Daily Discovery is a feature that will highlight a new or recently discovered artist that we’re excited about. See the rest of our Daily Discoveries here.
By Alex Siber
After a year of often snarled, sometimes sung raps, Frank Leone has yet to pay any beat a visit without locked-and-loaded artillery or radiant grace. The road ahead, lengthy and filled with obstacles, doesn’t scare the Illinois artist. His forthcoming project, EnterWILD, is true to its title, an expansive piece that leverages his teenage perspective and inspired mind against any challenge, and everything unknown.
150 miles south of Chicago, the 19-year-old struggled to establish a strong offline following in his hometown. Online, he’s compiled a promising resume; Leone has racked up over 100,000 SoundCloud plays and received looks from the likes of Mass Appeal, DJ Booth, Hypetrak, and P&P, too. Small victories have begun to add up beyond the browser. He’s collaborated with Vic Mensa and spit over Thelonious Martin production (in addition to his own). He’s sold out shows and opened for Ab-Soul. And to top it all off, he recently moved to Chicago.
Leone is not far from taking major steps beyond the internet’s shadow, and he linked with us to give some insight into his world and some information about the upcoming EnterWILD. If you haven’t heard of Frank yet, get familiar. EnterWILD drops this month.
Who was the first person you told that you wanted to rap? How’d this all begin?
I think I told two mates of mine that are brothers, Petey & Sawyer Biddle in the car home from school one day. I bet they thought I was just being outlandish as usual. The first time I got into rap was Summer of 2010 when I was working at a camp in Northern Illinois, and someone had told me to listen to College Dropout. I looped that for a whole month.
What was or is your favorite song off it?
Damnnnn, that’s a fucked up question [Laughs]. Let me think… It’s “We Don’t Care.”
You lived a few hours away from Chicago. How have you spun that isolation into motivation?
I’ve actually lived in Chicago since August. But growing up in my town I think really helped me form my own ideas and methods without seeing what others were doing because I had to learn it all myself. Most of my friends didn’t like rap either, so I had the harshest critics from the beginning, which was rad. I miss it. I’m not made for the city.
How has that move translated to career progression for you?
It’s been beautiful. All the people I’ve been working with remotely and all the kids listening have a face to the voice now, and it’s helped things kick into action much quicker. Overall people are much more into the kind of music I make up here. I can fill shows easy, with crowds not made of my friends, and I get recognized more often. I’m still a nobody but it happens more every week, it’s wild.
Did you always see the struggle of creating a following in real life, or were you at first driven to reach blogs?
At the very beginning I was focused on the blogs, just because I was seeing others’ progress only via the internet, and that was all I had to go off of. When I was working on my first EP I was talking about a blog with Vic Mensa and he set me straight. He said, “You’re from The Cell, right? You need to make sure every bitch in the Cell is your bitch and go from there.” I got what he meant. The Cell is Monticello, my hometown next to the forest.
I’m assuming that forest played a major role in EnterWILD.
The forest is called Allerton Park, where the album takes place. It’s a huge piece of woods five minutes from my house growing up, with a mansion, miles of sculpture gardens, and a vast forest full of good and evil.
I started when I was 16, and I based the album around the woods pretty early on and watched it grow.
Sounds crazy. Did you build tree-houses or huts in the woods when you were younger? Can you credit the restlessness in your music to those adventures?
I wish, man. Snow igloos were the closest thing. I get restless when I feel like people don’t talk about things that need to be talked about, I think. Maybe I’m just not a tired old man yet. I think I’m idealistic, but not in a bad way. Old people love to use that word to condescend you, like, “Oh, you’re young. You’ll figure out everything’s too hard to do in a few years.” I hate that shit.
Does your family try and pigeonhole your work like that? Are they supportive?
They don’t like the videos, the flag burning. I get that, and that we see the significance of these things differently, but I don’t like when people watch a video and immediately dismiss it because of something stupid like I’m holding a cigar, but they can’t remember a single line from the song, which is the whole point of the video. I do everything for a reason, it’s not to look cool or make someone feel bad, I wouldn’t do that. But I get they don’t get it [Laughs] If I’m a parent one day I won’t want my kid to be a rapper either.
[Laughs] I wanted to rap once upon a time, I hear you. Despite all that, was there a song off EnterWILD you were really excited to show them?
Not really, I didn’t make this for old ears. It’s one song I made about a girl I think my mom will like. The trumpet part especially.
Who was the girl?
I fell in love at 15. I didn’t think that was possible ‘til you got older but it is, and it sucked. It probably doesn’t suck every time it happens, but it did then. She’s still cool, but I’m over it now.
Do you have a favorite place to dream up verses or ideas, or can you kind of set that mode internally?
It varies, but being happy seems to always make the best music. I’m not always happy here in Chicago, but if I’m somewhere beautiful something good will come of it. I make different music in each season, but somewhere warm always leads to good. I want to visit LA for that.
There’s a big difference between blazing songs like “WAR” and softer tracks like “Across The Earth.” What inspires those variations, those moments?
It’s different for every song on EnterWILD. I didn’t start each song with the intention of it being on the album either, they all just fit. “WAR” was inspired by Aborigine chants, early Odd Future, and Death Grips. “Across the Earth” was done around that Bulgarian Folk choir sample and the World Cup. When you think about something bigger than a rap song it always becomes something bigger than a rap song.
You produce a lot of your music [under the pseudonym King Supertramp]. Does that point your words in the right direction, or vice versa? What has your proudest moment been as a producer?
I produced all of my album. If you can do it, I think it’s the best way you can paint the picture in your head, because you know exactly how you want it to sound. My proudest moments were for “Moon,” EnterWILD‘s opening number, and the song I just composed for a short film I’m scoring.
You almost have a director’s eye when you make music. Who do you admire in film? What movie had a big impact on you?
Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors. Into the Wild is my favorite movie of all time, and I’m not saying that to make someone believe in my brand or whatever. Harry Potter has always been the most critical. Anyone who says they don’t like Harry Potter is admitting they have no imagination or are dumb [Laughs].
The artwork props you, an unseen onlooker, against a vast jungle with sinister eyes peering out.
The cover is where the album starts. If you were in the world of EnterWILD, and you will be, that’s what you’ll look at when you first hit play.
It kind of represents where we are. I just graduated high school a year ago, and in a few years we’re taking over this shit storm of a world to run ourselves, and if we become boring close-minded adults in the process we will have failed. But we don’t have to fail, and I don’t think we will.
And the eyes?
Something’s out to get you … beware.
01. Paradise Lost
03. MONSTERS f. Monster Mike
04. King Titus f. ThisisDA
05. Swamp f. The MIND & Michael da Vinci
07. BUMP in the NIGHT
09. ! ! ! ESCAPE ! ! !
10. WAR f. The Fighting Illini Drumline
11. Rain Dance
12. Toad Vision f. Saba
13. Redeye(s) (Reading by Malcolm London)