Step 1: Put God first. Step 2: Take care of yourself. Step 3: Prioritize your fans.
Result: Create an excellent body of work with social impact and flourish.
It’s been a pretty great year for Sylvan LaCue already, and it’s barely dawning. This January, the Miami-bred, LA-based musician, producer & lyricist delivered one of his finest works yet — Apologies in Advance — to the delight of loyal fans and music heads alike.
Last year set the bar high for hip hop, and your favorite blogger’s favorite rapper wasted no time stepping up the challenge. LaCue entered the first quarter like one who’d been sprinting all summer and shooting free throws all autumn: to no one’s surprise and everyone’s enjoyment. It’s not that he’s slept on, he’s just that good. And like all great things, it takes patience and timing. LaCue seems be mastering both.
A head start at rap from a young age (the Bow Wow years), found Sylvan getting major blog love and even a short-lived deal with Jermaine Dupri. The deal, which was he won in a rap contest, humbled him. He was also signed to Logic’s label, which provided a platform for him to tour for a couple of years, before leaving to go form his own Wise Up & Co. One thing remained consistent through it all: bars on bars on bars.
Sylvan’s approach to music and storytelling has always been inspired: well-thought out mixtapes like 2014’s Searching Sylvan, which featured a storyline, narravite skits and individual painted artwork for each song. Followed by Far From Familiar, documenting his 2015 journey from Miami to Oakland, as well as his transition from his stage name QuESt to Sylvan LaCue, his God-given name (real name, no gimmicks). The project also highlighted his musical peers, with live instrumentation & vocals from Florida’s Wishlade and Linzi Jai, among others.
“I promise to always give you BETTER than my last.” — LaCue’s message to his fans via Instagram before FFF
Shortly after Familiar, Sylvan set out on his self-made LONER tour in 2016, with no sponsors or manager. Just his right-hand & visual director Jonathan Benavente and WiseUp team. Fun fact: He and Jon met while both were touring with Logic years ago and have been brothers ever since.
Before he could unpack his suitcase, Saba invited him back on the road with PIVOT gang for The Bucket List tour. The Chicago rapper had recently joined LaCue on the remix to “Best Me” — a song which lives up to its title, with the two exchanging top-shelf bars the entire time. Both tours were documented for the Sincerely Sylvan series on YouTube, directed by Benavente.
Fast forward to what seems like the beginning of a new, mostly self-produced album. Life is good. Songs are being recorded. A few loosies hit SoundCloud: “The Truman Show” a mellow introspective jawn with R&B singer Xavier Omär and “Televised” a smooth social commentary with Oakland’s Rayana Jay. Then every creative’s nightmare on Macbook street strikes — he loses his laptop and hard drive. Gone. Bruh…
God works in mysterious ways, though. This led the rapper and producer to once again pick up his pen and Pro Tools, and head back into the studio. This time with even more ambition, beats and bars, to create the beautiful soundtrack which became Apologies in Advance.
Inspired by Kanye West’s Late Registration, Ms. Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Jay-Z’s 4:44, Sylvan took a deep look into himself, his emotions, insecurities, triumphs, relationships, career — every aspect of his life, and put it into his music. Teaming up with Gary Biddy, BJRNCK, Javonte and an array of multi-talented individuals to create a fluid and introspective album. A soundtrack for self-actualization.
First came the concept: structured around an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting for emotions. The theme carries through the album’s songs, sequence, artwork and accompanying short film, seamlessly.
Then came the insight. Opening up on his own WiseUp platform, he called up journalist Akaash Sham for a transparent, conversational interview entitled “The Healing of Sylvan Lacue.” The two discussed the healing of self, men, hip hop and the nation as a whole.
Apologies was a group effort, creatively. Developed over a series of meetups, group chats and a few flights. Nick Billardello came up with the title and initial concept, Nicky Chulo [Black Rabbit (黒兎)] came through in the designs and J. Benavente snapped on the visuals, as usual, along with Joshua “Joshy Gonz” Gonzales. Navigated by Sylvan’s sensei & manager, Amir Abbassy of Blame the Label, and fueled by the energy of a few hungry yutes ready to work and fill in the blanks.
It’s great to see artists use their platforms to help uplift others. Exposing their own insecurities rather than exploiting everyone else’s. Not just in the United States of Anxiety, but globally, we all need to deal with inner issues before they get to be debilitating and threaten our livelihood, livity and collective creativity. LaCue does so, with style and grace.
The singles feature direct, blatant titles — “Grateful”, “Guilt Trip”, “Selfish” — tapping into our collective emotions, feelings and patterns. The videos were released simultaneously, all directed by Jonathan. Each one featuring Sylvan alone. Candid, contemplative and clearly growing more comfortable with self. Each set against gorgeous backdrops of skies that are as changing as our moods, yet as beautiful as God made them. Reminding us that we are too. Or is that too deep? Powder blue skies and sunsets will have you in your feelings, b.
The album carries a sense of timeliness and relatable transparency, with pensive lyrics, emotional honesty, consistent content and an inspiring pace. Weekly “therapy” videos leading up to the release got us even deeper in our feels, while allowing us to relate to people from different walks of life on issues that both plague and liberate us all. Touching on everything from God to WorldStar, from purpose to art.
Each one built reasonable anticipation for the album’s January release, premiering with a beautiful yet simple short film titled Apology Accepted. Real raw. Real tears. Don’t judge. You may shed one, too. The film tied in all the narratives, and ended with a confessional one-on-one with Sylvan and Bryce Laguer, the voice guiding the album’s introspection.
Fresh off a successful release month, charting on both the alternative and hip hop charts, it’s safe to say Apologies is a masterpiece. If you have heard it already, you understand why immediately. Impeccable flow and hip hop proverbs. Stellar production. Thought provoking skits that feel like therapy. It feels thought out and meaningful, and hopefully inspires us all to fill our cups and pull out our best creative work this year.
“I wanted to create a Miseducation of Lauryn Hill but for millennials, and instead of love, we talk about emotions. As I was going through it, I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just about me. I’m writing records that are therapeutic for me but I wanted to include other people in the album so that whoever listens realizes that it’s not just about me, it’s about all of us. We’re all going through these things and that’s the overall message. Let’s take accountability. Let’s face ourselves so we can heal ourselves and we can heal other people as well.” — via Billboard.com (2018)
Staying true to his #1 rule of Fans First, Sylvan has already blessed the Wise Ones with a packed listening release party in LA where he did an intimate Q+A with journalist Emily Berkeley (who recently quit her day job and is now following her own dreams). Fans also got to recreate the album cover with the man himself and meet the people involved, from the album voices & faces in videos to those behind the scenes.
A few days after the listening, he performed alongside Xavier Omär in LA, then hosted a pop up in NYC which was also live streamed from his Instagram. People tuned in all around the world, already repping their cities for the tour. Motivational guru and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk recently added “Best Me” (which reached 4 million plays) to his Spotify playlist. Days later “Empathy” was highlighted by Spotify and Gary again. He also found time for a “Coffee Break” video on MLK Day, and is filming a next video with BJRNCK.
In addition to Billboard & The DJBooth freestyles, he was chosen as TIDAL’s Rising Artist of the Week — which includes a curated playlist of album inspirations from Dilla & Solange to Q-Tip & Cudi. Before blessing the stage with a pair of headlining shows in March, he’ll be opening for the god emcee Jay Electronica سيف الله in California.
Hard work pays off — and apparently so does humility.
It’s shaping up to be a blessed year for young LaCue, for hip hop and for every hard-working creative living out their God-given purpose. Just work your talents, prioritize and remember to make time for yourself.
So, choose your relaxation method of choice, listen to Apologies in Advance in full and feel everything.
Music is supposed to inspire….
…a young Lauryn once lovingly, yet longingly crooned. And Sylvan Lacue has proven that it can, and will indeed, take us higher.
Relax yourself. Play your favorite song(s) over and over.
You deserve it. Wise up, and heal. No apologies necessary.
Apologies in Advance is available now on all streaming platforms. Follow @SylvanLacue on social media & visit wiseup.co for show tickets. Words by Ronnia Cherry for 7AM magazine. email@example.com.
Also published on Medium.