What makes Leven Kali special?
Is it that he was born in the Netherlands while his dad was touring in Europe?
Is it that he’s worked with the likes of Syd, Ty Dolla $ign, Playboi Carti and Smino?
Is it that he just went on tour with Kyle? No.
I mean all of those things do make Leven Kali special, but there is so much more to the Los Angeles R&B singer.
His self-awareness, understanding of the music industry, ability to take inspiration from any music genre and communication skills is what make Leven special.
Born in Holland, Netherlands, Leven came out of the womb in the music world. He was born while his mother, who is a singer and songwriter, and father, Jerry “Wyzard” Seay, were on tour with the Atlanta funk-rock group, Mother’s Finest.
With a family like that, you would think Leven was making music since he was old enough to speak, but he had other plans. Initially a promising golfer, he didn’t start taking music seriously until his freshman year of college, when he stepped away from a Division I college career.
“I grew up interested in music, but I never really saw it as something that I would do as a profession,” said Leven. “I gravitated towards sports, but God has a funny way of kicking you on the path you’re supposed to be on.”
With Leven’s interest and love for music eventually blossoming into a full-blown career, he had the perfect set of parents to lead him on the correct path.
“My relationship with my parents is more of a collaborative relationship,” said Leven. “I can hear stories about what they went through and they can hear stories about what I’m going through. They have a lot of knowledge about music, but a lot has changed so I’m also the one teaching them a lot about the world now.”
Despite the impact his parents had on him, Leven is still his own artist and doesn’t make the kind of music he grew up around.
Leven describes his sound as, “Soul music for our generation. I feel like a lot of times when people hear the word ‘soul music’ they think of the retro sound. But the people that are our age and grew up with this type of music have our own soul.”
This new soul music that Leven is making for a new generation is coming from a multitude of eras. He’s pulling from music as old and classic as 70s funk music, to something as new and innovative as current techno house music.
“You gotta have more than one inspiration,” said Leven. “If you’re just following one north star in the same field of what you do, it’s going to be difficult to create your own music. Like I’ll go through a phase where I’ll listen to nothing but Earth, Wind & Fire and Swedish House Mafia.”
Because of Leven’s keen ear for music, he’s able to find the similarities between two artists with completely different sounds and create something unique. But, making something unique and “different” does not always sit well with fans.
When asked who he makes music for, Leven said, “There’s a dope video of Andre 3000 saying, ‘It’s really simple. Make the music you want to hear.’ For me, if the music gets me moving, I’m going to explore it.”
And from his taste in music alone, it’s easy to tell that Leven is not afraid of music exploration.
When you listen to Leven’s music, it is undoubtedly LA. Songs like “Do U Wrong” and “FIRE IN UR EYES” come to mind. But it’s not intentional, the essence of Los Angeles just oozes out of Leven’s music without him even thinking about it.
“It just comes out naturally,” said Leven. “I’m lucky to be from a place that I would’ve been influenced by anyway, but I’m actually from here. Growing up listening to Dr. Dre and the whole G-funk movement, I would’ve listened to that shit if I grew up in Texas. So being from here it feels like it’s a part of my DNA.”
As a result of Leven’s authenticity, he’s caught the attention of some of the most talented and tenured artists in the music industry such as Syd and Ty Dolla $ign. Plus, some of the newest and innovative artists gaining popularity including Playboi Carti, Buddy, Topaz Jones and Smino. While he’s working with them, he’s soaking up as much knowledge as he can.
“The most inspiring thing is to see that these other artists that have been around for longer still feel the urge to discover new shit or switch their style up when they don’t have to,” said Leven. “That’s the most inspiring thing, seeing people that inspire you to be inspired by you.”
But despite some of the dope collaborations he’s been a part of, there’s no complacency in Leven’s attitude. He’s still looking for ways to improve his writing, collaboration and communication skills.
“When I go into certain sessions with other artists I’m trying to see what is that is going to get the best out of this particular artist,” said Leven. “Figuring out those little things is such a human process, people have to feel comfortable and excited.”
He’s taken all that he’s learned from his parents, the LA music scene and other artists to create new music that improves on his already impressive discography. On his 2019 album, Low Tide, he was just learning how to put together a body of work. On his 2020 album, HIGHTIDE, he was putting all the lessons he learned with Low Tide to use on this project.
Leven is now on a mission to look for music in places he would not have looked before. House music has been at top of his mind and he’s gone to parties across Los Angeles to explore the sounds people are using.
It comes across in some of the new singles he’s released this year such as “LET IT RAIN” and his recently released “Everything I Want.”
But in the end, the most impressive thing about Leven is the way he views music as a tool for communication.
“Going on tour with Kyle, I realized that music is just communication,” said Leven. “It’s not a product or something to generate money or streams, it’s a language, and it’s the only language that we all speak. Babies can understand music. Movies wouldn’t make sense without music.”
He continued, “Every day you’re (me) trying to become a better communicator to the people you work with and the people you interview. So with music, it’s the same thing, I’ll get an idea and the job is how do I communicate this to the people I’m going to share it with in the best way possible.