Imagine having a talent so recognizable, you are able to navigate multiple avenues of making music. Look no further than South Floridian R&B singer, Twelve’Len. Carol City, Florida has had quite a few stars come through the cracks such as Rick Ross, Flo Rida, Gunplay, and the latest Denzel Curry. Twelve seems to have that same trajectory, dealing with a swiss-army knife of talent in his back pocket. Before jumping on the R&B scene, he was rapping with the best of them back home as Doink pointed out in the Red Bull mini-documentary. Twelve didn’t see himself staying in that box though of the rap scene that was coming out of his city. He wanted to elevate past that, provide dynamic melodies and tell the true story of who Twelve’Len is.
“Main media doesn’t want to push out the backyard, feel-good shit, because that’s not the era that we are in. Growing up in the midst of all the violence and police brutality, we still have Frankie Beverly and Vandross pumping in those same environments. Me growing up in the church, singing acquired me to exercise my pen and flows in that regard.”
His newest single “Lady Draco” dropped last week with Curry, reminding us of that trippy A$AP Rocky sound that could’ve fit on AT.LONG.LAST.A$AP. The production is suited to their strengths. It gives Twelve the floor to croon over the damage this woman can cause, showing the R&B side. Meanwhile, Denzel has the floor at the last minute to spew heavy thoughts of love. The Carol City connection lives strong, dating back to 2016 when Twelve was finding himself on features for Curry’s breakout album Imperial. So the duo is not new to getting in the booth together with their most put-together track yet.
This only touches the surface of Twelve’s capabilities as an artist. We can date back to 2014 when Twelve connected with a super-raw 6LACK with their track “Pretty Weather (6:12)”. The duo ended up with a moody track, providing the early genius of what their futures can turn out to be. Throughout the years, Twelve perfected his sound dropping an album and multiple singles to make a name for himself.
None made a bigger impact than his latest, full-length LP Sugar Hill Express, displaying the most locked-in version of what R&B can sound like down the road. His passion is exhibited in big lights within the 28-minute parameters. There is a clear understanding of the genre that persuades multiple approaches in his voice and the sounds he plays with.
“Location” provides the current moody vibes that the genre has been on, while “Blue Diamond” is super velvety in its flow with the relaxing beat. You hear the strength in his vocals on the hooks of “Thank the Gang”, meanwhile he takes the weight out of his voice and production on “Back To You”. Twelve brings swagger and groove on “Bang That Sugar”, while the seductive “Broken Wings” ends the album off. The curation of R&B ebbs and flows between the current day and the decades prior all into one fresh album.
While creating music for his solo career, he is dipping his hand into making soundtracks for an upcoming Jamie Foxx Netflix movie and continuing to work with Issa Rae on her HBO shows. Twelve isn’t just an independent artist he focuses on music, as his talents reach out into other industries. He has directed music videos, most notably for Curry for the track “Ricky”, modeled for Comme des Garcons editorial, and partnered with Nike in Jordan 1’s Rebillionaire campaign. You can’t put Twelve’Len in a box, he simply finds time to do everything that he’s destined to. As an independent artist from the streets of South Florida, that perseverance is in his DNA.
I sat down with Twelve’Len to discuss his newest single “Lady Draco”, how he felt switching from rap to R&B, and the history of Carol City.
I’ve been listening to you for the past couple of weeks and I’m becoming a big fan. You have this new single “Lady Draco” featuring Denzel Curry who you have quite a history. How did this song come about? It’s a very trippy vibe, like A$AP Rocky type of vibe.
So the track was originally from my album, and as time went on the production changed a lot. TJ Murphy and I ended up producing Denzel’s part. TJ sent me a loop of some drums and I hit up my homie Justin Wiggins and we ended up getting in the studio one day. This was back in 2021, so it didn’t flow with Sugar Hill Express. I didn’t want to put it all together with the other records, but I also didn’t want to waste the record either because it was amazing.
I wanted to switch up that beat to some East Coast, boom-bap production and he had just released his single “Walkin” at that time. So I was catching onto what his album Melt My Eyez was going to be. Had to re-produce and give it a new flavor that aligns with what he is doing now. The production you hear on the first half of the record is what Denzel was rapping on originally. So I just decided to put this out as a joint record.
Okay awesome, so I wanted to talk about Carol City and the history of hip-hop that is entrenched there. What’s that connection like with Denzel Curry and other artists who made it big in that area?
We have had some pretty big artists come out of the city like FloRida, Rick Ross, and Gunplay. But it goes even deeper within the cultural side of things on the underground tip of Miami music. But the relationships you grow are different because you grow up in specific neighborhoods and do not have any ties with other places, even if they are literally 100 feet away from your front door.
Personally, I have always been well respected in everybody’s neighborhood, so it wasn’t too much for me to dabble around within certain areas. In terms of influence, Rick Ross and FloRida were more so the business side than the music itself. Knowing what and what not to do on the business side. I’ve seen a lot of things that they have done. I just learned from that, and it’s definitely inspirational because I was in a studio at a very young age, like nine or 10 years old even though I wasn’t recording music for myself. Trick Daddy and others used to come into the neighborhood and use the kids to play roles in music videos or to lay out children’s vocals to make it sound more gospel.
Damn, so there is a lot of history there that you’ve been able to implement in a multitude of ways. I was watching your Red Bull mini-documentary. I can’t remember if Denzel or Doink said this, but you started out rapping and were truly considered the hardest rapper in the city. What made you switch from raps to melodies and run towards that R&B genre? Were you looked at differently for switching your sound?
So anyone that was my homie knew what was up with one another. Once MySpace and Twitter started popping off, I started to see a lot of fake shit that these guys are rapping about with killing and doing all kinds of shit. I was like wow, and it was a lot of people I knew too. I didn’t want to be a part of that movement at all. It bothered me, to see people who weren’t from where I live but living in similar areas start glorying the things that are happening in my neighborhood and pushing negative connotations. It’s one thing to talk about the things that you have been through, but I feel like certain things don’t need to be discussed with certain people.
I don’t want to put limitations on the art, but you should try to create true art. So with rapping, I didn’t want to add to that. What people don’t talk about growing up was Frankie Beverly and Marvin Gaye bumping through our neighborhoods. We had Betty Wright, who is a Miami native and the fucking queen in the soul world, you know? So I just didn’t feel the need to implement or add to that world. I wanted to replace it with something that we kind of forgot because a big stereotype in the music I create is not for my people.
Main media doesn’t want to push out the backyard, feel-good shit, because that’s not the era that we are in. Growing up in the midst of all the violence and police brutality, we still have Frankie Beverly and Vandross pumping in those same environments. Me growing up in the church, singing acquired me to exercise my pen and flows in that regard.
I was going to say because you sound like a veteran on Sugar Hill Express. I mean, you have different types of strength in your voice, whether you come through with a strong conviction on “Thank The Gang”, hitting dynamic vocals on “Location” or that velvety sound on “Let’s Stay”. Was there anyone that made you see what you’re capable of, or like someone you spoke to, for example, your grandma taking you to the church being a major factor?
Yeah, it was that, but it was also having an open mind to music. I wasn’t like most of my friends in Carol City. You grow up on any one of those blocks and that’s all that you will know or want to hear. This is the club we go to, this is the high school we went to. These are the jobs that are good for you in the neighborhood. So you were stuck to what you knew. I couldn’t stay in that mindset.
I will fight anybody on anything, not for right or wrong purposes, but to challenge. The fact is, are we making the best decisions? I always will be searching for stuff, and listening to new stuff. The list is long in terms of artists I have found like King Krule and Charlotte Day Wilson. It encouraged me in that aspect to challenge myself. I have my favorite artists like Andre 3000 or 50 Cent, but they never sparked anything musically. I enjoy like just everything about them entirely and how they create and move.
So, you’re pretty diverse in terms of the music you listen to, but it seems to correlate to everyday life. You are covering all aspects of music, which reflects on your work ethic. You are working with Jamie Foxx on a soundtrack for his Netflix movie and Issa Rae on the soundtrack for her HBO shows. and directed a music video, “Ricky”, which happened to be one of his most viewed. Modeling was in your wheelhouse as well, so where does it come from where you want to work on everything at once and how do you find balance with all of that and working on your own music?
There really is no balance, to be honest. The world changes so fast and people have things that they need to get done within certain time periods. You have to be organized to a degree, and you have to roll with the punches. Whatever God gives you at the moment you have to handle it. Me being an independent artist, I have to take the opportunities given to me.
Some days I have to be real with myself, I might not be inspired musically to create something. But I know I have to be creative because that is what fuels me. Even if it is doing some marketing for one of my friend’s brands, I am happy with being creative. As long as I can wake up and give birth to something I am forever happy. That creative fire is what gets you going throughout the day and being able to do so much.
I remember at one point in that Red Bull documentary, you were talking about the depression that you had experienced, and being able to reflect on the beach and talking to your grandmother helped with that. I guess that is the reason I asked that balancing question, because you may get to the point where you get drained out. So how do you find yourself? In terms of taking a break from it all?
Well, I think it came from picking up a few hobbies outside of music. I work with kids in middle schools and working with my mom at a non-profit for families in poverty. It definitely helps slow down my pace where it needs to slow down. Sometimes you can be moving, but all you are doing is just moving. So my being able to work with these kids over the summer, and teaching them how to make music definitely helps with the balance.
Making time to live life and gives me room to strategize the next creation. Because if you are not going through shit, you can’t really do much with an incentive that will actually stick. So working this part-time job at the school helps keep me grounded and gives me structure that I didn’t know I needed. Between traveling for music, writing, film, taking care of my son, and being there for him sometimes I would forget to handle certain things because of how much running around I’m doing. But working with those kids actually sat me down and appreciate strategizing and paying more attention.
So the last question, I hear a lot of people say that the R&B genre is dying. That’s the constant Twitter talking point. Where do you feel like the state of R&B is right now?
I think R&B is trying to find its next place. I don’t think it’s dead by any means. We still have artists like Brent Faiyaz and more, but it’s just like any genre where things evolve. And we have to recognize that it’s evolving. You started seeing rappers get on R&B records in the mid-2000’s. So it’s just started to slowly evolve from the culture, and different cultures started to affect the sound of the music, and then you have an evolution.
That’s where you get Future making a solely R&B record HNDRXX and what 6LACK. So people just have to accept what it is. Rap isn’t the same as it once was either. R&B isn’t super slow and only talking to your partner or your love or the woman that broke your heart. It’s changed. There are no rules to this anymore. People have to be open to the evolution of R&B.