Bring Love Back to R&B: an Exclusive Interview with Levelle
Within the first 30 seconds of meeting Levelle Browning (a.k.a. LB or just Levelle) it's obvious this man has a big heart. "First to meet me, you know, I'm kind of quiet. But overall, I care about people. I'm a big teddy bear." Certainly that shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who speaks to him. What's more impressive? This big heart translates to the music he makes.
Hailing from Kansas City, Kansas, Browning grew up around music. "On my mom and my dad's side, it's pretty much musically inclined," he says. "On my mom's side, everyone sings and plays instruments. The same for my dad's side." It's no wonder, then, that he was bitten with the music bug early on in life. As if ordained by the heavens, he's been on this trajectory since childhood. "I started off being a drummer," he reveals. "Then one cousin couldn't make it to a rehearsal, and I felt bad for him. I didn't even know the talent was there." The surprise at the revelation of his nascent vocal ability seems to still catch him off guard. "From that moment on, I've been singing."
Browning counts himself lucky. Once he showed genuine interest in becoming his artist, his parents encouraged him to go for it. They, in fact, pushed him to pursue what turned into a lifelong journey. "I've always had support," he says. "I think they saw at an early age, my passion for it. Starting off as a drummer, you know, other kids would be outside playing. I would be in the house looking at videotapes and playing drums and keeping time and learning how to do certain stuff on the drums by others. So they knew at an early age that this was me. They pushed me." There aren't many who've taken the dive who can boast supportive parents. Most creatives, in fact, have less than positive experiences if they do choose to follow their creative passions, aspirations that don't always amount to steady streams of incomes or even guarantee of minimal success.
However, Browning is a special case. Having recently toured with Frankie Beverly & Maze and the Isley Brothers, he's been blessed with the ability to collaborate, perform and tour with legends in the industry. He sang backup for Charlie Wilson, toured with Robin Thicke and Tank. He's currently on The Night Tour with Maxwell, Joe and Anthony Hamilton, and is soon to start touring with the Joe Douglas Old School & Blues Festival with the likes of Morris Day & the Time, Jon B and SWV. It's a wonder how he was able to dive headfirst into working with some of the industry's most respected artists, seemingly from the moment he stepped into it.
"For me, it was just putting in a lot of work, you know, getting into every concert, performing everywhere I could, then learning who was the promoter, who was the go-to person. Basically, I was just building up relationships and finding out who were the key people to talk to, and a lot of shows took me on especially when it wasn't a fee for them [to get] talent." He says the last bit with a rueful, knowing smile. Most creatives understand that particular part of the hustle. Working for free or pennies just to get your name out there.
That being said, he doesn't at all seem resentful. Browning, in fact, appears to relish in the hard work it took for him to land in front real musical heavyweights. "I could speak about it now. But you know, coming up a lot of the shows that I started off doing, I was doing for free. Now that's part of the giving back and giving in to what you're trying to do. Like I said, just performing everywhere in my hometown here in Kansas City. Before you know it, the radio stations started putting me on shows, and you started learning who was the promoter. Things just went up from there."
It's not everyone who's able to say they've toured with their inspirations. Along with his current tourmates, he counts Sam Cooke, The Gap Band, Joe and Tank as some the artists who've shaped his musical aesthetic. "I mean, those guys, you know, they, they were people where I was like, 'Man, I can't wait to just be in the presence of them.' And now, you know, we're all friends," he says with another one of his open smiles. "It's just...it's amazing how it is right now."
But make no mistake. Browning is a musicians' musician. Starting his career as a drummer, he's an ardent fan of music with a rapacious appetite for learning new ways to innovate and elevate his craft. "I love all genres of music," he says with enthusiasm. "As a drummer, I watched country, I watched rock, I watched pretty much everything. I think what made me different at an early age, some of the stuff that I used to watch, rock drummers do is what we do now, but we've just been brought to the forefront of it and put our own little style to it. But those drummers was doing that way back then. So, stuff I was learning from there, I will take it and create it, and people will wonder, 'Well, how did you get this?' or, 'Where did this come from?' Well, the secret was I didn't put myself in a box. I listened to different genres of music, from country to rock to gospel to soul to blues. Everything."
Browning's proximity to veritable legends has afforded him the unique opportunity to learn directly form the masters themselves. He pauses, reflecting on the words of his elders. "Be original," he says after a moment. "Stay true to you. And love what you're doing whatever you do. Keep yourself humble. That takes you a long way. It's really helped me in my path, because I'm a humble person anyway. But so many times people see things and they try to mimic them to become someone that they're not. So being true to who you are and what you stand for really means a lot in the music business."
More than just a love of music, Browning has an unshakeable love, respect and reverence for women. "I just don't believe we have to degrade women or men," he says emphatically. "You know, there's a way to say what you say. Just say it in a respectful way. That's pretty much, for me, what has kept me grounded in who I am. Respect is everything," he continues. "I do believe that as men, if we do our part and get back to respecting and loving that woman and treating that woman right. Helping men to see that when you make a kid, let's stick in there and be that father. I just think we can make a difference. It may take me a while, but I want to be in that path of streaming and doing great music that people can relate to."
His lyricism speaks of a need to get back to speaking love into intimate spaces, especially in a world that's so desperate for genuine affection. It's an ongoing conversation, the need to go back to actually loving those we're with. Looking beyond the material. It's definitely a conversation for another day, but ultimately Browning just wants people to get back to "expressing love, getting back to just having fun with each other. That's what matters to me."
Love of the craft. Humility. Accepting that he still has much to learn on his journey. All of this has led him to this moment. His debut album, My Journey Continues, is a long time in the making. It's more than just a piece of music to show where he is as an artist. It's a look back at what shaped him and looking forward to what folk can expect. "To sum it up and get to it rather quickly, I've had a few setbacks with my team," he reveals. "Whether it was to death or jail or wasn't the right fit for me. You know, a lot of letdowns. More nos than yeses. And you discover being on this journey of the music business, it can be very difficult, and it's definitely a journey.
"You really have to love doing what you do," he continues. "This is not what people think it is. You think cars, money, houses, fame, jewelry. [But] it's not that. It's a lot of work before you even get to any of that, you know? You have to have a special skin to deal with some of the things you have to go through. So My Journey Continues really sums up my ups and downs. Be consistent. It don't happen overnight, but stay on the journey, you know? Stay on the journey."
On the day of his debut album release, Browning is ever optimistic and excited for the future. As a musician coming into his own away from the spotlight of his musical connections, he's enthusiastic about blazing his own path. About bringing his own interpretation on a classic genre whose '90s influences have started their own resurgent renaissance since 2017. Levelle Browning is going to make an impression, and he'll do it knowing he gave everything he had.
"He left it all on that mic," he says of the legacy he wants to leave. "He left it all on that record. Gave his all."
Keep up with Levelle and order My Journey Continues: