On the evening before his album release show, I’m meeting Dan Courte, aka LeDé Milestone, in Lenox Club, situated in proximity to the capital’s main train station. When the 29 year old isn’t teaching or exercising, chances are high he’s working on his music. Today though, the Luxembourgish rapper is focusing on getting the last details dealt with before the live gig. On his new album “Delta”, Dan presents a refreshingly authentic mix of Luxembourgish rap, dancehall, reggaeton and R&B - a sound that hasn’t quite taken off in this country yet.
While the sound engineers are busy making adjustments and going through the setlist, I’m sitting with Dan to discuss the young artist’s progression. LeDé Milestone has released French rap material for quite a few years now - most notably “Haine & Amour” and “Frère de son”. For his fourth album “Delta” however, he has not only reimagined his overall sound, but also switched to rapping in his mother tongue, Luxembourgish. I want to know more about how Dan discovered his love for rap music.
“My brother, he’s a few years older than me, basically introduced me to the genre. As the little brother, you try to equal your bigger brother, and he started at the end of the 90s to rap with his friends.” The guys invested in their own tiny recording studio, where they would freestyle and work on their beats. “I ended up being part of it”, Dan Courte explains. “We recorded some tapes, and I rapped along the songs we were listening to.” They were primarily songs by American artists like Wu-Tang Clan, Onyx and Mobb Deep, but also French rap groups like Fonky Family. And even though young Dan was kind of blindly rapping along, without necessarily understanding the whole song or articulating properly, it was all about the vibe for him. “I was 8 years old when my brother took me with him on the stage, where I performed one of their songs. There were like 100 people in the audience, it was one of these town festivals, and that moment has never left me.”
"I think one of the main difficulties for people is that the Luxembourgish language sounds extremely rough. It leaves you with a big contrast."
It wasn’t long after when the talented boy started to write his own material. “Actually, it was French rap that, after American rap, enabled me to express myself. I wasn’t too interested in German rap back then.” And now the switch from French to Luxembourgish, a language not necessarily known for its beautiful or flowing sound. Dan explains how he managed to combine his mother tongue with his music: “I consider Luxembourgish to be quite a harsh language, which makes it difficult to convey the music style I’m currently exploring. In dancehall and reggaeton, everything flows, everything is round and melodious.” Without any doubt one of the main challenges in this project. “I’ve not yet encountered anyone in this country who applies the Luxembourgish language in this manner, with finesse and aiming at a pleasant and melodic sound. I think one of the main difficulties for people is that the Luxembourgish language sounds extremely rough. It leaves you with a big contrast. With French, if you happen to master it well, it’s easier to sound melodious. I’ve always invested a lot of effort into my French texts, often working with a dictionary. I wanted my texts to be accurate. With Luxembourgish, I don’t have to go through that process. However, it’s important to me that I get the Luxembourgish language to the level where it sounds pleasant in your ears. Plus write texts that are not completely trivial.”
On his previous releases, Dan Courte has, as is common practice in rap, written texts on beats that were handed to him. Another way of coming up with new material was to write first and try to find a fitting beat after. Working on “Delta”, the athletic rapper has quickly realised that this technique left his music rather stiff. “You might have a beat and write towards that beat, but you limit yourself immensely when you write a whole set of texts and record them all at once. I experienced a better workflow writing smaller bits first and simply trying to find the vibe - at times only melodies, humming some tunes, and recording the texts as a last step. The different components eventually blend in nicely.” The full-time teacher has worked on his songs for “Delta” primarily from the comfort of his home, which has given him great flexibility. “I could choose when to work on the project, and it was totally okay to deal with two lines only or two full songs when I felt like it. It allowed me to refine my work more effectively.”
“Delta” is a highly rewarding album, comprising 14 tracks and numerous surprising elements. “Nëmmen ëm d’Gefill” and “Ech wees net wéi” contain a fair amount of singing, too, which is a new element in LeDé Milestone’s portfolio. “I’ve never sung this much before”, explains the rapper who has worked on the album for more than 18 months. “This time, I’ve been able to write bridges and melodies without any stress. I didn’t have this pressure to record and evaluate immediately. I could focus much more on things like sound effects or the whole mixing process.” Dancehall tracks like “Gespaant”, “MF an der Luucht” and “Outro” were written pretty early on, Dan remembers. “In the beginning, I had to get the hang of dancehall/reggaeton and the Caribbean latino vibe. I tried to distill the rap parts from it, and played with the flows and with the voices, work on bridges, simple but catchy hooks, and so on. The songs should be complete, but not overworked.” They were songs Dan Courte revised multiple times, re-recorded, even rejected. He eventually realised that he was finding his way through the genre better and better. “Thank God I took my time. When I revisited those songs, I knew I was up for it.”
"Rock, classical music and jazz are still being prioritised. This makes it difficult for any local rapper to win the media’s attention."
Even though rap music is becoming more popular among the Grand Duchy’s youth, Dan feels that this genre isn’t being accepted in Luxembourg at all. “Rock, classical music and jazz are still being prioritised. This makes it difficult for any local rapper to win the media’s attention. I’ve experienced many occasions in which I haven’t been taken seriously. It’s actually the case for many artists here. The country doesn’t appreciate its local creatives.” In addition, quite a few people tend to equate rap with gangsta rap. “Bad enough that this seems to be a widespread opinion”, says Dan. “Why should making rap music make me a gangster? ‘It’s not something you can do when you teach kids’, they would say. Of course I can!”
In his recent forum article, the young artist has written about how music genres have become increasingly more fluent in the past years. This is certainly true about “Delta”, as well. “In the end, you can’t say ‘I’ve written a rap album’, or ‘I’ve written a pop album’. People aren’t able to pigeonhole that easily anymore.” Which is a challenge for a country like Luxembourg, where everything needs to be labelled. “Whenever the Luxembourger encounters something new to them, they label it as bad. It has nothing to do with ignorance, it’s more like a negative attitude towards everything they are not used to or have not been exposed to. No idea whether it’s a protective mechanism, but it’s clear that in many foreign countries, people are way more open-minded. I sometimes feel like people here run past each other as if they were on rails. Try to offer them something, even with a smile on your face, they don’t show any reaction, it’s completely apathetic.”
Behind the athletic physique and confident appearance, there’s a self-critical and emotional man who expresses himself through his music in a powerful way. “I’ve always seen myself in school, and I never wanted to be forced to say ‘I can’t make any music anymore because I am working now’. I’d even say that you can hear this determination in my music. Trying to establish a certain persona doesn’t work out. I don’t have anything to hide. I can perform as a rapper and still go to school, work with the kids and look their parents in the eyes. What difference does it make whether someone plays the saxophone in a band or I’m singing my texts into a mic?”