Gina Lee: the strong, the dedicated, The Last Hope [Interview]
Toronto, ON – You hear it all of the time – being a woman in the music industry is an uphill battle, but rarely do I get to speak to the women who have lived to tell the tale (even though I know there are plenty out there). However, I got to switch it up this week when Gina Lee, a Toronto native, called in from The Big Apple. On one hand, you see the artists who travel across the border, hopeful hearts in tow, with their sights set on getting their big break. On the other hand, there’s Lee, who packed up nearly two years ago and is now based in New York, working on a project that’s set to drop this summer and garnering not only attention, but support from all of the right people.
I’d love to tell you that Lee is an R&B singer, but knowing that she’s come into her sound just in time for her newest release, I may be telling a bit of a fib. After staying fairly silent for quite some time, Lee has finally released her first single, “Tipsy,” off of her forthcoming EP, The Last Hope. With plans to single-handedly shut the summer down and break through barriers for Toronto’s music scene, Lee spills her tricks on how she continues to climb towards success as a woman in a testosterone-driven industry. We also talk the pros and cons of staying independent, and how she feels The Last Hope will level up with one of Toronto’s greatest releases to date; Drake’s So Far Gone.
If you want to get a dose of what you’re in for, you can grab “Tipsy” from iTunes and read our interview after the jump link below. This is girl-talk you definitely don’t want to miss!
“Don’t be afraid to speak out on what you believe in and if you’re confident you should never be afraid of what the consequences are going to be.” – Gina Lee
Gina Lee: Q&A
Written by Tia Gordon for HipHopCanada
HipHopCanada: First thing’s first, what’s new with Gina Lee?
Gina Lee: I’m from Toronto, I’ve been out in New York for I’d say, nearly, the last two years now – grinding, working on music, [and] networking a lot. I’ve caught the interest of a lot of label execs, so right now; I’m actually in the process of going into certain huge showcases that I have lined up, because they have the interest of signing me. So that’s where I’m at when it comes to the business side. Of course, musically, I am gearing up to release my EP, which is titled The Last Hope. I have some showcases, just to perform, but also promote the new single that’s just out right now for pre-order and is being released officially on the 10th [of June].
HipHopCanada: Let’s talk about a tweet you made about your single, saying that you’re ready to “f**k up the summer,” in regards to “Tipsy” that’s coming out. What is that song about to do to the summer?
Gina Lee: Basically what it is, of course, my confidence in this single. I think it’s an amazing single, it’s different, and I would say, on a higher level than any music that I’ve dropped. I’d say as a body of work in total, I feel like my music and where I am as an artist is on a completely different level. I’m excited for this particular project and this single because I have a digital distribution deal that I’ve made, and that is going to be pushing my music to further lengths than I’ve ever reached before. So, we’re talking about all outlets like: iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, all that. Not to mention all of the major blogs that, you know, everybody of who’s-who in music, that’s what they look at. I’m basically just telling people to wait and see because I truly believe it’s going to make a strong impact in music.
HipHopCanada: Congratulations on your distribution deal. Do you think that signing in on certain things like publishing deals or distribution deals is better than going in full force to a record deal, or do you think that there’s more benefits in being signed with a record label?
Gina Lee: To be honest, I feel like it’s to each their own. Every artist is different, but my personal experiences for being out here as long as I have and seeing the different options. I feel like, a rapper versus singer, and I’ll say just “pop artist” in general because I don’t just strictly do R&B-soul, I feel like I do a lot of cross-over music as well. When it comes to that type of act, you really need a machine, a huge machine, to be able to push your music to where it needs to be. I feel like it really depends too. A lot of people don’t have the resources to keep maintaining a career. As a female, you have a lot of things: hair, makeup, dancers, not to mention the studio time. So, for a rapper, it’s a lot easier to remain independent and create a buzz and have them come to you, which is what a lot of people are doing now.
HipHopCanada: Being that you’re out in New York, was it more of a no-brainer going there when it came to wanting to be successful or wanting a successful project? Do you have more tools at hand or more opportunities available for you?
Gina Lee: Definitely just leaving Toronto, period, to come to the US is a no-brainer. When it comes to coming to New York, I wasn’t always saying to myself “I have to come to New York.” To be honest, I probably would have chose somewhere like Atlanta or LA, but at that time, I came to New York because there was someone that was interested in working with me. That’s why I wound up initially coming to New York, but it is a great place and it will always be the number one place for music to always come back to because of business. All deals are cut here, media’s here, it’s definitely a great place to be.
HipHopCanada: Does being out there make you feel as if you have to prove yourself more? Or are you already in a spot where you know what you’re capable of?
Gina Lee: Oooh yeah. I definitely have to prove myself especially because, you know, New York, they say that it’s the hardest city to please. Coming out here, I was definitely like, “Oh boy, let’s see how this goes,” but the longer I stayed out here, the more relationships I made. I feel that right now, my confidence level is a lot higher because I’ve definitely been accepted by New York. I feel like I’ve really jumped over that hurdle.
HipHopCanada: Is keeping “Toronto sound” something that’s important to you or are you focusing on coming into your own sound or pleasing a label?
Gina Lee: Definitely, I would say yes. Of course, over here, a lot of people say, “Yeah, you’ve got that Toronto sound.” What they refer to it as is “more refreshing” or “different” because it’s something they don’t hear from every artist over here. So I would say I’m all about keeping true to my sound so far, definitely not pleasing a label. And I love the fact that the interest I’ve gotten from the label, they love what they hear so they’ve already expressed to me that it’s something that they definitely wouldn’t want change. And, of course, I’m so proud of the city that I’m from, so I plan to always rep and let people know where I’m from!
HipHopCanada: What does the title of your EP symbolize for you, being that the title is The Last Hope?
Gina Lee: I’ve gotten a lot of people who have asked that question and they might have even taken it in the wrong way! It’s definitely not to say this is my last shot and without this, I won’t make it. It’s not that, because, like I told you, the confidence that I have, I already know what’s about to happen. To me, I would say if you look at it from the aspect of Toronto, it’s not a place that musical talents are always recognized. It’s a very hard city when it comes to the music industry. You have people like Drake and Justin Bieber that have made it out of Canada, period. If you really look at it, it’s on one hand you can count.
The gap between Drake and the last person that’s really made it out of Toronto is how many years? Very close to a decade. I just feel like, once I do this, you can call it cocky or whatever, but I’ll look at myself as the last hope to break another artist out and open a doorway. Drake opened it, however, I haven’t really seen anyone – especially when it comes to females – really break through after that. There’s that aspect, and then I just feel like this project compared to other projects that I’ve released in the past, it’s so different. I feel like, at this level that I’m at, this is the last hope for this level and then after that it’s going on to that next level.
HipHopCanada: Gotcha! In another tweet, you said that The Last Hope is going to be the equivalent of [Drake’s] So Far Gone. Why do you say that?
Gina Lee: I say that because So Far Gone was his breakthrough album, EP, whatever you want to call it. The body of work, the music… whatever music he released before that, I would say it was incomparable to So Far Gone. The quality of music and everything, the breakthrough, that’s what I’m looking at The Last Hope as.
HipHopCanada: Those are some big shoes to fill there!
Gina Lee: [Laughs] I know right!
HipHopCanada: Is there a running theme on The Last Hope?
Gina Lee: Definitely. There’s a running theme when it comes to the sound. One thing I’ve been saying lately is that I truly feel like my sound has become a lot more defined. With me and my producer, Nyce [T-Nyce], he’s the Music Director of everything that I do, and between the last one and this project, a light clicked off and we just started really fine-tuning the sound of my music. When it comes to this project, when you hear it, you’ll be like “Okay, that’s Gina Lee.” It’s a lot more recognizable now.
HipHopCanada: You’re working with T-Nyce once again. Knowing that you’ve worked together so much in the past, what’s made your dynamic work so consistently?
Gina Lee: Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. We have great chemistry, a great marriage when it comes to the writing – he also writes as well… just that whole process of creating. We’ve been working together for 7 or 8 years now. Our personalities, our creative minds together just work so beautifully. It just came easy. When you put two talents like that [together], and at the beginning when we fused them together and we saw what we came out with, it was definitely a no-brainer so why break that up?
HipHopCanada: Exactly! Stick with what’s working. When you got together to work on your last EP, did you have a plan or did it all come together as you went?
Gina Lee: To be honest, I don’t think we had a plan. It was very organic; it just kind of fell together. The project itself, we always had a very big catalogue. Because I’m also a writer, we were constantly working, writing and stocking up. It’s funny, because in all that like I said, my sound is a lot more fine-tuned. Before, I would have a some pop in there and all that, but I realized that’s not me and I’ve decided to shop that music. After that, we started picking here and there and it just all came together.
HipHopCanada: Is there anyone else that you’re working with in terms of producers or even other artists, or is it all going to be a surprise?
Gina Lee: I really haven’t done a lot of collabos – if you look at all of the music that I’ve done, but I do have a very big surprise very big collab coming up. I think I’ve mentioned it before though, so it’s not really that much of a surprise, but if people payed attention, they would’ve seen it slip in there. Going forward, I’m not going to say anything. If they already know, they know! I don’t have a lot of collabos on this EP. It’s mainly me, the feature and Nyce’s production. I don’t want to say that I don’t work with other producers because we have great relationships with a lot of hometown producers and producers out here that I do accept music from and I’ll listen to them only if it goes with the sound that I already have. On this project though, it’s solely Nyce.
HipHopCanada: In past works, pretty much all of Hard In The Paint for example, you give off a lot of lioness energy – and I mean that in the sense that you’re confident in what you’ve got to say, especially when it comes to putting boys in their place. How have you been able to maintain that energy and what’s the driving force behind most of your content?
Gina Lee: Confidence has come from my experience. I feel like I’m always getting better and better. Every time I look at my old music, I would still say it’s dope as hell, but when I see the level of how I’ve improved, I really look at myself as a force to be reckoned with. I look at myself and I say “It’s gonna be a problem because I keep getting better!” That’s where my confidence comes from. When it comes to that fire, anyone that knows me will tell you that it’s just my personality. It’s naturally in there. And of course, my past experiences and relationships and all that – it’s just something that comes out of me when it comes to music and writing it, I write based on my own personal experiences. Those are definitely things I’m always going to touch on.
HipHopCanada: Writing based off of your past experiences, has there been anyone that’s come back and been like “Well damn, why’d you have to put business out like that?”
Gina Lee: [Laughs] So far, no! I’m wondering if they ever will. I don’t know, we’ll see!
HipHopCanada: [Laughs] And then it all starts popping off and you hear “Hey, how’s it been?”
Gina Lee: Right! That’s another thing too! Like I said, I’ve learned a lot being in New York. Even the standard, and that’s why I’ve gotten better. When it comes to my writing, I’ve definitely been a lot more truthful. I don’t write in a lot of metaphors, I’m very direct. So when we talk about people coming out and saying “Hey, that’s about me, why did you write that?” I feel like chances are, at the end of the day, somebody probably will come out. [Laughs]
HipHopCanada: It sounds like they better be preparing their hiding spot now. It sounds like you’re coming for it.
Gina Lee: Yeah!
HipHopCanada: Being a woman on the come-up is a hard game to play. What has your experience been like?
Gina Lee: My experience being over here in New York, specifically, I would say 99% of my meetings I’ve been the only female in the room. It’s very crazy. Building my own personal team, obviously, Nyce, he’s a male, but my team is very small so far. I’ve decided that I’m going to try and implement females in my close inner circle because that’s something I want to do. Not only [for] women empowerment, [or] putting women in the place of power, but just not wanting to be the only female – not that it intimidates me. Like you said, I’m very strong and confident, so I do stand my ground.
HipHopCanada: What do you think is the most important thing for other women to keep in mind when it comes to standing their ground in a male dominated industry?
Gina Lee: I would say knowing yourself, knowing who you are, [and] what you believe. Before coming here, I always had that personality – and you heard it in my EPs before, but when it came to [being] out in the world and with other people, I was a lot more reserved. Being here, when you’re thrown out with the lions, you learn from experience. I’ve learned to stay true to yourself. Don’t be afraid to speak out on what you believe in and if you’re confident you should never be afraid of what the consequences are going to be. “Oh, well, I guess this deal will go straight down the toilet.” Never be afraid. Don’t compromise.
HipHopCanada: Do you have any special plans for The Last Hope – touring or music videos?
Gina Lee: Definitely. You know what’s funny? It sucks that Beyoncé did it first – I promise you, no lie. Visuals for every single song, that was my plan like…two years ago. [Laughs] I just didn’t have the resources to do that at the time, but that is my plan. I want to do a visual story. Who knows! Maybe even like a short film, we’ll see! That’s what I pan to do. Visuals? Definitely. Touring? Definitely. Just be on the lookout for that.
HipHopCanada: Why should people buy The Last Hope?
Gina Lee: People should buy The Last Hope because it’s dope-ass music, dope quality music, it’s feel good music! If you want to feel good, turn up, or know that, hey, someone’s been through that before – because there’s a lot of personal and relatable stories on there. And of course, if you support me, this is the best music you’re gonna hear from me so far! If you call yourself a friend, supporter, family, fan, whatever the heck you are to me, first of all, you just need to buy it. I think anyone with love for music that just wants to hear dope-ass music needs to buy it.
HipHopCanada: I know you have no set date yet, but do you have a rough estimate for when your fans can expect your new music?
Gina Lee: The single is definitely expected on the 10th [of June] and the EP you can expect it this summer!
HipHopCanada: This summer? It’s that close, huh?
Gina Lee: Very soon! We’ve got until the beginning of September. So the latest would be the end of August!
Interview conducted by Tia Gordon for HipHopCanada
Photos supplied by Gina Lee