SEE YOU NEXT YEAR 2: LE’ROY BENROS ON RECORDING AT SHANGRI-LA STUDIO

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Many iconic landmarks throughout music history are now historical sites—like Prince’s Paisley Park home, Elvis’s Graceland ranch, and Malibu’s Shangri-La studio. Originally built by legendary actress Margo, Shangri-La was converted into a studio in the 1970s after being leased by The Band and Bob Dylan—whose old tour bus is now a recording studio parked on the lawn. 

Purchased by Rick Rubin in 2011, Shangri-La studio has garnered a reputation for its ‘zen-like’ exclusivity and for hosting hip-hop royalty including Eminem, Tyler, The Creator and Mac Miller. Rubin’s indelible imprint on music has unfolded over a 40-year career, playing a vital role in the success of American Recordings, Def Jam, and Colombia Records

Since acquiring Shangri-La, his legacy has become more than just about fostering new talent, but also spiritually guiding artists through their creative evolution. The studio has been responsible for career-defining moments like Kanye West’s Yeezus, Tyler’s IGOR, and more recently, the latest collaborative Pigeons and Planes album, See You Next Year 2, led by emerging hip-hop mogul le’Roy Benros.

LE’ROY BENROS: A HIP-HOP MOGUL IN THE MAKING

Benros is a member of last year’s Grammy Recording Class and the founder and CEO of Big.Ass.Kids, an online ecosystem built for the music lover that covers artist PR, interviews, curated playlists, and industry opportunities. During his youth, New York was a thriving Mecca within the music industry and remains so today. That busyness in his home city provoked his keen interest in music, particularly in discovering rising artists.

“When I was in college I was a DJ and I always wanted to be the first one to introduce a song and have people say ‘Oh, le’Roy put me onto that!’ Benros said.

After leaving University early, he kickstarted his career working across artist management, PR, and at labels—interning at Ye’s G.O.O.D Music, and working as a booker at S.O.B’s (who’ve hosted the likes of Nas, Kendrick Lamar, and Drake for their earliest New York shows). In 2022, he joined forces with Pigeons and Planes, the well-established music blog focused on underground and emerging acts. 

“Pigeons and Planes is an outlet I’ve respected from the beginning. As a matter of fact, Pigeons and Planes’ first post was my artist’s [Charles Hamilton] show, so it was such a coincidence,” he said. 

“It wasn’t even about ‘let’s do something nobody has done’. It was really about creating a moment. It wasn’t a real scientific approach. It was ‘let’s do an album that represents Pigeons and Planes from an album standpoint’. They’re very much about storytelling and context and supporting artists at the early stage.”

Thus, See You Next Year was born.

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR: CLASS OF 2022

Featuring up-and-coming artists, mostly covered by Pigeons and Planes, See You Next Year 1 was released in August 2022, demanding attention with Mike Dean as executive producer and tracks from Teezo Touchdown and EKKSTACY

“After everything was figured out, we wanted to get the album announced. We did that, and Mike Dean commented on one of the Pigeons and Planes posts. I think he said ‘Executive producer?’ I think that was his post. I’ve had a relationship with Mike from before so I texted him after I saw it,” explained Benros.

Luckily, it didn’t take much convincing, and Mike was game. The artwork designed by Brockhampton’s H.K was the cherry on top, and Volume 1 was met with an overwhelmingly positive reception upon release. But the team knew there was more work to be done. 

“Well shit, we got Mike Dean on the first one, so we may as well aim for the stars,” said Benros, explaining that talks about Volume 2 started almost immediately. “The first one came out in August. By September and October, we were figuring out what’s next.” 

With Volume One being curated from a pool of artist submissions, it was clear to Benros what was needed for Volume 2. “The environment of how the album was created was missing from Volume 1. Volume 2 was, ‘Let’s just rock out’.”

VOLUME 2: “SHANGRI-LA EXECUTIVE PRODUCED IT”

Last June, Benros spent eight days crafting the sequel album at Shangri-La alongside many he considers the most promising up-and-coming artists. Released last month, the 15-track project features Monte Booker, King Isis, AG Club, ICECOLDBISHOP, Love Spells, Deb Never, Skaiwater, Billy Lemos, Kenny Mason, Paris Texas, Chase Plato, Junior Varsity, Karriem Riggins, Hamond and Binki.

As an album, Volume 2 is interesting, keeps listeners on their pulse of emerging artists, and takes them through a sonic whirlwind. It’s expected on a collaborative project but impressively, it’s impossible to tell that it’s most of these artists’ first time working together. “You’re able to see the joy of artists coming together and becoming friends”, says Benros.

Some standout tracks include the fan-favourite album intro ‘Bob Dylan’s Bus’, ‘Big Bank’ and ‘Dope Sick’, with consensus praising how See You Next Year 2 gives artists the platform and environment to reach new career heights.

ICECOLDBISHOP’s flow on ‘Jump’ isn’t to go unmentioned either, even more impressive to learn it came from a 30-minute freestyle that Benros and team pleaded with him to finish for the album. The rock elements on ‘Big Bank’ make your head knock, with Paris Texas, Kenny Mason and Billy Lemos each playing to their strengths, serving as a big highlight.

Monte Booker’s ‘Waiting For You’ memorably wraps up Volume 2 and their time at Shangri-La as a fitting ‘last word’ from the sequel’s glue-of-the-group. As one of the biggest takeaways from Volume 2, Benros believes having someone like Monte at every SYNY iteration is integral.

“Monte was able to get all of the artists together in a way that we probably couldn’t have done. It was a natural thing, it happened by chance and I’m glad it did, but we now know that we need to go in with someone who’s probably gonna take that role, from a musician’s standpoint”.

Recording an album at Shangri-La isn’t an everyday occurrence, and given the magnitude of the opportunity, one might assume that it would be a meticulously structured and supervised project. That couldn’t be further from the case. “Shangri-La executive produced it, you know? It’s difficult to not be creative there,” Benros said. 

“I’m not even gonna pretend we did anything. Other than set the stage, we didn’t do anything magical.”

Rick Rubin’s carefree creativity and belief in limitless possibilities oozes out of Shangri-La. His out-of-the-box thinking made Rubin who he is and Benros believes Shangri-La is merely an “extension of [Rick Rubin] had built.”

“It was very casual. Nothing was forced. Every day we had from 9am until 5am, and the artists just did what they did. They were the ones dictating how it was gonna go”, said Benros.

See You Next Year 2 capitalises on ideas that the XXL Freshman Class implemented but with a modern and innovative take. A culmination of Benros’ and Pigeons and Planes’ ideologies, SYNY 2 brings new artists together, allowing them to showcase themselves for fans, and experience a career-defining moment. If everything goes as planned, SYNY will eventually be a cultural staple in the years to come.

“I think as each year goes by, it’ll become stronger, more relevant, and more important, and it’ll become a staple in culture and independent music. The same way XXL Freshman was a moment ten years ago—and they had a run— but I think because [SYNY] has an album, it’s more than a good press opportunity and more of an experience.”

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