L.E.X — Antoine Alexander, 35, formerly known as A-Lex — populates much of "Abstract Dreams," his first full-length album released on April 5 — with visions of success, longed-for spiritual satisfaction and the desire to be heard. On "Intro," he raps about needing only enough income to survive: "continue to relish the moments of living check to check," he says, "cause for success, I'd rather work than embellish regrets."
"All I want to do is make a living," Alexander tells me over the phone. "That's the ultimate goal. If I can get to that point where I can make millions of dollars, that would be great. But I just want make a living off of what I love to do."
Alexander was born in Los Angeles. His family moved to Bloomfield when he was two; he now lives in West Hartford. After graduating from Bloomfield High, he made music in Windsor in a friend's attic.
Everyone in his circle, Alexander says, "wanted to rap or wanted to be a part of what we were doing." Soon, they were passing out mix tapes at Windsor High and Sage Park Middle School, with the town's blessing: "The town loved the music. They loved what we were doing."
When the group split up, Alexander kept making music; at the end of 2014, L.E.X. released "Walk With Me," a seven-track EP. Musically it wasn't satisfying.
"I just didn't accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, as far as what I wanted to express," he says. "It was more of a rushed project to put stuff out, whereas this project was planned. I had a lot behind it."
L.E.X. started work on "Abstract Dreams" nearly a year ago without a strict concept in mind, starting with "Intro," with production from longtime collaborators the Dope Boyz.
"I didn't even know what the title of the album was at that point," he says. "And I said, 'From here on out, every song that I make has to be better than this.'"
Then, in November, the rest of the album came together in a fit of inspiration. In addition to the Dope Boyz, a production duo from Germany, Alexander reached out to other online producers: Tone Jonez, Paul Cabbin and KT Kevin Thomas.
In March, L.E.X. hosted a listening party at Alpine Cafe in Hartford. The turnout was impressive, he says.
"I was really excited about releasing the music, and the response was awesome," Alexander says. "They gave me really good feedback at the end of the show. It felt amazing."
L.E.X.'s primary preoccupation on "Abstract Dreams" is how to keep artistic goals from fading, in the face of the daily slog; that's the premise behind most of "Daydream," a track with a chorus by Tone Jonez (who also produced): "You got a dream, you better chase it / time never waits, it's a crime if you waste it," Alexander raps, before repeating a mantra: "Just say it loud: keep the dream alive."
He's also aware of the need for press attention; "I lay it down for them easy enough to get it," L.E.X. raps on a verse of "If I Died," over a beat with a syncopated hiccup between every third and fourth bar. "Not sure if my creations [are] too greasy enough for critics now."
As tracks roll past, L.E.X. gets more and more political — unavoidable, these days.
"I know I'm talking like I'm upset," he apologizes (sort of) in "A Conversation," over a beat by Thomas, "but I'm just trying to get my point across." In the chorus, he laments the plight of working Joes everywhere:
And while the rich get richer, man
We look at our bank accounts just saying, "Damn"
Which means we always trying to save face
But we on the job getting no breaks
Eventually, he gets around to adding guests; "3 at the Pulpit," my current favorite, and also the hardest cut, features verses from Hartford's HighLife Gully and New Britain rapper The Prestigious One, who pulls few punches about the current commander in chief: "I'm on the edge my n****, don't push me / Instead of poking a bear you're better off grabbing a p*ssy."
L.E.X. raps in space-filling near-shouts, holding little breath back; he sounds 10 feet tall on "Stand Tall," a song with a martial beat and organ-gospel licks (and a hook sung by Willimantic R&B artist Hector Troy): "Where I'm from we stand for what we believe in / Corrupt officials will lock you without a reason / They want our faces on the concrete / The law's got us on a short leash / Bullets flooding our streets."
Other guests include Rome, on the mostly tender "Proud"; Jack David on sex-crazy "Havana Mami"; and Hartford rapper Klokwize on "Nothin' Like Hip Hop," which pays tribute to old-school rap while channeling '90s guitar-rock.
Alexander's history to the Dope Boyz, who produced "Intro," "Proud," "Stand Tall" and "Nothin' Like Hip Hop," stretches back several years.
"We've formed a relationship online and we talk all the time," Alexander says. "They give me pointers on business and they help promote the music and stuff." He also reaps the rewards of the German connection. "They're already passing the music around out there."
L.E.X.'s affiliations with Atlanta producer Tone Jonez ("Breathe," "Daydream," "3 at the Pulpit," "Havana Mami") and Paul Cabbin, from California ("If I Died"), are more recent, though equally beneficial.
The ability to reach out now, Alexander says, is "amazing. ... It makes it easier [to create], but at the same time, the people that you'll meet and the people you'll form relationships with can be lasting. It can do great things for your career."
Taken as a whole, "Abstract Dreams" is highly personal. "My intention was to hopefully grab people and get some emotion out of them and hopefully feel the same way that I feel when they're listening," Alexander says.