Levi Maestro: Maestro (Still) Knows

Levi Maestro is an individual who entered my world through a series of episodes called, “Maestro Knows.” Way before there were “vloggers” and a culture of documenting your daily life with a camera, there was Maestro Knows. Each episode allowed us to see a different city and individuals who were bringing their ideas into fruition. It’s safe to say that Levi has inspired many young individuals to start filming.

Whether it was an episode featuring Vashtie Kola, 13thWitness or Nigel Sylvester; Levi documenting his life, friends and the places he was visiting allowed me to see the world as an exciting place. Maestro Knows instilled in me the idea that things I want to do and the places I want to go already belong to me. I was motivated by the idea that my life can change through following and learning from the things that I love.

@zackmctee

[Photo by Zack McTee]

In attempts to find out what Maestro truly Knows, I caught up with Levi at Nolita’s, Cafe Habana.

Let’s start off with your name, age and the last song you listened to.

Levi Maestro, I don’t remember how old I am, the last song I listen to was “Insecure” by Jazmin Sullivan and Bryson Tiller.

You were born in Arizona- you once stated that people don’t have to represent where they are from, if that place did nothing for them. What made you say that?

I wasn’t really influenced by where I grew up. I pulled from other things and other places. To me, where I was had nothing to do with me, so I wasn’t going to feel like I would represent it.

So you moved to LA at 19, what about that city made you gravitate to it?

I was already near it and at the time that was where all entertainment was happening, as far as film and TV. This whole “self-sustain create” thing did not exist back then. It was the place to be and I wanted to work for a specific director that was there.

Can you talk about the influence skateboarding has had on your life? 

It’s the only reason that I started making videos, just for that alone- aside from never giving up. I don’t think I ever give up, I think I move on.

If I just had enough of something, its my conscious decision that I don’t want to deal with it anymore- not that I felt defeated, I chose another place to go.

Skateboarding helps with that because I felt more pain in my life than I ever would have,… if you had to walk down the street right now and you knew you had to fall down, you wouldn’t want to do that. With skateboarding, you’re taking a risk because you could fall anytime so you know its possible, but you’re hoping that it doesn’t happened. We wouldn’t do a lot of things if our mind knew what they were first, so many times we don’t know what the result is so we aren’t afraid to take the chance- and when we get there and we feel it, its like “I don’t ever want to do that again!” It’s a very interesting parallel with life.

How do you think your interests over the years have changed? Do you find yourself losing passion for certain things or ideas?

I don’t think I would ever lose passion, because I feel that’s my DNA. I’m always attracted to something in a very heavy way, so I always have passion inside me. I think that making content today is such a bizarre space to be in because usually when you make it, you want it to be seen. There is such a clutter of things out here today and there’s so many ways for it to get seen but its also a complete pain in the ass.

Sometimes it is a lottery and you put a project out there and it works, and other times you have to make a full-fledged effort. Unfortunately, our world is now just entirely consumed and entertained with stuff. Majority of stuff is much greater than the percentage of well thought out, well executed content. Everything is called “content“ now, it doesn’t matter what it is. You can look at a picture and a picture is beautiful and it makes you feel the way you feel, but with videos there is a much greater responsibility that the majority of people are dis-concerned with. They either don’t know, or they don’t care- and that part is frustrating.. because I would prefer for them to not be there.

It’s bizarre to me that- I make videos because I like making videos, I feel like I am a minority in that perspective, because people just make things today just do it. It is no longer an art. This has happened to many different genres of creativity.

Being in the street with people who are now filming themselves doing everything, with selfie sticks and cellphones- it has a very disgusting stigma today and I feel different outside filming myself then I used to.

In these past years, what is Levi Maestro most proud of?

I don’t think there is one thing I am most proud of, maybe that’s a problem (laughs) I feel like I’ve told a lot of great stories, ones that just get thrown back on my radar and I think, “oh wow, that was really cool that we did that.”A lot of times you take in so much that you forget certain things that have happened. I don’t know if this is proud but It’s definitely the coolest thing, being able to look back at memories.

What is the best advice you were given?

“Speak things into existence.” It’s the big stand out one.

If I spent an entire day with LM, what would I come to realize about you?

Probably that I am not the person I seem to be in my videos. In the idea of speaking things into existence, I believe I portray that I am a very positive, happy person and I think I am to a certain extent but that’s all I show. The reason why that is all I show, is because that’s all I do want to be. Why am I going to sit there and complain on camera? I already complain in real life and talk about why things are stupid, why am I going to waste my time creating that way? That would be a bad decision, I think that’s the difference- I am having so many flaws and things I want to change about my life.

Why “Maestro Knows?”

“Maestro knows” because this was my style of creating. It wasn’t about, “these are the people, the places I know” it meant that- I only thought to film myself because in skateboarding when you’re filming people, maybe somebody lands a trick and you’ll turn the camera to yourself and go “ahhh” to make some reaction…. So that was the blend of me coming up skateboarding and instead of record this lifestyle stuff, the music was very high in the video because I wanted my episodes to feel like a music video almost—maestro knows because this was how I KNEW how to make a video. I wasn’t trying to mimic or learn or do what someone else was doing, and I think that’s super important as a creative person, when you think “Hey I have an idea, what if I did it this way?” (laughs)

Two of my favorite episodes of Maestro Knows are EP 3 with Ibn Jasper and EP 10 with Va$htie, at that age, being young and growing up in NY- I was inspired by the way these individuals were using what inspired them to create things and bringing their ideas into fruition- Vashtie creating her own Jordan and Ibn designing a hat. Do you have any favorite episodes or moments from MK?

Being able to show the Nike campus, still to this day no one else has done that or will get to do it. That was very cool, and I like the stuff that I did with a couple of NBA guys who are now my friends, like Kevin Love and Chris Bosh , they are so larger than life but they are also the most regular people I know.

I played sports a lot growing up and once I started skateboarding I didn’t care much anymore and then it made its way back into my life- full circle stuff like that is cool. It was good moments like in one of the Kevin Love videos we ran into Diddy and started playing basketball with him, those were very much the moments that made my show what it was. Capturing life, there was no written out ideas or concepts, just “I’m going to come see you and whatever you’re doing and we’re going to do it together.”

Maybe one thing to add to what I’m proud of… People have watched my videos or referred to my videos as “vlogs” and I really dislike that. I think that a blog is very rarely well done, there are only a few people to ever blog well. Blogging is essentially a hip term for journalism, and journalism is bad ass- it’s a real deal form of creativity. It takes an opinion and good execution, preparation, so I always disliked that.

People would say they like my vlogs and my interviews, I always think that’s funny because I rarely ever asked any questions, and that’s what Im super proud of. I never wanted anything in my videos that you could find out on google. Why am I going to ask Kevin Love how old he is or what team he plays for? If you don’t know that, then go google it. Why would I waste time telling you? I want to talk about other things that only him and I know together because that’s what I want to offer you. It’s so bizarre that I think more people don’t take this approach.

Use your uniqueness, its like people saying, “be you, be who you are” that’s what that means. I’m not going to sit around and say something that you can say, for what? ( laughs)

Back in 2010, in an interview with FvF you stated that there is a lack of creativity in the street-wear industry. Since then, there have been many new brands as well as expansions (Supreme opening up another flagship in Brooklyn.) Has your mind changed?

I think its much worse now. Someone was asking if I’m still into the culture and I said no. I can’t relate anymore, when I used to work in it and have friends with brands, I’m still connected but I cant relate because we did it because we actually loved it.

Now its just status, “I have Yeezys, look at me! Think I’m cool!” Its so bizarre to me because this has existed since the beginning of time- finding status through brand names. It’s at an all time high embarrassing level, the whole idea of hype? It’s weird. I can’t relate and I think people don’t care much anymore. The few people that do, its easy to see because they do a good job top to bottom and they have something that’s unique.

This is another thing that social media has totally empowered- everyone can see everything now. I figured out a few years ago that there is no bad idea because everything is capable of being successful now. The only reason something isn’t successful is because not enough people saw it. There are so many people in our country that think so many different kinds of ways that there is no reason that anything cant succeed anymore. It’s timing and how long you want to actually try.

[Photo by Zack McTee]

Building on that, what do you think are some common misconceptions this generation has? Jeff Staple discussed the Internet has allowed young people to feel as if things and successes happened over night. It can seem that way because we rarely see the process of ideas.  I feel like I too am guilty of letting the internet discourage me just as much as it has inspired me. What do you think?

That ideology has existed for a long time. The unfortunate part about it is that now it’s somewhat true. There are a ton of people who have succeeded overnight. Anyone could always say “this didn’t happened overnight” but It’s people who do absolutely nothing now that are popular. Good for you, I suppose. Some people don’t have to do too much, that’s even worse than thinking that way.

I don’t know where it’s going to go, I assume that it will continue in a direction that we’ve seen thus far. Everything is just getting more cluttered… Im not a fan, Im going to completely detach myself from this technologically sustained world.

Can you describe your perfect outfit?

I don’t think so? (laughs) I guess the biggest one for me is finding a shirt that fits well. Shirts are so different for everyone because of body type, finding a great fitting t-shirt is something special. I don’t like the idea of fashion and clothes. A lot of stuff is really tight but then I think that this is so crazy that we are so interested or caught up in how we are dressing. I don’t put much on it, I’m quite simple.

Finish the sentence: “It’s important for creative to use their platform to _______.”

This is a funny question because I would’ve used to say “make a difference” or “do something with meaning” but now I don’t have an answer anymore because it has nothing to do with me. If I answer this question, that is my opinion. I am tired of telling my opinion, the world is full of opinions, I want to be the difference. I need to take action and you only know me for my actions. If I’m telling you words, these are the words that I am applying in my life and they have nothing to do with you. If you want to hear my opinions, and they make sense to you and you can relate- that is awesome! But I’m not going to tell you something that I think would help you or what you should do because I don’t know you.

I’m really proud of that, hopefully I can continue this way of life because I need to mind my own business. That is also the most powerful I think I can be, ever… because I’m not sweatin’ you. Already, that’s more interesting than if I were just sitting around telling you what to do.

Who are your current favorite artists?

That kid Khalid is really dope, Jessie Ware a singer from the UK, Dua Lipa.

Speaking earlier about wanting MK videos to be like music videos, there are many scenes of you rapping along to Kanye’s Graduation album… are you still listening to Kanye?

I still listen to whatever he makes. I appreciate all that he’s done because over the course of him being known, he’s done great stuff. These days, I may relate a little less but I think he’s got a lot left in him. When you’re a fan of someone, you don’t always have to be a fan forever… maybe you’re a fan forever but you can say, “it was that time when this really gave me something.”

The number one thing I appreciate most about Kanye is that he’s always made things the way he wanted to. He asks a lot of people what they think about his work, that’s cool because it shows open-mindedness and curiosity. I don’t think there are many people that are famous that have the heroism. Kanye’s gone out on a limb every time without thinking about it. That is him, and he has continually shown that, that’s really dope.

Do you still have the Nike Air Yeezys you skated in?

No, I gave the first ones to a friend as a thank you for being in a video. I probably shouldn’t have done that. (laughs) The second ones I auctioned off right after and donated the money.

It’s no secret that you LOVE food, there are so many food stops on episodes of Maestro Knows. What’s the perfect meal? Do you ever cook?

No, I keep saying that I’m going to learn and start cooking when I retire. I really enjoy eating raw, plant-based stuff. There are a bunch of benefits and I feel my body working. Everything feels at a higher capacity.

I stopped eating meat several months ago, for a bunch of reasons. Getting a dog three years ago and being a bit more connected to an animal, it got to me. I do believe that animals were put here for us to feed off of, but we took that and bastardized it… I’d just think, “Why am I eating a dead animal? I’m alive, and I’m going to eat something dead? That doesn’t sound very smart.”

What do you want to say to 19 year old Levi Maestro who moved to LA?

Pretty easy, use all of your time to make things until 10 years from now. When I started experiencing success, making money and being able to afford a dope car- I enjoyed it. The time that I used to enjoy it was not spent getting further.

That time would’ve been more well spent had I continued to stay focused. Where I was, nobody was. What I was making and the culture I was making it in, I had my own thing and was doing really well. If I would’ve kept that two years, into 5 years, I could be in a very different place today. I regret that.

I think that you learn a lot from regret, you can’t dwell in it and you have to fix it and create a change. That’s one of the biggest lesson I’ve learned.

What’s next for Levi Maestro?

Everything that I make from now on will be an episodic series. I’m uploading my videos to Youtube and  everything that I make will be categorized. I spent many years making a show that though it was the same thing, it was on very different people… that was cool but now I want t o create my world because I have a lot of different interests. I will continue to make maestro knows, whether its once a week or once every 5 years. I will always make it.

I’m beginning to figure out how I can create content on a frequent basis that still has texture and identity. There are very few individuals that are creating content with identity and texture and that’s insane to me. Maybe, I’m a harsh critic.

Lastly, express yourself and say anything-

Come to Café Habana! (laughs) It’s a huge part of my world and has changed my life.

In the MK episode you discovered Café Habana, you ended up eating their three days in a row, right?

Yeah… one of the closest people in the world to me, is the guy who owns this place. That’s what is so great to me about creating…

I think it’s always deeper than whatever is in front of you… and if not then you should not be in front of it or it shouldn’t be in front of you. (laughs)

An inspiration to me, and many others. Thank you, Levi.

[Connect with  Levi on Twitter,  Instagram, and Youtube ]

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Ramshah. 25. NYC.

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