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Reef The Lost Cauze: Philadelphia is “The Last Real Place.”

May 19, 2015

ReefTheLostCauzeDerekDorseyOnline01Derek Dorsey, the talent buyer, promoter and occasional bartender at The Fire in Northern Liberties, has fostered the talents of such local artists as John Legend, Dr. Dog, Ron Gallo and Santigold. He met Reef The Lost Cauze, among the most celebrated underground rappers in the world, more than ten years ago. The two have been tight ever since.

We listened in as they sat in Reef’s South Philly home and discussed parenting, growing up in Overbrook Park, Philly pride and the state of race relations in the America today.

Derek:  We’re in the South Philly home of Sharif Lacey, also known as Reef the Lost Cauze. We’re here with some new additions to the Lacey family.

Reef: Yes sir. We’ve got my 4-month-old little guy Manny in here, just hanging out.

Derek: So how’s that been?

Reef: It’s been active. I already have a 4-year-old son. Four-year-olds are already a handful but he has autism. Those two things combined make him a fireball, just energy and life and running and ripping. But he’s awesome, and now we have this new guy here. It’s a lot of work and a lot of dedication.

Kids, they change you, man, they change you. I was actually supposed to go out last night and do some things. I was coming off the road, I had a show in New Hampshire. But I was like, “I’m just going to go home to my kids.” That mentality was never something I could see myself doing. On Saturday night in the city, I was all over the place. But now, I want to get home to my boys and make sure that they’re good.

Derek: What are some of the challenges of being a parent to a child with autism?

Reef: I think obviously the biggest challenge is just trying to connect. He’s in his own world pretty much 24/7, so bringing him out of that world is pretty challenging. I think, right now, it’s a very controlled time in his life because he’s so young. The fear for me is once he gets older and has to deal with society more – and people’s mental bullshit. That’s the stuff that scares me more than anything else. The challenge is me and his mother’s to make sure that he knows that he’s loved, knows that he’s safe and knows that he can express himself in any way he finds is most comfortable for him.

Just the basic things that a lot of human beings take for granted, the ability to just talk and to be able to say, “This is what’s bothering me right now. This is how I feel about this.” He’s not able to do that. So, it frustrates him.

I’m in it for the long haul. If I have to give him baths when he’s in his 20s, I’ll do that. That’s my son, you know what I mean? I’ll die for him before I let anyone or anything make him feel like he doesn’t deserve the love and respect that we all do.

Derek: We’ve known each other for a long time but one thing I didn’t know is that we’re originally from the same hood, Overbrook Park. You were Overbook Park until when?

Reef: 1999 is when I left my mother’s house on Haverford Avenue.

Derek: Haverford and what?

Reef: We originally started on 63rd and Lansdowne and ended up moving up to 66th and Haverford. The last apartment was 74th and Haverford, which was right around the corner from my high school, Robert E. Lamberton, where I went to from ’95 to ’99. I graduated and moved down here to South Philly to attend the University of the Arts. But my mom is still up there. My aunts are still up there. A lot of my childhood friends, sadly, are still up there. It’s still home. I’ve been in South Philly for about 15 years now but I still consider West Philly home. That’s where I go to see family for Thanksgiving, Christmas, all that.

Derek: Overbrook Park, we used to consider that the middle class for the blacks.

Reef: What’s so funny is that my mom and her sisters, they came from the heart of West Philly. We’re talking 60th and Arch, 60th and Ludlow. They were West Philly for real. So when they were able to get a little money, get city jobs and move their family up a little bit more, they felt like they were accomplished.

My generation, we were trying to prove that we weren’t punks. See how that works? That’s so fucking stupid. Looking back on it now, it’s like, “Damn, dude, we had a nice neighborhood. There was grass and trees but we spent all of our time trying to ruin it because we didn’t want the boys from down the hill to think we were punks.”

I had friends in North Philly and South Philly in the ’80s and ’90s. I’m talking about when there were 500 murders a year in Philly and they would be like, “Yo man, you all live so nice. Why are you trying to make it like where we’re at? I would love to switch places.” I was an ungrateful little shit.

ReefTheLostCauzeDerekDorseyOnline02Derek: I’ve considered moving multiple times from Philly and especially after these last couple of winters, the West Coast seems to be calling. But Philly has this completely special place in my heart. I’m Philly to the core. What makes Philly so special?

Reef: I think for me, it’s the last real city. I know that might sound like a hometown pride thing coming out but if you think about it, most of New York isn’t New Yorkers. Most of the West Coast isn’t West Coasters. This is the last place where there are people who have literally grown up here forever. This neighborhood, there are generations of people on my block. These houses have been passed down from one generation to the next.

It’s the last real place. It’s genuine. If people don’t like you, you know they don’t like you. If people love you, they’re going to express it from the hilltops.

We’re not New York. We’re not LA. We’re one of the big cities but we don’t have that same reputation of being able to make things happen. I think that that’s changing rapidly. I think people are now looking to Philly as what we’ve always known it to be, which is a cultural hub and a place where a lot of dope ideas come out. We started a lot of trends. We started a lot of cool stuff and we never get the credit for it because it didn’t blow up here. That’s something a lot of people are working to change.

Derek: That’s a great point you made, that we are the last real city. How do you make that come out in your music?

Reef: I think it just does. It doesn’t need any coaxing or fake flexing. It just naturally comes out because of the fact that where I’m from, where I was raised. The MCs I grew up around, the artists that I’m around now? They push you to make sure that authenticity is there.  You come around Philly, you still hear that spit, that grit. So, being around that, it forced me to want to step mine up, keep my stuff fresh and keep my stuff consistent.

Derek: How do you always have the sickest MCs in your camp and always collaborate with the dopest cats?

Reef: I’d say birds of a feather. I show love to everyone, whether they’re dope, whack or whatever. But as far as people I want around me, there is a certain aesthetic that I’m listening for. There’s a certain feeling.

A lot of guys who have been around as long as I have, they don’t want to hear anything that these young guys are doing. They want to cast them off. I feel like that’s the wrong mentality. Whenever you see me dealing with the Mic Stews or the Chill Moodys or Ground Up or Brascos, I deal with them because there is a mutual respect there. I believe in what they’re doing. It’s important to keep that because all it does is keep Philly hip-hop culture alive and well. If we don’t let the next generation come up and get their piece off and be shown, it’s going to die.

Derek: We’ve seen some very polarizing incidents that have taken place in this country over the last year. Where do you think that we are as a society now in terms of race? Obviously, we’ve come a long way but in some ways it’s like we’ve taken steps back at the same time.

Reef: I think the world has gotten smaller. It’s not that race relations have gotten worse or better. Before, I didn’t know the opinion of some fucking redneck in Kentucky but now I go on Facebook and I see the redneck. I see the righteous brother from Harlem. And I see them arguing. I see the other comments made by this right-wing newspaper. Then you get MSNBC. It’s all in front of us now. Cops have been killing motherfuckers forever. Cops have been beating motherfuckers down forever. Now you have video of it. Now it’s uploaded and the world is much smaller.

Now we know that we haven’t really moved forward too much. I think that the whole Civil Rights movement, I think it did what it was supposed to do. But in the wake of that came frustration and anger on both sides of the coin. On one side, you have white Americans who are feeling like they are basically not in charge of this country anymore. They feel like they’ve lost their footing. They feel like they’re not respected. They feel like, “Oh, my grandfather wasn’t a slave owner. My grandfather marched with you people.”  Then, on the other side, you have a lot of black folk who feel like white people didn’t really mean any of that stuff, and they were just going along with the grain of times changing.

I think right now, it’s a powder keg and I think it’s on the verge of exploding. I think that you have a lot of countries where you see things like this happening. Revolution is the next step but we’re so caught up in our TV shows and our iPads and our phones, it’s hard for people to really take that next step.

It’s going to take a fucking wilding in the streets. I just don’t see us having the will. We’re fat, lazy, spoiled people. The reason why those other countries are on the news – those kids with masks on their faces, throwing rocks, they ain’t got shit to lose.

America, we ain’t going to last on top unless people get their shit together and stop all the hate and the bullshit and realize that we are society, not the government. Until we all say enough is enough, it’s not going to change.

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