William LaFrance

South Philly hip-hop producer William LaFrance kept sending his beats to a guy he knew was tight with the Wu-Tang Clan. Persistence paid off as Wu legend Method Man used one of his beats on an album that landed No. 4 on the Billboard Top 100. | Image courtesy: Level 13

William LaFrance had dreamed about this particular day since middle school.

Sitting there in his studio, massaging some of his dopest beats, he thought this might be it. This might be the one that entered the 36 Chambers. Known as Level 13 in hip hop circles, LaFrance had been emailing samples to longtime Wu-Tang Clan collaborator Hanz On when he got an unexpected message:

Method Man likes one of your beats.

Geeking out, in between sips of a softly-hopped Perpetual IPA from Troegs, the Philly-based beat maker refreshed his browser. Over and over again. 

“[I was] floored,” LaFrance said. “because I didn’t even know I was sending beats to Method Man. I’ve copped every album of his, along with just about every Wu album since middle school. I grew up on that shit and Meth transcends rap music.”

But, as with most career-defining moments, getting noticed was only the first step. The next day, Hanz On invited LaFrance to join him at Wu-Tang’s studio setup in Staten Island where they could lace his beats with Meth’s hard-hitting rhymes.

“Dream job type shit,” recalled LaFrance.

William LaFrance

LaFrance says the opportunity to create for the likes of Method Man is “dream job type shit.” Judging by this image, to the victors went the spoils – to be blunt (pun intended). | Image: Will LaFrance Facebook page

Before he embarked on the journey, the shell-shocked producer locked himself in his own studio and toiled tirelessly, knowing that this was destined to become a ‘no sleep til’ Staten Island type of night. After all, we’re talking about LaFrance’s life’s dream here. But crafting his sound didn’t arrive until a decision to study video production at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. It was there he became smitten with manipulating sound during an audio class, already an avid student of the Shaolin style.

“I practically stayed up three nights straight trying to remake this beat without flipping a sample,” he said. “I ended up making five. Hanz and them may have wanted me to make joints on the spot, but I couldn’t take that chance. I needed something tangible to show.”

The day of didn’t find Method Man in the studio once he arrived in Staten Island, but LaFrance’s sleepless nights back in Philly assuredly produced a certifiable banger. In 2015, his click-clack, bang-dang beat provided the haunting backdrop for “Bang Zoom” on the third track of The Meth Lab, the fifth studio album from Method Man. The album peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 100 – despite some backlash from music critics – and made the radio rounds.

“A lot of lessons learned,” LaFrance said, mainly referring to the contractual legalities of working with the elites of the hip-hop sphere.

Since then, LaFrance has developed beats for several high-profile rappers, including Kool G Rap, Uncle Murda, Rae Kass, French Montana, Atmosphere, Maino and Tony Yayo. In all of it, he said the most rewarding part is pushing the boundaries of the genre and an innate desire to strive for greatness.

“I love finding a sample or a loop someplace and just taking it to where it needs to be,” he said. “I love making progress and working my ass off to get better every day.”

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“I love finding a sample or a loop someplace and just taking it to where it needs to be,” he said. “I love making progress and working my ass off to get better every day.”

– Hip-hop producer and beer influencer William LaFrance

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Besides hip-hop, LaFrance acknowledged his other passion: craft beer. For him, South Philadelphia Taproom became a second studio, a place to enjoy a pint while reaching out to artists he wanted to collaborate with. An influencer wasn’t his main goal, he just loved the craft beer lifestyle. He simply started posting glamour shots of his favorite IPAs on Instagram (@level_13) and quickly grew his social account to 23.5k followers. One recent photo of Neshaminy Creek’s Dank Hill received 649 likes.

“Instagram has an awesome beer community or scene and I like showing my supporters the other facets of my life,” he said. “I love finding and trying new beers and sharing with Instagram’s craft beer community.”

It’s a hobby that grew out of those frequent visits to South Philadelphia Taproom where he drank hop-forward beers from Troegs, Victory, Surly and Tired Hands. His latest project, Beats To Drink Beer To, was released in July 2018, and has generated upwards of 8k streams on iTunes. He also has a beer-and-beat-driven clothing line out, House of Hops, an online t-shirt store that marries his love of hip hop and craft beer.

“I’ve had a lot of support from both the hip-hop and beer communities,” he said. “I have a second Beats To Drink Beer To coming out.”

LaFrance has noticed an encouraging trend in breweries focusing more on art, even wrapping their whole brands in it. Places like Forest & Main in Ambler whose co-owner designs all their intricate and trippy labels — “a slept-on great,” according to LaFrance — have built a cult following on that principle. It’s the same strategy he has embraced with his alter ego, Level 13.

“I really just wanted to do something dope to show my appreciation for both hip-hop and craft beer,” he said. “I love creating something that can positively impact another. Whether it’s an emcee writing rhymes to it or the listener possibly going through something, [I’d like it if my] music was their lifeline.”

TWITTER: @MIKE_GREGER

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