Sylvan LaCue Talks Turning Down Deal With Roc Nation, Premieres '3:33' Video

Jonathan Freeman
Sylvan LaCue

"Y’all look at success as a way to define yourself. I’m already defined."

For someone who nearly fumbled his life due to a crippling tug-o-war with his mental health last year, 2018 has been a blissful journey for Sylvan LaCue. 

Last February, LaCue released his acclaimed project Apologies in Advance, which was lauded for its honesty and taut lyricism. With records such as "Best Me," "Selfish" and "Guilt Trip," the Florida upstart banished any ounce of doubt with his conviction, which caught the eye of several reputable labels, including Jay-Z's Roc Nation. For avid listeners of LaCue, the rapper's adoration for Jigga Man can be found on Apologies in Advance's bonus track "5:55."

"4:44 deeply inspired my upcoming album Apologies in Advance," LaCue told Billboard last November. "5:55' is my answer to Jay's 4:44. "Spiritually speaking, "4:44" means to have a spiritual awakening. '5:55' means you're ready for massive change." 

In a perfect world, LaCue signs to Roc Nation, dons a Roc-A-Fella chain and forever gushes about being signed to his favorite rapper. Sounds like a rap fairy tale everyone would joyously clamor over, right? Unfortunately, the universe had other plans for LaCue. In his new video "3:33," he candidly speaks on his decision to turn down Roc Nation's offer and maintain his path on the independent circuit.

"I almost signed to my idol this year, the Roc almost did come alive, but it's Wise, Wise, Wise," he quips over Bas' "Tribe" instrumental. "Master with my masters, what would Jigga do?/N---s act like I ain't finished school/Independent with the funding outta pocket, yet they still think I'm out of pocket."

Rather than be dejected by Roc Nation's low-ball offer, LaCue maintains his power of independence and mission to win on his own terms. "Everybody has their own agenda and you just gotta push through it and do what’s best for you. Weigh out the options," LaCue tells Billboard. "To me personally, I’m just focused on building the company and getting it structured and having a business plan. I’m still open for those conversations if it makes sense for the business. I’m very much an artist but I also own a business. It just has to make sense."

Billboard caught up with LaCue during his Apologies in Advance Tour stop to speak about his new video "3:33", his decision to turn down Roc Nation, and why he's OK with playing the long game. Check out the video below, and the rest of our conversation after the jump.

It’s October now -- almost a year since you released your acclaimed album Apologies In Advance. Take me through this entire year and how you’ve been living life since the release of the project.

Honestly, it started off very cloud nine-ish. Very on-top-of-the-world-feeling. For me personally, not necessarily monetarily and whatnot. The feeling of “man, things are going really, really well.” Apologies in Advance dropped, and shortly after, we sold out a show in Los Angeles and in New York City. My grandmother’s passing, doing the Florida Man mixtape, doing this tour, it’s been a very consistent cloud nine. It feels like things are continuing to happen.

On the flip side, I’m understanding the true depth of what I’ve been creating and the people that have been around me and what we’re aiming to do. We knew the mission, which was to promote what we believed in and create great music. But the past eight months, besides the cloud nine feeling, it’s been very much understanding the depth of what we’re trying to create and what it takes to really make that happen. It’s been eye-opening, man. Experiences both good and bad. It’s been a roller coaster. I’m understanding a lot, but at the same time a lot his happening and it’s very beautiful to see.

What has been the biggest eye-opening moment for you thus far on tour?

There have been mad moments. A lot of these people who come out to the shows, they’re fans of the music, but also coming to really gain something, and you can tell. When I’m getting on stage, it’s like these people are there for something and to take something back with them. The craziest experience I had was, there’s a kid who came to a show in Brooklyn. We did the show and it was great, then we got off stage and greeted everybody and took pictures. We left to go back to our place to get some rest and as I left, there was this kid. Super grungy and you could tell he’s a little rough but he’s still cool. We started chopping it up a little bit and he started explaining his story. He said, “I got my probation tomorrow and my train doesn’t leave until 12:00 PM tomorrow. I don’t have a place to stay.” I’m like, “What? Let me get you a hotel room or something.” He’s like, “Nah, don’t worry about it, bro. You’ve got people to look out for. I’m going to be fine. Keep doing what it is that you’re doing. We needed you here. I needed you here.” And he took his backpack and just walked off and I started damn near crying. That’s what it’s about.

This tour was self-funded and independent. Everything was essentially coming out of pocket to get from point A to point B. It comes with a lot of frustrations and angst, but then you see something like that and you hear a story like that and you see that’s what this is all about. It makes everything worth it.

I remember when we last spoke, your confidence level was pretty high off the fact that you created this album and you were able to get a lot off your chest. Since the release, has your confidence taken a hit in any way?

When you really start understanding and believing and knowing yourself, you've got to make choices and sometimes, those choices don’t look like the choices you wanted to make. This is what it is because you do believe in yourself and you do believe in your talent and what it is that you’re here to do. I mean, you have your moments. I’m going to always have my moments where I question it a little but. But overall confidence, If anything, I feel like it’s grown. I’m looking at myself like, “Yo fam, you serious?” It’s been real interesting to see where the self-belief and the belief in the product and what we’re trying to do has increased so much that you start making decisions that directly align with that because you truly know what it is you’re doing.

For the "3:33" video that you’re premiering with us, can you talk about the origin of the record and what made you decide that this was the moment to just let everything out?

It was gradual, man. I really love the beat that Bas and [J.] Cole did. I just loved it. I was listening to it on repeat in the tour van. We were in Salt Lake City at the time and I started writing to it. I asked my DJ if he could just grab me the instrumental. I don’t know, man. It was the product of a lot of experiences. I realize I hadn’t spoken much about a lot. Even with Florida Man, there was a mission behind it. It was a lot of reminiscing and from a hindsight perspective. But this record is me kind of speaking how it felt. I hadn’t realized how much had happened in my life.

I think it was a culmination of stopping and breathing and being like, “Oh, this is how you’ve been feeling.” I hadn’t really been able to shed light on what I’ve been feeling personally. As I’m digesting things, I’m used to just writing it out. I hadn’t done that in a while and that was the culmination of just freestyling. We shot the video in New Orleans. I was getting as much as I could out and also just changing narratives. Me being very confident in the direction that I’m going in, I’m like, “Yeah, this is what I’m on right now. This is what I’m about.” Very clear and stick the flag on the mountain top.

Your affinity for Hov is well documented and you were being courted by Roc Nation. Why didn’t the deal go as planned?

The overall definitive reason as to why it didn’t happen is intentions and difference in what I’m trying to get done and what the label is trying to get done. Labels are interesting, man. You have to see through a lot to get to the point. A lot of times, when you get to the point, you gotta stick to that point. With Roc, it was very interesting because I wasn’t expecting it. Seeing people were interested and such and such wants to do such and such, I was like, cool.

I had a very specific vision and we got to a point where I was compromising my vision. I was going to take a certain deal because I didn’t get a chance to express my true vision of what I wanted to do. Out of love for Roc and out of love for Hov, I was willing to compromise what I really wanted to do in order to still have that association and say this is the story. Make it something that it is, but it truly isn’t, just for the sake of affiliation and a dream come true. Where I’m from, you think about rap and you think you might sign to Jay-Z. That’s the best case scenario.

Long story short, some things happened that I won’t speak too much further on just out of respect for them and respect for the culture and respect for Hov. But some not so pleasant things happened and I had to walk away from the situation. It was unfortunate, how things transpired. At the end of the day, I was really grateful for just being able to walk into the office and meet some of the people that I’ve met and be able to be around that energy and experience that time I was able to experience. It meant a lot to me because I’m a kid from Miami who doesn’t really get that opportunity. It’s very surreal to be able to be in those offices and have those conversations. I have to really stick to my guns and I’ve created a lot for myself and I can’t be bought at this point.

At this point, there’s no dollar amount to what I’ve created. It’s either you’ve got to be a part of this or I just have to keep trucking with the people who I’ve been creating with like Jonathan and Blame The Label. I believe in what I’m doing wholeheartedly. The confidence thing, I know how much this really cost. Sometimes you have to look at the person who’s trying to sell you something and be like, “I fucks with you but, this cost a little more.” The unfortunate part was that I never got to have that conversation. That’s the only thing I regret about that experience. I didn’t get to have that real conversation about what I truly wanted to do and that could have been special. It is what it is and it’s all love. They’re going to continue to be Roc and I’m going to continue to be me.    

First, you were over at Visionary under Logic’s imprint, then you see this Roc Nation deal go downhill. At this point, do you have a sour taste in your mouth about labels or a skewed mindset about ever going into another situation?

Nah, man. I don’t ever want to be the angry independent artist [laughs]. There’s a lot of n---as out here that are like, “Stay independent! Fuck the labels.” It’s not really about that. Understand the benefits of the system. That major label system is very real. There’s a lot you sacrifice, but if the labels put in the right scenario, you’re outta here. At the end of the day, I’m the balance. I’m not about to sit here and be like, “Stay independent,” but I’m not going to be like, “Sign your life away.” You just gotta figure out what works for you.

For me, it’s business for me at this point. You got to look up and be like, “Look at what I’ve built. It cost a lot.” Even on some like cocky shit like, “Nah, we did 20 million streams independently.” It’s a real thing and not even something I’m trying to lie to you about. We have to have a different conversation. I’m not on that “Fuck labels” shit at all. It’s just merely what works for you. Just because something doesn’t work for me at this moment in time with a certain label, doesn’t mean that I’m never going to visit a major label. It just didn’t work out. We had a disagreement. I don’t get scarred by shit like that, man. I don’t answer to the industry. I love the industry and I love the game, but I’m not here to be fulfilled by it. I’m here to use it to do what I have to do.

I’m not really skewed, man. Everybody’s different and everybody moves different. Atlantic isn’t Roc Nation and Def Jam isn’t Virgin Records. Everybody has their own agenda and you just gotta push through it and do what’s best for you. Weigh out the options. To me personally, I’m just focused on building the company and getting it structured and having a business plan. I’m still open for those conversations if it makes sense for the business. I’m very much an artist but I also own a business. It just has to make sense.

When you left Visionary, you left on good terms. What made you want to mention Logic in the freestyle as well?

Visionary was interesting because at the time we were coming up, Logic was having a streak. [He] just signed to No I.D. Kid from Maryland that everyone’s talking about. XXL Freshman list and he just dropped a big new album, Under Pressure. I decided to leave literally in the midst of that. It wasn’t as much about them as it was about my choices. I decided to leave and commit to that, and everyone around me was like, “Bro, I don’t know if this is going to work for you. This Logic shit is a sure thing. This Visionary shit is a sure thing.” Rightfully so.

The proof afterwards for a lot of people who viewed success as a way to define themselves, that was their proof. Logic is doing his third album while Sylvan is trying to figure out what he’s trying to figure out. It’s really interesting because I’m just not someone who thinks success is the answer. If I wanted to be successful, I would have kept with Visionary. I could have kept that narrative of sign the record deal, blow up, get your money and be big. I would have signed to Roc Nation. There’s many opportunities I’ve had to fulfill what people think is the key to this shit. I’m trying to change the narrative.

That’s not saying that not signing a record deal is the answer. There’s people who are independent who are wildly successful who aren’t happy. This shit is deeper, man, it’s way deeper. What I’m trying to do and my message, [I'm] trying to invite people to themselves. We’re all worth something beyond money. We all have this intangible worth. My music is just the platform to get that shit through. With Visionary, it wasn’t like, “Fuck these guys.” I made a decision based on what I believed in. There were a lot of people who counted me out. But I’m still here and I’m very much here and alive. 

I had the confidence to walk away from a deal. It’s me being like, “No, I’m here.” Y’all look at success as a way to define yourself. I’m already defined. I need nothing monetary that I can attain that will make me feel better about myself. The only thing that makes me feel good is knowing that I;m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, even if it looks crazy [laughs].

I remember you told me you no longer strive for acceptance from the culture anymore. Does that mindset still ring true going into 2019?

Yeah, it’s a little antsy at times. I’m a rapper. I’m an MC first. I say a lot of shit and I’m really keen to what’s going on and who people are praising. I'll be feeling a certain way sometimes. I’ll be like, “Oh, word?” ‘Cause I know what’s really going on. Shit don’t really matter, though. It’s just ego. A lot of people are really loud. Where I’m from and how I was raised, you just gotta show up. You either show up or you don’t. But a lot of n---as are just loud and it’s a lot of bullshit a lot of n---as are just screaming for attention and they’re oozing a lack of confidence.

I’m not loud, I just pull up and work. That’s why I’m still here. At the end of the day, all I gotta do is stay here and keep elevating. I’m not really like stressed about, “Why am I not this? Why am I not that?” People decide what’s hot and people decide what they want. People have control over what they fuck with. I can’t control that and I’m not going to sit here and try to control it either. I’ma keep pushing and I’ma be here 10 years from now. When n---as is ready, they gon’ be ready. What they fuck with is what they fuck with.