“Yaowwwwwwwww. I need a favor mane, if you’d be down.”
That’s what Sylvan LaCue messaged me at 5:27PM on a lazy Saturday.
When I asked what the favor was, he explained that he was putting out his new single "Selfish" in 4 days and wanted an interview to be released with it acting as an editorial piece. He wanted me to conduct the interview with him.
The first thing that came to mind was that he was really doing me a favor. It was honestly still a pleasant surprise that one of my favorite rappers was messaging me at all. I first heard him rap in January of 2014 on "24 Freestyle" but the moment I became a fan was later that year when I pressed play on "Automatic". Somehow, we got in contact not long afterwards.
An interview for WiseUp.co? Of course, I obliged.
We’d previously done an interview for KarenCivil.com but this time around felt different. I loved the single and I knew he wanted to address certain things. We both had a feeling it’d be special and our expectations were exceeded. The new single "Selfish" is the follow up to "Best Me", "Grateful" and "Guilt Trip", all of which appear on the highly anticipated forthcoming album "Apologies In Advance". It is Sylvan’s direct response to the topic of mental health in Hip-Hop with regards to everyone from its fans to its biggest artists. Listen to it and check out our conversation below where we discuss Sylvan’s own battles with depression, the hardest moment of his career, his new album and more.
Akaash Sharma: Over the past few days, Hurricane Irma has greatly affected your hometown of Miami. The streets looked like rivers. Was anyone you know directly impacted?
Sylvan LaCue: Yeah man, it’s been a real nerve wrecking experience to say the very least. Essentially my entire family and all of my loved ones were affected by the storm. Thankfully it regressed to a category 3 by the time it hit. Me being in Los Angeles and them being out there definitely made for a worrisome time these last couple of days. A lot of flooding and power outages but for the most part, everyone is alive, well and breathing.
AS: When I texted you over the weekend about it I was relieved but also surprised to find out you were in LA. I remember you talking about the lifestyle over there changing you for the worse after the release of "Searching Sylvan". Have you since found peace with it?
SL: That’s a great question. Yeah man, 100%. I was super naïve to LA three years ago. I’d visited before of course but when it came to the culture and lifestyle I involved myself in, I don't think I knew myself enough to be able to be in those environments without becoming someone I didn't recognize. I think now, at 27, I've found my footing. I also hold a different level of responsibility these days. I never thought I'd be living in LA but it’s proven to be a place I can thrive in while still maintaining who I am.
AS: It’s been a big topic of conversation in Hip-Hop for a few years now, namely with J. Cole. The music industry and Hollywood affecting artists’ mental health. The last song on "Far From Familiar" is actually titled "At What Cost" and at one point that was going to be the name of your album too. How have the ins and outs of the business side of things affected your personal life? What do you feel the costs of success are?
SL: The business can really seep into your personal if you don't pay attention. The music is and always will be the purest thing I can attach myself to. It’s like ground zero or Zion and the rest of this bullshit I have to deal with is essentially the matrix. I maneuver around obstacles and agents to get what I need so I can take my ass back home to the real world. But there was a time where this business was really fucking with me. My confidence, my sanity, my belief in myself. A lot of that started after I left Logic and Visionary Music Group.
I mean what is success, right? Success means so many things to me that sometimes I can't fully wrap my head around it. I think true success is going to bed knowing you're doing what you love every single day. In my case, my cost was stability and protection. I really could have taken the easy way out. I was promised a lot of things but I chose the harder route; to create something from the ground up, control my trajectory. It takes a lot longer and it doesn't look pretty off the bat, but it’s worth so much more. To me, at least.
"At the time I left VMG and moved away from Logic I felt doubted, abandoned and forgotten about. I experienced multiple breakdowns. deep depression"
AS: Did the departure from VMG leave you with doubt about yourself musically?
SL: Yeah man, a lot of doubt. At the time I left VMG and moved away from Logic I felt doubted, abandoned and forgotten about. I experienced multiple breakdowns. Deep depression. Leaving Logic and VMG was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do in my career. I saw something else for myself and I couldn't ignore it and a lot of people doubted me. Obviously because, when something looks that promising, why would you leave? But I believed in something different. I believed in WiseUp. A lot of industry people who were super into what I was doing all of sudden stopped answering back. I'd get on social media and some of my fans were like ‘he's not the same, he left Logic and used him for fame’ and all this other bullshit. I had to literally start from scratch after that departure and I was going through serious self-doubt and depression. The numbers weren't as big, there wasn’t as much attention. But I knew I was working towards something greater than that. I was fighting for trajectory. To be responsible for something I built from the ground up with my own two hands. I never let my fans see that side of me because I knew I had to remain confident to those who still believed and still cared for my music and message. I held a responsibility to deliver a message and I still do.
AS: When you're in that depression mind-set, it feels like nothing can help and that you'll never be okay. What was it that helped you exit that state?
SL: For me personally, it was "Best Me". I wrote, produced and recorded "Best Me" and it saved my career and my depression. I was moping around after "Far From Familiar" just really down on myself. When I wrote that record, it was like ‘yo man, let me just be real with myself. I wanna be the best version of myself possibly, but I have these fucking issues I’m dealing with and I need to admit them right the fuck now so I can start doing something about them’, that’s when things started to click. I realized I had to start taking some responsibility, looking in the mirror, admitting some shit about myself and find ways to heal these wounds I refused to let heal. I needed acceptance and accountability for my own emotions.
"I'm just tired of us only paying attention to mental health when suicide or suicidal thoughts come into the picture. You don't start paying attention to cancer when it gets to a stage 4 do you?"
AS: I remember being surprised that you fell victim to depression as recent as after the release of "Far From Familiar" but was even more surprised when I recently went back and listened to "Maybe I Should". You talk about contemplating death even back then. Then on "C.O.T." it's the addiction to thinking. These themes have been prevalent in your music for your while now. Ironically, Logic has "1-800-273-8255" killing radio as we speak but last week you tweeted about how mental health should be addressed before suicide even enters the picture. What are some patterns in mental health that you’ve observed or experienced and what do you think are solutions? On this new single you say your mother advised you to “work out proper, eat more veggies, drink more water.”
SL: I've contemplated suicide once in my lifetime. That was a really low point for me and God willing, I'll never get there again. Depression patterns for me start with a voice. A relatively little one. And everything around me fuels that voice and makes it louder and louder. We experience so much anxiety and depression because we’re exposed to so much on a daily basis. If I have a bad thought one day, something as simple as ‘man, I'm not doing enough to further myself’. That voice might be fueled by something I see on Instagram, or a tweet I see on Twitter, or someone living their best life on Snapchat. Then my overall perception is thwarted. I had to realize I'm not my thoughts. And that’s just one thing, shit gets deep… I'm just tired of us only paying attention to mental health when suicide or suicidal thoughts come into the picture. You don't start paying attention to cancer when it gets to a stage 4 do you? Like… do you know how much you have to go through to get to a state of depression? Not talking about a bad day or a crummy week. I'm talking waking up every day in a state of depression. Let alone suicide. I feel like we gotta start the conversation earlier. What are we going through on a daily basis? Where are some of these emotions that we’re experiencing stemming from and how do we face them head on? Logic's "1-800-273-8255" is 1 thing, but its not enough. We have to find a way to go beyond that and get to the real root of some our issues before we can even get to suicide. Mass awareness of a suicide hotline isn't enough to spark change to whats really going on inside us. A suicide hotline is for when you've completely lost sight of any reason to continue living and want to end it. I'm trying to find out how we can stop some of these detrimental behavioral patterns so that phone never has to be picked up to call that number again. Obviously I can't save everyone, but we have to find ways to really do something about what’s going on in us internally. I don't know what that is exactly. I do know it starts with conversation. And that’s what "Apologies in Advance" is all about. That spark.
AS: I recently listened to a podcast you were a guest on earlier this year and the topic of Kendrick’s stretch mark lines on "HUMBLE." and the backlash they received came up. You said something interesting about men never truly comprehending what women go through but women being able to understand what men go through because we’re “pretty simple”. As a man, I laughed and nodded along but in hindsight, it’s actually fucked up that we have that view of ourselves. I mean, suicide is the biggest killer of males under 50. How do you think the perception of men vs. women affects how we deal with mental health?
SL: I'm not a ‘men are like this and women are like this’ kind of guy (laughs). But there are some things that are more prevalent in men vs. women. The majority of women in my opinion, at least in western civilization, are taught to embrace and deal with their emotions head on. To support those around them and to show love and compassion openly. Men on the other hand are taught to have strength, protect and provide for those that they love. A lot of men are constipated emotionally because we’re not taught to deal with our emotions. When we go through things, such as us not feeling we’re living up to our own potential, a lot of us shut down. We don't open up. We want to still be strong and provide because a lot of that is wired in our programming. And that’s just one factor. We’re not factoring in outside circumstances or physical health, which is literally hand in hand with mental health. It’s one thing to be alone and not have someone to talk to, but imagine being alone, not having someone to talk to and not knowing how to talk about it because you're not used to sharing your emotions. That’s a lot of men.
I want my heroes who go through, have been through or still go through these issues – Cudi, Ye, Lupe, Nas, Common, Kendrick, Cole – I want them to hear this album and heal."
AS: Absolutely. A thousand dissertations can be written about it. That brings us to the new single where you address putting yourself first. On the "Best Me" remix you say that your last request is for your selfish ways not to shine through but this new single is literally all about being selfish. How have you found that balance?
SL: It’s funny man, that’s an amazing question. I had to realize that there's great power in being selfish and taking time for yourself. Yes, be giving. Yes, care for others. But not at the sake of your own sanity. I've always had that issue, putting myself last. Being selfish allowed me to begin to take care of myself so I can take care of others accordingly. It’s a part of healing. I had to learn that.
AS: It feels like the healing process will continue with "Apologies In Advance". Since you’ve started producing for yourself it feels like you’ve really leveled up and grown musically. Even the content comes off like you’ve had an epiphany and are freer now. What can we expect from the next album sonically and concept wise?
SL: Yeah man, 100%. Sonically, I'm producing everything. I'm working on it diligently and I want the landscape to feel warm, lush and inviting. There’s a very strong concept on this album. It’s about facing issues within yourself head on, accepting them and finding ways to heal. It’s for those who want real change and want to start the conversation towards it. I want my heroes, my favorite artists to hear this album. I want JAY-Z to hear this and feel that his work as a person lives on in the artists coming up. I don't know if he says that just yet. I want my heroes who go through, have been through or still go through these issues – Cudi, Ye, Lupe, Nas, Common, Kendrick, Cole – I want them to hear this album and heal. I want them to recognize that they really will live on. It’s in my music. I've learned from them and I'm helping others learn.
AS: It's not just the music either. The videos that accompany these "Apologies In Advance" singles so far have been your best work visually by far. The whole aesthetic is perfect. Talk about your relationship with director Jonathan Benavente.
SL: Man, I thank God for him every day of my life. We both met on Logic’s tour in 2014. When I left, he left shortly after. We just continued our relationship. He's my brother and my best friend. We've gone from making visuals that have these grandiose concepts to saying ‘yo fuck it, let’s just do us’ and it’s been working so much. He's a genius in his own right and I wouldn't be this far without him. We both have grown so much in the past three years.
AS: It's hard to think of music videos with colors that fit the sounds so well. A lot of people know your work from 2014 onwards but with the release of "Apologies In Advance" you're well on your way to having crafted 20 bodies of work, some of which haven’t even been heard by the public. Do you ever feel spiteful about the fact that you’re still considered an underrated up and comer?
SL: Yeah man, I would be lying if I say I didn't. I recognize the emotion so I don't feed into it, but it’s there. As a musician "Apologies in Advance" represents 10 years of me releasing music to the public and still hearing “you're underrated". I'm ready to retire that phrase. From the QuESt days to now, I'm 100% eternally grateful for God’s timing and guidance over my life, but I'm not going into 11 years underrated or an up and comer. I've remained patient and stayed my course. I've taken risks and have had the grace and opportunity to fail. I'm still here and I'm not going anywhere anytime soon.