Hip Hop Legends: Lee Evans

The inside of Studio A at Jambox Entertainment located in the heart of New York City.

Originally beginning in a small, cramped basement in the South Bronx, the luxurious studio of Jambox Entertainment which today is situated in the heart of Midtown Manhattan is nothing quite like the humble beginnings LeRoi Evans started out with as a kid growing up in the Soundview projects. LeRoi, who was known around his neighborhood as “Lee,” knew what he wanted from an early age. When he was six years old, he decided to pursue his passion for music after hearing Nat King Cole, the artist who his mother named him after.

“My mom’s favorite musician was Nat King Cole. She had all these Nat King Cole albums. My middle name is Nat. My first name is LeRoi which is French for king, so instead of ‘Nat King Cole’ it’s like ‘King Nat.’ That’s how she got it.”

World-renowned pianist Nat King Cole, circa June 1947. Photo by William P. Gottlieb.

During Mr. Evans’ adolescence, he gathered up some talented friends of his from the Monroe Projects and together they formed the harmony group “The Fourth Edition.” They would go on to win twice at the famed Apollo Theater and tie for first place four times. As I listened to him reminisce, it was evident that the definitive go-to place back then was the Apollo Theater, especially on Saturday nights.

“It was great, man,” he told me with a huge smile on his face. “They had this thing called ‘Sad Sam’s Soul Shack.’ We saw all the acts that were big at [the] time. We saw them from the backstage. The Jackson 5… James Brown… we got to check out everybody.”

As his name quickly cemented in music circles around New York, Mr. Evans would later go on to tour with the Temptations, who he called his ‘idols.’ When hip hop really started to break out in the late 70’s, he was right in the middle of all the action. He worked as a producer and a mixer on Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock: The Album”, a classic album that’s played a key role in shaping the sound of modern day hip hop. However, while Mr. Evans immensely enjoyed what he was doing at the time, the money wasn’t quite right, especially by NYC standards. That’s when he decided to get serious and really learn the ins and outs of the music business. In 1992, he incorporated his company, JAMBOX Entertainment, and decided to move the recording facility to its current location on 7th Ave from his basement apartment in the Bronx.

Twenty-five years later, his studio is still here and as busy as ever. When I asked him how he’s managed to stay atop of the audio mastering game for so long and whether or not he had any advice for anyone trying to break into the music industry, he hit me with this gem:

“It’s the music business. Learn the business,” he said with a hearty laugh. “It’s not something that they teach you in school.”

 

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