Reef The Lost Cauze: Rebel Without A Pauze
HipHopDX was fortunate enough to grab a minute of his time during the tour to discuss everything from his stint in film school to where to pick up the best cheese steak in the city of brotherly love.
HipHopDX: You were enrolled in film school for a while, werent you?
Reef The Lost Cauze: Yeah, during like 1999-2000, my freshman year, I was at the University of the Arts studying Film and Writing For Film and Television.
DX: Going from film to music is taking your art and putting it in a whole new medium going from visual to audio. How did that come about?
Reef The Lost Cauze: Music was always my first passion. I have demo tapes from when I was 11 years old. I sound pretty fuckin terrible, but it was always something that I wanted to do. Basically, for me going to school was a situation where my mom was just like, You need to be in the military, having a job, or you need to be in school. She wasnt going to let me graduate from high school and just lie around the house. Ive always had a passion for writing, so I just combined that with the need to find somewhere to go to school, and the film thing came about. It wasnt something I was ever really, truly that passion about. It sparked my interest, but in the back of my mind I always wanted to be doing the music thing. So after I got kicked out and lost my scholarship, I basically took that as the time to be like, I dont have any other options, and then I went full steam ahead with that. I had to do that just because I didnt have anything else going on.
DX: Were you at least able to take what you learned there and apply it to your career in the music business?
Reef The Lost Cauze: The only thing I could take from that experience that I could apply to the music business is that its all about luck and timing. I think thats the biggest thing I took from my experience at film school. People stayed there four years, some ended up doing eight years getting their masters, and theyre still serving coffee somewhere. I think that was the biggest fear for me I could stay there and try to get that degree and make something happen, or I could go for what I know and what Im truly passionate about, and make something out of it. That was the biggest thing that it taught me if you have a dream you need to follow it, and theres no degree that can get you where you need to be. I hate to even say that because Im all for education, but in the entertainment field a degree is the most worthless thing. Look at people like [Quentin] Tarantino he didnt even really have film school experience, he just had the talent and drive to make it happen. Also, when I was younger, I used to do school plays and shit, and that type of stuff was really more of an influence on the music for me. The film school stuff was school, I learned some stuff, but the biggest lesson I learned was if theres something youre passionate about and you really want to do it, you need to go for it. Theres no school on this earth that can get you where you need to get. The piece of paper might help you, but if you dont have the talent or the drive, its not going to matter.
DX: But perhaps your film days arent totally behind youI heard something about you having a cameo in an upcoming film called Bad Biology?
Reef The Lost Cauze: Yeah, thats a film Im inits directed by Frank Henenlotter who directed a bunch of B-horror movies back in the 80s. My brother Vinnie Paz [of Jedi Mind Tricks] and I have a cameo in it, only about five minutes, its pretty weirdthe movie itself is pretty bugged out. It was fun to do, it got me excited againjust shooting videos and things like that. Ive always had a passion for acting and the stage, so I think that its something Ill look into getting more into. As I get farther in my career its something I definitely want to get back into doing. Music has just been my whole life and love for so long that everything else just got pushed to the back burner, including personal life things, like relationships. As Im getting older these are things, I want to get back involved in.
DX: SoBarack Obama recently won the election. People were going crazy in the streets across the country, so were you in Philly when he won?
Reef The Lost Cauze: No, I was actually on tour, driving through the desert from Vegas to Cali when we got the news that he won. I know that back home they were definitely celebrating. My mother is a political activist, and she was at a rally and she called me crying and excited. Its a beautiful time right now. Especially in my city its a very Democratic, blue-collar city. Theres a lot of history there theres a lot of love, a lot of pain, its just a beautiful city. I miss it so much and I cant wait to get home. But as far as the Obama thing, I know that they were dancing in the streets. I had people calling me from home, and its just a really exciting time right now for America. Im proud right now. I know many people that never felt that way that feel that way right now.
DX: On a less positive note, your latest album boasts a track where youre rapping from the point of view of a crooked cop (Bad Lieutenant). Whats the scene in Philly like right now as far as corruption goes?
Reef The Lost Cauze: Its kind of like a war going on. Right now there has been something like five-to-seven cops killed this year in the city, and people are just fed up. People are losing jobs already in the recession, theyre cutting after-school programs, the drugs keep flowin, more guns are coming inSo when you combine that element with the fact that a lot of people that become police officers in the city are doing it for a secure job, and some do it just for the power trip, youll have a lot of confusion on the street.
I could never be a cop. I could never put myself in that position. Its not that I dont have respect for what they do, its just that I feel like for the ghetto youth, there has never been a cop that has been in their neighborhood as a positive thing. Theyve always been there to harass or make them feel intimidated. I dont know anyone that has a good relationship with a police officer. If they do, then people look at that funny. Theres so much distrust and disdain for the cops that they dont know what to do. They feel like theyre almost trapped in their own environments and like theyre made to feel like criminals. I dont know if thats something that could ever change, its like there has been too many years of systematic abuse and people feeling like theyre not respected by the law. That in turn creates animosity and rage, and it comes out in different ways. It works both ways for the cops, too. They feel like their life is in jeopardy out there. Its definitely a place where a lot of stuff goes down, but its no different than anywhere else, you know? Its a problem thats worldwide, and I think until we start policing the police, were going to keep having these problems.
DX: You started out as a battle rapper, so what difficulties did you encounter with going from battling to recording in a studio?
Reef The Lost Cauze: None. Thats the whole thing about it even when I was battling people, I would still have music on CD or on tape in my pocket. Ive always been in the studio. A lot of this new generation of emcees are one thing. Theyre a battle rapper, or a studio emcee, or a freestyle emcee, theyre only good live, etc. Me? Every element of this culture, as far as emceeing goes, from battling to freestyling to recording to live showsthese are all thing that Ive taken very seriously and have tried to perfect. So even when I was battling, it wasnt anything for me to go into the studio and record or write a song. Granted, over the years Ive gotten better at songwriting and freestyling and battling were things that were more natural for me because thats how I came up in the cipher where battling was how you earned your reputation.
But from age 10-11, we were in the studio writing songs and creating mixtapes. I always like to have recorded material. I knew a lot of people who only freestyled or battled, and that might have hurt them in the long run. I was making music along with battling at the same time, so for me it was never a matter of how Id go from battling to making songs. Now when I started, a lot of the songs were basically battle raps. But over the years that has changed a lot to where thats not even what I talk about much anymore. I still battle and stuff like that, but for the most part I feel like that gets played out after a while. Okay, youve proven that you can rap, now talk about something else, know what I mean? I never wanted to be caught up in being that dude that just battles muthafuckas. That has always been my thing if Im going to do this, Im going to be able to do that as well. I feel like there is no element in this art form that I cant shine at. The battle game is so wack to me now, its something that I kind of stepped away from. My boy Immortal Technique [click to read] said that it was like wearing a shiny suit. People dont ever want to forget that they saw you in that shiny suit. So I think thats the whole thing with battle rapping you can do it, but after a while youre going to have to step out and do something else or else thats all youll be known for.
DX: Your latest album, A Vicious Cycle, has a surprisingly well-rounded diversity of subject matter and styles
Reef The Lost Cauze: All my albums are pretty much a snapshot of where Im at during that time. People always say the best albums are one cohesive statement, and I dont agree with that. Growing up, I always looked up to Big Daddy Kane because I felt like his records would have stuff on there for the battle heads, things that taught the youth, things for the ladiesIm a man. Im not just an emcee, Im a human being. Theres a lot of different things I want to talk about. If its a group project, then yeah, Ill play that role of just spittin lyrics. If its my mixtapes Ill be goofy and have fun, but when it comes down to my album I take it very seriously, and theres a lot of stuff I want to talk about. I try to make sure that every track is a different vibe or idea that Im thinking about at the time so that you dont get bored. So that I dont get bored with my damn self!
DX: So you would approach a solo album differently than you would a group project, such as something with Army of the Pharaohs?
Reef The Lost Cauze: Definitely. With something like Army of the Pharaohs [click to read], its spittin. Theres no real subject matter and stuff like that. And Im not the boss in that situation, Im just a member, a part of something. When it comes to my solo records? Im the boss and I can do what I want, and I try to always have that creative control and freedom. Thats why its been hard for me dealing with a lot of the indie labels. The industry in general always wants to take your creative control. Id rather just sell my stuff on tours or on my website directly to fans rather than let some asshole tell me This is what you need to rap about. Thatll never happen. Its definitely a different approach when its just my project rather than a group project. Its a group. Just play your part, if youre asked to do something you do it to the best of your ability. Its a lot different than on a solo piece you can go through and pick whats best for you.
DX: Is there pressure, since youre in Philly, to make the migration to New York City to progress your music career because youre so close to it?
Reef The Lost Cauze: It really doesnt matter where youre at, its a matter of standing out and just grindin. People said to me a million times that I need to move to New York or L.A. Id rather stay where Im at and make it on my own terms and show other people coming from the city that you dont have to move anywhere else to make it. I think its really insulting to your city when youre saying that you cant make it there. Look at cities across the country that have had movements Houston, Chicago, even D.C. Dudes like Tabi Bonney [click to read] and Wale [click to read] are getting national exposure. I know their names, I know who they are, and theyre from D.C. They never moved to New York or anything. Why do other people have to do that? Obviously there might come a time where you get to a point in your career where you have to leave your surroundings to make more moves, but dont go up there and be a starving artist. I know mad people that made that move, but New York is a harsh, big, cold city. Itll break you. Quick. There are already a million emcees there that are from New York, and you go up there trying to take food out of those peoples mouths. Its an awkward situation.
For me, I love Philly so much and my crew is making so many moves inside and outside of Philly, theres no need for anyone to move away. I used to talk about moving to New York a lot, and Im sure that if I did everything that I did in Philly in New York that things would be different for me, but thats not what God intended. I love my mom, my friends, my surroundings. I know where everything is. Im an hour from New York, from D.C., and Im able to maneuver the way I need to and still live in Philly.
DX: Plus New York doesnt have the good cheese steaks.
Reef The Lost Cauze: Nah, they dont have the cheese steaks.
DX: Wheres your favorite cheese steak in Philly?
Reef The Lost Cauze: Mine is this place called Southside in West Philly on 60th and Chestnut, I believe. They make the cheese steaks the size of your fuckin arm. Its crazy. As far as the big names, Id say Pats over Genos all day.
DX: Back to music, lets get some comments about your newest album.
Reef The Lost Cauze: Im just really happy right now. I put out two mixtapes and two albums before this. I had my first album which was basically my demo that I was pushing back in 02. Its weird, it feels like Im a new artist all of a sudden because theres a lot of people that are discovering it and its getting really good reviews all around. Its one of those times that I feel like I have something that I can stand behind that is possibly going to make a difference. Im not one of these people that will make some grandiose statement like, Yall need to go cop this shit, its the hottest shit out, I just want people to discover and enjoy it, and Im loving that they are. Im proud of the album and its a statement on who I am and where Im at in my life a 26 year-old man living in America. I dont want to be clich about anything, but its my music and Im really excited about it and I hope that those who take the chance to give it a try will feel the same way.
DX: You did something unique with the album release by releasing it digitally two weeks before releasing the hard copy. Whats the motive behind that?
Reef The Lost Cauze: To combat bootlegging. The album leaked around October 21st, and we originally wanted it to be released November 4th physically and digitally but it was impossible to do due to manufacturing. Thats the beautiful thing about being independent you can do whatever you want. Most kids got their iPods and get stuff online anyway, so we decided to get it on iTunes as fast as possible. At this point as an artist, you cant sit and worry about physical sales and things like that. You need worry about touring and digital. Those were the two main things I was excited about with this album to be able to be on the road and also know that it would be properly put on iTunes and things like that. I think it was a good move. People were able to buy the whole product. We put a lot of work into the artwork, and with iTunes you can at least get a digital booklet as opposed to stealing it off the net and not having any of that.
I dont mind people stealing it off the net because thats where the game is at right now. Steal my shit, and if you like it, come to a show and buy a t-shirt. Thats how I win in the end. Im not Lil Wayne [click to read] out this bitch, my shits not going to sell a million copies. Im worried about people getting the music, liking it, and supporting us by paying money to see me perform when I come to their town. Thats something you cant download.
DX: How is the tour going?
Reef The Lost Cauze: Its been awesome. My brothers Jedi Mind Tricks have a huge following in the underground, and they brought me along for the ride. Were out here having fun. Were about three weeks into it and have about two weeks left and everyones starting to get to that point where theyre ready to get home. The shows have been phenomenal, the fans have been great. As an artist, sometimes you dont appreciate it until you see the fans and people who know the words to your songs who you have never met in your life. Thats what its about for me. Ill take whatever picture you want me to take, sign whatever you want me to sign. Ill sit and talk to you. This kid got kicked out last night for doing nothing he went outside to smoke and didnt know there was no re-entry. I argued with security to get him back in because these are the people that keep me alive. I try to treat these kids with love and respect because they take time to check me and my peoples out. Im just grateful. People dont get the opportunity to see some of the places Ive seen. Ive been crisscrossing the country, and its just beautiful. The thing about tours is the moment you leave home you miss it, but when you get home you want to get back on the road.
DX: Once you get back to Philly, what are your plans for the future?
Reef The Lost Cauze: Back on the grind. I get home the day before Thanksgiving, then Ill chill for the holidays. That weekend I have a show in Philly with Immortal Technique. December ,Ill be in Montreal, my birthday is coming upIm just looking forward to the holidays. Next year Ill be back on the road, and thats life. You tour, come home, chill for a minute, and get back out there. Thats all I want to do. If I have the opportunity to go on the road every other month to get my money and meet my fans and do my thing, Ill be happy and content. The plan is to keep going on the road, keep pushing this album, and go as far as I can with it.