Twelve'Len Talks About His New Album, Move

Twelve'Len Talks About His New Album, Move
Photo: Devin Christopher for UNKNWN

A definite path or set of circumstances leads most musicians to their sound. Miami’s Twelve’Len, who broke through to a national audience via his 2016 album, Fri(end)s, and its standout single, “Star Dust,” wears his influences, as well as on the titles of his records, on his sleeve.

Twelve’Len, born Lavares Joseph, will soon release his sophomore album, Move, a record dedicated to his first car, a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. It's a fitting followup considering that Joseph's musical journey began in the passenger seat of his grandfather's car.

“He was a big music collector,” Joseph says of his grandfather, a Vietnam veteran. “Around that time, there was a lot of jazz and blues and rhythmic [music], a lot of James Brown — all of that good stuff, even much older than all of that. When he used to drop me off in the mornings in elementary and middle school, he used to play a lot of those records. That influenced me a lot, sonically, in wanting to get into live instrumentation as I got older.”

His grandfather, now 83 years old, recently had heart surgery. He's recovering remarkably well, Joseph says. “He’s doing really good. He wakes up every day, talking shit. He’s really good.” It’s hard to miss the smile and the relief that creeps into Joseph’s voice when he relates the positive health update.

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In addition to his grandfather’s impact, Joseph’s sound and outlook were also forged by his environment. Joseph is Haitian, but of Nigerian descent. The Carol City native grew up singing in church but turned to rapping shortly after his grandmother passed away. What began as a hip-hop renaissance in Miami turned into an oversaturated situation that Joseph calls “trendy” because of all the “trash guys coming up.”

His stage name is a combination of his nickname growing up, Twelve, and his grandfather's name, Len. But it can also be traced back to cars.

“A lot of the older guys used to call me V12. They called me that because I was kinda fast for my age. I was young, but I was advanced... A V12 motor is the highest-performance engine you can put in a car... I got rid of the V and added 'Len' because of my grandfather.”

Although he began as a rapper alongside notables such as Denzel Curry and N3LL, Joseph returned to his roots in the church to distinguish himself from the pack. He added harmonies to his raps and implemented the musical education he received from his grandfather’s records. Eventually, he eliminated rapping to focus on being a vocalist. His music evolved into a combination of indie rock and soul, somewhere between Frank Ocean’s left-field R&B and The Love Below-era grooves of Andre 3000.

Despite his appreciation for artists such as James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Teddy Pendergrass, it was Cee-Lo Green who lit the artistic fire inside Joseph. “Yeah, Goodie Mob is my all-time favorite rap collective,” he says. “I have their album Still Standing tattooed on my neck and on my back. They were a really big inspiration. Cee-Lo Green he made me want to be amazing at what I do.”

One often-praised aspect of Joseph’s live performances is his ability to connect with crowds. He credits one of the legends of soul, Al Green, for that learned talent.

“I literally had to work on that," he says. "When I first started performing, I knew I was never gonna get the reaction my homie N3ll or Denzel gets. It’s not rap; it’s not turn-up music. I’m not gonna make them mosh. That type of shit is easy to do. It’s about the aggression in your voice and the fucking beat. It's way harder when you have to convince a person. To watch a Marvin Gaye or an Al Green and see people faint in the crowd... [they] made that moment intimate, even with 20,000 people in the crowd.

“Al Green, he’s not a dancer; I’m not a dancer. He don’t really play instruments; he might dabble with a guitar, but he don’t really play. There’s not a lot to look at, so he had to act. He had to demonstrate those emotions in space, in the way that he positioned his body and moved around.”

The irony in all of this is that despite Joseph’s insistence that he’s not looking to necessarily get crowds to lose their minds the way his contemporaries do, his forthcoming effort might do just that.

Move had a humble start. It began as an EP, something Joseph could play in his car. From there, the project spiraled into a much larger, much more ambitious venture.

“I got to the process of creating this project, and the numbers of songs continued to grow," he says. "It was no longer an EP. I said, 'You know what? I’m just going to make a bunch of songs and call it a mixtape. I’m gonna grab all of my homies in South Florida on this project. N3ll, Denzel, Skee, X, fuckin’ Pouya; I’m just gonna get everybody on this shit.'”

From there, Joseph brought in an army of producers — men who had worked with DJ Khaled, Lil Wayne, and the Weeknd. Move was moving. Rapidly. It was no longer a pet project to play in his new car. In a month and a half, it ballooned into a full-blown LP at a whopping 16 tracks that, he says, will be “more soul and R&B and less indie and soft rock.” While Joseph doesn’t have a definitive release date just yet — “early, mid-June” he says — there is still cause to anticipate it.

“These tracks are amazing,” Joseph says, legitimately excited. “They’re my favorite records I’ve ever made. I am now a fan of myself again like when I first started creating music.”


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