Virginia rap artist uRLee (born Roger Lee Burley) possesses the distinctive ability to mix old school sound from the early (or “uRLee” as some fans would say) days of rap with contemporary, relevant lyrics. He’s also been blessed with the rare gift to be real in his lyrics without being cynical. His strong voice often matched with smooth music conveys messages of positivity for all listeners. While he raps with an “in-your-face” kind of approach, it’s always done so with personal vulnerability and dignity, using encouraging words to open listeners’ eyes and ears to hope and integrity. This is evident in uRLee’s current project, Walks of Life, recorded at Cue Recording Studios in northern Virginia. With a classy style and cerebral subject matter, Walks of Life fuses beats of big band, Motown, and jazz. It outlines uRLee’s walk in his 29 years of life, from his baby shoes, to the street shoes of his teens, to his now more sophisticated shoes of his 20s, representing his growth both as a musician and as a person.
While it wasn’t until he turned 16 before he took a more serious interest in his talent for rap and hip hop at the encouragement of his peers, uRLee had spent his entire childhood dabbling in music, experimenting with such instruments as the drums, the French horn, and the flute. This early childhood curiosity in music sprouted from an introduction to the music business by uRLee’s father, drummer Morgan Burley. uRLee became fascinated by all the instruments and equipment whenever he attended his father’s band practices. As a young teen, he and his friends would spend the winters hanging out in laundry mats where it was warm and they would bang on all the washers and dryers while he rapped over the sounds.
But it wasn’t all rhythm and harmony in uRLee’s early life. After being born with a condition called Hirschsprung’s disease requiring numerous surgeries as a child and still affecting his life today, he became a child of divorce caused by the devastation of his parents’ drug use and their lack of trust in one another. Both of these life hurts are what uRLee shares in his songs today, using his natural ability to turn these negative experiences into positive musical messages for his listeners.
uRLee‘s desire to send a positive message in his rap artistry comes from the work of his musical influence Tupac Shakur. “Tupac’s album Me Against the World was the story of my life based on what I endured as a child and what I also see going on in the world today,” says uRLee. “That album had me daydreaming about how I can make things better, not only for me, but also for others in need. That’s when it became clear to me that I can’t just do music for myself but have to also do it for others who need someone to empathize with their own similar struggles.” uRLee also garners inspiration from Adele, who he says helps him come up with new material for his songs. “Listening to her makes me even more creative than I already am,” he smiles. “Her voice just reaches into my soul and pulls out ideas I didn’t know I had.” But it’s the business sense and family values of fellow rapper T.I. that motivates uRLee to not only be a successful rap artist, but also a successful music enterpriser, family man, and role model to youth.
uRLee has a vision of his growing a brand and an imprint with the hopes of opening doors for other artists and at the same time providing jobs in the music industry for those seeking employment. He hopes his music will also someday serve as an educational and instructional tool. “I visualize high school and college instructors using my music to teach students how to dissect it in order to find the positive meaning behind it,” says uRLee with a serious yet hopeful gleam in his eye. This vision comes from his dedication in volunteering with youth each and every Thursday at a DC area non-profit organization called “Urban Ed” where he teaches teens the fundamentals of creating music through songwriting and various musical instruments. “I want to show these kids that not all rap music is the same. It can be influential in a positive way, even if it’s just learning how to take a negative and turning it into a positive,” says uRLee.