There's nothing quite like the power of human-to-human connection. Just ask Miami-born emcee Sylan LaCue, who has made kinship and unity his ultimate mission.
In a whirlwind creative spree this past May, set off by the death of his grandmother, LaCue returned to Florida from Los Angeles to record the unexpected follow-up to his well-received 2018 album, Apologies in Advance. The resulting project, Florida Man, has LaCue rapping like a man possessed by his passion. The bars are arresting and at times appropriately accusatory. Over the phone and on the mic, LaCue sounds frustrated, but with purpose. He is done being a slave to his emotions, done existing without answers, and is taking that fed-up resolve and transforming it into truly impactful music.
The resulting project is a portrait of South Florida without media filtering, just as much as it is Sylvan’s attempt to carry on his grandmother’s legacy. “My grandmother passed and it changed everything,” he tells me. “It’s like, ‘Yo, you’re gonna die. How are you gonna honor your family’s legacy?’ And my grandmother kept my family together, so the only way I know how to honor her legacy is to use what’s in my hand: my artistry and South Florida.”
With that, Florida Man is part artist showcase, part hand extended to the rest of the state. While LaCue is kicking impassioned and melodic lyrical exercises, the project also features artists that he has been working with for the past decade, including his own brother. No, LaCue does not fit the mold of the sound exploding out of South Florida from the likes of Denzel Curry, Ski Mask the Slump God, and others. No, this does not threaten him.
“I may not have the attention that a lot of my peers have amassed over the past couple years, and that’s okay because it’s not even about that,” he explains. “If they win, then I have a shot at winning. We all have a shot at winning.
“I think people are afraid of the idea of unity because it has such a strong connotation and people think you gotta work everyone,” LaCue continues. “That’s not what unity is about. It’s not, ‘Hey, let’s come together and collaborate.’ It’s just pulling up. ‘You got a show? I’ll pull up.' 'You’re working on an album? I’ll pull up.'”
Whether or not Florida Man unifies South Florida remains to be seen, but two things are clear: LaCue’s heart is in the right place, and the music is very good.
DJBooth’s full interview with Sylvan LaCue, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: What does it mean to you to be a “Florida Man”?
Sylvan LaCue: The “Florida Man” term in itself was always really interesting to me in how it had come about and the media attention around the term, due to a bunch of outrageous shit that usually goes on in North Florida. And South Florida, as well. Obviously, Atlanta kinda solidified it, especially with the “Alligator Man” episode. But for me, being a Florida man was just an everyday understanding that you’re amongst paradise, but you have little to nothing. It was that duality that you have just enough to get you to the next day.
Florida, to me, was always love, was people who are thinking bigger, but they don’t have the means or the opportunities to see through what their visions are. Because of that and because we see paradise and lavish living right around the corner, while we’re in these crazy neighborhoods, we’re forced into not being able to do outside of what we feel. If we don’t see any resources, then we’re going to resort to doing what we know, which is doing what we can to survive. At the same time, it was also beautiful. At the same time you can go to South Beach and go outside on a beautiful night, and it’s stunning even if you have $20 to your name. We know how to have fun, at the end of the day.
Without being heavy-handed or sensational, you address that duality, as well as death, on the project. Is this your way of subverting how the news covers South Florida?
Yeah, 100 percent. When the news or any media usually focuses on Florida, it’s always something negative: somebody died, did something outrageous, or it’s an outward judge of character. When you’re focusing on certain stories and certain tribes that are coming out of Florida, the general masses come to an assumption of “Oh, you guys are crazy!” The artists that have come up in the past three to five years, there’s always a point of the finger, but it’s like, you guys don’t come here! You go to South Beach, you flex on Instagram Story, and then you dip. You go back to your media outlets and you judge.
Even with the XXX[Tentacion] shit, I’m pissed because people don’t realize this shit happens all the time here. It’s almost too easy to lean it on “Oh, he brought this energy to himself.” Y’all not here! This shit happens all the time: somebody comes up, they get followed, there’s a stick-up, people resist, they get shot. That person that gets shot, they have a mother, they have a kid. That’s another death in the hood. The saddest part about this whole shit is that somebody that had a chance, that had attention and a platform to possibly use for the better, wasn't exempt from that. There’s so much more here, but nobody will ever know, because they’re not here.
Often, when we think about loss, we’re also talking about legacy. Talk to me about the legacy of South Florida hip-hop.
It’s just another side. The sides that are very prominent right now are XXX and Denzel Curry, Ski Mask [the Slump God], Pouya, Fat Nick, Lil Pump, Smokepurpp. That is a tribe, and that is very much South Florida, and we ride for that shit. There’s other tribes as well, there’s a balance. That’s why on the tape, it’s people that I’ve messed with for 10 years. I may not have the attention that a lot of my peers have amassed over the past couple years, and that’s okay because it’s not even about that. If they win, then I have a shot at winning. We all have a shot at winning.
It’s about me being able to use whatever power I do have and being able to bring a tribe up. I’m not saying I got this shit down, but my grandmother passed and it changed everything. It’s like, “Yo, you’re gonna die. How are you gonna honor your family’s legacy?” And my grandmother kept my family together, so the only way I know how to honor her legacy is to use what’s in my hand: my artistry and South Florida.
You end the project by sharing your goal: unity. What would that look like?
Pulling up, man. I think people are afraid of the idea of unity because it has such a strong connotation and people think you gotta work everyone. That’s not what unity is about. It’s not “Hey, let’s come together and collaborate.” It’s just pulling up. “You got a show? I’ll pull up." "You’re working on an album? I’ll pull up.” Just showing love, it’s free. It’s simple and it doesn’t take a lot of time. Especially in hip-hop, we’re so concerned with how are we going to make it, and we feel like if someone else makes it, it takes it out of our hands, because we’re not used to making it in the first place. Showing love, and showing respect, that’s what causes unity.
You’ve dedicated this project to your grandmother. How has this loss reframed how you see you see unity?
Before my grandmother passed, I left South Florida in 2013 as a rapper. I was going by QuEST. I thought I was doing good, but I knew a new wave was coming. This isn’t necessarily my realm, and I don’t know how to exist in that. So I’m gonna go somewhere, see if I can get it popping, and then come back. In that instant, it was about me. Rightfully so, because we all need self-preservation. I stayed away for a few years, up until recently.
When my grandmother passed, she passed at a time where I was questioning a lot of things. I was in Los Angeles, I just dropped Apologies in Advance, it did really well. I had sold-out shows in Los Angeles and New York City. I’m getting all these accolades, dreams are coming true. Everything that I had ever fought for was happening, but for some reason, I felt a void. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy, but I felt there was some type of fulfillment missing. I was grateful, but it just felt like it couldn’t just be about me. I made Apologies for the world, but the success, it can’t just be about me. I was struggling with that for a little bit, and when I got the news that she died, it was like, “Oh, this is what real love is.”
Everything that I thought I was fighting for didn’t mean anything, because, at the end of the day, I dropped it all to go back home and be with my grandmother and be with my family. I was supposed to go to New York, I was supposed to speak at a panel. I canceled all this. I went home to be with my family.
I realized I didn’t know much about my grandmother. I grew up with her, but I didn’t know much about her life. My entire family was all about survival, and we never asked a lot of questions. When I started asking questions, that’s when I realized what her legacy was about. She had three daughters; all the men in their lives abandoned them. She said, “No matter what, I’m gonna keep my daughters together. I’m gonna dedicate my life to keeping my family together.”
I didn’t get to say goodbye to her, and that was my peace. I’m gonna start with this, this is the first place that I could think of that I could keep together.
Creating on the other side of trauma can produce stunning art. Where do you think rap’s at with mental health overall?
I think we’re aware, and I think that’s good. I think we’re still in the emotion, and I don’t think we have a lot of solutions right now. That’s where I think things needa go next. Yes, we are hurting. There’s a lot of pain in us. We’re addressing it, but there’s no solution. Nobody’s said anything, in my opinion, where I thought this what we need to start doing. It’s all “This is what’s happening.” We get it, dog, we get it. How much more are we gonna be like, “This is really happening”? That’s the era we’re in: “This is what’s happening and I feel this way,” but nobody’s providing solutions.
That’s why I made AIA, to diffuse these emotions. Let’s start with the basic shit, which is feelings. We all feel the same shit. That’s the one thing that makes us all alike. Let’s diffuse all that and get to the bottom of the emotions, or else we’re all gonna get lost in the emotion. For me, at the end of Apologies I said I’m done just being in this emotion, and I meant that shit. I’ll always talk about what I feel, but I need solutions. It sucks that these tragedies are happening, but the reality is that we’re running out of time and we need some answers.
Right. When you’re rapping about drugs and material things, and you’re coping, that’s mental health talk, too. Where do we go from there, because you even take Cole’s meditation advice to task.
It’s bigger than a simple task. I can’t tell my homeboy Rambo who has two kids and is about to lose his job, and was a pro boxer at one point and is now trying to rap and get out of South Florida, to stop smoking weed and to meditate. N****s can’t close their eyes for an hour in the middle of the day. As much as I love Cole and I know he wants better, I can’t tell my n****s to not cope like that, because, in all honesty, I get it. I’m smoking, and I’m not even in the hood!
We have to find the root of problems. That creates perspective and clarity and allows it to not have control over you. That’s where we really gotta start going. Shit ain’t gon’ change on Instagram, Twitter, any social media. The real change is in our mentals.
That’s what I admire about you: you’re always confronting yourself on the track. What’s the next side of yourself you’re exploring?
To be honest, I don’t know. I didn’t know I was gonna be in Florida a month ago! I know my ultimate cause: to bring people together. The best way to come together is to talk to people and relate. It’s the simplest root of human existence, and we let so much get in the middle of it. The reason why I love hurricanes is that when a hurricane hits for real, you’re forced to go outside and talk to someone. There’s no electricity, so you have to rely on your fellow man to come together.
I recorded my first song ever in 2004 because Hurricane Wilma hit and my next-door neighbor had an in-house studio. I would’ve never gone outside. I wouldn’t be here! I wouldn’t be rapping. That was the first time I recorded a song in my life, just by going outside and talking to my fucking neighbor.
Thank you for being so open.
I don’t have a choice, man. I don’t have time, yo. I am gonna die, I really understand that shit. I don’t have time to hold anything back anymore, period. It’s too real out here. I understand death on a very crazy level right now, and there’s too much to do.