If there is one emotion every storyteller must draw out of their audience, it must be respect. The same story may be told by two individuals, and one will receive a standing ovation as the other is drowned in boos. Even prominent authors that lose their listener’s approval will find a hard time being heard again. (Prodigy, Rick Ross, anyone?)
Sharif Talib Lacey better known as Reef The Lost Cauze can comfortably walk onto any stage and clutch the mic knowing he has his audience’s unwavering respect. He has no Grammy awards, he has no top ten singles, but he does have fans that will withhold from uploading his new album, A Vicious Cycle, out of appreciation for his work as an independent artist. To see several fans state their honest hesitation to be the first one to leak the album is as defining a gesture of respect as there exists in this age of Rapidshare happy users.
The Lost Cauze was first established in the early 2000s. After a brief stint at Philadelphia University of the Arts, Sharif found himself living a life with seemingly no direction. “I was damn near homeless, working shitty jobs, and just lost out there and (my mom) called me a "lost cause". And me being in my defiant youth stage I took it as a badge of honor.” Somewhere between being homeless and working shitty jobs, Reef found enough spirit left to weave together the Invisible Empire, an album that would shove his name into the underground forefront.
A feared battle rapper since his high school days, Reef continued to enter multiple freestyle competitions and often took top honors. But aware of his reputation for battle raps, he turned his focus onto improving his songwriting and performing skills. The result was Feast or Famine. (If the phrase “critically acclaimed” wasn’t handed out like 1st grade stickers, I would have applied it here). It was an album that even Reef admits he has a hard time outdoing.
Sound Of Philadelphia
Never one to stray away from political issues, Reef does more than rap about social injustices and abuse of power by authorities. Reef teaches a hip hop writing class to troubled kids awaiting trial. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do” says Mr. Reef. “Nothing has ever consumed me as much. From the time I leave my class on Thursday, I'm thinking of shit I have to do on Tuesday. The boys are harder and tougher to get through to. Sometimes I don't feel like I'm getting through to either of them to be honest. It's really rough because they gotta be there. They don't have a choice. They are looking at their watch, shaking their leg and ready to go. I was one of those kids.”
As one of those kids, Reef grew up from humble beginnings. Sharif Lacey fought on the same blocks where 90s hip hop blasted out of car speakers, probably at the same time. So when Reef makes music for one of those kids on the West side of the city, listeners should remember that the author is speaking as one of them. On the eve of his 27th birthday now, Reef’s music has added toppings of maturity but one can be sure the main component of a Reef track is still a heart attacking Cheesesteak.