for years now, but I didn’t have the right track or the right song to get him on. If it doesn’t make sense, musically, I’m not going to do it. I finally had the right song and reached out to him, he’s really cool. He did an amazing job, sent it back. It’s a great moment for the city. It’s nice when the legends of the city reach back and help out the upcoming artists, I was really happy that he did that. Really great, I was very inspired.