Rapper Levi Rose searches for niche in Halifax

Hip-hop artist Levi Rose of Toronto tries to fit into the musical scene of Halifax, while studying at Dalhousie University.

by Zoe Demarco

Rapper Levi Rose sits in his Halifax living room surrounded by a thick cloud of smoke, courtesy of his roommates, while Kendrick Lamar’s “M.A.A.D City” blasts from an iPod dock.

“I guess I got into rapping pretty much because of my older brother. He was always a pretty big influence on me,” says Rose. ” I can remember back when I was in grade seven, they [my brother and his friend Owen] were already making tracks.”

The 21-year-old Toronto native, whose real name is Adam Rosenbaum, has been rapping since the age of 12. He’s also currently studying sustainability and management at Dalhousie University.

Making progress

Rose has released two mixtapes, “The Evacuation” in 2011, and “Innovate X Supply X Maneuver,” or “ISM,” this past November. He combines old school hip hop with the modern era, and says he is influenced by jazz music. He says his latest mixtape was influenced by a trip to India in 2012, and is a progression from his first tape.

Album artwork for Innovate X Supply X Maneuver.

“I think it [ISM] has some really crazy sounds that a lot of people could feel, and I’m just really proud of it. I put a lot of work into it and I think it’s a very versatile tape,” says Rose.

He also changed his name to “Levi Rose,” a combination of his middle and his last names, in 2013. He originally started out as “Lil Rocks,” but decided that Levi Rose was more marketable and professional.

The music video for the track, “Space in My Mind,” from the ISM mixtape is set to be released in the next week or two. Rose says he was inspired by American hip hop artist Vic Mensa’s video for “Blazin.”

“I’m a big nature dude,” he says. “This [Vic Mensa] video, he’s just out on top of like this crazy cliff, and there’s a waterfall or a big lake behind him, and I just thought it was a really cool idea. So me and the boys just drove out to the middle of the forest in Nova Scotia and just shot some crazy stuff in the woods and had a good time with it.”

Rose’s previous music video for the track, “When I’m an Old Man,” was released in 2011, and has more than 11,000 views on YouTube.

Struggling in Halifax

Rose says he hasn’t been able to perform in Halifax as much as he’d like. His most recent performance was at a residence charity event last year, where he ended up playing to an empty room.

“In Halifax I haven’t really found a connection yet, like someone who could book me for shows and stuff. It’s a little more difficult when you’re not from here to make those connections,” he says. “At home there’s enough people that I could call and be like, ‘Yo, get me a show’ and I’d get one fairly fast.”

As far as recording goes, Rose has found it to be just as simple in Halifax as it is in Toronto.

How to make a track

Rose finds his beats off YouTube or gets them from a friend, and these inspire what he writes. He says he is fortunate enough to know a lot of people in the music industry, including the brother who inspired him to rap in the first place, who is now a professional musician himself.

“A lot of people, they just write and write and write and then try matching their verses to the beats after,” he says. “But I just find [that] I can’t really tailor it to the beat that way.”

His first mixtape is a catalogue of tracks he recorded over a two-year period. He says he didn’t originally intend to put them all on one tape together, but looking over them one day he decided it was time he put something out. His more recent tape was intentional.

“I knew this time I wanted to make a mixtape, so when I was finishing songs I’d be putting a little extra effort into making them nice,” he says.

He then mixes each song himself, creating the album from the comfort of his bedroom.

Collaboration, inspiration, and the future

Aside from getting his backing tracks from friends and relatives, Rose also features friends that are fellow musicians on his songs.

“Collaboration is always fun. It’s kind of a part of hip hop [and] you’ve got to embrace it,” says Rose. “You can feed off each other’s energy.”

If he could collaborate with anybody though, he says he would pick the late record producer and rapper J Dilla.

Rose says he’ll probably start working on his next project as soon as he finishes school in April, and will hopefully have another project ready for the fall.

“I feel like if I don’t have a clearly defined goal then I can never really be disappointed with my progress,” he says. “I just know that I love doing it, and I’m going to keep grinding no matter what.”