When I arranged to speak with Leon, a rising Maryland artist, what originally started as a conversation about his own creative approach turned into a fitting, yet deeper conversation about finding his place as a musician among the broader DMV music community. To fully grasp the region's relevance, I also spoke with Tia Hill, a producer and DJ from the Maryland area who drew a connection between DMV culture, identity and sound.
For Tia, tapping into the roots of the regional rap scene and procuring a general idea of its blueprint and unparalleled sound requires retracing the genesis of go-go music and Baltimore club music. Still defined by these early influences, today the DMV sound is recognized by darker minor keys and heavy piano. While careful to isolate DMV rap from Baltimore rap, a distinction that lies in cultural differences, Hill argues that the historical violence of the region is directly correlated to the sounds it produces, emulating a distinct cadence that can be traced to the nature of its environment.
Growing up around these sounds in Takoma Park, Maryland, Leon was raised on artists that at the time defined DMV trap, among them rappers like Wale, MoneyMarr and Q Da Fool. When Leon started making music in 2020 he was drawn to create his own sound apart from the traditional DMV beats, reluctant to follow in the footsteps of the rappers who came before him. In distinguishing his approach to the creative process, Leon spoke about being patient with both inspiration and his own evolution, never satisfied, the rising artist spoke on the danger of satisfaction and the importance of recognizing that as an artist your identity is constantly in flux.
The Maryland native wouldn't define himself as a typical rapper. Adapting to more melodic instrumental sounds, he opts for experimenting with Afro beats, R&B and pop which is heard in his most recent release, Summer of Separation, a three song EP that displays his hushed vocals over a variety of slower beats. As an up and coming artist who is still finding his niche in the industry, Leon is deliberate in his approach to curating both his identity and aesthetic, rather building a superficial persona he goes with what comes most naturally to him scene in his subtle cover art and minimal online presence. Coming out the DMV, Leon displays the atypical side of DMV creatives that is so often distinguished through trap, but instead shows progression and variety of melodic sounds arising out of the DMV.