Broke LA Is Ushering in a New Generation of Hip Hop, and You Need to Pay Attention

The fest is a breeding ground for strong emerging talent

The Broke LA Festival is poised to show its strongest and most interesting line-up to date—especially when it comes to hip hop. In an industry dominated by stereotypes, Lex Lu and Kleber Jones are two Los Angeles-based artists performing at the April 23 fest who break the mold and challenge conventional perceptions of the genre, reminding us that hip hop has always been more diverse and than some of its stereotypes might suggest.

Lu began her career as a dancer for some of the biggest names in hip hop (Missy Elliot, Snoop Dogg, Jay Z). But it was Missy—with whom Lu started touring with when she was only 16—and Lu’s brother, Y2, who had the biggest impact on her artistry. “He is one of the most influential people I have in my life,” she says of her brother. “He’s pretty much revolutionized who I am as an artist and a human being. He’s revolutionized the way I see myself and the world.” Y2’s touch is most evident on her song Watch The Crown, which he produced. He is also featured on the track. “It was easy to put everything together because it was such an emotion,” she says. “He’s taught me how to be powerful—to find the power within me. Women are the most powerful. We create life. I didn’t value myself like that before, and now it’s like, we’re amazing and can do so many things. That song is really everything to me.”

Lex Lu
Lex Lu

Photograph by Lowell Taylor

With role models like Janis Joplin (her favorite artist), Missy Elliot, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Gwen Stefani, it’s no wonder Lu radiates authentic individuality. She is forging a reputation for herself as an innovator who can incorporate disparate influences into a cohesive sound. Even her personality and fashion sense are amalgamations of her cherrypicked inspirations: playful and colorful with an undeniable confidence, the last of which allows Lu to stay true to herself despite pressure to do the opposite. “I want to be a pop artist, I want to be a rapper, I want to do all this stuff,” she says. “Where is that lane? We always try to fit ourselves in a box, and it sucks because nobody is the same all the time. We have emotions, different events in our lives affect us differently, and it sucks that we have to be put into this little box.”

Kleber Jones also refuses to be defined. In the tradition of Tyler the Creator, Kanye West, and Outkast, the 18-year-old up-and-coming rapper is turning the hip hop paradigm on its ear with enticing visuals and sounds. And despite only rapping over his own produced beats for a little more than a year, the magnitude of Jones’s talent is abundantly clear. “We wanted to learn how to make our shit sound clean,” he says of his work with Derbasol, a collective composed of his most trusted collaborators. “We don’t want to have that bedroom/basement Soundcloud rapper sound. We wanted to distinguish ourselves. And then in 2015, I started making beats and rapping over them. After that I started fully producing all my own tracks.”

Kleber Jones
Kleber Jones

Photograph by Lowell Taylor

Similar to Lu, Jones also draws creative insight from outside sources—think bossa nova artists (Kleber’s family is Brazilian) and indie artists. If “it sounds beautiful, then I will appreciate it, no matter what,” he says. Jones’s wide-ranging tastes are most apparent when they are juxtaposed with dissimilar sounds, like hard beats paired with ethereal, airy melodies.“I’m not afraid to fucking fail and I’m not afraid to look stupid,” he says. “I’m down to try anything and everything, because art is just tight to me. People just try to pigeon hole what we do as just hip hop or rap or whatever because we rhyme over beats. But I feel it’s so much more than that.”

Looks like the pair are promising beacons of what we can expect from hip hop’s new generation of MCs.

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