Leonard Fischer, artistically known as Sabotaj, often looks to the past for inspiration. He turns to films, videos, cartoons, spoken and written word, but none more passionately than music. As an artist, he dissects and interprets these art forms to carefully produce his reflections and rhymes. He is a disciple of the school of hip hop. Sabotaj is determined to make his mark as the legend that never was.
Sabotaj’s introduction to the world of hip hop can be traced back to 1979. That year, the Sugarhill Gang released its groundbreaking track “Rapper’s Delight,” which Sabotaj cites as “a song that was everything to kids growing up in the hood.” The hood he references is South Central Los Angeles where he and his younger brother were raised by his mom and grandmother from a very young age. Their parents divorced when he was just 3 years old, his father remarried about 5 years later and eventually moved to Dallas. Sabotaj recalls the subsequent years after his father’s move as the roughest years of his youth.
Despite the difficult upbringing, there was always one channel through which he could escape. “Rapper’s Delight” opened his eyes and ears to hip hop music and its culture. Through Los Angeles-based radio station KDAY and its influential radio DJ Greg Mack, hip hop and rap had fully infiltrated the airwaves by the 1980s. KDAY introduced Sabotaj to hip hop pioneers such as Eric B. & Rakim, KRS-One, Public Enemy, The Juice Crew and Biz Markie. By the mid-1980s, West Coast hip hop had arrived and with it came Ice-T, Eazy-E, N.WA., King Tee, Tone Loc and several others that Sabotaj grew to greatly admire. As hip hop entered the mainstream so did films about its inception, culture and significance. Sabotaj recalls watching 1984’s “Beat Street,” a film about New York City’s hip hop culture, nearly every day for months. A year later, “Krush Groove” was released, which introduced hip hop enthusiasts to Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin and their hugely successful venture: Def Jam Recordings. This film also spotlights Run-DMC and their rise to fame. These two films significantly influenced him; and according to him, “triggered something deep inside of me.”
One particular day in 1988, Sabotaj’s friends, who would often dee-jay at house parties, encouraged him to write a verse for an upcoming party. He stepped up to the plate and started writing. Sabotaj recited the verses to his friends who were left in shock at what he had produced. It was at this critical moment in his life where he recalls telling himself, “Wow, I can do this.” He has never stopped writing since. At around the same time he came across a track called “My Philosophy” by Boogie Down Productions. He cites the golden era of hip hop and “My Philosophy” as the foundation through which his artistry was born.
Initially, Sabotaj would perform under the monikers Lenwise and Lenwise The Chief. The latter being a tribute to his ethnic background, which is Black mixed with Cherokee Indian. However, once in college his rapping style gradually metamorphosized – as did his artistic persona. His rhymes had become more intense, cut throat and ruthless to match the tone of hip hop at the time. While hanging out with a friend and after weeks of brainstorming, the word Sabotage flashed up on the TV screen in a commercial and so did a lightbulb in their brains. As Sabotaj he took his craft to the next level both personally and professionally.
Sabotaj the Wizard of Rhymes
When it came time to produce his demo, he teamed up with an up-and-coming DJ and producer who, a few years later, would become associated with none other than the Jurassic 5. DJ Nu-Mark helped kick-start Sabotaj’s music career by recording and producing a 3-song demo in 1992. “He was one of the first DJs/producers to ever do me right,” Sabotaj recalls. Prior to this collaboration, he was growing frustrated with producers not mixing his songs right and being placed in a position where he couldn’t properly represent his work. This partnership made him realize early on that in order to gain full artistic control of this music he needed to: 1. gather up a production team, and 2: learn how to mix, produce and record his songs.
Sabotaj’s music started to truly take flight around 1995 when he assembled his crew Faces of Death (FOD). FOD initially consisted of 3 other members who went by Haph Breed, Slug and Def Wish. If there was one defining track that he could pick during the early sessions and creative peak of FOD it would be “Wicked Dimensions.” This song was cutting-edge, unconventional and unlike any other track he had previously produced. Believe it or not, “Wicked Dimensions” takes inspiration from an unlikely source: the popular ‘80s cartoon “He-Man.” Sabotaj breaks down each character from the show and manipulates their voices so that by time the song ends, the show’s antagonist, Skeletor, has been defeated. He attributes this song to creating his signature, wicked, dimensional flow. “This gave me way more depth to my style and flow and allowed me to approach topics in music from an original angle," he proudly states. But because this style was so different and niche, he and his team found it difficult to land a record deal.
Never one to slow down or get discouraged, Sabotaj would go on to record hundreds of songs with FOD. “He is a sorcerer on the microphone,” says Haph Breed, Sabotaj’s long-time collaborator, producer and friend. “His rhymes are the potions. He has a no nonsense, straight to the point rhyme flow.” In 1998, Sabotaj formulated his first studio album “The Essence of … The 1st Dimension” through his production company 3D Productions based out of Culver City and under a record label called Nexus Records. 3D Productions, which now consisted of Haph Breed, Def Wish and him, released 12” records and initially sold them overseas. At the time, the overseas market was very hip hop friendly and enthusiasts, mainly in Japan, would embrace new artists much faster than consumers based in the U.S. “We sold nearly 10,000 records in Japan,” recalls Sabotaj. “The overseas response was crazy love.”
This album successfully put Sabotaj on the radar. So much so that radio stations started playing his music and he was booking opening shows for big name artists like Nas, DMX, KRS-One, Mack 10, Blackmoon and The Pharcyde. He heavily pushed this album in the U.S. for over 4 years and even added a B-side called “Sounds of the Underground.” Despite the album generating massive buzz in the LA underground circuit, Nexus Records and Sabotaj would find themselves continually at odds and faced many differences over how the album was going to be released. The ball was ultimately dropped on the release. His heavily-hyped and long-awaited album was now shelved indefinitely.
The Legend That Never Was
With the weight and pressure of working with a label on hold, Sabotaj kept churning out albums and mixtapes through the years. “When the Fullmoon Strikes” and “The Time Machine” were two mixtapes with over 40 tracks released between 2014 and 2015. As a seasoned artist he exudes great discipline with his craft, however, he does admit that life milestones have lead him to scale back on music production. Like most underground artists, he splits his time between full time work and supporting his family. “I can’t record as much, but I still find the time to work on my craft,” he reflects. “Music is like a drug. It forever calls me and won’t go away.”
Sabotaj’s writing and mixing has significantly evolved and sharpened through the years. Much of it can be attributed to personal experiences and to the fact that he’s been fortunate enough to follow hip hop music since day one. “As far as my songs, I’m still lyrically raw, but with a much more elevated state of mind,” he states. “I think like an artist, but I also think like a parent of 2 girls as well.” One thing remains the same, he makes it his goal to never distance himself too much from the signature style that shaped him as an artist. He still samples a variety of music genres including jazz, R&B, soul, cartoon sounds, funk, 80’s music, Motown sound, opera and even cult classic films like “Scarface,” “Star Trek,” “The Mack,” and “Friday the 13th.”
Which bring us to his long-awaited and much-deserved debut release, “The Legend That Never Was.” It must be noted that this album is 30 years in the making and his strongest work to date. Haph Breed produced the entire album and ensured that his style and lyrical prowess are on full display throughout each track. “He’s back stronger than ever,” says Haph Breed. “[He’s] ready to get the credit he deserves from his peers and the new generation of hip hop as an artist and an MC.” Some album highlights include “The 5 Elements,” an homage to the history and importance of hip hop. While “Powers To Be Legendary” is a track directed to other MCs while paying tribute to the hip hop greats.
Haph Breed perfectly describes him in one phrase: a preserver of the hip hop culture. This album not only defines Sabotaj, but it also serves as his now or never moment. “I have to fulfill my destiny and defy the odds,” he exudes. “Most artists today have lost or simply don’t care about the culture of hip hop. I will always do my best to change that.” The Legend That Never Was" has arrived and he’s determined to restore hip hop back to its true form.
|none||Sabotaj||The Legend That Never Was (CD, Album)||PBP Recordings, LLC||none||US||2018||Sell This Version|
Singles & EPs
|5519-NR001-1||Sabotaj||Rhymes Adventurous / Supreme Soloist (12")||Nexus Records (3)||5519-NR001-1||US||1999||Sell This Version|
|none||Haph Breed, Sabotaj||Haph Breed, Sabotaj - Over The Top (CD, Single)||PBP Recordings, LLC||none||US||2017||Sell This Version|
|none||Sabotaj||Powers To Be Legendary (CD, Single)||PBP Recordings, LLC||none||US||2018||Sell This Version|
|none||Sabotaj||The 5 Elements (CD, Single)||PBP Recordings, LLC||none||US||2019||Sell This Version|