Rapper Wes Lee the Wordsmith has been called “the Poet bringing raw soul back into Hip-Hop,” thanks to intelligent, thoughtful lyrics and a moving, spoken-word flow. Lee’s new album, “COPE Deluxe,” which was released Nov. 1, is a soulful, comforting response to the myriad mental, emotional, and physical traumas he has overcome in his life.
“I ended up getting into poetry to help me mourn losses,” said Lee.
At a very young age, Lee faced more family deaths than any child should ever have to confront head on. When he was four years old, Lee experienced his first open casket funeral when his godmother was lost to violence. Then his favorite aunt (the one who gave him his first Gameboy) succumbed to cancer. His mother lost his twin siblings to a miscarriage. Then when he was nine years old, he witnessed the birth of his sister.
“I saw her come out of the womb,” Lee recalled. “I changed her diapers, and fed her, and would take care of her, and I was pretty much her caretaker. She ended up passing away from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Credit: Bonzeye Productions
“I had a very tough time dealing with it. I started struggling in school because of it. I started struggling socially because of it. I couldn’t stop crying or being angry. My faith was tested as far as my belief in God. Imagine having that mindset at that young age. It’s a lot to process.”
Lee discovered poetry as an honors student in middle school when learning about Romantic and Gothic poets like Edgar Allen Poe. Through class assignments, Lee realized he had a natural talent for poetry and began to keep a personal notebook. One day, Lee read one of his reading responses to his classmates that left them in awe.
“That feeling is a feeling I’ll never forget,” said Lee. “That’s when I realized that’s what I’m supposed to do. Speak in front of people and be a voice for those who have difficulty advocating for themselves, or articulating how they feel about things, and teaching people how to get better at doing that.”
Lee continued writing poetry when he attended Savannah State University to study Computer Engineering. Lee would freestyle with his friends and they encouraged him to write down his lyrics, but he still hadn’t considered taking rap seriously.
“Freestyle was more fun, poetry was more passion.”
Credit: Bonzeye Productions
While attending SSU, Lee met John Lattimore, the founder of the renowned writing group WORD INC. (Way of Real Discovery), who convinced him to attend open-mics. Lee eventually joined WORD and quickly became president of the organization.
“From then on it continued to fan my flames and push me in an upward direction,” said Lee. “Now I realized people recognized the talent I’d been cultivating for so long, but not only that, I realized I had the platform, the opportunity, and the gift for teaching other individuals how to elevate their art, as well.”
In 2016, while still in college, Lee experienced further trauma when he was almost killed in a work accident. Lee was in a coma for five days with a punctured lung and level 4 lacerations on his liver and kidney. He spent three weeks in the hospital and an additional eight weeks on bedrest.
“Life was happening so fast and I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die,” said Lee. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to live because it was a depressing space to exist in. That’s one of the things that I also cope with. That’s one of the things my music has been dedicated to following. You know the saying that God give his battles to his strongest soldiers. That hits more close to home for me because I know a lot of people that wouldn’t have pulled out from that, that wouldn’t have got back to the place that I was, and also graduate from college on time after missing eleven weeks of school.”
Credit: Courtesy of artist
After graduating from SSU, Lee balanced work with learning about music production. He released his debut album, “Diary of a Potted Plant,” and an EP, “COPE,” on Soundcloud before forming his own music production company, Bonzeye Productions.
“COPE Deluxe” is the first major album release from Bonzeye.
“It’s the culmination of what I like to call my ‘therapy sessions’ packaged into one deliverable,” Lee explained. “Each song is a snow globe that captures a moment in time and how I felt during that moment in time. Every time you shake that, it reminds you of the life I was living, or the state I was in mentally and emotionally at that time...I have so much going on that sometimes I don’t make enough time to express myself or feel emotions that are a vital part of staying rooted in the human experience.
“That is that for me. That is my scheduled therapy sessions. It’s not with a therapist, it’s just me with a microphone, great vibes, and me battling whatever challenges I’m battling. It’s effective coping to the degree that when I’m done with this track, I don’t even want to go back and touch it again because I don’t feel that way anymore once I leave the booth. I left my feelings right there.”
COPE Deluxe features smooth, neo-soul beats and production from fellow SSU alumni DJ N-Harmonix, aka Duke LaRon. It also features guests like ExRealities, another SSU graduate. Both ExRealities and DJ N-Harmonix have their own releases coming out on Bonzeye.
“We do everything in-house from audio engineer, to writing, to executive production,” said Lee. “All our resources come from our few guys that we have on board, all SSU alum.”
“That is the vision of the production company. To build a professional business oriented platform for the independent artist. But, realistically, it was something I came up with to be able to represent and support my friends professionally. We do this stuff. We grew up together making music and doing different things. As we kept doing it and started getting older and getting more resources as far as monetary assets due to career development because of our careers in education from Savannah State University, it was like, ‘Okay, we’ve been doing this for a long time and we can talk about how good we are all day.
"Let’s make sure people recognize and respect how good we are. How do we do that? We have to have some business about ourselves, we have to put ourselves at the forefront and represent ourselves as a professional entity if we expect to get professional results.”
COPE Deluxe is not just about Lee airing out his issues. He hopes that his music will stand out from “cookie-cutter expressions” found on the radio, and listeners will find the same balance and empowerment he experienced making it.
“I hope for these songs to be so raw, and relatable, and a picture of imperfection, that allows people to connect with it so much deeper than music you hear in the mainstream,” said Lee. “It shows you that no matter what these people look like, what walks of life they are currently traversing, that they can relate to you, that everything will be okay, that we all go through hard times, but we need to find beauty in those hard times to progress forward from them.”