Reef The Lost Cauze: Fourth and One

Reef the Lost Cauze’s Feast or Famine is an ultimatum. The Philadelphia MC delivers his first nationally distributed album under self-created circumstances – all or nothing. From a feared reputation in New York and Philly battles, to his role on his group, Juju Mob’s Black Candles earlier this year, Reef has stayed devoted to his craft. In the last quarter of 2005, he seems to be raising his own stakes. In order to let go of a day-job and modern man’s worries, The Lost Cauze is willing to put even his last resort into his Hip-Hop career through an album.

After a month out, Reef discusses some of the gems of his project, the ills of being a battle-rapper, recent criticism of Eastern Conference Records’ work-ethic, college, and what he’d do if he were Eagles’ coach, Andy Reid. Live and direct from Brotherly Love, a brother that loves Hip-Hop – come feast or famine. Feast or Famine seems to be your philosophy with this album. All or nothing. That said, in your eyes, what’s sacrificed here?

Reef the Lost Cauze: The sacrifice is just me. I want this to be able to feed my family. I’ve been doing this a long, long time. I got my rep in Philly. I got a day-job, I hate it – I don’t want to be there much longer, man. Doing this, I love it. But I don’t know how much longer I can actually do this the way I’m doing it. We’re talking about leaving work, going [from Philly to] New York, doing a showcase or an open mic till eleven o’clock, then doing an interview afterwards, then coming back to Philly, only to be at work at six the next morning. That’s me. I don’t sleep. I’m always doing this – you have to! Do you still plan to stay in Philadelphia, if your career does skyrocket?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Yes, I definitely plan on staying in Philly if I blow up, and show these kids that not everyone leaves. I want to put the city on my back and be apart of that movement. I really like the way North Carolina [through Little Brother] has done that. I’d like it if we can do that here. At this point in your career, you seem to be above battling amateurs…

Reef the Lost Cauze: I feel like, at this point, it’s hard – because I still have it in me. I still have that desire. I’ll go to these battles, and sometimes I’ll be a host – and something could rub me the wrong way, and I’ll jump in. We all got skeletons in the closet, man. If somebody pushes my wrong buttons, I’ll go at ‘em. On the DVD to Geto Boys’ Greatest Hits, some dude from the crowd started battling Willie D on stage. Willie wasn’t prepared, but he turned around and came at the dude, and embarrassed him. Do you feel you have to be constantly on your guard?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Absolutely. I feel like I have to be. Look, that’s how KRS got on. That’s Hip-Hop. At any minute, somebody can say something. But just like you said with Willie D, it kinda could be a good thing. They tryin’ to take somethin’ from you. With me, I’ll get so enraged, I could easily turn into a machine. We’re gonna GO! Recently, Jin won 50 thousand dollars in the Bahamas and revived his career through battling. There’s that whole Fight Klub, Smack DVD movement. Do you think that’s different than your background?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Yeah, it is. It’s good for a reputation, if you want it. Nowadays, the audience has a very short attention span – it’s the way that generation was raised. In my battles, it’s about skills, wit, all that. In some of those mixtape and DVD guys, they’re more interested in talking about the streets – guns, money, women. Certainly, more people are probably interested in that. But in the end, you see what wins. A lot of those guys’ albums – if they even release albums – have nothing to say. That’s why I call ‘em “DVD rappers” – you only see them on DVD’s, never hear them. Until I hear the music, I can’t judge that. The underground is entirely different. When people ask me about my career, I’ve got albums [and other accolades] to show for it. Come on, I’m not about to hand somebody a mixtape and say, “Here, I’m one of these guys on here.” You’ve got a couple songs that really show the listener the ladder you’ve climbed – “Crown of Thorns” and “Crumbs”. Do you think today, it’s too easy to be a rapper?

Reef the Lost Cauze: I do, completely. I mean, when I graduated High School in ’99, there was maybe seven or eight rappers in my [West Philadelphia] High School. I bet if I went back today, there’d be 50 or more. Everybody has a record label, everybody makes lil’ albums. You gotta realize – coming into this Hip-Hop s**t, I studied the greats. I watched the Black Thoughts, the Last Emperors, the Chief Kamachis, as well as the Cool C’s and Steady B’s. I’d sit there and study them. It took three or four years before I ever opened my mouth! Didn’t say s**t! Today, these kids don’t know. They don’t do the research. They chew you up and spit you out. You have a day job through the Philadelphia Court System. It’s ironic that when we talk about Philadelphia rappers, from Cool C to Steady B to Beanie to Cassidy – they all pass through those courts. In your estimation, why is that?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Well, on the Beanie and Cassidy thing, I think it’s some of the people around them. You’re only as good as the company you keep. With Cassidy, it’s just a shame, ‘cause from what I know, he didn’t even do it – his man did. But he’s locked up. And what really sucks is I’m a Hustla is a dope-ass record, I own it myself. Because of what happened, the label stopped working it. I can’t even blame them. Where do you see yourself in the Philadelphia scene?

Reef the Lost Cauze: People tend to look at Philly like you're either on some street s**t, like State Property or on some more organic s**t, like The Roots. I'd like to think I'm some where in between those two worlds, somewhere between the streets and the Neo Soul conscious crowd because I am apart of both of those worlds and I feel like my perspective is and was shaped by both of those ways of thinking and expression. You were a student at The University of the Arts, but dropped out your freshmen year. Ever since Kanye West, Hip-Hop loves to care about this stuff. Can you tell me why?

Reef the Lost Cauze: Basically, Kanye really hit it on the nose. On College Dropout he has a song, “School Spirit” where he says, “This n***a graduated at the top of my class, next year, when to Cheesecake [Factory] he was a mothaf**kin’ waiter there. That’s sorta what it was. The dudes I was cool with, these 25 and 26 year olds, they graduated and didn’t have s**t. They were just sittin’ around smokin’ weed. I was a film student. It’s very hard to get to Hollywood, and most of the people there, didn’t go to no school to do it. The ratio of success is very low. Music is a little different. So after I left [college], I had an extremely, extremely tough year, and then I ended up getting my job. I pay my rent every month. Honestly too, if I stayed, I probably wouldn’t be sittin’ here having this interview either. It was a blessing in disguise. You’ve got a song on your album, “Coltrane” which really tells the stories of some great music from Philadelphia, but just Soul music in general. What prompted you to right that?

Reef the Lost Cauze: First, I’m just a big fan of those records. The same way that Kool G Rap and Big Daddy Kane influenced me, I’ve got to tip my cap to Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye. Right now, we’re very much about this Soul-sampling, sped-up vocal stuff. What I wanted to do with that record, is let us hear their voices. Slow it down. Appreciate it. A lot of my fans and people who listen to the record might not know who these people are, it’s a way for me to say thank you. Sort of like Nas did with “Unauthorized Biography of Rakim.”

Reef the Lost Cauze: Exactly. We’re so caught up in our own stories. We’ve got to say thank you. I looked at that record and Gang Starr’s “Jazz Thing” as inspiration. Over the summer, Cage told us that moving from Eastern Conference Records to Def Jux, he really saw the lacking work ethic of Mighty Mi and Eon. That’s his opinion. But coming into Eastern Conference, through Good Hands, what do you say?

Reef the Lost Cauze: I don’t know, man. We gotta remember that Eastern Conference was one of the biggest independents ever, at one time. Those two dudes know what they’re doing. I do realize that EC is not what it once was. That’s nothing new though, happens all the time. They were great, and were a great avenue for artists – and certainly, Cage was part of that. Mighty Mi has been a huge help for me, and never given me issues. He was DJ’ing at my album release party. Eon too. Those guys put me on their record. I don’t know, it is what it is. Cage put out a classic album [Movies For the Blind] with EC, and I think when people look back on the history of Cage and the history of EC, that's what they will remember: not the fallout, but the music that was made while he was there. You mention your mother and your grandmother a lot on this album. What kind of support system are they in your life?

Reef the Lost Cauze: My mom is my heart. She’s truly my best friend, everything. She raised me and my sister, and did a hell of a job doing it. She’s a strong woman who left two husbands, and put us first. My grandmother and grandfather are the world to me. I’m to blessed to have been raised by and around three wonderful women. I would love to be able to buy my mom a new house, and my grandmother an Atlantic City condo. She and my grandfather love to gamble. Few MC’s with a serious battle background make good storytellers. “My Father’s Eyes” is an interesting true story. Tell me about it…

Reef the Lost Cauze: My father left when I was very young. He was around, but not much. It basically just me and my mom, then my sister came. So later on, once I was getting around, my father tried to make an effort. It was hard, especially when the younger man has to be the bigger man. But whatever. I said okay. I invited my father to a showcase. When he didn’t show, I said, “F**k it.” That’s pretty much where I’m coming from. Sometime soon, when I’m a father, I’ll learn from his mistakes. To close on an offbeat note, what’s good the Eagles this year? You make a lot references to them. I liked the Reggie Wright / Troy Aikman line on the record…

Reef the Lost Cauze: Rest in peace, Reggie! I don’t know, man. I think McNabb needs to heal. But they won’t let him do so. That’s big. The NFC has changed a lot from last year. I mean we were destroyed by the Cowboys. Yeah, I’d let McNabb heal and then come back later in the season. That’s when my season starts, really. DJ Excel was telling me the other day, “Philadelphia is a city of ‘Almost Champions.’” I agree. We never do it, but we get so close. Look at the Eagles last year, or the 76ers in ’01. Do I think we’re gonna make the playoffs? Yeah. The Super Bowl? I don’t know, man.