Zen is one way to describe Valee. He doesn’t really use social media, nor does he bother to save people’s phone numbers. He aligns his energy instead with manual, constructive, lowkey-meditative activities such as working on cars, tattooing, and, luckily for us, rapping. The peacefulness of Valee, the human being, is also evident in his music. His songs all have a laidback yet meticulous quality to them. On “Two 16s,” a recent favorite from Z Money and ChaseTheMoney’s ZTM, he delivers arguably the most swag ever, compressed into a single, drawn-out breath. It is the rap equivalent of a one-shot.
Valee was born in 1988, so he’s reaching his audience well into adulthood. “My last name is Taylor,” he explains, in analogy. “So in school every time we got a project, I’m at the end. So I get to see the whole class do their project. Then when it comes time to do mine, of course I’d pass and the teacher wouldn’t have too many questions.”
The South Side rapper most recently made an appearance on Chance The Rapper and Jeremih’s Christmas mixtape, on a song called “Are U Live.” In other words, the city of Chicago is definitely behind him. We got to talk for a while about life, music, and everything that surrounds it, from expensive remote control cars to our mutual favorite rapper, the late Bankroll Fresh.
How did you get to this point?
Moved out into my old place about 6 or 7 years ago and I was gonna get a game system because I was bored, but ended up going to Guitar Center and bought what I needed to make beats like what I heard on the radio or mixtape websites. Then I figured I should rap on them, too. So I just spent a few years working at home with my head down before I just started putting out music, me and the people around me.
How do you get into a creative mode?
I gotta hear nice beats. If I hear a nice beat, I don’t know what it does, it just makes me come up with something to it, to complement it just as well. But I’m very selective. I might record two songs a month. Because that’s how many beats I’ve come across that I really like.
How did you start working with ChaseTheMoney?
I’m barely in my phone ever, but I go in my phone one day. I’m on Instagram explore page, and I think I scrolled up like three videos. I heard this beat that sounded so nice and I didn’t know the person. I just hit him and said, “Hey I want this beat right now, I don’t care how much it costs. I want it.” And his ass turn up at DJ Victoriouz’ house. DJ Victoriouz was the one hosting my mixtapes with Rio Mac. So it’s like a small world, weird way to meet him. So I get over there, a guy who I had just randomly heard his beat on Instagram. I’m sitting in front of him 30 minutes later.
You’ve started doing songs with ZMoney, who is now almost a veteran of the Chicago scene. Were you already a fan of him?
Yeah, I like his music, I like his beat selection, his creativity on beats. In Chicago, you’ll find a lot of people wanna rap the same way. So when you find somebody that’s just swaggy and having fun, and picking beats that you wish you had, that works.
What are you interested in outside of music?
Anything a man could do himself.
What do you mean by that?
Like I do tattoos. Another reason I probably got a big pass in the city with the music is because when I was a teenager I would put the big rims on my car and stuff, cut my car. You do a good job at that, people want it done to they cars. So I end up cutting Maseratis and making wheels fit. So I was always into different stuff. Custom cars, electrical, construction, tattooing, decor, you name it.
You rap about cars like someone who really knows them.
Yeah I’ve had quite a few people come up to me referring to something I said about cars. Migos and them people, coming out the Louis Vuitton store after us a few weeks ago, said to me, “Ay, you that boy that got the videos with the old schools.”
So what are you driving now?
I got a company truck. A Tahoe truck. I want a Tesla now, like a little base model.
You saw the Roadster, though?
Yeah, I saw the video of the red one.
That was wild.
And it’s scary too, because they’re like a big-ass remote control car.
Yeah, just batteries and motors.
Oh that’s another thing, I’m into very expensive RC cars. Like Traxxas and stuff. I’m into it bad. I’d get the car for like $800 and end up fucking up, then put $2,000 into the damn toy, trying to make it faster.
What does $2,000 in an RC car afford you?
Now I got an RC car that can go 160 miles per hour, and the range on it, you can’t even see it anymore. It goes like four or five blocks.
So it really is like a mini Tesla.
You can take them to the track and people win like $5,000 races and all that, but it’s just so many stipulations. I just like it because it’s a toy that I can make fast as hell.
Would you ever race professionally?
I’d love to be a Nascar driver because they’re like in their forties and fifties. I feel like I got time.
“You want something as simple as a Maserati, that should be as easy as going to Starbucks and getting a cup of coffee for $3.” —Valee
You seem pretty open-minded. Is there anything you’re afraid of?
Water, like swimming? Or just water, in general?
Just a lot of water. That’s it. I’ll go in a cage with a tiger right now, but water, I ain’t fucking with that water.
Did something happen to you as a kid?
Nah, I just don’t like how, you know the ocean is like five blocks under you. And I can’t swim. I just got a problem with my feet dangling. I don’t know what’s down there.
Is that why you live in the Midwest?
But you still got Lake Michigan.
Yeah, but I don’t trust Lake Michigan either. I know it’s shit in there, perhaps lake sharks, a breed of lake sharks could be in there. Water is water.
Do lake sharks exist?
I don’t know, it could be. They could be dropping these new species in there.
If it’s happening anywhere, it would be Lake Michigan.
I heard Lake Michigan is so big, it’s parts that aren’t really able to be monitored as well. Somebody told me last month that there’s a part that has some salt in it, so I’m confused.
Wouldn’t it just dissolve and spread out evenly?
I don’t know, there is a salty area. Finna Google that shit.
That’s probably where the lake sharks are breeding.
Yeah, probably over by Indiana and shit.
Well it used to be a glacier, right?
Yeah, that’s how the Great Lakes were born in the Midwest and Canada. They used to be glaciers that melted.
Oh, they hooked us up with our huge lakes. But yeah water is pretty much it. I wanna skydive, and mountain climb, but that water shit … nah.
What would you say you’re most looking forward to?
Really everything to come, I’m wide open. I wanna act. When I look at movies now, I look at how they switch scenes, different directors, everything because not only do I want to act I want to do the Tyler Perry.
What kind of movies do you like?
Anything with killing.
I’ve watched all the mob movies up to date. All the bank heist movies. Hard to say what’s the favorite.
What’s the most recent one that you loved?
Well you know I got the Fire Stick so I’m watching shit I’m not supposed to be watching. Sweet Virginia, that movie reminds me of No Country for Old Men. Jim Carrey documentary on Netflix.
Jim & Andy was crazy.
That was fucking good.
Did you go back and watch Man on the Moon?
I didn’t, but I’ve seen all them Jim Carrey movies. I do like The Truman Show. In Jim & Andy he said every movie that they gave him, it weirdly had something to do with his life at the time. That’s kind of how I go through life, I guess like living toward it. And that seems like what Jim did.
What do you mean by that?
Weird to say, but you know how some people read The 7 Laws of Success and stuff like that. You want something as simple as a Maserati, that should be as easy as going to Starbucks and getting a cup of coffee for $3. You should be able to go to the car lot and get a car for $300,000. Who put a limit on what’s cheap and what’s expensive? You want something you kind of just live toward it, and then you end up having it.
“I ride around with no music at all. No radio, no nothing.” —Valee
So do you believe that everything happens for a reason?
Yeah. And I’m just coming to that. Like with the music, the way that the music works, and me being in Chicago and not being on the drill scene. Not outside, not toting guns, not getting in trouble. And not selling drugs. Not doing all of that but still wanting to make music.
You were able to be yourself and it still came to you.
Right, I was just able to know the city, know all the people I knew and just make good music. I’m very exclusive to myself and to my team. Like my team, they built themselves around me without me knowing. You know how people say “to make it in music you need a team?” I just never thought about all of that, and it formed around me. Starting with my first producer, Rio. And from Rio came two or three of his close friends. And people help where they see fit, and before you know it you look up and you have a whole, fully functioning team.
You mentioned an interest in directing. What would a Valee movie be like?
A mix between No Country for Old Men and Paid in Full. For the movie critic audiences, for the young people, for the blacks, for the scammers.
Who would play the lead?
I would. There’s only a couple directors that film themselves. Like Quentin Tarantino.
But he’ll just be in it for like a minute.
He’ll do something random like the man at the hot dog stand or something.
Yeah as a director you really have to focus on other people’s performances. So if you’re gonna be in it, you gotta be some side character or cameo.
It’s not many people who can do both worlds, acting and music. I thought about like, Future, how he’s so great in music. Future could take a serious role and kill it. That’s how I’d want to be. Wonderful in music, and then also great enough to do a movie like Tyrese in Baby Boy or the movie where his son got kidnapped, because he did good in that too.
Who else would you put in the movie?
A couple people that have been with me from the jump. Like how Adam Sandler has his people in every movie.
What’s next for you?
I got songs with Jeremih, like seven or eight sitting around. I got a song with Lil Wop. He’s been supportive of me since last year. That song is like another “Two 16s."
On that level?
It’s like something that could play in 2019 and still sound like it just got made. And it’s good for me and him because the way he raps is like distraught, so with this song it’s very clear and punchy, like closer to 21 Savage sound. It’s nice, it’ll be noticeable for his fans. Pusha T got on the “Miami” song, produced by Rio Mac. So he’s supposed to fly here next month, we’re gonna shoot this big video for that.
There’s some kind of connection with you and G.O.O.D. right?
Yeah I’m doing some work with G.O.O.D., I’m gonna give them my album.
Is there someone you’d particularly want to work with?
Everybody that’s dope. Like the 2 Chainz and the Futures. I really like Jill Scott, I’d want to get her on something kinda soulful, but trappy.
That’d be wild. You like a lot of Atlanta music though, right?
I like Atlanta music, but I don’t wanna confuse it. I like a lot of Atlanta beat selection and producers. And then they have a handful of people who take the time out and the care to approach that production and make it sound crazy like it’s supposed to. Bankroll Fresh was my favorite artist.
He’s like the greatest ever.
That’s why I liked him. I search for different flows every day.
People are noticing.
Or how to bring a flow back. Or is it time to bring this flow back on this beat, and my people help with that too. I could have a block or something, and Rio might say, “You know, I hear this flow on it.” And it could be a flow I forgot about, a song from two years ago.
I feel like flows can be recycled but it has to be the right time.
And it has to be better.
Do you listen to shit to know what’s being overdone?
Sometimes, but for the last two years, I ride around with no music at all. No radio, no nothing.
Because I’m always challenging my mind. Like I got two phones but I don’t store numbers. Losing my phones, I’d feel like it’s the fucking end of the world. So I just taught myself for free how to remember.
Now you don’t put too much stake in the device itself.
Yeah now I can not have my phone and know like 60 numbers.
Sounds like you have a healthy approach to technology. You don’t let it control you.
Because I know there was a time when this stuff did not exist, so I try to merge some of that life with this life. So I don’t get all bottled up and lost in it.
Do you consider yourself to be happy?
I think so. I think i’m happy, or I’ve always been happy. I don’t be letting stuff worry me. Since school, I’ve just been very nonchalant.
You don’t let shit get to you.
Nah. And then perfectly I saw a meme yesterday that said “if it’s not bad health or a deathbed, it doesn’t matter.” That’s just the simplest way to put it. Other than that, you try to just keep doing what you love to do.