Other than the lone gold chain around his neck, rapper Sylvan LaCue isn’t trying to look like a rapper. Or act like a rapper. There’s these certain stereotypes and stigmas attached to the main acts of hip hop and often times, rappers try to live the reality of their rhymes about money, women, jewelry etc. Too bad Sylvan’s not rhyming about those things, or at least not in the same braggadocio way we’re used to so often. Thus, there’s not a bright, shining, untouchable aura surround Mr. Sylvan LaCue. As I walk into this coffee shop to introduce myself to a musician that’s been in my life since 2010, there’s only excitement, and no nerves and Sylvan meets that expectation as we sit down to get to talking. A talk so indulging that I had no idea there was music playing in the venue until I played back the audio from this interview in hindsight.
To preface this conversation, Sylvan LaCue dropped his first retail album Far From Familiar, last week. He’s had a long standing career already, most of it under the QuESt moniker but since all the trials and tribulations of those days, he’s further stripped back that former desire of his to be a “rapper”. Note the quotations, because especially now as Sylvan, he’s become a storyteller, a rap novelist. Flashback to 2009, when QuESt started making some impact on the internet with his raps and you’ll find an innocent, hungry spitter with a desire to “get on”. I remember browsing the mans Myspace page (haha). Fast forward to 2016 and he’s seen all the tribulations of the industry, been through a lot of ups and downs and he’s learned how to truly vent all those tribulations into his music better than ever on his new album Far From Familiar.
It’s a rap novelist style that he really began to craft on his last project Searching Sylvan, a very personal outing in which he outlined his family struggles and his rigorous come up in Miami. This new album picks up where that left off, this is the next chapter and it really just documents a lot of what happened since the release of Searching Sylvan. But what makes this new project different? “I think we did leaps and bounds and pushed the boundaries,” he tells me. “Mixing, formatting, I think I found a cohesive sound with my team and also with my engineer. Searching Sylvan, from a production standpoint felt a little bit more put the pieces together and make it flow. Everything from Far From Familiar was built from the ground up. I feel like the content is better, the replay value is better, stronger hooks, more confidence.”
Far From Familiar clocks in at 59 minutes, spanning 16 tracks, which is a lot of content but out of all that, Sylvan says his favorite song stands as “Cruel World” as right now. It’s a song with hard, thumping kicks and a ground shaker of an 808 groove, which actually gets flipped on its head halfway through the song as the beat changes and now the hook from the first half, gets transposed down dramatically and looped to create a new beat. It’s the type of beat that bold black letters can’t truly do justice. This hard-hitting track follows the intro “Loner” and the album is also closed out by three more tracks with a similar, slow pace and humble feel, while most of the middle of the album is noticeably a lot more positive. “I guess it was just the story; I try to pay attention to the story I’m trying to convey, which is getting from point a to point b and not necessarily the pacing. For me it’s about what’s going to tell the story.”
Another interesting aspect of the album are the lack of rap features. “It’s hard,” he says. “A lot of artists right now are to themselves so it’s always hard to get a feature and I think also they have to make sense, feel right and serve a purpose. My music always means something.” He also added that “I haven’t hit that stride where everybody knows who I am yet and I try not to get too many people confused especially when it comes to new listeners.” Sylvan’s career has certainly been a weird one as at one point, he was grouped together on the blogs at the beginning of the decade with fellow up and comers like Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole etc. He never quite got over that hump. Far From Familiar is actually his first official retail album and he did it all, independently. “We were trying to create this project and get some type of funding or kick behind it,” says Sylvan, “but we ended up doing everything independently and just putting it out ourselves with our own marketing. I think it served us better. It showed us what we could do on our own and it also gave us more leverage under our belt for the future if anyone else wants to come around and add their resources to what we’re doing.”
Many people attach the independent artist as a rebel to the industry and what’s going on in the mainstream but that’s often a misconception. For one, Far From Familiar takes a lot of nods from what’s going on around him. When asked that, he replied with a quick, stout “definitely.” Further explaining it “I think we had a cognitive, conscious effort of making hooks and making records that had mainstream appeal but were still progressive.” He also explains that “for the longest, I just wanted to be the best rapper and I think after a certain amount of time you have to start transitioning to make great records that have replay value. You can only rap so much to get your point across.”
Before Sylvan created his own Wise Up brand and curated a team he could truly call his own, he was a member of Logic‘s Visionary Music Group imprint for a little bit. Logic‘s an artist whose built a diehard fanbase out of a bunch of kids who can truly relate to his music and they feel very passionately about it. Sylvan tapped into that base from his time at VMG (Visionary Music Group) and despite their falling out, a lot of the fans have stuck. “I think it’s dope that I’ve still been able to keep some of them as believers, as Sylvan supporters,” he said. These #RattPack kids seem to cling to some of the messages of Sylvan’s music, as he deals with topics of love, struggle and strife often, to the most honest degree.
We saw the rap persona change a bit with the name change to his birth name, Sylvan LaCue but it also worked logistically. “It’s unique and true to me as an artist and it’s helped me tremendously,” he says. “The biggest advantage I had [to the name change] was that my last project was Searching Sylvan, so it kind of also fit in with my narrative. I feel like for me in my career and where I’m at in my career, it makes the most sense for me to change right now, while I still have the chance.”
“Far From Familiar was about being in different areas and experiencing different things, ultimately culminating into me realizing who I am and finding who I am.”
It’s a change that had Sylvan removing his mean, rap mug to show off his missing front tooth and smile at the success of the new album thus far and that he’s doing it all with the way he wants, with integrity in tact. “What I’m doing is a longer road and it’s a road toward longevity. I know I want to be here, 10-15 years from now and I think the only way for me to do that is telling a story and a narrative that touches peoples hearts”, says Sylvan. “A lot of people want just one song but maybe the one song will bring them into the narrative [of the album]. In these times, especially where things come and go and people have records that last for two months and then come and go in virtually a week, it’s very imperative for me to tell my story and touch peoples hearts.”