“Wow oh wow,” Steve Lacy remarked to his fans last month upon receiving the news that he’d just scored his first-ever US Number One with his single ‘Bad Habit’. “I feel heavy gratitude all over my body. You know how the story goesss and how it’s goin. iPhone boy to superstar.”
In case you were wondering, here’s how the Steve Lacy story is currently going: from teenage DIY producer (who used his iPhone as his all-purpose personal studio for several years) to chart-topping artist whose streaming numbers are now in the hundreds of millions per song, the ascending LA singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer, is building a formidable reputation. As well as his work as a member of The Internet, the 24-year-old has made music with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Vampire Weekend, Solange, Mac Miller and Thundercat in recent years, with further big-name collaborations surely on the horizon.
As for his solo material, the release of his second studio album ‘Gemini Rights’ in July only intensified the hype surrounding Lacy. Described by NME as “fearlessly funky”, the vibrant record mashes up a diverse array of influences – think Prince, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Todd Rundgren, André 3000 and Brazilian bossa nova maestro Caetano Veloso – to add further colour to its creator’s kaleidoscopic indie-meets-R&B sonic palette and his intoxicating tales of love, lust and debauchery (key lyric: “Baby, you got something in your nose / Sniffing that K, did it feel the hole?”).
Acclaim and adoration has naturally followed, while ‘Bad Habit’ has gone on to conquer both TikTok and the charts. This seems like the optimum time, then, to map out Lacy’s creative journey to this point: here, in 10 cosmic tracks, is Steve Lacy’s story.
‘C U Girl’ – February 2015
First posted on SoundCloud in February 2015 – nearly a year after his very first release on the streaming platform – the woozy, laidback ‘C U Girl’ sees Lacy charming his love interest with a tell-it-like-it-is sentiment (“You know I miss you babe / When you hear this song, feel flattered, it’s about your face“) before explaining that his talent means that he simply can’t stick around: “I miss it and I wish that I could see it more / But you’re in college now and I’m about to go on tour.” Suffice to say, Steve clearly knew even at the very beginning that he was going places with his music.
‘Special Affair’ – w/ The Internet – June 2015
Lacy officially joined the Syd and Matt Martians-led The Internet prior to the recording of their third studio album ‘Ego Death’ in 2015, and it was clearly a match made in heaven: the record was nominated for Best Urban Contemporary Album at the Grammys the following year. Lacy co-produced much of ‘Ego Death’, with the smoky and seductive ‘Special Affair’ – which sees Lacy lay down some trusty guitar chords just when the time is right – among its ample highlights.
‘Dark Red’ – February 2017
Taken from the hugely promising ‘Steve Lacy’s Demo’ EP, ‘Dark Red’ has gone on to notch 636 million streams on Spotify at the time of writing – not bad for a song that was recorded and produced entirely on the artist’s iPhone. The Dirty Projectors-influenced track sees Lacy torment himself over a relationship that is spiralling out of control (“Something bad is ’bout to happen to me / I don’t know what, but I feel it coming“). Its downcast message, however, is wrapped up in the kind of infiltrating melody and consistent beat that’ll have you humming it for days – little wonder the Spotify streams are reaching astronomical numbers.
‘PRIDE.’ – Kendrick Lamar – April 2017
Lacy’s work on Kendrick Lamar’s 2017 album ‘DAMN.’ – on which he contributed backing vocals and production on ‘PRIDE.’ – came about through DJ Dahi, who the former met through Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. “[Dahi] was like, ‘We got to get you on this new Kendrick,’” Lacy recalled to The Guardian earlier this year. “I came with a laptop on my back, guitar in my hand, ready for whatever… we start jamming on new ideas, he’s playing me stuff he’s working on for ‘DAMN.’. I’m handling myself really cool, calm and collected, but I was freaking the fuck out, you know?
“There was a moment when it was quiet, Kendrick was on his phone, and I was like, ‘Let me play you some beats’. Really scary – I jumped off the cliff.” Lacy’s demo, which featured vocals he’d recorded on – you guessed it! – his trusty iPhone, ended up becoming the beat for ‘PRIDE.’, elevating his profile further.
‘911 / Mr. Lonely’ – Tyler, the Creator – June 2017
The first single from Tyler’s Grammy-nominated LP ‘Flower Boy’ featured both Lacy and Frank Ocean: illustrious company, we think you’ll agree. Actually, the three artists only appear together (along with Anna Of The North) on the ‘911’ section of the two-part song, but Lacy goes toe-to-toe with his fellow collaborators with a typically soaring and soulful – if brief – vocal performance, imploring: “Call me some time / Please bang my line, you know I’ll answer.”
‘Roll (Burbank Funk)’ – w/ The Internet – April 2018
Back to The Internet: the band, with Lacy now a core member, released their fourth studio album ‘Hive Mind’ in July 2018, with NME describing it in a five-star review as “a towering demonstration of the collective intelligence of five artists approaching their zenith”. High praise indeed, but once Lacy and his bandmates launched the record with the effortlessly sleek ‘Roll (Burbank Funk)’ – which sees Lacy melt a thousand hearts with the opening line “listen to your heart” – it felt futile to resist The Internet’s neo-disco charm.
‘N Side’ – April 2019
A year on from ‘Roll (Burbank Funk)’, Lacy introduced his debut solo studio album, ‘Apollo XXI’, with the slow’n’sultry ‘N Side’. Lacy’s lush, multi-layered vocal harmonies do much of the legwork here over a steady R&B beat and casual guitar chords, ushering listeners into his “palace“.
‘Playground’ – May 2019
Rocking a Prince t-shirt in the official video, it’s fair to say that the late artist himself probably would’ve dug Lacy’s ‘Playground’. Arguably ‘Apollo XXI’s best moment, its creator struts his stuff and lays on ample servings of slap bass, falsetto vocals and jangly guitars to create a retro-funk masterpiece.
‘Mercury’ – June 2022
Steve Lacy announced his post-pandemic arrival back in June with ‘Mercury’, the first taste of his second solo album ‘Gemini Rights’. Debuting a new on-stage look of sunglasses and a slim black tie strategically placed over an S-printed white shirt, this bossa nova-influenced number also marked an intriguing tonal shift for Lacy as a musician. It may have turned out to be a one-off in terms of the overall style of ‘Gemini Rights’, but it proved that Lacy can master genres outside of his usual comfort zone.
‘Bad Habit’ – June 2022
And we close out our list with Lacy’s biggest solo song to date. ‘Bad Habit’ has become something of a sleeper hit since its release in June, with the track taking nearly four months to reach the top of the US charts. Lacy won’t mind too much, though: the chugging riffs and zany synths of ‘Bad Habit’ deserve to be heard far and wide, and this commercial success surely won’t be a one-off for Lacy as his journey to the very top continues.
Steve Lacy’s latest album ‘Gemini Rights’ is out now