While watching him walk through the hallway, swinging a headphone cord everyday, I would say, “Hi, Alexis,” in which he would reply, “Call me Lex.” That was high school, and the shy, yet charming young man in 2009 has developed those characteristics for a career in music and live poetry in 2015. As a self-proclaimed “clean rapper,” Lex’s music reveals an existence of hip-hop outside of explicit controversy. Although Lex hesitates to label himself a “gospel rapper,” his intent on leaving curse words, sex, and violence out of his work reflects a young man inspired to achieve what his faith permits. However Lex chooses to label his ministry of music, taking on the stage name, “Lex Da Rapper,” reminds me of those moments in high school when everyone wanted to know the name of the “cool kid” with the headphones and backpack. With an album releasing next month and classes picking up at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I spoke with Lex on his plans to not only continue creating art as “Lex Da Rapper,” but his goals to remain a successful young man as Alexis Dean.
Can you describe what being a “clean” hip-hop artist means?
I think it means not being explicit, as far as, not making music about sex, promoting violence, and promoting negative things to the world. I think my clean music is universal, like it’s something that everybody can listen to. So, that’s how I define “clean,” as something everyone can listen to and enjoy.
What is the significance of clean hip-hop to the music industry?
I think, as far as, what I’m doing with my clean music is that it opens a lot of eyes. A lot of people feel like you have to be a certain way to become a big artist these days. Like, you have to talk about sex because sex sales, or you have to sell drugs and you have to, blah, blah, blah. I think me being a clean artist shows people that you can be yourself if you don’t curse a lot, and you can continue to make good music without fitting into the norm and the mainstream. I’m just trying to show people that it’s a different route to being successful in music.
Do you think clean hip-hop is the same as “gospel rap”?
That’s kinda my biggest difficulty [laughs]. When I tell people I’m a clean hip-hop artist, they immediately assume I’m a gospel rapper. It’s not completely different, but I think it’s different because—and not to diss any Christian, or religious artists—but my music isn’t really preachy. It doesn’t have scriptures in it a lot. It’s just great music that you can listen to that you would hear from a J. Cole or Lupe Fiasco, but it doesn’t have the cursing in it. I think it’s two different worlds [laughs].
What inspires you to create?
Right now, my movement is “Dreams Start Young,” and what inspires me a lot is people and everyday life in the world. I get a lot of my stories that I tell from watching other people, or stories about people that I love and care about or saw online. I like to write stories for people who feel like they aren’t able to lyrically write for themselves. A lot of my music is inspired by other people.
How did you get your start in music?
Well, when I first started, I used to make music on my computer. I used to have this really cheap computer mic, then I would put something over it, and just rap on that. The program was called, “super duper music looper.” I would just rap on there, on my computer, and just record my raps for fun. Eventually, someone at my high school asked if I wanted to perform at a talent show because she heard that I rapped, and after that first performance is when I really started getting serious, and felt like I can really do this. I can really be a hip-hop artist. So, I started with poetry, and then it elevated , and I really started getting into music.
Do you have any other talents, special or hidden?
Well, one of the talents that other people see I have is basketball. That was my first dream, my first dream of wanting to be somebody. I wanted to be a basketball player, and me not making my high school basketball team after I tried out maybe 3 times, I was just like, forget it, I’m gonna see what else, or what other talents I can do, or focus on because this probably isn’t what God has planned for me. I ended up getting more serious into music, writing, and poetry. But basketball was my first love.
How would you measure your success thus far, or would you even define what you’ve been able to do with your music as success?
Umm…that’s a good question! I think that I am super successful for being a 22 year old—who is about to be a 23 year old. Because I’ve juggled so much, people don’t know that I’m not just a rapper, I’m also a college student, and I’m also a teacher for preschoolers. I do all of these things at one time, while trying to maintain happiness within my family, so I think I’m really successful for all of the things that I juggle and try to do. I still have dreams that I still want to reach, but I feel like I’ve accomplished so much, and I still have so much to accomplish.
Would you measure your success for the future?
That’s kinda like a balance that I’m in right now because being signed was my biggest goal. Like, I want to be signed as an artist. And that’s what I was thinking about doing after that time I took my semester off from college, being signed. Because that was my goal, if I haven’t reached that goal, I’m not being successful right now. But I kinda changed that mind state, and the more conscious I get, the more I just want to get a lot of exposure and reach a lot of people, and inspire a lot more people. So, I think I’m being really successful, but as far as where I want to get, I want to inspire a lot more people. I want to show people that you don’t have to be signed to affect thousands of lives, so I’m getting closer and closer to where I want to be.
Are you working on anything now?
Yep! Friday and Saturday, I’m wrapping my album. Everything’s written, and I’m just recording in 2 days, getting it mastered, then it should be done. This one is called, “Dreams Start Young 2: The Underdog,” which is the second part to my first album. It should be released on March 27th of this year.
That is an interesting title because you talk a lot about age in your music, so would you say other politics like race or gender, play a huge role in your music?
I think with me working with kids a lot, “Dreams Start Young” is inspired by the kids. I had a kid in one of the first classrooms that I worked in, and he would tell everybody that he wanted to be a firefighter, and no one could tell him that he could be anything else [laughs]. So, I noticed that with kids, they have these dreams, and as they get older and older, they start losing these dreams because reality really hits them. So, in my music, I try to speak to people and tell the people, if you have a dream, you can do it, no matter how much people tell you that you can’t do it. No matter what, it’s gonna be somebody that doesn’t believe in you or have the vision that you have. A lot of my music isn’t really catered to the young people, but they can relate to it a lot because they’re probably in this stage like, I have this dream that nobody else sees. But as far as, Dreams Start Young, it’s kinda like a double entendre, it has two meanings. It’s like, dreams start when you’re young, and also means that dreams start off small, then as you get older and grind more, your dreams get bigger and bigger, and grow with you.
The reason I ask about race specifically, is because it is Black History Month, so what does Black History mean to you, or as a rapper, and artist in general?
I recently just performed at a Black History Month event. It was actually a ball at UWM, and I performed this piece that I wrote called, “For The People.” For some reason, I felt really more in touch with myself and my race performing it there than all the other times that I’ve performed. And I think it’s because of all the stuff happening in Ferguson, and all of these stereotypes that people label, as far as black people. It was nice to be in a setting where it’s strong, educative, and beautiful black people in the same states. I think a lot of people who are racist and don’t see us as beautiful people, they don’t get a chance to see all of this positivity that we put together and we do. So, I think, for the first time in my album, I’m really starting to speak more about being black and being stronger, and wanting to be a good role model. Not only for people in general, but also, for my black brothers and sisters who are looking up to me. I want them to see that a lot of people aren’t going to doubt us just because of our skin color, and we can be great and powerful people, no matter what.
To learn more about Alexis Dean, visit his personal website http://www.lexdarapper.com. For updates, follow him on Twitter ( @LexDaRapper ) & Instagram ( @1LexDaRapper ).