If music is the soundtrack of life, then Hip-Hop is the last track that gets played over and over. Hip-Hop has gone through many ups and downs, over the years. From the social relevance of Public Enemy, to the rags to riches lyrical prowess of Biggie, into the contemporary era, Hip-Hop has ushered in a way of life that affects not only its own community, but also mainstream America.
Beyond just the kids wearing hats to the back, affirming each other with Word, Hip-Hop is a beacon of hope to faces that are rarely shown in videos or advertisements. While critics and politicians debate over the influence of Hip-Hop in todays society, one emcee has set out to prove that music isnt the soundtrack of life, it is its heartbeat.
His name is Laz D, a 25-year-old rapper from Lake Oswego, Oregon, and he has Downs Syndrome.
Born Cameron Lasley, Laz D first became interested in music while still in high school. He began writing his own lyrics and in 2005 set out with producer/friend, Jack Gibson, to release an album.
And so he did. The following year, Laz released The Man Himself, a combined effort that paired Laz and Gibson together, one providing the rhymes, the other-the beats.
With Laz, he doesnt get hung up in a negative space. Theres a lot of people, when you work, spend time second guessing themselves or being down, trying to be too worried about what other people are doing, and it slows you down, says Gibson. With Laz, he knows what he wants.
In an age when Hip-Hop is under fire for its controversial content, Laz D is breaking the mold by getting his message across without the use of profanity or reference to violence.
I wanted to start rapping because I didnt like the streets talk and the language and everything else out there, said Laz, who also admits that he enjoys the music of 50 Cent and DMX.
The Man Himself totals 14 songs, featuring tracks like Street Anthem, Girlfriend, and Freestyle MVP. Laz wrote every song, spending nine months alongside Gibson crafting the album, which is available at many online retailers. The sales of the work have been traced to many remote audiences.
In Middle America, or certain parts of America, you listen to Hip-Hop and they dismiss it pretty fast, explains Gibson, Its obvious that it has an extreme emotional impact. Its a very passionate genre of music. Its never gonna go away, its only going to morph. Gibson understands Hip-Hop; hes been listening to it for over 20 years, since growing up in Texas. He dismisses the potential nay-sayers or gimmick flaggers, When we play shows, we get people coming up saying, That was really powerful, and That was good. Hes way into it. And then, I think when you know more about his story and just put it all together-not just take it at face value.
Even for Lazs mother, Marcy Lasley, this took some adjustment. No mom is hoping that their kid gets up in the morning and says, Hey mom, Im going to be a rapper.
However, with Jack Gibsons assistance and support, the soft-spoken mother watched her son chase his dream. This September, Laz will perform alongside Jack during the Buddy Day Walk, in New York Citys Central Park. With less than three years rapping, Laz D, with earnest intentions and a goal, has surpassed that of many rappers.
They made more space for everybody else out there, like if you were a thug, everybody else but there wasnt any space for me, said Laz. He became the change he wanted to see.
Not for nothing. Hip-Hop can be equally cruel. Whether its Nas chipped tooth, Camrons pool and palm trees, or Lil Ceases dancing exploits, the Internet has allowed everybody to mock and criticize rappers.
Gibson, raised amongst the bravado of 80s rap, predicted some insensitivity.
Once you start getting into the mainstream clubs and culture, a little bit of the backlash on YouTube and stuff, but thats just armchair computer bloggers, they write crap about Biggie. I mean, It doesnt matter who it is. And that baffled me a little bit, begins Gibson. One of the videos was kind of dubbed around. It kind of took me back at first, but Laz and I talked about it and were like, Dont these people talk crap about everybody? and he knows, hes like, Im just gonna keep doing what Im doing.
Whatever self-appointed critics may say, they may be merely contributing to the outward critique of overall Hip-Hop. I know the power of Hip-Hop, said Gibson, Its more the power of music, and its more getting society not [to dismiss] Hip-Hop as one of the true original art forms of music.
Laz D and Gibson are examples of the power of Hip-Hop; the power to transcend color, age, and ability. Stevie Wonder used music as a blind visionary. Jerry Garcia was one of the greatest guitarists of the last 50 years, missing fingers. Is it not time Hip-Hop celebrated triumph instead of hustle and privilege? After all, given his circumstances, Laz D might be the greatest hustler of all.
Itll be interesting how it goes, says Gibson, looking ahead. The main thing is, [is] Laz having fun, is he feeling good, is he enjoying writing and recording? And the answer will be yes for quite some time I know. Thousands await Laz in New York in September, and legions more in time, as one young man masters the ceremony.
Additional reporting and writing by Jake PainePurchase Laz's album.