Willie the Kid and Lee Bannon were not supposed to meet. The East Lansing-bred, Atlanta-based MC was putting together Divide and Conquer with his big brother La the Darkman and DJ Drama when he came across a MoSS-produced beat originally used by Obie Trice as a freestyle. When Willie’s management inquired about purchasing the beat for Willie’s album, they came into contact with MoSS’ manager, who coincidentally was managing Sacramento-based producer Lee Bannon. After hearing some of Bannon’s beats, Willie chose one for his mixtape The Fly. Neither Willie nor Lee knew that their collaboration, “Winter Coat,” would morph into a full-length album. What they did know, however, was that they had found chemistry that’s rare in an industry of forced collaborations done mainly for the sake of collaborating.
After finally talking with each other, Willie the Kid and Lee Bannon decided to do an album together, the appropriately-titled Never a Dull Moment. As the duo searches for the right home for their album, they recently released an EP to give fans a taste of what they’ve been working on. HipHopGame caught up with the guys to talk about how everything came together, why they work so well and much more in this exclusive interview.
How did you guys meet in the first place before you even started planning an EP together?
Lee Bannon: I did “Winter Coat” on Willie’s mixtape The Fly. I don’t know if it was Twitter or whatever but we just started building. Before it was my management talking to his people and once we got rid of that barrier we were able to chop it up and get creative.
Willie the Kid: Bannon’s manager Dan Green is a good friend of mine. He always sends me beats from the producers that he was managing and he sent me beats from Bannon. It was the sound I was looking for and I did the “Winter Coat” record and everybody loved it and Dan sent it out to everybody and got a good response from it. I wanted to get at Bannon directly and the first time we talked, Bannon wanted to do a project.
Lee Bannon: I’m the type of dude that would rather do a project with somebody than individual songs. DJ Muggs has talked about it and he likes to be creative instead of scattering beats on different projects. There’s nothing wrong doing that but I feel like there’s more room to do stuff on projects like this. That’s my outlook on it.
Willie the Kid: I did a record awhile back for a mixtape Divide and Conquer. On “Villain,” it was an Obie Trice song and MoSS did the beat and we were trying to actually purchase the beat from MoSS to put it on my album since Obie Trice only did a freestyle on it. The guy who was behind it all was Dan Green. I guess he liked the record or whatever so he locked into me and started sending me beats from different producers. Every time I got a Bannon beat, it was the sound I was looking for and everything went from there.
What was the creative process like on Never a Dull Moment?
Lee Bannon: Basically we had “Winter Coat” and I sat down and just wanted to take it back to the fundamentals of it and make them more like a break. Some big influences for it were Madlib, DJ Muggs and RZA. Those were some of the inspirations behind it.
What does the title Never a Dull Moment mean to you guys?
Willie the Kid: For me, musically, I’ve been in a space for maybe the last year or so where I’ve really just been making music purely for fun, making exactly what I wanted to make, picking what I wanted to pick and saying what I wanted to say. Bannon, as long as I’ve known him, he’s always been making that kind of music. This music has been therapeutic. I said that on the “Winter Coat” record. He’s from Sacramento and I’m from Michigan so that’s two different parts of the world but what he was doing was what I wanted and it was like therapy. And with what’s going on in hip-hop right now, when I put this against everything else, it sounds original and refreshing. From the rhymes to the way we mixed it, it sounds incredible, man.
Why did you guys make this an EP?
Lee Bannon: It is a full-length album. This is just a trailer for the project.
Willie the Kid: We got way more records done. We got over 20 records. They’re completed for a full-length LP but in the process of doing the business of the LP, we didn’t want to wait too long so we just got seven of the records and did an EP.
Will the album sound in a similar vein to the EP?
Lee Bannon: It’s done.
Willie the Kid: Yeah. We’re just making new records now. The album is done and we’re just shopping for a deal to put it out on an independent or find a major label home for it. But the music itself is done.
Willie, you’ve worked with a lot of different producers over the years, especially when you look at all the collabs you’ve done. Why do you think you’ve been able to work so well with Lee Bannon?
Willie the Kid: I think Bannon fits my style perfect. I work with a lot of producers for the purpose of business and they had some heat and I had some heat and we linked for some classic records. Bannon has that heat that I would use even if I wasn’t getting paid for it. He has that heat from the Havoc’s to the RZA’s to the Dilla’s. I said when I got on I was going to make that kind of music and I never found the producer to help me live that out. Bannon brought me that sound that I said I always wanted to make.
Are some of your songs done just for business purposes?
Willie the Kid: Don’t get me wrong at the same time though. I don’t mean when I say it was just for business that there was no artistic integrity or anything there. I’m just saying that the producer was hot and we linked to make something big. I don’t want it to get twisted what I meant by that. I’m not saying like it’s “oh, boy, another day at the office. I’m not saying that. Bannon reminds me of a kid from my neighborhood that I went to high school with and we played video games in the basement and got girls at the mall and made music instead of just linking up to make music.
Despite songs you’ve been on that had commercial success, it seems like your fans appreciate your lyrical side and really gave you a chance.
Willie the Kid: Right. And Bannon is giving me the chance to reach those fans. That’s what’s special about the project. It’s allowing me to have more than just “commercial success.” I’m able to tap into my cult following and Bannon is giving me the sound to complement that and he’s giving me even more.
How did “News Flash” come together?
Lee Bannon: “News Flash” is a perfect example of the sound I was trying to go for. I’m from California and DJ Muggs is a big influence to me so I wanted to do a couple of records with that sound but still have my touches to it. It’s still like a dirty, grimy sound to it and the way that you listen to it, the beat transitions into a whole different beat similar to like how House of Pain or Cypress Hill did. I look at it as an evolved version of that.
Willie the Kid: The beat, man, the beat. I couldn’t even take credit for that song. That’s what the beat was telling me to do. I was possessed, man. That record right there was an example of the record I was trying to make but never had the sound to make them. That reminds me of that storyteller style like Slick Rick or Kool G. Rap or Ghostface. I remember when I was young and buying CDs and trying to be like the people I looked up to musically, I always wanted to make them type of records and “News Flash” is the record that let me do that.
Lee Bannon: You can’t really do that on your average Monday through Friday beat.
Willie the Kid: Exactly. A lot of the commercial records that I’ve had, they don’t give the leeway for that. They don’t allow me to be in those spaces and I’ve always wanted to make those types of records. I got older records and records with the homie DJ Don Cannon and I can pull them up today and they probably won’t have the commercial appeal of other records that I’ve made but Bannon’s sound has allowed me to capture that gritty basement sound and the commercial sound. If you grew up on hip-hop, that’s what you want. And it’s not really over-produced like that so it allows me to tell a story like that. I think a lot of times producers, they may over-produce the beat and compensate for something but for us, we capture sound and emotion and a spirit in the music instead of having a thousand instruments coming in and out of the beat. There’s rappers without pattern and they’re just swagging the beat out. We don’t do that.
Lee Bannon: There’s nothing wrong with that.
Willie the Kid: Nah, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Lee Bannon: This is just a different caliber of it.
Willie the Kid: Yeah, exactly. Honestly, Brian, I’ve been up and down that road a million times from watching the game and partaking in it personally. I felt it was time to go against the grain.
Lee Bannon: We did this project just me and him but you know how they say great minds think alike, it seems like other people are trying to stick to that same pattern right now and just take it back to the break and the loop.
Willie the Kid: Like on “Hickory Smoke.” There’s not even no percussion on that record. There’s no percussion, no snare, no kicks, no hi-hats, no nothing. And I think that opened up the door for what I was trying to do musically. I’ve heard a lot of rappers fumble on the beat because there’s too much. Bannon knows how to come and complement it to a T. There’s just enough music and just enough motion and just enough aggression. I’m real proud of the project and I recommend anybody to go check it out.
On “Sky Miles” Curren$y shouts out Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Who were your favorite turtles?
Lee Bannon: I’m Michelangelo!
Willie the Kid: I’m probably a mix between Donatello and Rafael. I like on the original Turtle series, Rafael was a hothead. I’m a hothead without the recklessness though. I got the brain like Donatello but got the aggression and the passion like Rafael.
Lee Bannon: I’m gonna say Casey Jones too!
Willie the Kid: Nah, you’re straight up Michelangelo, man! That’s you.
Lee Bannon: Who’s your favorite turtle?
Michelangelo. I was always him for Halloween all the way through high school.
Willie the Kid: I gotta be Rafael for the passion and Donatello for the intellect, man.
Rafael was cool, but rude.
Willie the Kid: That’s me, cool but rude. I ain’t trying to offend nobody.
What other projects do you guys have coming up?
Lee Bannon: I’m gonna be doing a bunch of work on Willie’s The Fly 2. I’m working on that right now as we speak. Aside from that I got a project called The Sleepover that I’m working on that will probably be ready at the end of next month or possibly October. I also have another mixtape coming out with Ill Will with a group called the Dough Monsters from out here. I got some stuff coming up with Strong Arm Steady and Alchemist and Evidence. There’s a bunch of stuff. Me and Willie, we still got the LP dropping.
Willie the Kid: And I got The Fly 2 Gangsta Grillz coming. I got Frank Dukes on there and V12 and Vinny Idol on there too. It’s gonna be crazy. And I’m back in the studio with Don Cannon. That’s gonna be huge. I got another project coming out with V12. We’re doing a tribute mixtape to Ahmad Jamal where we’re taking all of his samples and chopping and looping them. We’re working on that and having a lot of fun with that and that’s gonna be crazy. I’m also working on La the Darkman’s album. The Never a Dull Moment LP is coming soon. I think it’s good for hip-hop and it’s therapeutic. Bannon is my man and we’re going to be cranking out new music.