Reef the Lost Cauze is a hip-hop artist born and raised in Philadelphia, who’s been making it as a world-traveling underground artist for more than 16 years.
Mike Whalen talked to him on Temple University’s main campus in June, 2016.
Who is Reef the Lost Cauze?
I’m Sharif Lacey, aka Reef the Lost Cauze ,and I am 34. I’m from West Philadelphia, but I’ve lived in South Philadelphia for the last 16 years. I am an independent hip-hop artist more in the vein of the “boom bap” original style rap. I’ve been doing it now seriously for 16 years. Its been my passion and my life’s work.
I have a new record coming out in July. I’ve toured, put out records and collaborated in the city of Philadelphia for a long time. So, that’s who I am.
Awesome. If you could, tell me a little bit about your background. How you got into music, your inspirations, stuff like that.
I got into hip hop music through my uncles and cousins who were into hip hop. If you grew up in the late 80’s/early 90’s, it was everywhere. It was something you could never really escape.
From a very early age, from what I’m told, I always had a passion for writing. I think the two really coincided. I also had a passion for performing. I was something of a ham. Those elements all sort of combined to create a very serious passion for hip-hop music. I’ve always been doing it. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. My first demo tapes go back to age 9, 10, 11-years old. It’s something that’s always been with me. I started very, very young, both personally and professionally. It’s something that’s always been a part of my life.
If I’m not mistaken, you were involved in theater programs growing up…
Yeah, I actually went to Freedom Theatre right here on North Broad Street, which is one of the oldest theaters in America, especially pertaining to the African-American community. We’ve been around forever.
One of my classmates – Leslie Odom Jr. – actually just won a Tony for his performance in “Hamilton” on Broadway. They’ve spawned a lot of TV actors, musicians, performers, tap dancers, choreographers. They taught me very early on about respect, discipline and working hard for my craft.
Yeah, I used to do that. I acted in plays in junior high and stuff like that. Once I got to high school, I started to fade away from that. In my early youth, I was all about acting and stuff like that. I didn’t realize it, but it was training for the stage later in life as an MC.
So, a lot of my respect that I’ve gained and props that I’ve gained from people outside of recording music is my live show. I attribute that to engaging the audience, breath control, and making your voice hit the back of the room and all that jazz from Freedom Theatre and acting, for sure.
So what pulled you towards hip-hop as opposed to diving into theater?
It was just something that, if I’m being honest, I thought it was cooler.
I started out doing the acting thing but I noticed very early on that I was getting a lot more respect and a lot more props through the music, especially in high school. I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t “Mr. Smooth” with the girls. I wasn’t a hustler, so I didn’t have a lot of money or fresh gear. But what I did have was a sharp sense of humor and the ability to rhyme. Those two things combined led me to be like, “This is me. This is my identity.”
When you’re young, you’re always searching for the thing that’s, like, “What’s my thing? What’s my niche? What’s the thing that’s going to separate me from the herd?
My skill in music was what led me to become friends with a lot of people I wouldn’t have otherwise. I saw it starting to open doors. So, I pursued it. I took it serious and I studied my craft. You know, I studied all of the greats that came before me. It’s something nowadays where people just kind of pick it up. And for me it was a life’s calling so to speak. I always understood that. It wasn’t something where, one day, I woke up and decided, “Hey, I’m gonna be a rapper!”
It was always a part of my life. I think the acting thing is always going to be there, but I really was able to implement that more into my music.
In listening to your music, there’s so many different subjects. There’s business experiences, personal experiences, childhood stories. Where do you draw your inspiration from when you’re writing?
All of it, man. Um, my childhood, other people’s childhoods, things I’ve seen on the news, things I’ve experienced, things I’ve heard from other people, my grandparents stories, my mother. Everybody’s experiences can be melded into your own if you’re able to observe and have true empathy for what someone is going through.
So, when I write a song like “Eyes of My Father,” obviously I’m speaking from my personal experiences with my father. But I also know a million stories like that, so I’m able to tap into all of those things and sort of bring it into the forefront and make it my own. That’s always been something I’ve tried to stick to is being open and listening and observing and being aware. I people watch. I’m very in tune with pop culture and whatever is going on out there and I just try to bring that into the forefront of what I’m doing.
So you said from an early age you were a writer. Is that the way you best express yourself?
Yeah, man. I can talk for days. But I feel like I’m able to communicate better if I have time and space to sit there and right down what I’m feeling and thinking. It’s a much more clear and concise way of communicating for me. I think we’ve entered a realm now where people rarely talk on the phone. It’s all about text messages and email now. For me, I just don’t have that filter. You know what I mean? When I’m speaking and engaging people, sometimes I get myself in hot water for that. I think with writing, it allows me to stop and maybe say it better.
So, for me, it’s all about communicating through prose, so to speak.
I want to talk about success a little bit. Was there a moment for you growing up when you thought, “I’m doing this, and I’m going to be able to do it for the rest of my life?”
Yeah, I think it came for me in 2006 or 2007. I had put out a few records and they had gotten a lot of buzz. I was touring a lot. I was getting good press, but I had a regular day job.
It was when I was finally able to say, “I don’t need this job anymore.”
It really hit home that rapping was something I was going to be able to do. I always had thought that I could do it, but it wasn’t until that moment when it was real. It was my life now.
I think a lot of people are afraid to take that lead. You don’t want to count your eggs before they hatch, so to speak, and a lot of times people whither away by not taking that risk. I think that making myself take that leap is what really made it a reality for me. I think if I still would have tried to do part-time and half-ass it, so to speak, I would have never had that feeling of accomplishment. So, the fact that I was able to do that at all is something that I’m really proud of because so many people never have the chance to live their dream, let alone have it support them financially for a long time.
On the other side of things, did you ever have a great failure that you were able to bounce back from? A moment where you thought, “All right, if that’s the worst it’s going to get, I can keep going?”
You know, there’ve been a few moments, man. There’ve been tours that weren’t successful. There’ve been projects that I thought would really resonate that didn’t. And at the end of the day, your still alive. You still have your two feet, your health. And it made me realize that it’s not the end of the world if you fail.
That’s something that people need to understand and be aware of when they’re trying to do anything as far as chasing your dream. You’re gonna fail. You’re gonna fall on your face sometimes, but its not the end of the world and you can get back up.
There are definitely opportunities that I think I should have taken. Relationships that I should have quelled or tried to build a little more on that I didn’t. A lot of foolish pride, young pride, and arrogance that lead me down roads and got me involved with people who I shouldn’t have, you know.
They’re all life lessons man. Hindsight is 20/20 and you say, “If I could go back” and all. But if you altered anything in your past, it would change your future. One left instead of right and then the future happens and it’s completely different. I don’t want that. I like my life. I feel like there are things I definitely should have done differently but those failures are what made me the man I am today.
You’re a father right? One kid?
Two boys actually. I have a 5-year old son and an 18-month old son. So again, that puts things in perspective. Music is always going to be my passion and my love but they’re way more important than any music thing could ever be. Them coming along definitely put things in perspective for me as far as what’s important and what’s not.
Hip-hop culture is known to be vulgar and violent at times. How do you navigate that now as a father?
I think you get out what you put in and the type of music that I put out and the type of person that I am with people has always been that of…you know, even if I put out a song with violence in it, there’s a message behind it.
I feel like there’re a lot of guys out there who don’t have the message. They don’t have the foresight to understand that everything you say can come back to you. So, if you walk around taking about nothing but negative stuff, you attract that type of energy.
For me, I’ve been blessed to create in a space where even if I’m saying one thing, my actions as a man and as a person have allowed me to avoid any type of confrontations or drama through my music. I know a lot of artists that have. People want to test that. When they hear you saying, “I’m the killing, killingist killer of all time.” You’re gonna have guys that are really like that, “We are gonna come for you.”
If you’re not about that life, you’re going to learn quickly.
Although you have to write from what you know, and some of these people really come from those situations…
Yeah, but at the same time ,I feel like the realest guys that I know, who are really like that, aren’t making rap music. You have to make a choice whether you want it to be one way or another.
You’ll notice that a lot of the people who can’t seem to leave that street stuff alone, their careers take a lot of hits. I love Beanie Sigel from Philly and T.I. These guys are real dudes but them not being able to leave the street stuff alone impacted their careers.
I think that you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have one foot in and one foot out. Me, being someone who watched it happen … I saw people doing things and I was involved in things, but it was never who I was. So ,music and having a good family base allowed me to get away from stuff like that.
There’s a difference between telling a story about violence with a message and openly endorsing it.
Right, right. And you gotta watch that because there are people listening, you know. Kids with impressionable ears. Kids that grew up in the suburbs that don’t know about anything and think, all of a sudden, that that kind of stuff is what’s up.
You’re gonna get people in a lot of shit if you don’t say, “All right, well, this is what goes on…but this is what should be going on. These are the repercussions of that.” I try to always throw the whole story in there, not just the half.
Some guys are rich, tough, they have all the girls. But no one talks about that fuckin’ a million girls can get you AIDS and kill you, that having a million guns can get you shot or arrested, selling coke can involve you in a bigger conspiracy to ruin a whole community.
You have to look at the whole picture.
Let’s talk about Philly. When I say, “the Philly music scene,” what pops into your head?
The Philadelphia music scene to me is a very vast and incredibly talented music scene. It’s very small because it’s Philly and everyone knows everyone. There’s not enough space to have too much of a divide, which can be a helpful and a hurtful thing.
I think that there is a lot less opportunity for people here as opposed to somewhere like New York or LA. I think that creates a tenacity and a hunger and sort of a chip on our shoulders type of thing where we feel like we have to be better than everyone else because so many kind of dismiss us. It creates a lot of animosity. There’s a lot of crabs in the barrel but there’s a lot of love.
There’s talent though, man. I guess if there’s one word I could say it would be that there’s so much talent. You never know what you’re gonna find. In every show in this city, there’s gonna be a band that’s gonna play, or an MC that’s gonna rap or a singer that’s gonna sing that might just blow your mind. I think that’s extremely important.
How do we cultivate this talent? How do we get these people on the main stage? How do we let everyone know this is what’s going on?
I think it’s just like every other city. There’s a mindset that every city is connected and that we’re behind each other, but were not.
I know that’s the case.
I’ve traveled and you get the same sort of stories wherever you go. The cream rises. I don’t think we need to push everything coming out of Philly just because of hometown pride. It has to be dope. It has to be incredible. I think that when people see something like that, it’s only a natural progression for those people to be pushed to the forefront. I think that sometimes its just being open-minded and being able to listen to each other and help each other out and I think that’s happening more and more.
I think this generation, more so than any other, has knocked down those doors that say “This guy raps like this and this is his sound, so he stays over here. This guy’s on some trap shit. This guy’s on some EDM shit. This guy’s on some boom bap shit.”
I think all of those walls have kind of been knocked down over the last 5 or 10 years just because of the Internet. You have people who are able to tour and get their names out there and not necessarily be in the scene, but they’re working. I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t seem to get from the city. Just because you didn’t see them or hear them before they blew up doesn’t mean they weren’t working.
I feel like there are a lot of artists from the city who are doing great things who weren’t necessarily around but they were doing their thing. I support it, you know?
How did Philly influence you? What’s unique about this place?
Again, just that tenacity man. That hunger. That feeling of we’re the littlest big city in the whole country. It made me tougher and it made my skin thicker and it made me appreciate the soulfulness here.
We were always a musical city … you can go back to The Sound of Philadelphia and the jazz legends who used to live here. We’ve always had a lot of flavor and a lot of different styles. We’ve always had that hunger and that tenacity. That inspired me more than anything else. The “never give up, never quit.” You can call it “The Rocky Syndrome.” Whatever. It’s there. It’s in our DNA. It’s in our water – that toughness. No matter where I go, if I say I’m from Philly, people’s eyes light up. They go, “He must be about his business.” They know were now fuckin’ around out here. This isn’t the place to play games.
I take a lot of pride in that. We’re comin’ to do damage when it comes to performing. If it’s a guy from Philly, they have a hunger there that’s very, very, very real.
I love this positivity about Philly. Do you think anything needs to change?
Like I said before, I think the idea that we are different from anywhere may be misguided. We’re a city! So when it comes to the art scene, there’s gonna be great talent, horrible talent and people in the middle. There’s gonna be people who are positive and support it and people who are gonna be negative.
This idea that we, as a whole, have to do anything to push forward the art scene is something I don’t agree with. I think that when you spot a talent that is undeniable or someone who makes you feel, I think that you’ll be able to support that in your own way.
The idea that you must support something just because its your hometown…I don’t get behind that because you’re pushing falsehoods. You’re pushing people that you don’t believe in personally. What I will say is that the jealousy and the hatred and the crabs in the barrel mentality that sparks so many people in an instant…its like, “Oh he’s doing good? Fuck that guy!” You know what I mean? I think that’s a big problem our city has that some other places don’t have. I think that should change quickly if we ever want to be taken seriously as major players in the arts game, especially in music, because it’s so hard for people to get ahead if their own hometown doesn’t show you love first.
Also, you shouldn’t let that be the end all be all. I know people who have toured all over the world and sold records that have never even played on Philly radio. Never. Not once. Maybe a late night mix show, but never on the mainstream radio, you know, rush hour traffic. You can’t allow that to stop you.
I would like to see that implemented a little more where we’re pushin’ each other. Again, it needs to be genuine, not just because they’re from Philly.
I think that’ll breed more when you have real talent, and I don’t want to say competition. When you look around as an artist and see that the gene pool is filled with so much talent and so much dopeness and you want to be mentioned amongst those people who will inspire you to work harder. That’s not something I had coming up because there wasn’t a whole lot of Philly artists comin’ up and making noise in the early to late 90’s and early 2000’s.
I feel like now, there’s a rapper born every two seconds. It’s over-saturated a little bit. That’s worldwide though, not just the city. I think the Internet and things like that have made it so anyone with access to a computer can get on and make music. I think that wasn’t always the case. I think when there’s a more severe outlook on the talent and a more serious outlook on what’s being put out there, that’s when you’ll see greater talent because they have to bring it.
If you’re playing a show and the artist before you absolutely kills it, you’re gonna have to elevate your game right there.
For sure, man. I think that that’s something that is healthy and needed.
We need that spark and we need that push. If you don’t have it, it can lead to a lot of mediocre and uninspired work. I think that great artists inspire other great artists and that it’ll make you work harder if you see somebody creating great music and a great live show and taking their craft serious.
There’s nothing that disappoints me more than when I see someone just get up and do it without taking it seriously. I think that we need to push that more so than anything else. This isn’t just a hobby, it’s a craft and it’s a way of life. I think that’s with anything you do.
Are the resources there, in the city, for the young artists who are really working hard to be successful?
I think that more so than ever, the resources are there for them to be heard and seen. I think that there are more places to go to perform in the city. The Internet has made people’s journeys much shorter. You’re able to get your music out to the people a lot quicker. Again, there’s a support system there that wasn’t really there 5, 10 years ago.
I think that this younger generation – and I work with a lot of these younger artists, support each other a little more. They support each other a little more and they’re a little more in tune with the idea of the community and that the ants becoming an army can kill the elephant. I think that’s an idea that a lot of people from my generation didn’t have.
So, I love it. I love seeing it. I think they’re more business savvy. They’re taking control of their careers. They’re doing it on their own. They’re not waiting for a record deal. They put their music out for free and book their own shows. The information is right in front of you now.
We didn’t have the information. We didn’t know how to do any of this stuff and now the blueprint is laid out. I think if you’re a young artist now, there’s no better time to be coming up because it’s so accessible.
Absolutely. You can go on Soundcloud and find thousands of free beats. You can get programs for free.
Yeah! The technology for making beats. You used to have to pay $60 an hour to go record back in the day to really make a demo. Now, you save up $200 and you can get everything you need and do it in your bedroom. These kids are doing that and I think it’s really, really great. They’re learning about making their own T-shirts, designing their own CD covers, making their own flyers and posters.
If you know how to manipulate those tools now, you can learn to do anything.
That’s something I didn’t learn till later. I was a caveman. I was all, “What is all this shit?” You know, the Facebook and all this shit. It took me a while to come around to see that it was the future, but once I got on it things opened up for me as well. I was able to take a lot more control. I have this great song, why am I sitting around waiting for it to get put out? I can just put it out right now, and its out!
You have the Philly music scene at a glance but if you dig, you realize it’s made of all sorts of different smaller scenes. The punk scene, the rap scene, the EDM scene, the folk scene, you name it. As someone who listened to probably five different genres today, it would be awesome to see some of these scenes come together more. Do you think that’s something worth happening? Is it even possible to happen?
I think that’s happening. I think that’s something that didn’t happen before. I think it’s something that you’re seeing a lot more. It’s something that paves the way for someone like Anderson.Paak. Those walls are broken down now.
You don’t have to be just a rapper or a singer. That was a foreign concept. Nowadays, everyone raps, sings, produces, plays instruments. And those shows, they’re happening, man. There are shows where you have a singer-songwriter followed by a hip hop artist, followed by a blues guy and I think those shows are the best and those are where you have the most fun because they’re diverse.
Diversity is always been the cornerstone to evolution.
It’s always been the key to any society moving forward and I think it’s very true with music. All of those artists and genres are important and I think that the less separation, the better. You want those crowds merging together.
Now, people who may have not heard of this one guy are fans now, and you’re fans of them and you’re drawing more people in. It’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing.
I mean, people love hip-hop whether they’d like to admit it or not.
In 2016, if you still aren’t a fan of hip-hop and you’re in my age group, you never will be. But I think that there are people everyday that are allowing their minds to be opened a little more. You have a lot of young, urban, American kids who didn’t think they could listen to rock music or understand it who are connecting with it now. Just look at the fashion styles of a lot of these guys. They’re rocking the Misfits T-shirts, you know? Listening to hardcore punk. There’s so many hardcore punk bands of color now that weren’t around. You have the Afropunk Festival in New York that brings out that kind of vibe.
Like I said, I think all of those worlds are starting to meld and gel. Those walls are coming down, slowly but surely.
You have been an independent artist your whole career. Is that the way to do it nowadays? With technology, it seems like a major record deal is becoming obsolete.
I think it really depends on your situation, your drive and your ambition.
Some people would prefer the machine because the machine can take you to levels of fame that being an independent artist just can’t because they have the money and the resources to take an artist and really plaster them everywhere and put them everywhere.
But if you’re coming from a situation where you want artistic control and be involved in every aspect of your career, I don’t think there’s any way to do it but independent.
I also think that now you have to look at some of the deals that people are signing. They are essentially independent deals, where they have their hand in their merchandise and touring because they know now that those things are gonna bring more money than record sales ever will.
The industry is dying, man, as far as the old guard. Before, a record would come out and sell 10 million copies. That shit’s never happening again. Nobody’s selling 10 million records anymore. You might get 10 million streams, but let’s be real, that’s not the same thing and that’s not the same revenue.
So, you have a whole different ball game. They’re [record companies] not the gatekeepers anymore. They don’t make or break. You know, I look at someone like that young guy out of Chicago…Chance! All of his music has been free and he is flourishing and doing wonderful. When people ask him about signing a deal he kind of laughs, “For what?!”
I feel him, man. But again, there are people out there who have mouths to feed, who come from extreme levels of poverty. They want to get the hell out of the environment they’re in. I would never tell anyone to not take the million dollars. Just know that there’s a lot that comes with it. I don’t really know anyone that’s signed a fair deal. That’s not the deal with record labels. It’s not fair, but if you’re goal is to become successful as quickly as possible, the major label system might be the way for you.
For me, it was never an option because I never made the type of music that would attract a major label deal. It was always considered underground or indie or whatever. But I do think there are people who have that talent to make music like that.
Well, with Chance, it’s like you said, the cream rises to the top.
Right. I feel like that’s one of those situations where, out of a million people giving away their music for free, not all of them are anywhere near where he is. It’s one of those situations where this is a guy that found his lane, manipulated it, and did it right and now he’s where he is.
Did you ever have someone from a major label approach you with a deal?
I’ve had “major indies.” That’s how I can put it. I won’t get into any names but I’ve had labels that have been around a long time that deal with majors through distribution and things like that. It didn’t work out for a few reasons. Some, I just didn’t feel the situation was right. Some were just my gut telling me it wasn’t the move. Some were just me being young and arrogant.
I’ve never been locked into anything. Every album I’ve ever been put out has either been completely by myself or I signed a one-off deal with an indie label. I’ve always had creative freedom. I could pick and choose what I want. I have such an anti-authority bone…I get that from my mom…I almost feel like having to sit and explain myself to people and get permission…it just never sat right with me.
This is just something I’m curious about. When you go into the studio for a record, do you go in with a bunch of producers? Or just sit down with one and try to create a tape together?
It’s funny you say that. Early in my career, I would have beats by upwards of seven to eight different producers. The last four or five projects I’ve done have been one producer only. And I’ve been enjoying that process so much more because it’s just so cohesive. It’s so much less of a headache. It’s just us creating. It stands on its own as one cohesive tale.
I did a record called The Fast Way with a producer named Emynd, who is a great friend of mine and a DJ around the city. Incredible DJ. His style is more club or trap Southern, whatever you wanna call that. It’s hip-hop to me. It was one of the most fun projects I’ve done because it allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. I had a lot of fans who didn’t like it, but I gained a lot of new fans by trying it. I think if I had done that record and used half his beats and tried to do half with someone with a different sound, it would have fell flat.
I think that if you have producers with a distinct sound or vibe and you do a whole project with them, I think it’s dope.
Again, I won’t ever knock anyone with a million producers because I’ve done that. I just kind of like the one, two producer projects right now. That’s where I’m at. Just time-wise and financially, I think it makes more sense. It’s much less of a headache.
Not only do you have to find someone who you click with enough to do a whole project together, you also have to find the time between the both of you to actually do it. That’s what always set apart a mixtape and an album for me. Mixtapes being more just collections of songs, where an album should have some kind of cohesive nature as far as the sounds and textures and themes.
For sure. I think that it’s extremely hard to keep people’s attention and keep the cohesiveness if you have people with different sounds or if you have a million tracks. I think what’s dope right now with projects is that kids are throwing out six or seven tracks and that’s a project. Then they release another six or seven as another one. Where before it would be 17 or 18 songs and its so hard to get through it.
I think my first four or five albums averaged out to 16 or 17 songs and I don’t think I could ever go back to that. It’s just too much. We’re in a different world now.
Part of that is just having the wherewithal to know when to trim the fat. To know that these six or seven songs are really going to hit people.
A lot of times, pride and arrogance will stop you from thinking that a song really doesn’t fit this project.
But hey, it might be dope for something else! Or you can throw it out on its own! I have songs that I was saving for albums but now I’m thinking I really want people to hear this and I’m gonna release this today. It’s on my Soundcloud, it’s on my bandcamp today.
Thousands of people get to hear it as opposed to me sitting on it for some project that might never materialize. That’s the great part about the Internet. It’s a double-edged sword, though. It’s definitely given a lot of people a voice that maybe shouldn’t have a voice, but who am I to say.
Yeah, I always had a problem with the fact that music critics are a thing because it’s such a personal experience.
I had to learn early on to let that stuff roll off my back. I stopped reading reviews. I stopped reading the YouTube comments because there are some people out there who get off on putting people down.
Again, how can you judge art?
There are movies that I love that people are like, “That’s the worst movie ever” and I’m like, “What?! I love that movie!” It’s the same with records. Every art is subjective and it always will be. There’s stuff out there that may not be your cup of tea, but someone else might love it.
Who are you to judge them and say you don’t like it? Its like arguing about religion or sports or pizza. There’s no right pizza.
That’s why I get pissed when someone says some song is a “bad song.” It’s not a bad song…you just don’t like it. But anyway, we’ve gone full circle here and what I want to ask you is, when you were a kid and you dreamed of success, do you feel like you’ve turned that dream into reality? Do you feel successful now?
I didn’t for a long time. I’ll be honest with you about that because for me success was being financially set and fame and fortune. That’s what we valued as success.
Now, at 34, with two children, I’m the richest man in the world.
I have been all over the planet. You have to understand: I’m from a place where a lot of people don’t make it to see 18 or they don’t make it out of the area. I have friends who I love to death who have literally done nothing with their lives. I had a friend tell me the other day that he lost his infant son. He didn’t get into details as to why but he said my music helped him through a really rough time in his life. If that isn’t success…
I mean, obviously, there are times where I wish things were different, but you gotta be grateful and you gotta realize there were so many people who have tried to make music and never had any impact.
I’ve had impact man and I’ve affected their lives in a positive way. I’ve made people happy. I’ve made people think. I’ve made people reconnect and reevaluate relationships. That is what I was the vessel for. I may have not been the vessel for lots of money and lots of fame and all that bullshit. I was a vessel to help people in life and that’s the ultimate sign of success.
So, yeah, I do think I’m successful. Obviously, when money’s low and bills are due, I think “Fuck this shit.” But I’m reminded often why I do this and it’s from other people. It’s when I’m performing and I look in the crowd and I see other people enthralled and they feel that joy. You can’t duplicate that. No check could ever replace that.
So you’ve stayed in Philly your whole life. Why are you still here?
My life is here. My family is here. My friends are here. There were times when I considered moving.
It’s funny, now I have a lot of friends who moved to New York or LA and they ended up back here a few years later. Number one, financially you can’t live in New York unless you’re rich now, man. You can live in LA, but unless you have financial stability, it’s really hard to uproot.
I think with the birth of my first son and me and my lady purchased a house, I think it became a lot more real for me that this is where I’m gonna be. And also, my mom is here. My grandmother’s here, all of my cousins, all of my friends…my life is here.
My identity is so entwined with this city that it would almost be impossible for me to leave now.
Like I said, I considered it 10 or 15 years ago, when I was young and hungry and trying to take over to world. I definitely had that in my mind…maybe I should move to New York and sleep on couches and just grind and rap in front of Warner Brothers records until someone comes outside and signs me. I had all of those dreams of doing that.
But I’m a grown man now with responsibilities, so unless I can afford to uproot my family, I won’t be going anywhere.
Like I said, this is my city. It’s engrained in my DNA. It’s who I am. I am a Philadelphia musician. I’m a Philadelphia man. I’m a Philadelphia son, father, brother. This is where I’m from and I think that you don’t really ask people from other places, “Why are you still here?” That’s something I want to change.
We feel like we have to leave here to become a success and I don’t think that’s true. I think more so than anything in the next 5 to 10 years, this city is going to be a mecca and a hub for creative talent exploding and you can see the steps happening already so I think were in a good place. So, I’ll be here ’til the curtains close.
This is my home, man. I know where I’m going… I know my way around!
You did need a little help around Temple…
It’s funny. I used to come here when I was 16. I was arrested with a firearm and I was put in a program called “Don’t fall down in the hood” through the Institute for the Development of African-American Youth. We used to have classes on Temple’s campus. That was the only time I ever used to come down here and I swear it used to wake me up a little bit because I would see all of these kids hustlin’ to class and the environment and I would be, like, “Man, there is so much more to life than where I’m at right now.”
A lot of the people who were in that program aren’t here with us anymore. They might be dead or incarcerated, but I’m thankful. It’s always interesting to come back here.
So final thoughts. What are some words of wisdom for someone coming up in Philly right now?
My advice would be work hard, work smart, respect the youth and respect the elders. Mind your business and don’t listen to anybody else. Keep your head down and work.
Everything is possible if you believe in yourself. It might sound cliché, but I never listened to anybody. It might have hurt or helped, but regret is something we all have to live with. We have to keep pushing forward. Don’t be afraid to fail and keep at it.
Whatever you want to do in life…keep at it. Whether its journalism or hip-hop or if you want to be a kickboxer, you have to work. The work is the reward. The work is what makes it all worth while.