Lucien Parker has two hip-hop scenes to call home: first and foremost, Minneapolis, where he grew up, and more recently, Madison, where he wrapped up his first year of school a couple months ago. In his short time in Madison, Lucien has most definitely made his mark, inking a deal with Strange Oasis Entertainment, going on tour, and releasing his first two projects: Take a Breath, and then of course the reason that we are here, the mid-June release Black Sheep.
An active summer for Lucien has included several shows in Milwaukee, opening in support of Mike Regal at The Miramar as well as playing a show alongside Pizzle, Kane and Yung Satori at The Jazz Gallery. I had the chance to speak with Lucien during the couple times he was in town to break down 'Black Sheep' and where he’s going with this all.
Where did the title 'Black Sheep' come from?
Originally it started in Madison, being at a campus where racial tensions are high, lot of bias instances. The campus is 77% white, 2% African-American. I’m here, and I’m an artist as well. Artists are already looked at as weird, off brand. Being that and black at Madison, it was just like, “this is the era of black sheep”. It’s also a way of thinking for me. I’ve always just thought 3 steps ahead, always had a creative way of thinking about things and trying to do things. That’s why the music is so unique. I don’t think about anybody else, I just let my music be what it is. Whether the sound sonically elevates to sounding more industry, it’s still different than anybody else doing it. Also, I was adopted by a white family when I was a baby so I was the only black kid in my family. It’s about understanding and accepting your blackness and being okay with it. You don’t want to run with the flock, it’s okay to be different.
You wouldn’t necessarily say the title is commentary on racial issues in Madison, but a furthered realization.
Yeah, it came from there and it was more so my perspective. It is commentary, there’s so many ways to interpret the title and cover art in itself. It’s all that and it can be all that. It can be commentary on racial issues in Madison, Minneapolis and Ferguson. It can be themed around life and your perspective as a black male and it can be themed around your way of thinking, how it’s different, it can be all of those things in one title, and I think that’s dope.
Can you walk me through the chronology of the album?
I took myself on a story. In spoken word, when you have a slam, there’s usually what’s called a sacrificial lamb or sacrificial poet that comes up and does their poem and gets the first scores from the judges... like a sacrifice. I kind of wanted to run with this idea of Black Sheep and sacrificial poet; sacrificial lamb leading the pack and being the first to try something, seeing how people receive it. I started with Conception as in the birth of this black sheep, this human being, and I took myself through my life. With Conception, you get the songs that are more sexualized and about love and sexual experiences, like 'Good Side' and 'Don’t Hold Back'. And then you move into the second chapter, which is Sacrifice, which is like the lamb being sacrificed. That chapter was about trying new things, sacrificing your time, energy, friendships, sacrificing your heart and soul into this thing that you don’t even know if it’s going to work out or not. So I did that, and then I came back with 'Resurrection'.
This is a re-birth of Lucien Parker, the next level from 'Take a Breath', and now I’m revamping my brand and my style and my sound and letting be what it is, and that’s when 'Resurrection' happened. The last song takes you from start to finish, the experiences that I’ve had that made me who I am now, how I became the black sheep today.
Geek Session produced almost the entire album. What’s your relationship with them and who are they?
Geek Session is a duo producer team out of Brooklyn, New York. The one dude that I linked up with originally, Shane Taylor, who makes the majority of my stuff, he’s actually from Minnesota. I was on Twitter one day, “I need new producers to work on my album!” or whatever and somebody linked me to him on Twitter, so I just checked him out and I ended up hitting him up, and he was totally down to just work on shit and build something organically. He started sending me beats. That’s when ‘WHY SO SERIOUS’ came out and we were like “oh yeah people fuck with this. We need to just keep building off of this”. And so, they literally produced like 90% of the project, and they’re the shit.
What’s the process with them then? They don’t just send you a beat?
I’ll tell Shane what I want and he’ll send me a beat package. I’ll pick beats out of those. Start writing songs to them. Rough record a song and then I’ll send him reference tracks. If there’s parts of the beats then we want to change, he’ll switch them up. He can send me the stems. If I want to do something to the stems, I’ll do that and send back it again. Ye’ll fuck with it, make sure everything is good, kosher. If it’s a good record, we’ll master it and get it ready to release.
We talk a lot. They mastered ‘From The Jump’, I mixed and mastered the rest of the project. A lot of people don’t know that I mix my own shit. I made that shit in my dorm room. We organically vibed together. Our styles just worked together and it was something that didn’t sound sonically like anybody else. It’s exciting, and I can’t wait to actually go to New York and work with them in the studio. We’re gonna make crazy shit.
How would describe the difference between Black Sheep and Take A Breath? I’m hearing you lean more towards “shit that slaps” so to speak rather than jazzier vibes.
Between Take a Breath and Black Sheep, I think I definitely elevated sonically. I found a medium between really indie music and industry music. I found a balance and a medium that left me the option and the space to still be authentic and still have substance and still talk about the shit that I want to talk about, still tell my story the way that I did and not have to be super mainstream or really indie or underground. I think 'Take A Breath' was one of those albums that was meant to put out how it was, and people will see it in like 6 years and be like “damn, this is a classic album”.
I’m excited to actually have time to do music more full time once I graduate college. I’ll be able to really go back to trying to form music around black culture and jazz and blues and funk, things like that. I’ll be able to do that when I can focus more on it. For right now, I’m kind of just enjoying the music.
What are you studying?
Everything. I haven’t really decided on a major, I’m leaning towards Political Science right now. Something in Communication Arts. I really just enjoy branding, communications, how to present one’s self as a professional. And that plays in how I present myself as a musician. That’s just what I enjoy to do.
You’re part of a creative arts program at UW-Madison called First Wave. How has First Wave helped improve you as an artist?
I wouldn’t say it has. First Wave gave me money to put myself on a platform that influenced the shit out of me. They brought me to Madison and that was their part. That was their job. That’s what they did and they succeeded in doing so. In that regard, I’m eternally grateful. But I think it’s more so the people that I went out and connected with and the way that I wanted to use my time in college that really shaped what I was gonna do and who I was gonna be around. There are individual people in First Wave who are really great people and have influenced me enormously. Same regard to them, First Wave gave them a platform to be an individual in that space and influence people. I thank First Wave for bringing me to Madison, in terms of influencing myself.
I think it’s big too that you have Minneapolis and you have Madison, there’s two homes, two scenes that you can be a part of.
Right. And that’s really exciting. Coming back to Madison in the summer when nobody’s supposed to be there and seeing 100s of people in the street that you know, or that know you, like “hey, congrats on the album”, that’s crazy, that’s what you do this shit for.
How would you compare the two scenes?
They’re different, it’s a different demographic. Minneapolis is my home city so when I go home things are always crazy. Madison has its huge community of hip-hop artists that support other people. I think Minneapolis is a lot more underground that Madison is. Madison is now getting on the come up but it’s more leaning towards industry. Madison’s never had huge artists besides like Pain 1. It’s never had rappers, but now with Trapo and Ra'Shaun and Mic Kellogg and Trebino, etc. They’re incredible. They’re talented as fuck. They’re really shaping the sound of Madison. I feel like Minneapolis is more underground and it’s over-saturated. I think there are so many Minneapolis rappers and shows and they’re all trying to do the same thing. There’s like 15 rappers on every show.
Did you get involved with spoken word before or after you decided “I’m a rapper”?
Before, way before. I wouldn’t even be a rapper if it wasn’t for spoken word. I did spoken word freshman year of high school. I’ve only been recording for 2 years. This is all new to me. I’ve only been rapping like this since the end of my junior year of high school. It was all just poetry before that but I think it influenced the way that I write. And so, once I found a beat and I knew that I could rhyme already. My storytelling ability and the way I can arrange songs really came from poetry.
The process of writing a spoken word piece is different than writing a rap?
Oh yeah, way different. But your skill set of being able to story tell and to use your vocabulary in poetic ways carries over in to rap. It’s just with a beat. You’re saying the same thing with or without a beat. That’s why a Capella verses are so unique. You could put a Capella on a beat but it could sound good without one as well. That’s just the power of oral performance.
How long have you been singing?
Only like 9 months. When I was a kid, I could hold melodies... but I wasn’t like “I’m a singer”. But yeah, this is the first time I ever actually started singing on tracks.
What made you make that decision?
'Take a Breath'. That was the first time I started using a lot of my melodic abilities with my vocals. And I was just thinking I could really take this to the next level. I worked with Synovia, and credit to her, as a big reason why I understand how to harmonize better and mix vocals together, put multiple vocal layers on a song. We would just sit in the studio and I would watch her do it. She would help me do it and understand lots of important technical stuff. I just took what she told me and made it my own and found my voice within. I wouldn’t say I’m ever gonna be like John Legend. But I’m definitely gonna keep singing.
It was clear on this album that you weren’t trying to stay in one lane. Is that something you think that you’ll always stick with or would you ever be like, "Alright, this project is gonna be R&B, I’m gonna sing on the whole thing” or “this project, I’m gonna fucking rap my ass off”?
To be honest, I don’t think I could ever. My plan is to eventually make like an R&B EP. But at the same point, I don’t feel like they have to be different or separated. I don’t think rapping and singing have to be two separate things. If I make a good song, it’s a good song. Whatever I did in that 3.5 minutes or whatever, it’s just what it is. I make music in the moment and organically... and let the process be what it is. I try not to think too hard about it, so sometimes I just let my vocals go wherever and I just ride the beat and I think I’m gonna do that forever. That’s how people like Drake stay big, Bryson Tiller, Kanye, Beyonce… They all just try shit, they don’t care, they’re just making music. Evolve. Try shit. Why wouldn’t you want to try to make every possible sound that in the world that you possibly could?
You’re managing DJay Mando now. How did you meet him and how did that come about?
I was coming to Madison for school and I was like “yo, I need a live DJ”, and someone linked us together and we ended up really vibing and it grew organically from there. Eventually, he was like, “dude, I just need somebody to help me brand myself and be professional and have these certain things” that he wasn’t thinking about. Like, Mando’s the type of the dude, that his passion. His love is just being on stage and playing music. He doesn’t wanna think about anything else other than that. It’s always something I wanted do if I wasn’t rapping, is management. It’s been great, he’s killing it this summer, turning up everything. He does Liquid every weekend, he’s done 3 shows in Milwaukee already, he opened up for Freddie Gibbs with Reggie Bonds a few months ago. He’s DJing a wedding in August.
Has managing him helped you better understand how to market yourself?
Hell yeah. You learn from all your experiences. Anytime that I’m put in a situation where I need to think uniquely about how to present a brand, it influences me and I learn as I go. Managing him has definitely opened my eyes to certain things. Things that I haven’t thought about for myself before, I’ve done for him. Things that I hadn’t thought about for him, I’ve done for me. It all applies well together.
You do a lot of recording yourself, mixing, mastering. Are you into the engineering side of music, is that something you want to keep doing, or is it that just a matter of necessity right now?
At some point, it’s okay to let somebody else take over because it’ll give me an opportunity to just focus on writing music. But I think understanding how to engineer yourself only will make your music 10 times better than anybody else’s because I can talk to my engineer now and he’ll understand what I want. It’ll end up being 2 minds doing the same things and coming up with ideas together, it’s so much quicker. That’s how you end up being able to write really good songs and a lot of them. But I definitely wanna continue doing it.
What’s next? Do you feel the need to sit back for a minute now?
To be honest, we hinted at the next project in the After Recess video. It’s looking like there’s gonna be another project that’s gonna be way more R&B influenced. I don’t know when it’s coming out yet but that’s what I’m looking to do next. I’m trying to really get into these vocals more than I have. I think 'Good Side' and 'Don’t Hold Back' really hinted at what I can do but I haven’t hit my peak with that yet. There’s so many things I have to learn. I’m gonna take vocal lessons. But that’s what I’m looking to do next; that, tour, merchandise, really let 'Black Sheep' be the project that it needs to be in order to bring me to the next level. It’s gonna grow as tour and do shows and I get bigger, and so I don’t want to put out something right away because it needs time to speak for itself.
If there’s one thing that’s clear about Lucien, it’s that he’s just about as hard of a worker as someone can possibly be. A lot of that hard work is paying off, as he headlines his first show in Minneapolis this Friday, July 22nd. That’s just one of a number of show dates he has lined up for the rest of the summer. Be most certain to keep your eyes and ears on Lucien going forward.