About 10 years ago, Sharif Lacey — better known as Reef the Lost Cauze — was ready to hang it up. After fits and starts with labels, toiling on the independent scene, and feeling like he was not at the level of success he should be, Reef decided that his next project would be his last.

Almost a decade and several releases after Reef the Lost Cauze Is Dead, approaching the eve of his newest album release, Reef is feeling a newfound excitement toward his music and his creativity overall. He was nice enough to sit down with me and discuss the new project, his new view toward success, and how age and wisdom have made him better. 

The Key: It’s almost twenty years in the game now for you right? 

Reef the Lost Cauze: Yes, actually about twenty years on the nose. My first project was finished on December 30th 2001 my 20th birthday. So it feels very cyclical to be releasing the new one now. 

TK: How do you feel your music has evolved over that time? 

LC: I feel like I’ve gotten more comfortable in my own skin, especially around 2005 when Feast or Famine came out, I didn’t feel like I needed to fall into the idea of the underground rapper. My music didn’t need to sound a certain way regardless of my label situation or whatever. “Underground” music at that time definitely had a distinct sound, tempo and lyric wise, but I didn’t think I needed to fit into that. 

TK: Yes, you look at someone like Yasiin Bey, then known as Mos Def, he would definitely be considered “underground,” but he didn’t fit that narrative musically either. 

LC: Yeah, he’s the perfect example, and someone I always admired because he broke that mold. He had no qualms being his full artistic self. He rapped, but he also had the band, he was acting, and he was doing poetry. There are so many things that I want to do, that I want to try, and guys like him let me know it’s possible. 

TK: It really seems like the age restrictions on hip hop are finally a thing of the past. There isn’t a thing of your mid thirties means your career is over. Do you see it the same way? 

LC: Well, there are so many ways to get your music out now, so many more opportunities. That really helps and also there needs to be music for us as we grow as a generation raised in hip-hop to listen to. And that’s not to say I don’t like younger artists — I do! — but a 20 year old isn’t necessarily making music for people in their 30’s and 40’s. You also have to remember everyone was young when hip hop started, so that meant everyone doing it was young as well. Like it bugs me out to think that Nas still isn’t 50 ya’know. It kind of feels like everything caught up with each other. Now we are seeing guys put out their best music later in their career. Black Thought is the perfect example of that. 

TK: As you mentioned, there are a lot of emcees who have improved as they age, I think you fall into that as well. How do you think you’ve been able to continue progressing your abilities? 

LC: I really know what I want to say now, what I sound good on and I know who I am as a person. There’s no posturing. I’m fully evolved into who I am as an artist. I don’t have any hang ups worrying what other people think, I make the music I want to make. That’s very freeing. I also found that I’ve become more precise in my life overall not just in my art and I think makes for better music.

TK: The new album is called Reef the Lost Cauze IZ ALIVE, which I assume is the spiritual sequel to your album from about ten years ago Reef the Lost Cauze is Dead. Does the new title reflect more how you feel now? 

LC: Hahaha, that’s where I’m at in my career. I’ve been around long enough to make follow ups to my earlier projects. The Reef the Lost Cauze is Dead I intended to be my last album. I was in a darker place. A lot of woe-is-me, feeling like I wasn’t successful enough. But we did end it on a positive note, and with a different view on what success is now that I am older I feel like this is a continuation of how that album ended.

So Caliph-NOW, who is my long-time producer, DJ, and friend, put this new album together with that mindset. Almost a decade later, this project about finding peace with where I am, and finding hope. There’s a lot of grown man music on there, and a lot of reflection on where I’ve come from over these 20 years in music. I think you have to kill parts of you to continue, kill parts of your ego. That’s why it’s Reef the Lost Cauze IZ ALIVE

TK: How long have you been working with Caliph-NOW? 

LC: Almost 20 years. You know he was the producer for my man Viro, RIP, and he did some production for me. In 2007 he became my full time DJ as well. Reef the Lost Cauze is Dead was the first time we worked together for a whole project, before that I was kind of a nomad. So again it’s really nice ten years later for the new album to be produced by him. 

TK: So if you watch any local sporting event, we get to see you in the Shibe Sports ads, and I know you just did some voiceover for a cheesesteak video. Are you looking to explore more in those areas of creativity? 

LC: Yes, definitely, there are a lot of things in the works. I’m excited to get this new album out and I have another I’ve already been collecting music for [the album] that will get worked on over the next year, but 2022 is gonna be spent working on other disciplines. Acting was my first love, I started at Freedom Theater, and I really enjoyed doing the voiceover so I’d love to do more of that. I’ve also love seeing the Shibe commercials being made and learning from that. I want to get behind the camera I’d also like to try my hand at writing a children’s book. I’ve spent a lot of my life dedicated to the music and that will always be the foundation, but I have so many other things I want to explore. 

TK: You’ve also been doing some mentor work, can you tell us a bit about that? 

LC: It started because I did an event for this organization called Beyond The Bars, their mission is to get studios up and running all over the city for kids to learn music. I thought it was dope and wanted to be involved. They were able to set me up with one of the programs out West Philly and I really loved it. At the same time, my mother hooked me up with the Philadelphia Prevention Partnership Program and they were looking for help running workshops. It all kind of sprang up organically and I really love it, I love being able to make an impact with the kids. 

TK: Lastly, when is the album dropping and where can people find it? 

LC: Reef the Lost Cauze IZ ALIVE will be available November 26th Black Friday. It’s a Bandcamp only release. I’m moving to mostly just releasing there. And you can keep up with me @lostcauze on Twitter and Instagram for any future stuff. 

Pre-order Reef the Lost Cauze IZ ALIVE here.