Eric Leon's most recent project, the seven-track EP We in the World, hits like the first blunt of the day.
The Vero Beach rapper takes the wisdom he gained from his mentors, iconic North Miami production team Cool & Dre, to craft records that speak to the aspirational Miami style his music has come to embody.
Though he's only 24, Leon has already written for acts like A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Remy Ma and collaborated with hip-hop royalty like DJ Khaled.
Leon started making music at 15 and got his break in 2012 at Orlando's now-defunct venue Firestone, where he opened for Rockie Fresh. A videographer who'd gone to school with Leon's brother helped him make the initial industry connections that ultimately led to a breakthrough.
“It’s just crazy," Leon tells New Times. "It all ended up being connected by that show I did in Orlando. That was one show that was pretty big for me."
In 2014, Leon dropped his first project, Late Nights, Early Mournings EP. That was followed by his self-titled mixtape with DJ Khaled in 2017, which eventually led his signing with Cool & Dre’s Epidemic Music label.
His latest, We in the World, was written before the pandemic took over the headlines, but Leon has come to see the EP as the escape listeners are craving.
“It was just about having fun because that's what I usually do all the time," he admits. "I had no problem putting that out there.”
For 19 minutes, Leon allows the listener to enjoy something that isn’t meant to solve the world's problems.
“Every time you pull up Twitter, every time you pull up Instagram, you're realizing how serious everything is right now,” Leon elaborates. “My mom is like 50-something years old, and she even told me that this is one of the craziest times, if not the craziest time, she’s ever seen in her life. So I think people do need a break, and I'm one of those people.”
We in the World, which was recorded in Atlanta, marks a major turning point in Leon's career from a workflow standpoint. As an artist, Leon says, he has become more interested in the vibe of the studio. He tries to put himself in a certain headspace before he climbs into the booth to record.
Leon has also been astutely observing Cool & Dre's work on other records, like Beyoncé and Jay-Z's collaborative album Everything Is Love. Acting like a fly on the wall as the Carters worked was a masterclass for the young artist.
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“I'm so close to them that they don't even treat me like I'm somebody that's there. They act like I'm just not even there,” Leon says. “Their pulling up in foreign whips, and stuff like that is definitely inspirational as well.”
Earlier this month, Leon followed up We in the World's lead single, "Lemme See" featuring TroyBoi," with "Middle of the Week," a bass-heavy banger that serves as the EP's boastful introduction. The track features a smooth flow that speaks to the early start Leon got in the game, throwing out bars you wouldn’t expect from a kid from a sleepy Florida beach town. The video has already amassed more than 200,000 views.
The lyrics are accompanied by spaced-out beats that provide the aural equivalent of cough syrup mixed with indica blunts, enabling listeners to bop their away into space.
The coronavirus has upended the plans of every up-and-coming artist, but Leon refuses to let the "new normal” stand in his way.