Ta’Raach, aka Lacks, loves Detroit so much, it hurts. And sometimes he hates it. That hurts worse.
As he sits on his porch in Atlanta, admiring what the Southern scenery has to offer, all he can think about is being back home. Not that he minds the frogs, trees and grass; it’s just that the concrete jungle suits him better. Broken promises, lack of professional management, no respect from radio stations unwilling to support local artists and more, have forced one of Detroit hip-hop’s finest to relocate.
Lacks makes what he calls anthem music — hip hop as transcendence in a time when so many of the biggest sellers are here today and gone by this evening.
His move to Georgia was strictly a business decision, and only temporary. He left to get heard. He hopes to return home for good by his birthday in January.
His music is still as Detroit as it gets. It’s influenced by the frustration, anguish and turmoil inherent in Detroit life. He doesn’t waste time bitching and moaning about how he’s been screwed over, but one can hear it in his voice. He’s still mad as hell.
Lacks grew up on the west side, near Fullerton and Greenfield, at a time when “breaking into houses was an initiation into the neighborhood.” Like many of Detroit’s finest in the hip-hop game, he grew up around other talents, including Dwele, and Big Tone of Wasted Youth. His initial influences were bicoastal; Tupac and Ice Cube in the West, with EPMD and Rakim representing the East. Eventually he grew to love A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.
Then came the beats.
Financial restrictions forced Lacks to collect records from others in the neighborhood. He looped his beats with tape decks, using the pause/play/stop method. With his production methods slowly improving, he polished his rhyming abilities. He performed at Redford’s Bishop Borgess high school’s talent show during his senior year. Late nights were spent at Nation Studios putting beats together.
“While other people were doing the 9-to-5 during the day, I was doing the same eight-hour shift, only in the studio at night,” he says.
Lacks graduated from Borgess in 1994, and formed his first group, Inner City Ruckus, with friends Dwele and Big Tone, then added classmates Michael Mays and Bittersweet. The group fused hip hop, rap and R&B, combining traditional foundations (sampling) of the mediums, while adding their limited instrumental knowledge.
Lacks did two years at Marygrove College, then moved with his family to Lansing and took a few courses at Michigan State University in 1996. There, he joined the student-run radio station, using the moniker Lacksidaisycal. His status began to build, and his Detroit background and style started to infect a Spartan campus which, up until then, considered hip hop an underground movement. This led to a Friday-night residency hosting freestyle MC battles at the Blue Note Café.
But in the end, Lacks’ yearning for the Motor City won out. He sold all his records to finance his return, arrived back at Nation Studios and reunited with Big Tone. An album, Ear Candy, was made, but like many Lacks projects to come, it never was released.
Times were rough then for Detroit’s starving hip-hop artists. In those pre-Eminem days, a Detroit hip-hop artist landing a major-label deal was unheard of. And forget local airplay. With no money to get into the studio, and no exposure to get them noticed, the city’s hip-hop finest were spinning their wheels.
“We needed a support group for MCs,” Lacks says.
So he formed a club for those in a similar predicament, called Breakfast Club. Its founders included Big Tone, and Elzhi (now of Slum Village). The Breakfast Club’s first release also never saw the light of day. Welcome (back) to Detroit, Lacks.
Around the beginning of 1999, two chance meetings would change the course of Lacks’s career. Carl Craig and R.J. Rice introduced him to the industry standard MPC 2000 and SP1200 drum machines. Without manuals, he learned to master the fine points of making beats.
“R.J. told me I sounded like Jay Dee (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Slum producer) even though I had no idea who he was at the time,” he says.
Up to the time Lacks worked with Rice, contractual obligations with Nation Studios denied Lacks the opportunity to seek outside help and influence.
“I technically already knew R.J. while I was in East Lansing, but couldn’t work with him because of my situation with Nation.”
The work Lacks did with Rice included remixes for major-label artists Ginuwine and India.Arie.
On a visit to see DJ House Shoes spin at St. Andrew’s Hall, Shoes suggested Lacks get together with Jay “J. Dilla” Dee. Because of Rice’s working relationship with Dilla — who had just left Slum Village to focus his production skills on helping more established artists — Lacks collaborated with Dilla.
The two started a single, “It’s Lyk That” on a Saturday and finished the following Monday. Big Tone stepped in and did vocals in one take. Dilla and Lacks were so pleased with the track, they followed up a remix of the Stylistics classic “People Make The World Go Round” for Craig’s Innerzone Orchestra album, Programmed.
Concurrently, techno pioneer Craig was looking to expand his Planet E label’s empire by tip-toeing into the hip-hop market, and Lacks seemed an appropriate fit.
“I stood him up at what was supposed to be our first meeting,” Lacks admits. Craig must have shrugged the snub aside, as he invited Lacks to join him on his Innerzone Orchestra tour. The few months they spent together on the road exposed Lacks to Craig’s broad appeal among electronic fans. Recordings planned for release on Craig’s label once again never saw the light of day.
What did come out of this formative period with Craig were a few 12-inch singles and an EP, Lacksidaisycal, which by hip-hop standards, was quality product. While the vinyl availability of Lacks’ early recordings remains scarce, a mix of a few of these tracks can be found on a live stream at www.grooveattack.com (look for the Detroit hip-hop mix), where Lacks distributes his albums.
Obstacles and constant letdowns aside, Lacks continued to pound out track after track in the studio, all originally meant for Antidote Music Systems (Craig’s Planet E offshoot), but sat aside for business reasons.
By now, personal strife was having its way with Lacks, and Detroit, it seemed, was nothing but bad luck. Resolution was needed. A sacrifice was made in the exodus to Atlanta.
“I’m only in Atlanta to get the business aspect of everything down secure,” he says. “It [the move] was also a sacrifice to become sweeter at [production].”
Lacks formed Earth Angel Records, and hooked up with manager Chris Craft of I.M.A.D.U. Music, an independent hip-hop label in the Dirty South. The environment in Georgia — the warmth and glow of the sun, the Southern hospitality — was an extreme change for Lacks. He was used to bleak, dreary streets, homelessness, even false arrest. Still, Detroit was in his blood.
“Detroit. It’s lust, soul, man,” he explains. “Something so beautiful. Every genre can be touched here. You can have a Detroit track, give it to Duran Duran, and it’s gonna work. It’s limitless.”
As for the tracks Lacks put together in ’98 and ’99, they finally did see the light. Re:Lacks Vol.1 With The World, is the fruit of all his labors. Produced by Lacks, it features the Raach Stars: Lil Sci, 01, Fe-Niks, Tony King and childhood chums Big Tone and Bittersweet. Besides the business end, the only Atlanta musical contribution to this album is its introduction. This is a Detroit hip-hop album through and through.
Waajeed of Bling47, whom Lacks had met when both were fledgling hip-hop artists, recently invited the expat back to Detroit to team up. The collaboration was dubbed the Divine Intervention Sessions. Holed up in the Bling47 studios for a week, they sought out enlightenment through hip hop. The pair cranked out a few tracks, one or more of which may appear on Lacks’ upcoming project, 7, which is set to drop in spring. The album — released under the Raach moniker — will feature guest production.
“It’s going to be a journey through the chakras,” Lacks explains. “I’m thinking about doing something that communicates with everyone.” Lacks also has plans on the table for Rocket Science, a collaborative effort with Lil Sci, one of the few Atlanta MCs he’s been blown away by.
For now, Detroit is whispering in his ear, and a fall European tour is in the works.
Still, Detroit — the broken record deals, the inability to get signed by a major label, no radio airplay — makes sense to him. His music is naked without Detroit. Maybe he’s just a masochist at heart, a glutton for the kind of pain and punishment that makes music worthy.
Does Lacks want acceptance on a larger scale? Maybe.
“My message is simple. Put your heart not just into your music, but into anything you do. You have to be able to give yourself to everything.”David Valk is a Metro Times editorial intern. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org