Meet Tanna Leone, the New Signee on Kendrick Lamar’s pgLang

Tanna Leone is the new signee on Kendrick Lamar’s pgLang, and he just dropped a debut project ‘Sleepy Soldier.’ He talks about his rise in this new interview.

Tanna Leone, new signee on Kendrick Lamar's pgLang

via pgLang

Tanna Leone, new signee on Kendrick Lamar's pgLang

Kendrick Lamar’s pgLang family is growing. 

When Kendrick announced the launch of his new venture in early 2020, it was described as a “multilingual” company that would be “at service to creators and projects that selflessly speak with, and for, the shared experiences that connect us all.” And so far, pgLang has been successful at accomplishing those goals.

The company, which was co-founded by Kendrick with Dave Free, got off to a strong start when its first signee Baby Keem became a breakout star, taking home a Grammys and earning a reputation for being one of the best new live performers in rap. Now, two years after its launch, pgLang has a new signee: LA-based rapper Tanna Leone. 

Tanna tells Complex that the signing process happened organically. After directing a video for himself, he reached out to Dave Free for feedback and eventually sent over a copy of his EP, which caught Free’s attention. “I sent it to him, went to sleep, woke up, and then we talked the next day,” he recalls. “That’s where it really began.”

Sleepy Soldier, his debut project with pgLang, is a compilation of new and old tracks that Tanna has been working on for the past two years. He describes his sound as “a great balance of melody and lyrics,” and says this project highlights his versatility. 

“I’m not interested in being put in a box, or people attempting to categorize me as one thing or another,” he says. “In reality, it’s pretty normal for a person to be able to change their faces depending on what room they’re going into. We all do it. So as an artist, I just wanted to be that.” 

Tanna Leone spoke with Complex over the phone about why pgLang is the right fit for him, his relationships with both Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar, and the making of his new project, Sleepy Soldier, which is now streaming. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.

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How did you get into rapping?

It started as poetry when I was about eight or nine. I saw my mom do it, because she’s a spoken word artist, so that kind of triggered it. I wrote my first song a couple years later, when I was 11. And from there, I just wrote songs and rapped for my friends at school, but I never really wanted to pursue it. I rapped in front of people for the first time in third grade, and that was extremely natural for me, even though I was a quiet kid, so that woke me up to the idea of it.

When I was an upperclassman in high school, my junior year, I ended up going to a school that had a poetry club where we would cypher every Friday. It was a real hardcore freestyle cypher, in a circle. That was really fun, and that sharpened my skills a lot more. Then I got invited to start recording, and that’s when I got the bug to be a recording artist and pursue it.

Who were some of your biggest influences? 

Man, Pac for sure. DMX. My mom had a crazy CD collection. I was always the first one to get home, so the first thing I would do after I came in the door was go straight to the CDs. I would put on Tupac’s Greatest Hits. I would put in DMX’s Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood and I’d put on New Edition, just to get some melody in there. That was when I was in elementary school. I was really young. That’s kind of where it started for me, exploring on my own. But outside of that, of course, you’re listening to whatever your parents are listening to.

How would you describe your sound? 

I would describe it as human music. If I had to break it down to a technical person, I would say it’s a great balance of melody and lyrics. So you have the strength of a rap song, but you have the melody of an R&B song or a rock song. It may be dependent on the tone, but for the most part, it’s just something that you could feel. It’s not following any type of rule book or guideline. It’s just something you could feel.

Is there a song in your catalog that sums up who you are?

Honestly, I don’t think it’s something that’s available yet. I think it would be very tough to sum me up. But I think something close would be “Lucky.” That was probably when I first started to figure out what my sound was. I made that song in 2018, so I would start there as a blueprint. 

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How did your deal with PgLang come about? What was the recruitment process like? 

It was just a casual reach-out. I got in contact with Dave [Free] just to show him something I was working on. I directed a video for myself and I knew that he was a very well-known and respected videographer. Not only just a videographer, but Black LA native legend. I respect him. So it was like, let me see what he thinks about this. He might open it, he might not. I guess I called him at the right time, and that’s where the relationship started. A few months later, I finished up the EP I was working on, sent it to him, went to sleep, woke up, and then we talked the next day and that’s where it really all began.

How does PgLang’s mission align with your personal goals? 

It’s so perfect. It’s beyond the fact that it’s artists involved. It’s really like a family. It’s its own ecosystem and it really supports the creative. It really supports and respects everyone’s mind in the team, because everybody’s there for a reason. So that makes it very special. It was perfect for me, because outside of music, I’m creative in other spaces and I’m skilled in other spaces. It took me a while to realize I wanted to pursue music, so on that journey, I started getting good at other things. That alone is why being a part of a company like pgLang is so attractive to a multifaceted, multi-hyphenated, creative artist.

“I’m not a stranger to being an underdog, so I don’t have a problem putting in the work and proving myself. I’m going to be here for a really long time.”

What have your interactions with Kendrick Lamar been like? Have you gotten the chance to bounce ideas off of each other? 

That’s the homie. That’s my big bro for real. That goes back into the family thing. We’ve been around each other for longer than people know, so we already have a relationship and it was from the first day we met, honestly. It just made sense. I’ve been a fan of Dot’s for years. Everybody around me always knew he was one of my favorites. So for it to be exactly what I thought it would be from afar, was great. I feel like we belong to the same spirit family or something. He’s really good people. Great people.

Is there anything that you’ve learned from him, from a creative standpoint? 

Yeah, for sure. Just being able to observe him and how he moves, because we have a similar personality type. A lot of the things that I’ve been picking up on have been intangible, like how to navigate this way of life. Outside of being able to soak up game when I sit in the studio, we are very good at bouncing ideas off of each other and getting a goal accomplished.

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You just got off tour with pgLang’s first signee, Baby Keem. What was that experience like? 

Keem is funny. We have a lot in common. We share certain similarities, so being around each other, it just makes sense. Being on tour, you’re in close quarters with everybody all the time. So being able to spend that time, it’s important for everybody involved to build up that camaraderie. But we already knew each other prior to going on tour, so it wasn’t a big thing, like, “Hi, nice to meet you. My bunk is right next to yours.” It wasn’t anything like that. It was great.

Oh, so you and Keem knew each other growing up? 

Nah, not growing up. But we actually might share some relatives. Yeah, we might be… The west coast’s a lot smaller than you think.

Is there anything you’ve learned from being around him? 

I mean, sometimes we talk about current events, what’s going on right now, but we really be in our own little world, to be honest. We know we have a great support system and we are both young men who are very particular about things and care about our business. We do understand what it takes to have longevity, but for the most part, we try not to stress ourselves with trivial matters or things that don’t benefit us and our growth.

What was your creative process like as you made Sleepy Soldier?

The project evolved from an EP. It was originally seven songs and none of those songs are on it now. It’s been in the process for probably two years, but it’s evolved so much over time. This version of it is such a standalone, strong body of work, and everybody believes in it. It’s a greatest hits compilation, almost, up to now. There’s a combination of older songs on there and then there’s some very new stuff on there, too. 

What did you set out to accomplish with this album? 

Honestly, my goal was just to put my best foot forward and show people my range and my diversity. I’m not interested in being put in a box or people attempting to categorize me as one thing or another. In reality, it’s pretty normal for a person to be able to change their faces depending on what room they’re going into. We all do it. So as an artist, I just wanted to be that. I wanted everybody to recognize my creativity and my ability to move around and change clothes and change hairstyles, and everybody knows it’s still me being authentic to me.

What’s your favorite song on the album? 

All of them. I mean, I have some favorites, “Heartbreaker” is a favorite on there. “Here We Go Again.” It’s different ones. “Fatal Attraction” has a great story behind it for me. But yeah, it’s pretty much all of them.

There aren’t any features on the album. Why did you decide to go that route? 

I believe in my potential and my own legacy so much. So I felt like I had to stand firm on the fact that I was already moving in a direction that predicted greatness. It would be easy for me to get somebody on it and skip steps, but I’m not interested in that. I’m OK with walking. I’m not playing the numbers game. I’m not playing the stats game. I’m here to really impact and put my foot in the door and stamp my name in history.

What is your favorite memory from working on Sleepy Soldier?

There are so many great memories. I’d probably say the jam session that I got “If There’s a God” and “February” out of me. That was my very first and only jam session with a band or people that play. We just went for two hours straight and I freestyled a bunch of songs and that was such a liberating experience for me as an artist because I never really had consistent time in a professional studio. Just being in that environment with other musicians who are great at what they do, and to be able to throw pain on the wall freely, was amazing for me. It was life-changing.

Tanna Leone, new signee on Kendrick Lamar's pgLang

What’s the biggest thing you learned about yourself while working on the album? 

I learned so much, honestly. This is the first time in my life where I could begin to learn true independence by living alone. I was feeling like I’d seen so much and lived so many lives already, but that was a good reminder, like, oh wait, there’s still new things out there for me to experience. That’s exciting. And that’s what life is about: knowing that each day could be different. It’s on another level for me now that I get to live my dream. There’s a feeling of liberation and I know that I achieved this goal that I had in my mind for so long. Now I can live in the reality of that goal. Each day is an opportunity to grow, so I just keep my eyes open and my ears open and I enjoy the ride.

I know you and your family moved a lot when you were growing up. How did that influence your approach to music and outlook on life? 

Honestly, it made me very adaptive very quickly. Being in so many different environments and having the experience to be around so many different types of personalities and demographics of people made me so well-rounded in my approach when it comes to communicating. So when I got to other places, iI had an ability to read people. It was a blessing and a curse, because on one end, I had all the tools I needed. I had every resource I needed in terms of dealing with people. On the flip side of that, it might have made me antisocial sometimes. I can already tell what type of person you are, and so with that, it made me a really great observer and thinker. 

When it comes to my approach with music, you can hear all these different perspectives, even the same thing or multiple things. I moved every two years. I’ve seen different things and I’ve heard different things that most people don’t, so I don’t have the experience of having a neighborhood that I grew up in. Everybody knew everybody since elementary and we all graduated high school together. That’s a norm for people. I didn’t even realize that until I was later in my young life. I could never really comprehend that. 

Also, being from a split parent home was very conducive to me now as an artist, because in each person’s car I was in, they were listening to something different. That made me want to explore what music actually was. If I could hear all these different types of sounds and genres and still enjoy something from it, I realized music is bigger than this genre or that genre. It’s a feeling. It’s an energy. It’s a universal language.

Who is on your list of dream collaborations? 

There are a few artists out there who I can look at and identify with. A lot of my favorites passed away, but currently there are some people out there like Billie. I think me and Billie Eilish would do something crazy. I think that would be unexpected for most people, but it makes sense. And of course, me and Keem. 

Who are your top five artists right now? 

So in no particular order… And we’re going to start off with me. Dot for sure. I got to put Frank Ocean in there. I got to put 3 Stacks. Oh, that’s four already. Let me slow down a little bit. See, you doing me dirty. Five? You’re setting me up. OK, hold on, I got to show a lady love. I’m going to put Missy Elliott in there.

What’s the most important thing people should know about you right now? 

I’m not a stranger to being an underdog, so I don’t have a problem putting in the work and proving myself. I’m letting everybody know now, I’m going to be here for a really long time. So, nice to meet you.

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