Without naming names, rapper Lucien Parker took to Twitter last month to let his followers know his feelings about certain local artists: “There are certain niggas who rep MN when it’s convenient and I do not fuck wit it!”
7th St. Entry
One thing’s for sure: You can’t accuse Parker himself, a south Minneapolis native, of being disloyal to Minnesota. In his songs, the University of Wisconsin-Madison sophomore-to-be routinely mentions specific Minneapolis streets and music venues, such as Hennepin, Franklin, First Avenue, and 7th St. Entry.
He dreams of selling out First Ave’s Mainroom someday, as he mentions on his song “Need Some Myself.” On his song “8 am,” he embraces local listeners in general: “Downtown Franklin to TCF Stadium / Anybody listenin’, I hope you can relate.”
On his debut LP, the new Black Sheep, Parker sounds ready to launch his career outside of the upper Midwest. Like on last year’s Take a Breath EP, Parker excels lyrically throughout the project. With a poetic touch, he uses his verses to touch on subjects like growing up, relationships, sex, and race. The album features Minnesota-bred guests, including Why Khaliq and Aubrey King, and it’s structured as a story, including a preface, three chapters, and interludes.
City Pages caught up with Parker to talk growing up in Minneapolis, the making of Black Sheep, and the Twin Cities hip-hop scene. Catch him performing his first Minneapolis headlining show Friday at the Cabooze.
City Pages: In June, you tweeted that certain artists only represent Minnesota when it's convenient. What made you say that?
Lucien Parker: I had a friend who used to do music outside of Minnesota; he had moved to the East Coast. People from here, from the Midwest, a lot of times are from Chicago. They travel to places like the East Coast or the West Coast, and then they go to the South and they hit Atlanta, and they feel like they can’t blow up in Minnesota, so they start repping these other cities.
Their influences change, their music changes based on the sounds of these other places. Influence in music is always a continuous process; your sound can change no matter where you’re at. But it was like people were switching up. When Allan Kingdom started blowing up and Minnesota started getting the love that it deserved, all of a sudden people were like “612 this,” and “Minneapolis this,” and “Minnesota’s killing it right now,” and this and that.
It was like, a few weeks ago, you were like, “I don’t fuck with Minnesota, Minnesota doesn’t put anybody on, it’s dry.” As soon as this new wave after Allan started happening, and then [DJ] Tiiiiiiiiiip happened, and then Bobby [Raps] happened, and Spooky [Black] happened, it was like everybody wanted to be from Minnesota all of a sudden.
CP: Guest features on the album album include Why Khaliq and Aubrey King, who are both Minnesota artists. Looking around the Twin Cities hip-hop scene, who do you see yourself fitting in with?
LP: I would definitely say Why Khaliq, J. Plaza, Dom Milli, Radio Ahlee — artists like that, a lot of people within there. I don’t think my music takes a completely underground sound. Sonically, it’s not as underground as it used to be. The sound has elevated, and that’s me understanding what’s sonically appealing to the masses and the music I wanna try to make.
Those are the people I look up to in the Twin Cities and I listen to. I listen to Why Khaliq like every day, I listen to Metasota a lot, I listen to a lot of CamOnClouds, a lot of Rajitheone, a lot of Aubrey King. I listen to a lot of local people. Those are the people that I hang around and I’m influenced by.
CP: Aside from Minneapolis, you also have ties to Madison. How has college been for you so far?
LP: It’s cool. It’s an interesting dynamic. It’s not a very diverse demographic of people at the school. It’s really a primarily white institution, so it has its benefits and it has its issues as well. I think Madison as a school forces people of color to focus their attention more toward what’s important to them: their arts, their academics, and their activism. A lot of the kids that go to Madison have never talked to a person of color before in their life.
As young adults, we have to figure out how to combat those things in a productive way that will continue the conversation about racism. If all the kids in Madison just started fighting each other, that’s completely counterproductive. It forces us to put ideas about how to combat racism, classism, and sexism into music, poetry, and dance. We hold shows and rallies and things like that.
Obviously, a lot of people who aren’t of color are helping out and doing the same things, but that’s what Madison was like for me. I focused on the content of the music and what it was like being a kid there.
CP: What makes Black Sheep different from Take a Breath, apart from being a full-length? How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist?
LP: After I dropped Take a Breath, I thought about what I wanted to do next. Originally, I had a mixtape that was gonna drop after Take a Breath that was going to be a kind of sequel called So Much More. I decided to put that one away into the vault and focus on Black Sheep. I got a lot of dope music from Geek Session, who produced 90 percent of the project.
I just started making songs and I was like, this could be a really nice LP. I had a lot of the ideas that I wanted to talk about because of the racial climate in Madison and the incidents that were occurring and the protests that were happening at the time. The other themes about my life just fell within those.
CP: What inspired the structure of the album, with the chapters and interludes?
LP: I think the project is a story. I wanted the sonic quality to carry the theme of what it means to be a black sheep and have a black sheep mentality by sonically being different and appealing. I wanted the content to carry it, I wanted the structure to carry it.
If you’re a black sheep as a person, every part of you — the way you move, the way you talk, the way you present yourself — is all the same. I wanted the album to be the same thing. I had the album follow the structure of what was kind of like a sacrificial lamb — you start with conception, birth. I used to do slam poetry, and in slam poetry you have a sacrificial poet that spills the blood on the stage. It’s the first person to put themselves out there and present all of their stuff and get scored and be the person that gets the first opinions of the judges.
I felt like in my music, I was the sacrificial lamb that wasn’t afraid to say what I wanted, to do what I wanted, to sound how I wanted. It starts with “Conception,” then you have the two more R&B-sounding tracks, then it goes into chapter two, “Sacrifice,” which has a lot to do with what I sacrificed to make it in the industry: working double shifts, cutting off friends, and still making music. I felt like I had to take a breath, like a rebirth, a revamped version of what I wanted to sound like.
CP: Do you continue to have a passion for slam poetry?
LP: I love slam poetry. I just don’t do it anymore. Slam poetry catapulted me into music. I do love slam poetry, there just isn’t a lot of places for adults to do slam poetry anymore. I was on the “Be Heard MN” team two years in a row, so I went to [slam poetry festival] Brave New Voices twice. I actually went international, but that’s only for youth 13-19. There’s not a lot of places for adults to compete.
CP: Most of Black Sheep was produced by Brooklyn duo Geek Session. How did you link with them?
LP: One of the producers, Shane Taylor, he’s from Minnesota. After Take a Breath, I had tweeted, like, “Yo, I’m looking for producers to work with. Send me some stuff.” Somebody had actually tweeted at me and said I should work with Shane Taylor, and so I hit him up and he said, “I listened to your songs, I really wanna work with you.”
He kept sending me stuff. He’s been really, really great and he’s been a huge piece to the success of this project because he was willing to collab with me and work on it back and forth. He’ll switch the beats up, or take parts out that I don’t want; I get stems and all that kind of stuff.
CP: What is your relationship with Strange Oasis Entertainment like?
LP: Me and my manager, Brennan [Haelig], met via Twitter over the summer [of 2015]. We ended up talking about artist management, and in September, we decided to do a one-month trial run to see how he’d do, because he had been talking about how he wanted to be in artist management. We did it, and he loved it, and I loved it.
I love working with him. He’s 19, too. He’s a genius. He’s about to graduate from Madison’s business school a year early because he’s good at what he does. I signed with him for a five-year contract with Strange Oasis, and they have been awesome. They specialize in event curation and artist management. In terms of management, I’m their only client that’s been signed so far.