Sylvan LaCue has spent much of the last decade building a healthy following with rap fans near and far. With a debut album and a catalog of mixtapes already to his name, Sylvan returned early this year with his latest.
Titled Apologies in Advance, Sylvan takes listeners through a 12-step AA session, for emotions. Speaking on many personal issues, such as being too empathetic or being too selfish, Sylvan creates records that confront these emotions while also seeking resolve in them as well. Along with the music, a running therapy session occurs throughout the album’s background with a group of individuals discussing the same issues.
Before he takes his music on the road with his Apologies in Advance tour, I spent some time with Mr. LaCue to discuss individual songs, the album’s AA-concept as a whole, being influenced by JAY-Z‘s 4:44 and Lauryn Hill‘s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and “perfectionism.”
From a concept standpoint, this is one of the more unique albums that I’ve heard. How did it come about?
Honestly, man — well, first of all, thank you — in all honesty, it kind of came about in a series of different steps. It started off with the music, obviously. We were creating records, and the first record that started sparking our, kind of started sparking this new energy and direction in terms of content, was ‘Best Me.’ We were creating records and putting them out to see what people liked and didn’t like, trying to be contentious with the music. Over time, we got to a point where it was like ‘Okay cool, this is alright, but there’s a demand for the album and we should probably start putting stuff together.’ Thinking of concepts, nothing really came to us. Until my boy Nicholas Billardello, who is a good friend of mine, sat with all of the music and was like ‘Yo, the songs that you’re creating are like a therapy session and each song needs to be a step towards, you know, confronting yourself, confronting emotions that you’re talking about.’ We took the idea and ran with it, taking it to another level by going to a bunch of friends in Los Angeles and telling them we wanna conduct these interviews, getting them to dive into their emotions. We finished the album, we put together the concept, we put together the skits, we enlisted the friends that we knew, and it all just gradually came together. It wasn’t too forced or anything, it was more like ‘Oh wow, this is happening pretty organically,’ and once we got the concept down, everything just started making a lot of sense.
Moving on to specifically the AA sessions, did the individuals’ responses help create your music or was the music already there and you just kind of used these sessions to emphasize your message and bring the album together?
It was somewhat both, to be honest. I think half of the music, or maybe a little more than half, was already put together when we started conducting the sessions, but some of the songs weren’t finished or completely flushed out. ‘Perfect Imperfections’ was meant to be a general love song and it ended up having this deeper resolving meaning once we started hearing what a lot of our friends had to say during these meetings. Same thing with ‘Love and Sacrifice.’ The “full cup” theory just gave a whole different context to love and sacrificing. There was a little bit of both, to be honest. The overall arch definitely influenced the concept, but the concept and the actual meetings that were taking place influenced the music as well.
Obviously, you relate to these concepts and experiences that you relay throughout the album, which one do you relate to the most, in the sense like, which one “triggers” you the most?
For me, it’s ‘Head Games.’ The song still triggers me to this day, when it comes down to not being able to get out of my own head and not allowing myself to see the bigger picture when it comes down to certain things. Just continuously questioning myself and questioning what I can and can’t do. I mean, all of them definitely trigger me in some type of way, but “Head Games” still, even to this day, still triggers me. 100%.
Two tracks on the album I really want to focus in on for a second, “Best Me” and “Perfect Imperfections,” in a sense that your “best you” can be misinterpreted as being perfect, how did you find the balance between your “best you” and “perfectionism” in life and on the album?
I think for life, being the “best you” honestly just comes down to giving the most that you can give and not really thinking twice when it comes down to bettering yourself. I don’t necessarily think there is a “perfect” in this world when it comes down to who you are. I think there’s only the notion of, can you go to sleep knowing that you’ve done everything you could towards either bettering yourself or bettering the surroundings for the things that you want? That’s what it comes down to, for me. “Best Me” was a proclamation of peace. For so long I was trying to be something else or trying to live up to some type of expectation, but me saying “I wanted to be the best me possibly” was a result of understanding this is all I have, so the best thing I can do is to better myself and better the surroundings around me at the highest capacity that I possibly can. I think that’s where my resolve comes from and where my peace comes from, not necessarily being perfect, I don’t really understand what that is to a certain degree, but just at all times making sure that I’m operating at the best place, at the best level I could possibly operate at.
“Coffee Break” is a really jam-packed song, as you speak on a lot of things. You talk about your legacy, police brutality and drug culture, among other topics. As a whole, listeners kind of get a good look of what’s on your mind at that point. What did you hope listeners took out of that song?
I kind of wanted them to see that it was me bearing my soul on the way, like these are the things that are happening in the world and also with myself internally that have been conflicted in my heart for a long time and I wanted to be pretty transparent about what in the time or in that moment mattered to me, you heard from, you know, saying “I’ve making music for the wrong reasons” like, I think my whole brand and what I’ve stood for up to this point is being very transparent about everything from my struggle, to my perseverance, to my emotions, to anything that possibly goes on inside of me. When I wrote “Coffee Break,” it was like the leveled playing field like, “Okay let’s level the playing field like, this is where I’m at, this is where my mindset is at, and I hope you guys can understand where I’m coming from” and it’s also a purge of emotions as well, it’s just definitely a raw purge of what I’m feeling at the time.
Sliding down the album a little more, “P.O.M.E.,” that song’s kind of broken down into three parts, you hear the transitions as you move throughout the song, “Perfect Imperfections” is the same thing. With that, you get a different feel and different off that, what was your thought process behind doing that?
For “P.O.M.E.” there are three parts representing three different levels, the first part is honestly is a duality, it’s a story of me and another person and basically our paths and what we choose. Like midway through the first part I say, “Stayed inside, played Pimp My Ride, and dreamt of what I prayed for,” like that was my choice and then it goes into “N****s gettin’ older, got a lot of chips upon they shoulders,” that’s where I start kind of detailing another friend who I lost, his mentality, being surrounded by everything that I was surrounded by. Second part is the chaos, it’s just everything that makes, you know, your environment, it’s wild, there’s so much happening that makes it seem like that there’s no way to get out of it and then the third part is perspective, just in terms of “Hey, this is what we should take from it” or “This is what I believe I’ve taken from it and I hope you guys can take this from this as well,” you know what I mean? Just in terms of where you growing at and your surroundings in general, whether you had a rough environment or a normal environment.
For me, even with “Perfect Imperfections” splitting it up, its like the first part it’s a love song for yourself and the second part, it’s the realization, it’s like “Nobody’s perfect/But, who you are, is already perfect/We can dig deep, real deep, under the surface/Uncover our battles with serpents,” it’s like the resolve. I wanted the whole album to come with resolve, not just emotions and like yeah we’re digging into these things and we’re going through these things, but what’s the point of feeling things if there’s no resolution, there’s no peace made? A lot of the song that have second parts are attributed to the fact that I wanted to create a dialogue for the actual discussion of emotion, but also, create an avenue for resolution.
Speaking on the album as a whole, you mentioned that you drew inspiration from JAY-Z’s 4:44 and Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, what did you want to take or draw from these albums to make your own?
4:44 for me was more personal, it was like Jay’s my favorite rapper so to hear somebody be that vulnerable and then step off of his pedestal and to let us into what he’s feeling and how he’s going through the process of healing for himself was really inspiring to me it was like, “Wow, my hero can do it, then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to as well,” that was honestly my mindset. So it was just motivating to me to stand for being very open about these emotions that we’re going through and he did it for himself and, obviously the whole world saw, but I wanted to do something for myself and also for millennials as well.
The same thing with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, I really took those discussions, you know, because on that album the main focal point was the idea of love and the discussions of love and the intertwinement of love, and you had these kids that were speaking frankly about it like, a high school a middle school, and I wanted to create that dialogue as well and that’s also what partly inspired the AA meetings it was like “Alright well, you know, let’s get a bunch of millennials you know, a bunch of 20-year-olds and lets f***ing talk about what we’re going through and like let’s not be afraid to, why should we?”
Many of the topics on the album, being “selfishness” and “perfectionism” for example, can appear while you’re creating an album. Personally for you, while you were creating this album, did you find yourself struggling with the same ideas and problems you were talking about on the album?
Yeah man, 100%. I don’t think they’ll necessarily go away, you know, and I don’t think, for me, that wasn’t the goal, it wasn’t like “Hey, you know these feelings are gonna go away,” we’re all going to, at one point or another, struggle with like being selfish, there’s gonna be a time from now, and I’ve gotten better at it, but you know I’ll get to a point where I’m not making enough time for myself or I’m showing too much empathy, like these are issues that don’t necessarily just fade into the background, but it’s talking about them accepting them and confronting them so that they don’t ruin your life or have control over your life. You just experienced them and you understand them so you can better maneuver how to deal with situations like that. So yeah, I don’t know if I’ll necessarily ever stop feeling those emotions, even to this day, I still go through some of those things, but the beauty of it is that it doesn’t have control over me anymore, it doesn’t control my life, it doesn’t control how I move, it doesn’t control how I do things, it’s just apart of life and that’s something I can deal with. Somebody had a quote, I think it’s like the Dalai Lama, and somebody asked the Dalai Lama, “Hey, are pain and suffering inevitable?” and he’s like no, pain is inevitable, suffering is basically the option to go through these emotions and let them have control over you.