Cole LC interview: Why the Leeds singer-songwriter is one to watch as he breaks through with his pop-rap fusion
Rising singer-songwriter Cole LC is carving out his own sound. The 18-year-old speaks to Abbey Maclure about growing up in Leeds, his new mixtape and Ed Sheeran comparisons.
If you haven't heard of Cole LC yet, you're about to.
The young musician, who combines soulful melodies with UK rap and drill, has had a busy year - performing at Leeds Festival, releasing his first mixtape and getting his hit Westbrook selected for the FIFA 22 soundtrack are just some of the highlights.
Born in Roundhay, Cole Lawton-Challenger started making music at the tender age of 13 after being inspired by some of the finest musicians in Leeds.
“Leeds is a sick city," the 18-year-old told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
"There’s a lot of culture and inspiration to take in; I was around a lot of good musicians growing up.
“I grew up listening to battle rap, but I was always into pop - my dad was a massive Michael Jackson fan.
“Cole LC is a fusion of everything that I enjoy listening to and that resonates in my music.”
Two of Cole's biggest inspirations as a youngster were Leeds battle rapper Dialect and his singing teacher, street-soul musician Cleve Freckleton.
It was only when Cole spotted a picture of Dialect on Cleve's phone that he realised his music teacher was, in fact, Dialect's father.
They linked up and Cole recorded his first studio track with his hero.
“It was a mad coincidence,” he said.
“I saw Dialect busking in town and I wanted to do what he was doing. I got a speaker for my 13th birthday and that weekend I went out and started singing.
“It’s always nerve-wracking, but once you get past the first song it’s good - as long as you’ve got belief in what you’re doing.
“My career took off from there. Everything came from busking.”
Cole appeared on The Voice Kids in 2017, where he impressed judge Will.I.Am but got knocked out in the battle round.
He admits he thought his career was "made up" when he got picked for the show aged 13, but he soon realised there was a lot of hard work to come.
Cole added: “It was a good way of learning at a young age that you need to just carry on, because you never know where life will take you.
"It could be tomorrow, it could be next year, but something good is around the corner if you stay consistent.”
Tapping into the social media market, Cole's freestyles and covers began to earn him a big grassroots following - particularly in his home city.
It wasn't long before major record labels began circling and he signed to Sony's Columbia Records aged 17.
His musical style and come-up through social media platforms have drawn comparisons with Ed Sheeran, something that Cole takes in his stride.
Laughing, Cole said: "It’s like if I was playing football and someone was on the sideline saying, ‘yo, you play like Ronaldo’ - I find it hard to take offence in that.
“Even if people say it in a negative way, I’m not bothered. I take the compliment.”
Cole can't pin his music down to one genre or style; he likes to experiment with everything from stripped-back acoustic ballads to punchy drill freestyles.
He teamed up with drill star Double Lz on his debut single Rollin', but his dream collaboration is with US pop sensation Billie Eilish.
"I'd say my music is experimental pop-rap," he said.
"And my lyrics come from so many different places. A lot of my writing process is just freestyling and saying what comes out of my head."
Cole is carving out his own sound - and it's working. He drew in crowds at Reading, Leeds and Parklife festivals this summer, his first major performances.
“It was unreal," Cole added.
"The last time I’d performed in front of anyone was busking in Briggate before lockdown.
“It was surreal that I even got booked for it and there were so many people there, it was a crazy experience. It made me realise how far I’ve come.
“Through lockdown, I only saw my progression through social media and sometimes that isn’t a good thing, you can get into your own head or think you’re not doing well.
“So to see all those people there who enjoy my music and were singing along, it was a different feeling.”
Paying tribute to his late friend Piotr
Cole LC released a touching tribute to his friend Piotr Piekara earlier this year, who was killed in a crash before Christmas.
The 17-year-old was a talented sportsman and Cole reflects on their friendship in the track, which is accompanied by a music video showing scenes from Piotr's funeral in Chapeltown.
Cole says his friend's death has changed his outlook on life, and his career.
“That’s my realest, most vulnerable and exposed song," he said.
"It’s first-hand feelings. If anyone has ever gone through the loss of someone, which most people have, sometimes you don’t know what to say or you can’t get it across.
“I could get it across in the song and it hit home.
"It’s made me appreciate things and stand back, taking in what life has given me and just living in the moment.”
New mixtape charts Cole's journey from busking to breaking out
Cole has proudly released his debut mixtape, Outside Looking In, which charts his journey from busking in Leeds to breaking into the UK rap scene.
He'll perform the project and new releases at a gig at The Key Club in November, before taking on London at a Colours show in Hoxton in December.
Cole said: "This is my first body of work and it’s my growth put onto a project, everything that I’ve been working on over the last three or four years.
"It’s a good reflection of how far I’ve come, especially if you know my music from a long time ago or you’ve seen me busking in town.
"The mixtape is pointing in the direction of where I want to go and it’s something different; you won’t expect what's on there.
“I’m very proud of it.”
Cole has big dreams of taking his music into the charts, but he doesn't want to lose the sound that inspired him back as a 13-year-old lad growing up in Leeds.
“I want to be one of the biggest artists in the world, but I still want to be integrated in the rap and urban scene," he added.
"Ed Sheeran did a song with [drill rappers] Tion Wayne and Central Cee - he didn’t need to do that because he’s in his own lane, but he did it for the culture.
“I want to be that guy and inspire other people from Leeds. It’s not just a southern, London thing - you can do it from wherever you’re from.”
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