“You Go to That Less Is More Approach. Let the Beat Flow”: An Interview With beautiful lou

At the intersection of artists like Lil B, RIFF RAFF, Kitty Pryde, A$AP Rocky and their rejection of established conventions was a common denominator: beautiful lou.
By    June 17, 2022

Photo courtesy of Lewsr/Instagram

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Gunslingers might have been out of style by the early 2010s, but rap’s Wild West was alive and well. Unorthodox flows were enough to make an old head quick draw on internet forums without hesitation. At the center of this inflammatory zeitgeist was Lil B, one of the four horsemen of the hip-hop apocalypse. As the incarnated flesh of the Based God, he laid waste to traditional rhyme schemes with stream-of-consciousness stylings. There was Kitty Pryde, Tumblr’s resident obsession who rapped with irresistible inflections and took the blogging platform by storm. And there was of course RiFF RAFF. Flowing with a flippant Texas twang, he had a rolodex of boasts that included diamonds on his fourth-grade binder.

At the intersection of these artists and their rejection of established conventions was a common denominator: beautiful lou. Based out of San Antonio, Texas, the producer provided the subversive hip-hop movement with beats ranging from depressive cloud rap meditations like “Today” with Western Tink to upbeat escapades like “SNYL” with Main Attrakionz. Consistently challenging boundaries, he was the guiding force behind Kitty Pryde and RiFF RAFF’s kaleidoscopic “Orion’s Belt,” the studio scientist of sluggish samples underlying intense cadences on Lil B’s “Illusions of Grandeur Remix,” and the figurehead of Adult Swim’s woozy “Long Pinky” with RiFF RAFF and Action Bronson as he emerged from the booth to center stage.

While he was helping send internet forums into a frenzy, beautiful lou was also one of the essential figures behind a groundbreaking mixtape in the hip-hop canon: LIVE.LOVE.A$AP. There’s a symbiotic exchange of stylistic flavor between regions today, but it was a shock to the national scene in 2011 as Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky imbued his music with unmistakable Texas flair, channeling beautiful lou’s chopped-and-screwed beats into a poetic fascination with drank that read like religious reverence.

Led by the druggy crawl of “Trilla” where smokey guitar licks drifted through a haze of screwed-up smoke, it’s fair game to proclaim that beautiful lou also orchestrated the peak of the legendary mixtape: “Kissin’ Pink.” Introducing the scene to the dynamic duo of A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg, he helped show this wasn’t just one sovereign, but a whole mob. beautiful lou’s production also embodied the holy union of “Sprite and codeine” as his prismatic synths shimmered with sedative luster. Held together by head-nodding drums, he imbued the instrumental with forward momentum through a swamp of purple-hued ooze. It was the signifier of a seismic shift in hip-hop, one that would reverberate through the scene as the diametrically opposed North and South blended together with the stir of a double cup.

Over a decade later, beautiful lou is still challenging rap’s expectations as a producer and solo artist. You can catch him flipping Outkast’s seminal “Ms. Jackson” into Deep South sludge on “10 things i hate about u…,” hitting self-referential pockets on “society doesn’t make much sense soo why should i,” and rapping teetering rhythms across a tightrope on “none of this means anything without u…” While the hip-hop landscape has continued to morph through an endless array of trends across the past decade, beautiful lou has stayed true to an experimental ethos with music that’s certainly his and his alone.

In the midst of a prolific run with over 15 singles and music videos only halfway through 2022, we caught up with beautiful lou for a wide-ranging discussion on his storied production career, his forthcoming full-length album via GMG/EMPIRE, and his brand new single “def jams how 2 b a player” alongside Western Tink which we’re exclusively premiering today via POW.

What were your first memories of hip-hop and Texas hip-hop in particular?

beautiful lou: Really, a lot of freestyle music was when I first started getting exposed to hip-hop, a lot of break dancing, a lot of freestyle that would come from like Miami or Atlanta, Raheem The Dream, stuff like that, that’s kind of what I first started with. And then I started getting into…DJ Screw and all that, it was before my time…but I came into it right when Swishahouse, Michael Watts, OG Ron C, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, they were really hitting their stride and it was really underground. It just felt really exciting because this wasn’t stuff that was getting played yet on the mainstream. So people were passing around burnt CDs and just bootleg, flea-market CDs of these chopped-and-screwed mixtapes. That’s when I started really trying to like, get into it, ‘cause I was living in Dallas at the time and I felt like everybody started rapping.

And then when FL Studio — we called it Fruity Loops back then — came onto the scene, I felt like I was the first person to bring it to my neighborhood. Everybody was just coming to over my house and we’d all try and figure this thing out, and then it just kinda grew from there, and it kind of really gave me the confidence to start doing it because…people were really accepting my ideas as far as like making the beats and stuff, even though they didn’t sound very good, they were still hard, we were making it. So, it all just came together like that really [laughs]. Have to shout out Fruity Loops, shout out Swishahouse, shout out everybody in Dallas who kinda showed me love.

You mentioned that you were the first person to bring FL Studio to your neighborhood. When did you feel like your production had genuine staying power?

beautiful lou: As far as feeling confident in my production or really feeling like I was honing a sound, probably wouldn’t be until I moved back to San Antonio. I didn’t really know anybody, so I started hitting the internet up heavy and I started getting on Tumblr and running into Main Attrakionz, A$AP Yams, Lil B. They were kind of like in that same…looking for that cloud rap type of vibe, which I felt really alone because nobody in Texas really sounded like that, so it was kind of crazy that once I stumbled upon them, I started feeling more confidence in my sound because I was like, okay, there’s people that are actually going to be able to jump on it and sound good and get what I’m trying to do.

So I would say that’d be about like 2009, 2010, you know, [that] era right there when Tumblr I feel like was really heavy in connecting all these like minded people. And it was just really cool, it was just really fast, how you can just kind of like meet everybody and just go onto the next thing that would link to the next and the next thing. I was just really grateful for that website because without them, I don’t really think I’d be able to get in contact with people like A$AP Yams and Squadda B, Lil B, stuff like that.

I was on Tumblr at that time as well, but it was just as a fan and I didn’t realize that it was a meeting ground for all artists to come together.

beautiful lou: Definitely, it was kind of mind blowing, man. I don’t know, it’s evolved so fast in the past 10 years, but I really feel like it wasn’t as saturated back then. It was really a lot of people that were like-minded…

Diving into your catalog, you produced an internet hit in “Okay Cupid” by Kitty Pryde which just celebrated its 10 year anniversary. How did you connect with Kitty Pryde? Was that also on Tumblr?

Photo courtesy of Lewsr/Instagram

beautiful lou: Actually, it was on a Facebook group that these producers had put together, it was Friendzone, I don’t know if you’re familiar with them. They worked for A$AP Rocky, Main Attrakionz…Ryan Hemsworth, Logan, LWH, which he was the cameraman for the Unforgiven series, I don’t know if you remember that really popular YouTube video back in the day… they’d always post her and her music, she was just doing like freestyles over MF DOOM beats and it just really stood out to me cause she wasn’t really… her style was just really unique to me.

I mean, it sounded kind of like what Kilo Kish was kind of [doing]… but I just liked her original take on it, and she wasn’t trying to be like a gangster rapper, trying to like, not be anything to who she wasn’t, you know? She was just a kid working at the mall, but it didn’t sound corny to me, it sounded like she was really talking about love and having crushes and stuff. And I’m always looking for just different people that are just coming at rap from different angles, because I feel like you can rap about whatever you want, rap is so young. It’s such a young genre that I felt like it still needs to be explored through just different avenues, and I was always looking out for that.

I just reached out to her through there and got on her Tumblr also, and I was like, “Yo, let’s make some music,” and we just started going and it really took off. FADER picked it up, New York Times and TIME Magazine…I wasn’t expecting any of that, I guess it was just a kind of perfect timing where I was just coming off the A$AP Rocky buzz, and I guess people were just checking for whatever I was doing, and that really was just kind of making music with her and Western Tink at the time.

You also produced “Orion’s Belt” which featured RiFF RAFF while he was beginning to ruffle the old guard’s feathers. Can you talk about that era of rap’s experimentation? It felt like a really fertile ground.

beautiful lou: Yeah, for sure, I was instantly drawn to RiFF RAFF. Again, I just stumbled upon his music through Tumblr. He just reminded me, like everybody was saying, “Yo, this guy’s an act, he’s putting on an act. It’s not really him,” and I was like, well, this guy totally reminds me of just people I would see at the mall or freestyle with in Texas. There was people that were like this, that I knew, like him in my own neighborhood, so to me, it was like I could instantly tell this wasn’t an act, it was a thing he genuinely loved and believed in.

And, you know, I knew people that knew of him just hanging around Houston malls and painting cars, so it was instantly, to me, it was just like, I got to work with this guy. So I reached out, he liked that I was from Texas. Just like Kitty, his visual representation, he had lots of videos way before “Orion’s Belt” and that really helped people see his unique look. And even if you didn’t like it, it was still interesting, still drew your eye, you had to listen to what this guy was gonna say, ‘cause it just came with this whole package.

Shoutout RiFF RAFF, we got new music coming out, should be coming out soon. We’ve always stayed in touch and everything. And “Orion’s Belt,” I think that was the first video he got over a million [views], that one and the Chief Keef one were the first ones that broke a million. I’m forever grateful for working with him and shout out everybody else.

His YouTube presence became insane back then. I remember discovering RiFF RAFF through “Time” and that led me down the rabbithole to “Orion’s Belt.”

beautiful lou: It was weird that I guess that was my first time working with Noisey and VICE, they reached out [and] wanted to do the video and pay for everything. And I remember RiFF RAFF calling me and being like, “Yo, we’re gonna get Jason Miller,” who was like an MTV movie/video director, and it just was all shocking how everything just kinda…we just made the track in 10 minutes over the internet [laughs].

I remember Noisey being really involved with the scene and I know you did some stuff with Mishka as well. It’s dope that these entities were supporting what you guys were doing.

beautiful lou: Yeah, Mishka was crazy. They really did a lot of stuff, as far as like…they put out Yung Lean’s second project, P2THEGOLDMASK, they really were in a lot of looks. I’m just really forever grateful for Mishka, they were really supportive and everything [of what] that scene and that culture was really trying to do. And I just met [them] through Tumblr, I met a lot of people at Mishka and a lot of people that knew me through Mishka like the Workaholics, they reached out to me just because they saw my stuff on Mishka.

Blogs and internet stuff, like they need to come back, shout out to y’all for staying so consistent and doing what y’all do, ‘cause I mean, a lot of it fell by the wayside and I don’t blame ‘em, but I mean, it just felt really cool. As far as magazines are dying out, at least you had the websites, and then now you don’t have the websites so much anymore, it’s just like, yo, you need to keep some stuff alive I feel like.

Trying to discover music through a random, AI generated playlist just isn’t the same.

beautiful lou: Yeah, and it’s really cool how writers like yourself put into a context and like, maybe you wouldn’t have given it a chance, but now that this person kinda gave their opinion on it, you know, maybe I might check it out, you know what I’m saying? That’s why I felt like I even got into Lil B, ‘cause I felt like Lil B is very jarring when you first try to jump into it. But shout out that the writer Noz… he’s a writer that’s really influential to me as far as him just branching out and just trying to like, you know, giving other different artists a chance.

He really put Lil B into a context for me that I was all like, “Okay, let me dive deeper and deeper.” And I don’t think I would have done that if I just came across a random Lil B video, I wouldn’t have gone further, you know, having somebody put it into context, like, “Yo, check this out, check this out, check this out” it’s easier to digest I guess.

Definitely. I was going to bring up Lil B as I know you did a few songs with him. What was your perception of the whole Based movement at the time?

beautiful lou: Honestly, I don’t want to overstate it, but to me it was revolutionary. I feel like it was just so fresh, so much energy coming off of that…I never heard anything like that before. I felt like it was the next progressive…I guess at that time to me, Lil Wayne was the first [that] was really branching out and [using] different sounds of what you could do as far as a rapper, and then Lil B kind of just took that and went crazy with it. As far as the lo-fi sound, as far as freestyling in his music, as far as the beats that he was choosing, which he was rapping over like two-step techno, trap, New Orleans music, then cloud rap, you know what I’m saying? That’s what I was saying earlier, that these beats that he was getting from Clams Casino, Keyboard Kid, Squadda B (Main Attrakionz).

I felt like that was in my lane and I never heard anybody really rap like that on it. And then he had that credibility ‘cause he felt like he was still a mainstream artist, still from the “Vans” era, The Pack and everything. So to have a mainstream type of artist experiment so wildly like that, I just never heard anything like that before. I just always thought that, “This is it, this is the next evolution, so I gotta send this guy music.”

And funny enough, this other producer that was in my neighborhood, his name was The Franchise. I was going through Lil B’s music and I heard his tag on one of the beats and I was like, “Oh, it’s over man. He’s attainable.” You know what I’m saying? Like he’s willing to rap on beats from anybody, so let me get his email and let me send it over, and he picked “Cocaine” [which] was the first beat we did, and I just jumped out of my seat when I heard the song. I felt like I was in, you know what I’m saying? After me and Lil B did “Cocaine,” I was like, “This is my ticket, my key into the industry or into just doing music with anybody…” I was excited, man. Forever shout out Lil B for giving me that chance. Lil B and A$AP Yams, man. I wouldn’t be anywhere in the rap game without them, so shout out them.

Speaking of A$AP, your production for them was obviously cloud rap, but it was also so distinctly Texan. What do you think drew artists from Harlem to your sound?

beautiful lou: I’ve been asked that a lot, and I always think about it…from my perspective, and why I felt like we clicked so heavy, is because of Dipset, Cam’ron, just their willingness to jump over beats, like they were rapping over Master P and they’re rapping over “Sippin on Some Sizzurp,” I feel like Dipset was really the one that set the precedent for New York rappers to rap over stuff, that was way more experimental or not so much in their traditional lane. And I feel like that carried over to A$AP and them, you know, they grew up on that music. And so they were going to naturally reach out to different things like that. That’s how I saw it. And I felt like it was the perfect fit and, you know, Yams was familiar with my work with Main Attrakionz, Lil B, and he knew I was from Texas. And when they dropped “Purple Swag,” I know they were getting that hate and they were getting the questions of why are y’all heavy on Texas?

So I felt like, I don’t know, maybe from his perspective, he brought in a Texas producer, you know, when it’s going to make more sense, you know what I’m saying? So he reached out to me. I sent him the most Texas shit I had but still on that experimental cloud tip…I feel like we made a masterpiece and I’m forever grateful for being a part of that project. I always tell people, that’s my Jurassic Park, that’s what people know me as, and I don’t care. I don’t care if I’m not known for anything else. At least I contributed to something that people really loved.

I vividly remember when that tape came out and it was just such a game changer musically. For “Trilla” and “Kissin’ Pink,” were you and Yams essentially trading beats on Tumblr?

beautiful lou: Yeah, it took a second. I would just talk to him just as, you know, I liked his blog, I liked his curation of everything that he was about and he was trying to put other acts on. And then one day I was just like, “Yo, can I send beats? I did these beats, like I said I did Lil B and Main Attrakionz,” and he liked it and he was like, “Yeah, go ahead and send them in.”

And he was really excited about those, and of course they got the deal, and they’re saying they’re gonna work on the whole project, so I just sent everything I could and we ended up doing that. He would ask for my opinion on this and that with the album and everything like that, so I guess I helped shape a little bit of the record, but, you know, shout out to them for making it.

Shifting to your recent work, you have a really prolific output and it seems like you’re constantly dropping music. What’s your work flow like today?

beautiful lou: I’ll spend like maybe a year or two years just making beats, straight up. To me, rapping is way harder than making beats like a beat, a beat will just kind of like…it’s fine, and it just kind of comes to me. Rapping takes some effort to come up with these words [laughs]. You kinda just got to be in the mood to make the rap…stuff has to strike near, happen in my life for me to just kinda like, oh, let me kind of write that down to get it out.

I’ll probably just go maybe a year or two straight or just making beats, and then one night maybe I’ll be like, “All right, I’m going to rap.” So I’ll go through like 200 beats and then be like, “Okay, this is the one.” And I’m gonna just take it out, rap to it, and probably [in] the next couple of days make the video. Shout out my brother and my girl, my manager Selena, she’s also my girl, or my fiancé, but, um, we’ll just go out, we got the camera equipment, we’ll shoot wherever we’re at, or we’ll find an interesting space. And I try and either show some space in Texas or, you know, Dallas, San Antonio, or out west Texas anywhere. Just kinda show it off, shoot the video, edit it, and throw it out.

And then if anything pops, you know, we’ll put some more promotion behind it, but you just have to put it out because otherwise it’ll just sit there and I don’t like it. I don’t like music just sitting there, like, you know, some people have all these hard drives full of music…but I was like, man, you have to just put it out. Otherwise you’ll get sick of it. And you won’t even like the song anymore.

I particularly love “10 things i hate about u” – it’s a bold move to flip such a classic record, imbue it with new life, and make it your own. How do you go about finding music to sample, whether it’s for a background addition or full blown flip?

beautiful lou: For something like that, that was a reference to a Swishahouse freestyle that Chamillionaire had did where they flipped “Ms. Jackson,” and they put the south side drums under it, and I kinda just did the same thing and put some phasers on it. And that was kinda just referencing that as far as that came. Anything as far as more original production, it’s kinda just going through a lot of old ‘80s synth bands from maybe Europe or even America, but, I’m just very drawn to that ‘80s synth sound and those drum machines and kind of chopping them up and using that, I feel like that’s become my signature ever since “Kissin’ Pink” and “Okay Cupid.”

Those are both ‘80s synth bands that I flipped for it to do that, and I felt like that kind of gave me a kind of my own lane. I feel like a lot of people still don’t do that, even though, you know, they still sample ‘70s soul or they sample other stuff like that. But as far as sampling German New Wave bands, I feel like I kinda like, that’s my thing, I guess [laughs]. But yeah, shout out Depeche Mode, man, Depeche Mode was like my ultimate favorite band. So I feel like them and Prince are the reason why I’m drawn so much to these synths and these vocals that sound like that.

You have an album coming out via EMPIRE in the near future. Can you take me through the creative process and your goals for this record?

beautiful lou: Shout out to Jay Lee and his record label GMG. They partnered with Chamillionaire actually. I’ve been working with him in some capacity since back in the day, even before my beats started popping off, I would do videos for him and photo shoots. When I first got to San Antonio, they were really his rappers that he was with, so Santo and everything were the rappers that I was kinda messing with back in the day. So we’ve always kept in touch, but he got this deal through EMPIRE, his distribution deal, his situation. And he reached out to me recently ‘cause he saw the videos I was putting out and he was like, “Hey man, do you want to put all these videos together in an album?

You know, the ones that you like, we’ll whittle it down a little bit. And we’ll throw it out there with some backing, do some promotion, we’ll work with EMPIRE.” And so we just signed the deal and I went ahead and did that. It’s going to be in that album with an option to do Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ 2 with Western Tink after that, when we release that later this month. Even though I’ve worked with a lot of major label artists and done stuff like that, I’ve never really been signed to anybody but Mishka, did some work with Fool’s Gold and stuff like that, but I’ve always kept it independent, so I’m kinda just seeing, “Okay, let’s just try something different, let’s see what they’re about.”

In particular, I’d like to focus on “def jams how 2 be a player” as we’re premiering it via POW. How did you and Western Tink originally link up? I know you had the Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ tape via Mishka in 2013.

beautiful lou: Around 2010, he sent me a YouTube message and it just had really crazy West Coast slang that I wasn’t really familiar with. You know, I was really mostly Texas and New York — shout out the West Coast though — but he was talking about like, no wolf tickets and whoop de whoop, we gotta work, and it was just a really interesting email. So I checked out his YouTube page and he had already had like 20 videos…even though they were lo-fi, like just shot off the handheld, he still had that package going, the whole package, “So I was like, yeah, let’s do it, man.”

He had fam in Austin, so we’d link up during SXSW, and that’s when we first started doing more music. Then he said that he got this look from Mishka [that] reached out to him first off the strength of his album ‘cause he had got mentioned in SPIN Magazine and he was like, “Yo, you want to do this collabo album together, all your beats?” And I was like, yeah man. I like the way he works, ‘cause when you send beats to certain artists, they’ll sit on them or they won’t even use the beat for a while. But as soon as you send the beat, he’ll turn it around, flip it, send you the music right back, you know? So I was like, yeah, let’s knock it out.

And even though it took a minute because I was working with other artists and I was waiting for other stuff to drop, we recorded the Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ album very quickly, but it took the right time to time it to 2013 before, once I released Kitty Pryde stuff, LIVE.LOVE.ASAP and everything came out after that.

And when we did the Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ one which got a lot of critical acclaim and, you know, people still talk about it, come up to me and ask me about it and everything like that. And then we kind of went our separate ways a little bit, you know, he started a family, I started doing my thing, [but] he actually started moving back, he moved to San Antonio actually, he started a family here, so we linked back up. We always did shows and stuff, we went on tour, but we didn’t just work on new music. And then we decided to link back up and we’re pretty much through with the Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ album. We’re going to do a few more tracks, but I wanted to put him on a few tracks on my album, so he’s going to be on that, “def jams how 2 be a player,” he’s on the album, you know?

How would you say “def jams how 2 be a player” fits into the context of the album?

beautiful lou: It’s kinda like giving you a preview, probably what Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ the second edition is gonna sound like. Most of the tracks on the album, they’re going to be tracks that have already come out with the videos and stuff like that, so we decided to just kind of package that into one deal. But yeah, as far as…honestly, that track was going to be for the Mobbin’ No Sobbin’ album but I was like, “Yo, we gotta put this out there ‘cause we gotta let people know that it’s been a minute, but we hadn’t gone no where,” you know what I’m saying? We’re still here, I feel like we still got the same chemistry that we had.

Over a decade into your career, how would you say you’ve evolved as an artist?

beautiful lou: Definitely, I feel like as a rapper, I’m not afraid anymore as far as like just rapping, before like I said, it it was such hard work to me, but now I just kind of let whatever I want to say first go before I just stop myself….you just say whatever you want, if it doesn’t rhyme, it doesn’t actually sound good or sound, whatever, just say it and just see what happens [and] record it. I just had a lot of anxiety recording ‘cause…maybe ‘cause I was too high, but the way I thought about it was, “Once I say it, that’s it. Like, you can’t ever change it.” It would give me paranoia, I’d kind of freeze whenever I’d be rapping ‘cause it’d just be like, “Man, you said it weird, why’d you say it like that [laughs]?” But I guess I kinda just let all that go, I stopped smoking so much and just kinda just looked inside me…just let it go, whatever’s in your head, rap about it.

As far as the producing, I don’t think very much has changed. I think if anything, I’m kind of getting a lot more loose with my style, trying to not be so technical. I feel like every producer goes through that and I feel like so cliche saying it, but it’s just like you go to that less is more approach. Like you don’t try to put as much in it. You kinda just kinda let the beat flow. You don’t try and chop it up into a million pieces or anything like that. It’s kind of going through the loops or doing whatever. So I don’t know. I just feel like I’m in that stage in my career where I’m just kinda like, just letting the beat do its thing and not so much me making the beat if that makes sense.

What’s next for you after the new albums?

beautiful lou: Hopefully starting to do some more shows and starting to DJ some more locally, and then we’re going to just probably try and hit the East Coast. Maybe we’re going to do some shows in Atlanta also coming up, so try and get back out there. You know, ever since before the pandemic, we just completely stopped, I stopped at least as far as doing shows, you know, doing the Lil B tour I think was the last show I did. But yeah, it’s time to get back out there, it’s been way too long, I’ve been fiending for it. There’s nothing like it, the performance and hearing the crowd and the music all loud in the next room, but just doing that and still shooting a bunch of videos, just dropping it, and just seeing what happens, you know? Tying to build with this EMPIRE deal and take it to the next step.

Photo courtesy of Lewsr/Instagram

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