Lex The Hex Master x Jake Palumbo: Fire x Lead

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Photo courtesy of Rissa Friedman

Emcee Lex The Hex Master teamed up with producer/emcee/engineer Jake Palumbo to create one of the most well-rounded rap albums in recent memory, “Fire & Lead.” Fire & Lead is a project that finds Lex and Jake pushing their individual creative boundaries while staying true to their roots.

Fire & Lead is 12-track release produced entirely by Jake Palumbo. The album comes to us courtesy of SpaceLAB Recordings, and features a single guest appearance by Scum.

Lex The Hex Master and Jake Palumbo talked to The Real Hip-Hop about, their creative process, making music outside of the box, and their new album, Fire & Lead.

TRHH: How did you two get together and decide to do Fire & Lead?

Jake Palumbo: We met through a mutual colleague and kind of got familiar with one another. We ended up collaborating on a song called “Violent Stupidity” that was on my album, The Hundred-Thousandaire Hobo. From there we hit it off musically and hit it off as people. We just kind of kept working. Lex did 4 EP’s in a row and did those at my studio. He featured on Plant-Based Libtard on the on the song “Everything Is Blazing.” Organically you start playing beats and we both work very quickly and efficiently, and just kind of got the idea that we need to do a record. It took shape as we went.

TRHH: Why’d you call the album Fire & Lead?

Lex The Hex Master: We didn’t come up with it until almost nearly the end of the album. Oddly enough, we actually mentioned fire and lead several times throughout the album unconsciously without realizing it, and then end up cutting a record for the album called Fire & Lead. So, in one of our many meetings that we have in the alleyways smoking in the back of the studio, one of us was just like, “Hey, why don’t we call it Fire & Lead?”

We had a few names, but Fire & Lead, we marinated over that over a couple days. The next session we reconvened on that name and then we were both like, “Yeah, I think Fire & Lead is that shit that they’re gonna need.” Jake had taken care of the cover art what his man Ollie OX. It kind of all fell in place with him doing all the production and me doing the lyrics, Fire & Lead, it was the perfect combination. It was the perfect candle on the birthday cake.

Jake Palumbo: To kind of summarize what we’re talking about, there’s a lot of apocalyptic themes on there. Fire & Lead was kind of like a clincher statement.

TRHH: How long did it take to complete the album?

Jake Palumbo: From start to finish about two years, but we didn’t consecutively work on it for two years. Like I said, Lex did four EP’s during that time, I did my solo album, Plant-Based Libtard, I did Solving Cases with El Da Sensei, and a bunch of other features and production for other people. Lex toured a couple times during that time, so it was more we had our own schedule. But every chance we got to get in the lab together, there was no tracks emailed back and forth.

Every session, start to finish we actually sat down and made the record together. It was just a matter of trying to fit in sessions for that around everything else that we were doing. That’s why it took two years. The actual making of the album was relatively painless. We didn’t clash or artistically on really anything. the only time that we went back and redid stuff and kind of took stuff to the drawing board, that was more a thing of just like trying to do what was right for the song.

Lex The Hex Master: Thinking about it now if we was to crunch all that time together that we actually were working on the album, as far as recording and picking out beats and stuff like that, if we were to say, “Okay, this is all we’re doing, we’re clearing out our schedule, this is all we’re going to do,” we probably would have had that album done in about two weeks. Two to three weeks because it flowed so beautifully. There were some tracks that I would pick out and I’m like, “Oh, I can have that ready by tomorrow.” There’s some tracks that I picked out — I’ll have that ready in a couple days. Jake is just a guy who never has a shortage of production. Anytime I ask for a beat and we’re in the studio it’s 15-20 beats I’m picking out at a time.

So, the flow was there, but if we was to crunch that all into one “this is all we’re going to do and this is what we’re going to stay on doing” I would say we would have done it in at least less than a month. We would have had this done and mixed, because once he got into his mixed mode that was fairly very quick, too. Jake is the type of engineer, that’s why I like him, he’s the type of engineer that’s kind of tweaking it while I’m recording it a little bit — he’s fucking with the knobs and the levels and stuff. So, all those things are important in creating a dope project. Again, clashing schedules, Jake has a lot of big name artists that he deals with, he has a lot of big records out, Plant-Based Libtard is probably the biggest so far I would say?

Jake Palumbo: Solo record, yeah.

Lex The Hex Master: He’s putting in work and I’m putting in work and we both got to keep the lights on, so every time we got that time to go do our thing we got in there and we knocked out so many tracks for Fire & Lead.

TRHH: Jake, the single “Galaxy Plague” is one of the couple songs that you actually rhyme on as well. The Howard Stern/Dana Plato line might go over people’s heads that don’t remember, but the Greg Abbott line was truthful, yet brutal. Did you have any apprehension about using those lines?

Jake Palumbo: None whatsoever. No. If anything, due to the nature of the album I kind of jokingly call it “The Party at the Apocalypse.” Even on down to the album cover we look like we’re fighting our way out of hell, so the couple times I did pop into rap I was treating it like the world was ending and I’m going to say whatever I feel like. I didn’t feel any apprehension because if you’ve listened to some of my music in the past like I have a tendency to say stuff like that. It was just one of those things that as I said at the end, “if you want to make an omelet with eggs you gotta break a few.” That’s my truth and my point and I’ll make it unfiltered.

TRHH: On the song “Every Day & Night” Lex sings the hook in harmony with what sounds like either a keyboard or strings?

Jake Palumbo: Japanese Koto.

TRHH: I don’t even know what that is.

Jake Palumbo: It’s a stringed instrument from Japan. You hit the strings with a hammer.

TRHH: So, is that something you played or is it a sample?

Jake Palumbo: That’s a sample. The strings on the hook I played but, the Japanese sound is a sample.

TRHH: What came first with that? Did you play it after or did he sing first?

Jake Palumbo: I think that track was pretty well finished by the time it got to Lex. Because I always like to have some kind of change up between the verse and the chorus. I think by the time you get to the chorus something more dramatic or cinematic needs to happen. I wanna say that track was pretty well complete, but Lex has such a musical instinct that he just kind of naturally gravitated to doing that — to singing along with what the instruments were doing. I don’t even know if he knows what notes he singing, but he knows the correct notes to sing.

Lex The Hex Master: Vibrations, hell yeah.

TRHH: “Rollin’ & Rockin’” is a different kind of song; Lex, why’d you decide to approach the beat the way you did?

Lex The Hex Master: As far as flow wise or as far as lyric wise?

TRHH: The flow.

Lex The Hex Master: Like you said, it’s a very different beat. Jake can probably explain to you the measures of the beat, and the number, and sequence, and stuff like that better, but it’s kind of a beat that I’ve never really rapped off of before. I had to do something different and it brought me out of my comfort zone. That and “Amen” are probably the two most fun songs that I’ve done on that whole album. Rollin’ & Rockin’ is actually my favorite song on the entire project because it’s so different and it brought me so far out of my comfort zone. I really am like ecstatic with how people are receiving that song so much, because I wasn’t expecting it. I mean, I knew it was good and I love it, but I wasn’t expecting my fan-base to receive it as well as they did – they’re loving it.

So, for me to approach it that way, it’s a happy/sad song, that’s the only way I can say it. It’s a song about things that’s happening in our lives every day, but we do have to be grateful for every day that we have, especially coming out of the pandemic and all the things that’s happening in the world. We should take some time out and just shake our ass a little bit and just be grateful for what we have and for the day.

TRHH: Definitely. You said it took you out of your comfort zone, why did you choose it then?

Lex The Hex Master: Probably because it takes me out of my comfort zone and I like that. This is how great music is made and this is what makes certain producers great, some producers okay, and some producers terrible. If they can bring you to another level that you can take it to but just never have, then that’s amazing. I took it because it made me feel some kind of way, however, I knew I had to do something different with it, but I had to get it out. That’s why I took that beat because it took me out of my comfort zone. We did Rollin’ & Rockin’ like really, really fast too. I feel like we did that in a matter of a couple days. Man, that shit was just natural — it just flowed out.

As soon as I heard it I could hear the song. I hear the song before I write it. So, as soon as I heard it I heard this song and I’m like, “Yeah, that one.” That was one of the ones that Jake was gonna skip past. He’s showing beats and I’m like, “No, let me hear that one real quick,” and he’s like, “You like that? I’m like, “I think I fucking love that shit.” We went back to it and I’m like, “Yeah, let me get that, take that home real quick, knock that down and come back,” and we came back with Rollin’ & Rockin’, man. A song that the world needs.

Jake Palumbo: When I tell you that I played that beat for every rapper I know, like, I played that beat for every rapper I know Everyone passed on it because as Lex mentioned the time signature is not a regular 4/4 it’s a 6/8 shuffle. So that kind of forces you to rhyme in triplets almost, and he took to it effortlessly.

Lex The Hex Master: We had a lot of fun making that record. I was a little nervous to do it because I hadn’t really done anything like that. When people think of Lex they think of hard bars, New York, punch lines, pound for pound. Once it started flowing, man, it started flowing. I could look out that little window and I could see Jake vibing to it. I’m like, “Yeah, we’re on to something here, we’re on to something.”

TRHH: How happy were you Jake when somebody finally rhymed on it?

Jake Palumbo: I mean, it’s just a testament that you always have to keep the faith, because the right beat has to cross paths with the right artist, at the right time, when they have the right idea for the right song. If all those factors that I just named don’t occur at the same time, then it’s going to be a miss. It’s perfect, because at the end of the day the right record came out of it. Ultimately, if you keep working that’s what will happen. Not for nothing, that’s not the only beat on the album that’s in a 6/8 shuffle. The title track Fire & Lead is as well.

Lex The Hex Master: That’s completely different – flow, delivery, feel, everything than Rollin’ & Rockin’.

Jake Palumbo: That’s Fire & Lead — the walls are coming down, the earth’s core is melting.

TRHH: In the second verse of the song “Casualties of War” you say, “Quiet, no affection, I’m the child that was shunned/By the ghetto with no fathers, but got thousands of sons/Aim at crowds with their guns, that’s as loud as they come/But all things considered I’m still proud of where I’m from.” Those are crazy bars because you say so much there. Why were you shunned as a child, and why are you proud of where you’re from?

Lex The Hex Master: Because I grew up in a very rough area in Queens, New York. However, I was always exceptionally intelligent. Like a lot of young boys, I was never a follower, however, we do find ourselves in situations that we wouldn’t normally find ourselves in for the situation of survival. So, we end up finding ourselves hanging out with the wrong crowd not because this is what we love to do, but because this is kind of what we feel we need to do to survive, or you don’t see anybody doing anything else. I never really felt like I fit in with the complete assholes, but I never really felt like I fit in with the chess club either. I was that kid when I’m trying to hang out on the corner and the older gangsters is like, “Man, you better go write some raps, dude. You better get the fuck out of here.”  I mean like shunned in that way.

Some guys make it out and some guys don’t. A lot of the guys that make it out are realizing that they did something wrong for a reason, and this is something that needed to get done because this is the time that we’re dealing with, and this is a situation that we’re in. Some guys don’t get that and those are the guys who get accepted. I’ve never been to prison before, thank God. My mom never had to take that long bus ride or pick out my casket or nothing like that, but for some guys this is a celebration. I can remember growing up and some of the guys when we were still in high school were getting parties because they were getting ready go to Rikers lsand or getting ready to go up north to Elmira and all these different places up north in New York. They were getting celebrated for that kind of stuff. I never got celebrated for those kinds of things, I never wanted that kind of celebration. I always felt like maybe I don’t really fit in even though it’s all love with Lex.

I mean, even being in the music industry now it’s still like I always have that like, “Ah, man, I don’t know if they really fuck with it like that.” That’s why I’m really excited about how great this album is doing, because I always have that loner kind of mentality, and to an extent, getting to know Jake, he has the same thing. Maybe it’s a Libra thing, I don’t know, but we got this thing where it’s like, “They fuck with me, but I don’t know if they fuck with me like that.”  So, yeah we’ve got thousands of sons out here. I’m also one who grew up for a large portion of time with my dad in my life. Maybe not in the home, but I’ve known who my dad was. He was there to kick our asses when we got arrested and shit like that, and suspended from school. A lot of the kids would get surprised when I’m like, “Yeah, that’s my father,” and they’re like, “Word?” I was shunned, yeah, definitely. Loved? Maybe not.

TRHH: I need to know why you’re proud?

Lex The Hex Master: Because it makes me who I am now because that being on P’s and Q’s, that always being on your toes, that always looking over your shoulder, that always having to ask the right questions is what’s brought me this far in the music industry. I don’t care what anybody says, the music industry is no different from the streets. There’s different factions, there’s different cliques, there’s different people who are connected. In the streets if you’re trying to be with the gangsters, if you haven’t done a certain amount of dirt they don’t want to talk to you. In this music industry when you’re trying to talk to the next tier up guy, if you haven’t done so many shows, or worked with so many artists, or done XY and Z, they’re not gonna try to hear you. It’s all the same thing, so I learned those skills young.

I learned how to jump in and out and deal with it, and be where I need to be, and master the art of timing, and master the art of when it’s time to show a little bit of muscle. We’re all men, we know as soon as another dude walks in the room the first thing we think is, “Can I kick this dude’s ass or can he kick my ass?” We all have that mentality about us and those are the skills that I’ve grown with. Though I’m proud of where I’m from, if you meet me I’m a very nice guy. I’m a very pleasant guy, I do my best to be as pleasant because this is my second life. This is my second chance and I’m not going to fuck it up over emotion.

So, yes, I’m definitely proud of where I’m from. We got the best chicken wings in the world over here, we got some of the coolest people. I grew up in a generation where the older ladies would look out for everybody’s sons. They catch you out there cussing or smoking they telling your mom or they’re telling you it’s time to get in the house and stuff like that. I’m proud of where I’m from. I’m from a rough community, but it takes a village to raise a child and we definitely still have good people around here, and those are the people that I’m proud of.

TRHH: Who is the Fire & Lead album made for?

Jake Palumbo: First and foremost, it was made for us. We made records that we wanted to make to kind of paint the kind of picture we wanted to get across to give Lex kind of a new angle on his ability, and to give me a new chamber in my production discography. We made it for us first, but I keep going back to that Party at the Apocalypse vibe and that we live in a crazy time.

The world is on fire, we’re witnessing the meltdown of civilization as we know it, but as Lex touched on earlier there’s still a lot of beautiful things that are worth partying about. There’s still things that we need to get up and voice our opinion about, and we’re not going to go down without a fight. We’re going to try to fight our way out of hell before it’s all said and done. I guess anybody that’s aware of the world we live in and wants a good soundtrack for navigating the minefield.

Lex The Hex Master: I agree 100%. I don’t even know if I can say that any better, dude. We realized that we had a good sound that meshes together and then we started working from there. It wasn’t so much like, “Oh we’re going to make this for the streets, we’re going to make this one for the ladies, and we’re going to make this one for the gangsters.” It was just like, “That beat is dope, bro, let’s rock that one!” When I work on my solo music I have a tendency to show my friends, my very close circle of friends, the songs that I’m working on. I did not show not one person anything that we worked on in this album, not one person. The world heard this album when it was fucking released [laughs]. It was definitely a very personal album.

I just seen Jake earlier today at the studio, gave each other a big hug, because it’s like, yo, we did something. We did something that we just love to do. We probably had more fun than anything making this album. We never got into any artistic battles, not for a second. Bringing it back to the Rollin’ & Rockin’ song though, because Jake looks at the numbers. Jake is an incredibly intelligent man and he looks at things with the numbers and he’s like, “The numbers as you’re doing it is not really making any sense,” I’m like, “Yeah, let’s do this song and you’ll see how it’s gonna sound, bro.” He’s like, “Yeah, you got me, it’s good.” So, it was something more so that we did and the organic-ness of the album definitely reflects how the organic movement of the album is. We don’t have any like super huge backing, we don’t have any million dollars behind this album, we don’t have a whole record label and a whole machine behind this album. We got people who love it and they’re showing other people, and other people that they’re showing is loving it.

For us to hit the streams that we’ve got and hit the numbers that we’ve gotten, it shows that that blood, sweat, and tears and that old school mentality of sitting in the studio sweating, I remember this motherfucker’ AC was broken, dude. Oh my God! We was in the studio literally sweating through the summer recording these records and that shit means something. Listening back to this album and looking at their response to the album, all that shit, those memories, that shit means something, we’ll never get that back again. That’s what we did this album for, because we knew it was going to be dope. Maybe we made this album just so I can have something dope to listen to, and so Jake can have something dope to listen to? And then we put it out and other people felt the same way. Maybe that’s what happened? I think that’s more so what happened [laughs].

Purchase: Lex the Hex Master & Jake Palumbo – Fire & Lead

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About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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