Florida has been slowly moving out the shadows and into the limelight, but not all of it is rap. C9 member, Twelve’Len has broken the music barriers and created a sound unique to him, infusing hip-hop with indie rock with soul with pop and creating a work of art. I got a chance to speak with the talented musician last week and conversed about growing up in Carol City, hard times as a musician, the making of his new album and more.
Who are you?
Yo, my name is Twelve’Len, I am from South Florida and I am a musician.
What was your childhood like?
Growing up in Carol City was very different for some, I guess. Talking from own experience, it was very fun, it was interesting, it was gritty, well at least the environment I grew up in. Growing up in Carol City was whatever you decided to make it. For me it was a little bit of everything, there were joyful moments and a lot of not so joyful moments.
Where does the name “Twelve’Len” derive from?
Twelve’Len derives from a nickname that I had when I was younger. All of the older guys used to call me V12 because I used to rap very fast, and I was just fast in general, like in running. And everyone called me V12, which is the best performing engine you can put in your car. So, people called me V12 also because my name is Vares, so we just put the two together. When I began to grow older and my music began to evolve, I found myself to become more and more inspired from my grandfather, his name was Len. Through times, situations and in search of finding myself, I created an entity by taking my grandfathers name and the name I already had and just put the two together, thats how I created the concept of Twelve’Len.
“…I am an instrument and what I choose to project as being an influencer, I have to do what I feel is right.”
You mentioned your grandfather, what role does he play in your music career?
He inspired me musically. For a long time when I was young, I was naive, like every young kid. He used to play a lot of diverse music and he really made me believe that it was him on the record. He wasn’t a musician himself but he was a music collector. So, everything that comes with live instrumentation and production stemmed off from listening to those old Jazz records and a lot of oldies that he’d play at home or in his truck when he’d pick me up from school.
How important is the aspect of family to your music career?
I mean, the aspect of family is very important of course. Not so much implementing the content musically, more so the moment. Like the color tones of the music, very bright, very joyful. We have a lot of family bar-b-cues and we play a lot of music like Frankie Beverly, Al Green, Marvin Gaye etc.. so were talking about music that really gets a family going, that is measurable to be played for young kids, middle aged kids, grown-ups, and the elderly. That style of music is very uplifting, so the inspiration definitely comes from family and the music we were raised on.
How has religion and faith played a role in your music?
It still plays a huge role. I pray every day. So, I am an instrument and what I choose to project as being an influencer, I have to do what I feel is right. My music is only one layer of who I am. It played a big role because it encouraged me to be more vocal, in the sense of leaning more towards singing, and be more melodic rather than rhythmic, like in raps. But I don’t like to call myself a singer.
As you were growing up in Carol City, did you find it hard to create such uplifting music in a place like Carol City?
Nah I don’t find it hard because everyone that grows up in an environment like mine they all know the style of music, they all have grandmothers and grandfathers, regardless if they’re alive or not. They all have that little bit of light within them, it’s not just Carol City it’s everywhere. So, you have people who grew up in Compton, Chicago, we all grew up the same way. There’s always a light wherever you go.
So growing up in Carol City, how did you get to meet Denzel Curry?
I actually met Denzel through a meeting ground where all the artists that were doing something in Florida back in 2011 would go. We would meet at a place called Bel-Air Academy, which was a clothing store. They would let us come through, freestyle and paint, that was really our only outlet in Carol City. Me, Nell, Pouya, Denzel, (Yung) Simmie, Robb Bank$, Ronny J didn’t really come into the picture until he moved down from New Jersey. But yeah that’s how we all met and got started.
“I don’t classify myself as a genre, I just make good music.”
Why do you feel it is important to send the message that you try to send, specifically towards Carol City?
I really don’t direct it anywhere, I just project it. I’m in Carol City so it will either hit home first or not because i’m still in the hood, I’m still out here on a day-to-day. Whenever I project anything, you get both ends of the spectrum. You get the more based social class worker, and you get the avid contemporary music listener. I feel like we’re living in a world in which music is divided by social class, in a genre sense, like pop music and hip-hop, you know? They try to put a color on it, and you can’t do that, It’s just music. Personally I am trying to break those barriers when it comes to classifying genre on a certain type of music, based on your pigment or based on where you come from. People sometimes get confused on how to classify my music, when you can clearly classify each individual song, but they don’t do that because of my aesthetics. I like that.
Do you classify yourself as a certain genre?
No, people ask this a lot. I can’t categorize myself as a certain genre but my music, each individual song falls under a certain category. So, records like “Jack & Ginger” and “Florida”, could fall under Indie Rock or pop or soft rock or even folk. Then you have my song “Star Dust” that could be considered R&B/Soul. That’s only from “Friends”, then you have my project “Pink”, that was all Indie Rock. So, I don’t classify myself as a genre, I just make good music.
What’s the meaning behind the Flower logo?
The flower comes from Oshun. Oshun, is a West African goddess. So, I’m Haitian and Haitians are descendants of Nigerians. Oshun is the goddess of love and she comes to us as a sunflower or a mermaid or really anything that is yellow, gold or sweet. She loves gold, jewelry, honey, all the fine and sweet things. I took that concept and made it apart of me. My friend Josh helped me create my now logo/symbol which I call the supreme sunflower. It has twelve pedals on it, so it all ties together.
You’ve had the same producers for years now, Nick Leon and Zach Fogerty. Who are they?
Yeah Nick Leon, Zach Fogerty, and also John Falco. John was one of the earlier producers who worked with me. He was also my drummer whenever I would play live. He produced two of my projects that I actually took down. But yeah, Zach and John helped my evolve my sound that I had in 2011. Then I got with Nick about a year and a half ago and he’s really been helping me, along with Zach.
Friends is something unlike I have ever heard before. What was the creation process like?
It all started with me wanting to make one more project before I was done fucking with music. I feel like all artists experience this, I felt like I had hit a ceiling and I was feeling like there was nothing else for me to do. So I was just said to myself, ‘fuck this music shit man’. I wanted to start to focus more on directing and producing films and take a few artists under my wing. I just tried to do the best I can do with it, I didn’t have a general direction with the album, I just knew that I needed it to be less “lively” and more “electronic”.
So, is FRIENDS the final chapter in the Twelve’Len music career?
Nah, I will never be done with music man. I was giving you the run down on my mood when I was creating the album. I wasn’t in a good place when I first started making the album, emotionally and financially. Although I was very unhappy, I was projecting records that sounded sonically joyful, but the album as whole is about what I was going through at the time.
What’s your relationship with Coach K and how did you guys link up?
It is very independent. I do my thing and he does his thing. Whenever I have something to send, he puts it where it needs to be at. Denzel Curry’s manager helped me find my lane but Coach K is my real, full time manager. How we linked up… I think I had released a video called “My Baby”, he’d seen that. I think he also caught a snippet of a song I did a little bit ago called “Naked Hustle”. One of my homies called me up and said, “Yo, Coach wants to holler at you”. I didn’t know who Coach K was. In that moment like I said before I was not in the best place and I wanted to give this project my all. I swear to god, not even 24 hours after talking to my friend, I woke up the next morning and I had got a message on twitter from a homie saying, “yo, Coach K wanna holler at you.” I thought he was trolling me! I told him to give him my number, jokingly. He texted me asking if he could call me. We talked for hours and hours. We’ve been working together since March of last year. Been a year now.
As we near the end, who do you want to work with in the future the most?
Anderson .Paak and Blood Orange for sure. Maybe even D.R.A.M.
What advice do you have for the youth?
Be honest with yourself… Recognize what makes you happy and pursue that.
What’s next for Twelve’Len?
Um… Maybe an EP. Like a three track EP before summer. Maybe have some dope features on there too.