Johan Lenox, Variety’s Hitmaker of nan Month, is known for nan supple grandeur he brings to different projects arsenic a producer, arranger and/or composer. These scope from nan sublime, stringed swell of “Creepin’,” Metro Boomin’s existent apical 10 smash pinch nan Weeknd and 21 Savage, to nan epic orchestral and choral arrangements of Travis Scott’s “Astroworld” and Nas’ “Nasir” (both produced by Mike Dean), and tracks for Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes and Machine Gun Kelly.
Lenox’s inheritance is arsenic a classical euphony prodigy (by 18, his compositions were heard astatine Boston’s Symphony Hall and New York’s Alice Tully Hall) and arsenic a philharmonic theatre composer (his 2012 off-Broadway philharmonic “Independents” was named a New York Times Critic’s Pick). But he exists successful his ain lane, 1 that’s expanded greatly pinch nan merchandise of solo projects specified arsenic his 2022 chamber-pop-hop vocal medium debut, “WDYWTBWYGU.”
“I’ve ne'er figured retired each of nan factors that brought maine to classical euphony successful nan first place, prevention for nan truth that I didn’t turn up consuming popular civilization successful general,” says Lenox. Born Stephen Michael Feigenbaum, he had his shape sanction travel to him by matching his favourite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, pinch nan municipality of Lenox, MA, wherever he studied euphony astatine Yale.
In Lenox’s youth, modern pop, R&B and hip-hop were not a portion of his listening diet.
“I was excited astir movie soundtracks specified arsenic John Williams’ — say, ‘Indiana Jones’ — without having seen nan movie, and my parents, academics who supported my emotion of classical, took maine to spot Williams pinch nan Boston Pops. Orchestration specified arsenic that fed my philharmonic inspiration.”
Lenox’s long-story-short erstwhile it comes to classical composition, orchestration and accumulation comes down to taking hardcore soft lessons (“but calling maine a pianist is an reproach to different pianists”) and penning studies (“I didn’t bask memorizing different people’s activity by rote”). Still, Lenox preferred improvisation and consequence to tradition.
“If you want to constitute for instruments, you study really instruments work… Honestly, nan mostly of what I do successful position of drawstring arrangements today, I could’ve done successful precocious school,” he says. “You person to study really strings usability successful a popular song, and really to woody pinch artists. That’s why I often get credited arsenic a shaper – you do intuitively person to cognize really songs activity to do its strings, and what nan occupation of that statement is wrong nan discourse of each song.”
By ninth grade, Lenox’s original compositions were being performed by ensembles astatine nan New England Conservatory of Music, pinch nan Cincinnati Pops, and astatine nan Berkshire Hills venue, Tanglewood. Ultimately, though, Lenox coiled up emotion for illustration an outsider wrong nan classical world, arsenic his tastes began to thin toward Broadway (“The Phantom of nan Opera”), past nan likes of Billy Joel and Ben Folds. “This was random euphony that crossed my way arsenic I was successful a cappella choirs astatine nan time,” says Lenox, who besides appeared connected NBC’s competitory vocal programme “The Sing Off.”
By 2016, Lenox composed and co-created a live, 50-piece orchestra performance arena “Yeethoven,” combining nan useful of Kanye and Beethoven to awesome acclaim and aggregate stagings arsenic its programme touched connected West’s accumulation stylings, much reminiscent of analyzable classical euphony than hip-hop. “Kanye is simply a consequence taker” is what Lenox told Time on nan juncture of his Ludwig Von-Kanye mashup.
Along pinch winning attraction for “Yeethoven,” Lenox began trying his luck successful Los Angeles, contacting intermezo lawyers and accumulation houses astir his original songcraft. “The begetter of my roommate’s ex-girlfriend’s pal from homer is Gary Stiffelman, who forwarded my worldly to BMG’s Andrew Gould, who coiled up managing maine for a fewer years,” Lenox said successful a rush. “I sewage put into sessions pinch different popular writers, which taught maine really to negociate nan factory-style strategy of L.A.”
After gathering and moving early connected pinch Kanye collaborator Mr. Hudson, Lenox teamed pinch hip-hop artists specified arsenic Vic Mensa, No I.D. and Big Sean, nan second for “Deep Reverence,” his Nipsey Hussle collab, which garnered Johan a information for champion rap capacity astatine nan 63rd Annual Grammys. Another producer, initially intrigued by Lenox from “Yeethoven,” was Mike Dean.
“We tagged Dean successful 1 of ‘Yeethoven’s’ viral video clips, a guitar solo he had done connected ‘Yeesus’ — ‘Hold My Liquor’ – past Mike conscionable followed maine connected Twitter,” recalls Lenox. “Affiliating pinch Mike besides came from his activity pinch Vic Mensa astir nan aforesaid clip that I did nan strings connected ‘The Autobiography,’ truthful that was helpful.”
Lenox says it was a awesome situation to activity pinch Dean connected nan producer’s ain synth tracks, specified arsenic “This is Home,” and create cello arrangements connected songs specified arsenic “Coffee Bean,” for Travis Scott’s “Astroworld.”
“I’d for illustration to deliberation that Mike and I person a relationship arsenic solo artists champion known for our collaborations,” says Lenox, who jokes astir Dean putting nan arranger successful stressful, overseas signaling situations. Take having Dean inquire Lenox to cobble together choirs and an orchestra for Nas’ “Nasir” pinch respective hours’ notice, only to person nan arranger singing each of nan choir harmonies himself while stacking 1 violinist’s parts. “With Mike, you’re conscionable doing it,” said Lenox, enthusing astir Dean’s synth albums specified arsenic “4:23” and wanting to constitute orchestral scores for nan producer. “I’m each in. Whenever Mike wants.”
Working pinch unrecorded drawstring players aliases folders of self-made drawstring sections gone unused (“If you’re looking for thing successful D major, I astir apt person a pad of viola-type parts I’ve recorded”) alternatively than extracurricular samples, Lenox’s specialty is making nan mini sound huge.
“I tin make 1 cello sound orchestral done layering and stacking – aforesaid pinch my vocals – and get it done wrong 24 hours,” he said. “That’s why collaborators for illustration me. I for illustration nan power that I get from single-mic-ing musicians, 1 astatine a time, past stacking and panning — nan nonstop other of really classical euphony is recorded.”
Lenox and Dean additionally worked together connected Kanye West projects specified arsenic Teyana Taylor’s “The Album” and songs specified arsenic “3Way,” on pinch co-writing and producing West’s “We Got Love” from his scrapped 2018 album, “Yandhi.” Considering that West was Lenox’s introduction constituent into hip-hop, nan arranger is chill successful discussing their narration and its accelerated pace.
“Kanye was very circumstantial astir what he wanted, but my choir vocal-stacked worldly – conscionable me, a choir of one, stacking maine a cardinal times complete – is what he really loved,” said Lenox. “I was learning to conscionable effort worldly beyond doing strings. I would spell off, do my thing, and bring it backmost to him immediately. Once he said he dug my vocal stacks, which really goes backmost to my a cappella harmony days, I usage that effect connected each grounds now, my ain included, because Kanye thought it was cool. That gave maine confidence.”
It is Lenox’s soaring orchestral expanse and choral vocal swell that footwear disconnected shaper Metro Boomin’s existent chart-topper, “Creepin’,” arsenic good arsenic his medium merchandise “Heroes & Villains.” It is Johan’s stacked harmonies that capable Metro Boomin’s opening track, “On Time” (with John Legend), pinch a rich, lukewarm ambience.
Lenox sewage to Metro Boomin done Che Pope, nan one-time COO of Kanye’s GOOD Music, and a shaper connected “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” With Pope’s endorsement (“this guy’s crazy pinch nan drawstring arrangements”), Lenox began a collab pinch Metro Boomin based connected nan latter’s emotion of orchestral music. “My extremity pinch ‘Creepin’’ and this medium was to saturate it pinch arsenic galore orchestral sounds and choral vocal intros and outros arsenic I could. The Weeknd 1 pinch 21 Savage is awesome – classical – but I’m besides proud of ‘On Time.’ That’s each my vocals connected nan first 30 seconds of that track.”
Like his activity pinch Mike Dean and 070 Shake – producers and artists pinch whom he has collaborated often – Lenox and Metro Boomin are now a tight fresh for early projects.
“Anyone tin put strings connected a opus once, but whether it’s nan orchestration that I brought to ‘Creepin’ aliases nan stacked vocals for ‘On Time,’ Metro appreciates what I bring – that monumental cinematic sound that Kanye thought was truthful cool, and that I gave Big Sean erstwhile he worked pinch Nipsey. That’s a bully trademark that nary 1 tin bargain from me.”
And while nan opulently displayed strings and haunting choral stacks of Metro Boomin’s “Heroes & Villains” tin besides beryllium heard connected Lenox’s solo mixtapes (2019’s “Everybody’s Cool but Me”), EPs (2021’s “World connected Fire”) and classical instrumental albums (2022’s “Isomonstrosity”), it is solo-voiced popular and enclosure hop that’s astatine nan halfway of his 2022 afloat medium creator debut, “WDYWTBWYGU” (an acronym of “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up”) and his just-finished adjacent album, “I Guess We’ll Find Out.”
“Me singing my ain songs was ever a portion of my scheme ever since I started taking manufacture meetings successful L.A.,” said Lenox. “I was alert of producers who became artists successful their ain right. That way made much consciousness to maine than unfastened mics aliases shooting successful nan acheronian and hoping to get discovered. Also, I wasn’t a Stan who could place popular signatures, I was a classical euphony personification who randomly discovered this 1 Kanye medium and had an epiphany. So, I needed to activity pinch different artists to spot really crap happens, really they create, make nan euphony that I perceive successful my head…. What I do is accumulation and not really arranging.”
How that useful connected “WDYWTBWYGU” and “I Guess We’ll Find Out” finds Lenox utilizing 1 violinist and 1 cellist sounded into different keys, past layered for what he called “that rich, uncanny, alien drawstring ensemble sound that you tin ne'er execute live.” Lyrically, Lenox’s self-penned tales touch connected nan vexation and loneliness he sees inherent successful his generation. “Spending clip connected Twitter and watching group worrying each day, each time astir nan early will do that, particularly if you tin goof connected it.”
For Lenox, nan eventual of artistic and profession goals is to support producing and arranging for different artists while making his ain solo records, popular and beyond. “I’d emotion to person this profession wherever nan aforesaid audiences who spot my Broadway shows besides travel to my classical euphony concerts and my popular shows, while listening to nan signatures I bring to different artists for illustration Mike Dean, 070 Shake and Metro Boomin,” says Lenox. ”And I want to bring straight-up modern classical euphony to nan masses without trading it short and dumbing it down.“