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Meet The MC: Le3 bLACK

After dropping his third mixtape in summer 2020 — full of honest bars about mental health and working towards goals — and collaborating with Loraine James, South-East London rapper Le3 bLACK is looking forward to a bright year

It’s the mid-2010s, and the MC now known as Le3 bLACK is holed up in his halls at Westminster University. Surrounded by Indomie noodles and chilli sauce at a messy desk, the South-East London rapper is stuck at an identity crossroads.

It’s still early days in his journey as an artist, producing beats and writing bars about integral, real-life experiences, but his pseudonyms — firstly Rane, and then J.Carter — weren’t reflective of his artistic vision. He knew he needed something more personal for his project.

Le3 bLACK, real name Lee Carter, isn’t your average city MC, hence the need for an artist name he could connect with — the “3” in Le3 is a number Carter holds close to his heart, and the bLACK is a nod to his skin, heritage, and even the place he calls home. He produces his own beats for his emotive music, putting an electronic through-line on R&B-leaning melodies, delivering succinct bars brimming with multi-faceted meaning.

“Those electronic R&B vibes... it’s a testament to my artistry,” Carter says. “I tend to keep a forward-thinking head on my shoulders. I can’t be caught lacking, so I have to be ready to evolve with my music as much as the next man. Being inspired has always been my motto.”

“A real artist has the ability to manifest all their struggles and pain through honest yet compassionate music”

So much of Carter’s inspiration comes from his most personal experiences: thoughts and feelings, exploring his background, home life, teenage years, and exposure to different sounds during his time at university. The sense of nostalgia he feels when he talks about his family life, he says, is only amplified by the music he found himself immersed in. “I come from both Jamaican and Mauritian backgrounds,” Carter explains, “and both heritages mean so much to me. I would get music like dub, jungle, drum & bass and reggae from my dad’s side, then my mum would be listening to saga, R&B, and rare groove. The list could go on and on.”

In July 2020, Carter dropped his third full-length mixtape, ‘B...’. It’s one of his most intimate projects to date, referencing his relationship, his credibility as an artist, the complexities of his career, and other lived experiences. From the mixtape’s opening track, ‘Intro’, where Carter speaks about savings and working towards goals, to discussing self-confidence on ‘Liar’, it’s all part of the rapper’s vision of keeping his songwriting raw and real.

As part of keeping that realness, another key focus of Carter’s lyrical content, especially on ‘B...’, is his own mental health. He keeps total transparency in his own work, including his experiences with the societal implications and pressures that run alongside it. “We live in an age where speaking about [mental health] is impossible, and pushed to the side,” he says. “Male suicide rates are ridiculously high, and there’s a stigma where people still believe men don’t go through the same shit just like women do. In UK rap, it needs to be brought up more. Whether it’s from well-established artists or upcoming, some sort of education needs to be introduced in the system so that these things are spoken about, and prevented.

“It’s like it’s second nature to me. I see these artists that are fake, and in every way,” he says, speaking about the dishonesty in lyricism, referencing back to mental health, and the negative impact arrogance can have. “They’re more concerned about a little clout and how [honesty] could be detrimental to their status. I just find it stupid. A real artist has the ability to manifest all their struggles and pain through honest yet compassionate music.”

Carter started writing those meaningful bars while he was still in secondary school. Recording beatboxing into his phone, he’d pour over the low-res recordings to write lyrics. “Talk about DIY, but that shit makes me think how prepared I was with music and my future even then,” he remembers. “Kanye West was at the forefront of my inspirations. I would bring those hefty-ass CD players to school when I was younger, from the age of seven, after listening to music at home all morning.”

It was towards the end of his time at school and his beginnings at college that Carter began to hone in on his skills as both a songwriter and a producer. After being shy with his music in the early days, which he’d now started writing alongside his friend, Ell — “when there is bare man with eyes on you, it starts to feel congested” — Carter found a new sense of bravery and confidence, and enrolled to study Media Studies at college.

Not initially enamoured with the production side of things, Carter credits his teacher — “shout Mr. Hirst!” — for making him see the light. Eventually, after some encouragement, he began to hang back after classes, learning how to use Logic Pro and beat-making software, before completing his course and deciding to further his studies at London’s University of Westminster.

At university, the MC met Hyperdub’s Loraine James, who, like Carter, was also working towards a BA in Commercial Music. Meeting James during a group project was also a turning point in Carter’s creativity, where he learned about blending conflicting sounds. “Meeting Loraine is one of those stories that has a good message behind it,” he laughs. “I just remember seeing her unique hair, and hearing her off-centre beats.” Part of the group project was to form a band — something which Carter had no experience in.

“All of those rap-rock genres mixed with electronic melancholy was wild in my eyes,” he says, speaking about James’ abrasive, abstract beats. “But, I eventually adapted and made it my own. The flower bloomed from there, and we’ve glued ever since.” Carter has since featured on James’ 2018 and 2019 albums, ‘Detail’ and ‘For You And I’, and collaboration is now a frequent occurrence for Carter. On his debut LP, ‘Where The Monster Lies’, Carter tapped Duggie, Leo Bhanji and Virgil Hawkins for features, and more recently for ‘B...’, CMillano, kayowa, and Sydod1.

“I’m just on a journey to become better and elevate with time,” Carter says of 2021 and beyond. “I want to be progressing in new genres and different kinds of production with every step.”

Want more? Read our feature on the UK legal project fighting the use of rap lyrics in court

Amy Fielding is DJ Mag's digital staff writer. You can follow her on Twitter @amebbbb