(contains many spoilers)
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By Trey Alessio
Sylvan LaCue went on a quest to find himself, and with his debut LP, “Far From Familiar,” he definitely “stepped up to the starting line.”
But before I get into “Far From Familiar,” I’d like to give some background for those of you who don’t know Sylvan LaCue as an artist. First of all, he is a rapper from Miami, Florida, and he had a breakout project in “Searching Sylvan” under the name, QuESt. “Searching Sylvan” was a top-3 project for me in 2014—album or mixtape. From the moment I heard “Maybe I Should,” I was hooked. I connected immediately as a college student with big dreams who has come across roadblock after roadblock. I instantly related when I heard him say, “I always knew that I had it; never knew how I’d get it, but always knew that I had it. I just gotta get at it. All I need is some patience. Homie, nothing’s automatic.” I got chills when I listened to “Jon Bellion’s One Way To San Diego.” The message throughout the entire project was to hold onto your dreams even through every roadblock and obstacle. You may feel like you’re down and out, but with hard work, patience and determination, everything will work out. It was a cohesive project that had a lot of parallels to Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city,” and I can honestly say that “Searching Sylvan” really changed my outlook on life.
So, when I heard Sylvan was going to release a direct sequel to “Searching Sylvan,” I was ecstatic. QuESt switched his rap name to his real name, Sylvan LaCue, he broke up with Visionary Music Group and put out a mini 5-song EP in “Evangeline” at the end of 2015. Then April 8, 2016 finally came around—the day his debut album, “Far From Familiar” dropped.
“Far From Familiar”—much like “Searching Sylvan”—is a cohesive, multi-layered story accompanied by crisp production and beautiful, melodic sounds. Sylvan really honed his sound with this album in a perfect way. It starts immediately with the intro track, “Loner.”
“Loner” is about Sylvan going out into the world and chasing his dreams, but, at the same time, feeling alone in pursuit of his vision, which is very apparent in the closing line of the song, “All by myself, all I got is my vision—a loner.” At the end of “May 10, 2012,”—the final track on “Searching Sylvan”—Sylvan finally goes back home after all of his trials and tribulations from that mixtape. On this album, he is still under his QuESt persona throughout most of the project. Therefore, he goes to Los Angeles in hopes of making it as a rapper.
The skits play a huge role on this album. The very first skit comes at the end of “Loner.” The woman says, “There comes a time when one must step out on their own if one seeks to obtain all it is that they envision. The bubble of protection has deflated and the arms of freedom have expanded. Alone and wide-eyed, but aware of the jungle you have entered, for the biggest of threats come in the form of deception. This is far from familiar.” This skit tells us that Sylvan has stepped out on his own in hopes of chasing his dream.
It goes right into “Cruel World,” where Sylvan is feeling the pull from all the demons that come with the big city life in L.A. It’s apparent with lines such as, “money, women and chaos” and “offers from Medusa, liquor fountains abroad.” On this song, Sylvan boasts over heavy drums with a sort of reverbed sound, which is very cool.
On “Heavenly,” Sylvan says, “Up in the sky, ambitions, they play me. I know it’s wrong but please entertain me.” I see this as a double meaning. It could mean Sylvan is willing to give into these demons in order to reach his goals, or it could also be the audience’s perspective, as if to say the audience doesn’t care about his well being as long as they’re entertained. The song, itself, is very entertaining.
Before I get into the next portion of the album starting with “Studio City,” I’d like to point out some parallels I found on “Fall From Grace.” I think this song is what Sylvan would have done with Kanye West’s “So Help Me God” premise. I think Sylvan did with this song what Kanye would have done with his album if it were titled, “So Help Me God,” as it originally was. I picked up on the “All Day” reference as well as the obvious religious parallels that Kanye loves to place in his music. I also had this hunch when Sylvan tweeted his fans to get Kanye on the remix. Either way, I thought Sylvan executed this perfectly. In “Fall From Grace,” I think Sylvan realizes he’s going to lose his way, but it’s not until “Studio City” where it actually comes to fruition.
“Studio City” is a vividly dark picture of a drunken night. I think Sylvan finally realizes during this moment that he needs to change his ways. On the skit, the woman says, “Often we disguise our desperation for an escape route with blankets of denial. The natural human ability to accept our own surroundings can lead us down a path of complacency. However, sometimes it takes love of the one you adore the most to pull you out of the wall that you’ve created for yourself.” Sylvan becomes complacent in his ways and switches to a lovey-dovey feel with more of a singing approach, which brings us to the next portion of “Far From Familiar.”
“Venus Amor Says L.O.Y.L.,” “Emeryville,” “Caravan 04” and “Lisa Bonet” represent love pulling Sylvan out from his funk. I thought “Emeryville” was very different and very catchy—lots of signing and auto-tune. I thought it was beautiful and melodic. “Caravan 04”—the definite standout from the “Evangeline” EP—added a nice touch to the love portion of “Far From Familiar.” I also thought it was very interesting that Sylvan’s girl told him that he’s been away from home for too long and he should go back to see his family on ”Farley’s Interlude.”
Sylvan then goes back to Miami on “Back to the City,” “Crosswinds” and “Give Me the World” where he finds himself and loses his QuESt persona.
On a side note, “Crosswinds” is my favorite song on "Far From Familiar" because it’s just so honest. Sylvan is having a conversation with his mom on this track laced with auto-tuned vocals as well a very blunt rap verse about his breakup with Visionary Music Group and the chance at becoming a XXL Freshman. It honestly gave me chills when I first heard it. I remember smiling when he said, “Slowly accepting this industry. I’m ‘part of it now. That’s when I promise you I’m only steps away from the crown. But you just look at me and smile like, ‘I’m already proud. You’ve done well.’” I can totally relate to that because I’m a graduating college student, balancing my search for a job and the chase for my dream all in the hopes of making my family proud. That connection, alone, is why I love rap music.
“Far From Familiar” concludes when Sylvan says, “Made it this far didn’t you. Alone you stood when it was highly advised not to. Through the trenches you fought, though most—if not all—would doubt you. You remembered just in the nick of time. God has a way of swooping in right before the last finger slips off the cliff. Self was found in the most unfamiliar of circumstances. You now know who you are. You know where you’re going. God is still with you. The benefits of your faith you shall reap when everyone questioned your soul. No longer ifs nor when—these notions have been tossed. You are more than ready to obtain everything your heart desires. The question now is: at what cost?” Therefore, Sylvan’s quest to find himself is now complete. He beat his demons. He made the music he wanted in his way, and he did it in the perfect way.
As you can see, “Far From Familiar” is a deep, conscious record with cohesion unlike any other. It has fiery bars for the hardcore rap fan and it has singing for the R&B fan. It’s all laced with a crisp production and a consistent, beautiful, artistic, musical sound. In a storytelling aspect, it’s the best project of 2016 so far, in my opinion. All in all, I think “Far From Familiar” was the perfect follow-up to “Searching Sylvan.” This album even reached No. 16 on iTunes Rap Charts, which is pretty incredible for a true independent artist. Sylvan LaCue has laid an amazing foundation for himself, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for him.
THE DON'S GRADE: A
The Don of Entertainment