Lando Chill doesn’t like boundaries. You can see it in his painted nails and tattered Chicago Bulls jerseys. You can feel it in his music, the kind you might find if someone left a steaming gumbo of rap, funk, folk, and soul to congeal in the middle of Four Corners. His latest EP, māyā. maia. mayu, released on February 2, is no exception, a body of work that the Chicago-raised talent hopes will help him and producer The Lasso break through the internet’s glass ceiling.
“To sell music, you either need to bridge a gap or stay in a lane,” Lando tells me over the phone. “I think that’s why [the music] hasn't broken the way it deserves to.”
For Lando, an inability to break through hasn’t been for a lack of trying. A bout of depression during college in Arizona led the artist, born Lance Washington, to songwriting, and to rap, all thanks to a handy roommate. This led to Michael Tolle, an AZ resident and the head of Mello Music Group, who saw an ad for one of his shows in the local paper. An impromptu meetup would follow, which resulted in Chill signing a two-album deal with the highly-respected indie label.
2015’s For Mark, Your Son, penned for a father who died of a heart attack when Lando was four, has tinges of gospel and folk steeped in familiar boom bap courtesy of Duncan “D-Funk” Odea and David “Jetlag” Manin. It was a bold personal statement, but by the time the chilling closer “Coroner” comes to an end, it’s obvious that Chill was ready to expand his sound. Shortly after finishing Mark, he met The Lasso.
A lo-fi producer and former talent buyer from Detroit, The Lasso took a chance when he and his wife moved to Tucson, AZ. “Literally days after moving to Tucson in 2015, I went to a show and saw Lance perform, along with a bunch of my soon-to-be favorite beat makers: b3nbi, rnd1, csd,” Lasso told me via email. “I had been looking to start a project with a vocalist who could spit and sing; an MC who used their voice like an instrument. Lucky for me I found Lance instantly after an almost spontaneous 1800-mile move. I DM'd him that night and said he’s gotta let me work with him.”
The Lasso’s eclectic mesh of styles turned out to be just what Lando was looking for.
“I’m a wary person who doesn’t like to work with too many people, [but] there's something about his music and the knowledge and joy he brings and how comfy he makes me feel and when I wanna try new things,” Lasso added. “It’s important to me for the relationship and to make the music extremely palatable to how society wants to hear it. We wanna stretch around that tape line. He’s a godsend and it’s very symbiotic.”
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Symbiotic is the perfect word. The Lasso proved to be the perfect sonic foil for Lando, putting his live arrangement skills to use on follow-up EP Madera Canyon. Last year’s sprawling sophomore LP, The Boy Who Spoke To The Wind, however, is where the traditionalist gloves came off and things got good and weird. Inspired by Paulo Cohelo’s The Alchemist, Wind is Chill’s journey of self-discovery and an affirmation of Blackness set to instrumentals that owe as much to Björk as they do to Madlib.
Their latest, the six-track māyā. maia. mayu, is being marketed as a neo-soul album, another left turn in a partnership built on trust. Mostly written last summer after a breakup and subsequent new love, it’s warm and intimate but no less liberal in its genre wanderlust. Even as Lando lets loose some of his most poetic lyrics yet (“The bruises heal / I’m an onion, let the critics peel / Feel it in they cerebellums / And still they fuck with Funyuns, ain’t no tellin’”), this is a love story at heart; certainly enamored of other people (his girlfriend sings on just about every song and shot the cover art), but even more for self. The grass-scented dreamscape of “yo love” gleams with unrequited love (“I know you’re never gonna need me but I’m addicted to your love”), the object of Lando’s affections focused on her “corner office lover.” He decides that loving himself is more important.
Lando chalks up this decision to “going through heartbreak and a realization that it’s important to love yourself before anyone else,” as well as an understanding that there’s only so much one can give before nothing remains, but also mentions that it was spurned by an act of violence. One of the handful of producers who worked on The Boy Who Spoke To The Wind was accused of sexually assaulting one of Lando's close friends shortly after the album was released last year. “It happened right before the #MeToo movement, and there was a difference in dialogue now vs. then,” he mentions in reference to the hundreds of victims who have come forward about sexual assaults in the media industry since last year. “Talking shit about the survivor and not validating her agency.”
Lando would call this person out on Facebook but he cowardly skipped town, leaving their clique in a state of disrepair. Lando saw this as an opportunity for men to do some hard soul-searching.
“We as men like to be comfortable and not to be challenged, but we need to challenge ourselves and challenge our music,” Lando says. “I’m lucky enough to be able to work with amazing people but to be challenged to grow through trials and tribulations. I think all of us, aside from the abuser, used this as a building block toward positivity and accountability. I hope that’s reflected through my music, more subtly than explicitly. With a call-out, there has to be a call-in.”
Part of that subtle expression can be found in the project's title. “māyā” is Nepalese for love, “maia” is Maori for courage, and “mayu” is Japanese for truth. All three are embodied across the EP's six tracks. The maudlin “sad luv” sees the second wind of a long-distance relationship on the verge of collapse over twinkles and muted drums. They reconcile and realize that “we deserve the Earth that we left behind” as their love heads to the stars on closer “maya.” Like the best soul, it’s smooth by virtue of knowing how to navigate the bruises.
Four projects deep into a burgeoning career, Lando is confident that his time for recognition is coming. At 26, he’s the youngest member on Team Mello and the one who didn’t have a cult following before signing on the dotted line. He’s determined to leave his own mark. “I think once people realize it’s not just Oddisee and Mike Eagle, we’ll get the respect we deserve,” he says. “[The Lasso and I are] are too good to be forgotten about. It’s the most different music on the label. You gotta live with it and sit with it to be able to get down with it.”
Lando relishes the opportunity to play music live for those who can’t afford tickets to shows, in environments where “I have old white folks singing with Black kids.” If māyā. maia. mayu is any indication, his days of obscurity are numbered.