Hip hop and rap has its fans and detractors, but undeniably it is music that speaks to a wide swath of people from every conceivable life experience. Artists in this musical genre can be as tough as thugs, romantic as any poet or cheeky and humorous in their lyrics and spoken "interludes" onstage.
Enter new player, Lake Oswego's Cameron Lasley, aka Laz-D, who owns the stage when he puts his head down and stands perfectly still for dramatic effect. Lights go up and the beat begins pumping Laz D's unique sound, washing over a growing base of fans that include director and filmmaker Gus Van Sant, who hosted him as he headlined at a charity fundraiser this weekend to raise money for C.H.A.P., the children's healing art project, in Portland Oregon.
Van Sant hosted the screening of Laz D's new dvds and documentary in his screening room - adjacent to the home of C.H.A.P.
Laz-D and collaborator Jack Gibson performed to a packed house of C.H.A.P. board members, adults, and children with life-threatening disabilities. Frank Etxanis, the artist who founded C.H.A.P. had Van Sant's screening rooming hopping with Laz D' infectious beats and a banana splits bar.
Laz D's performances have caught a lot of hardened rappers by surprise, not too sure of the white boy from Lake Oswego. Laz D also has Down's Syndrome, but he will be the first to tell you, he doesn't think about it much, in fact, he hopes you don't either. Just give him a listen, and you will understand.
"I wanted to do rap because I like rap, I like rock, I like R&B," said Lasley, who blended a variety of genres on his debut rap album. When I asked him why he loved rap so much, Laz D replied, "It's the beats. I like the beats, and I have a good voice for it."
I asked Laz D to what level he wanted to take his music. "All over the place. California, New York. I want the "tough guys" to hear it…I want big shows, MTV, and I've been doing some small shows and those are great, too."
Laz doesn't play follow the leader in rap, he refuses to use swear words, preferring his style of lyrics to be inspirational, encouraging listeners to fight fears of failure and go achieve their dreams.
Sharing the stage with Laz D is Jack Gibson, Laz's producer, he also co-designed the layout and sang back-up vocals on Laz D's debut CD, ‘The Man Himself.’ (Hard Life Records, www.Laz-D.com, and on My Space.)
Laz D doesn't let the chromosomal condition he has affect anything if he can help it, especially his overall outlook. Like his rap, Laz's perspective on life is positive and he doesn't dwell in any bitterness or negativity, he is genuinely passionate about his music, and it shows.
On stage at the fundraiser, Gibson backed Laz vocally too. "Laz-D's in the house! Give it up for Laz-D!" The two friends spent nine months weaving Laz's rhymes with Gibson's beats, and now the two perform tracks off Laz D's first album titled ‘The Man Himself’ to standing room only events.
Recently, one of Laz-D's tracks, "Stay in the Game," was played during the warm-up at for the Portland Trailblazers at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. "We brought them good luck." Laz-D says.
Laz's rhymes and catchy choruses shined in the heart-baring cut, "Girlfriend:" Looking around the crowd, no one could seem to take their eyes off of Laz-D performing. Especially the women. His intensity and passion is undeniable. He was born to rap.
"Baby please be mine, my eyes are on you all the time, my heart is breaking, I'm on my knee right now.."
Cam got the moniker Laz D by his friends from Lake Oswego High School, his parents supporting his love of music by allowing Cam to convert space above their detached garage into Laz's living quarters and a proper music studio to record his album.
I asked Laz how he dealt with people's reactions. "People have been pretty accepting of me throughout my whole life. And whatever they may think, it doesn't stop me from doing the music."
Recently Laz played for some tough customers, seriously at-risk kids at St. Mary's School in Portland. They went out of their way to give him a hard time, laughing until Laz dropped the beat and began his show. The kids stopped laughing, listened and actually came full circle, cheering Laz on.
After that school show ended, Laz's new fans swarmed the rapper, peppering him with questions about his music. "They want to know how I did it. How I got into it and made my CD. Who does what? How long does it take?" a bemused Laz D shared. He knows he has the goods, and people's immediate reaction to him will never deter his drive to make music. "I said to them, follow their dreams, and follow your heart."
Laz D has his musical influences and favorites too. When I asked him who he liked listening to, and whose career he might want to emulate, he replied, "50 Cent."
Like any artist, Laz uses his life experience to paint his music with a deeper meaning in his song lyrics. When his classmates left high school for college, Laz turned inward and stepped up his writing.
"There's definitely a positive message that one will get listening to the CD," said Gibson. Gibson travels from his home in Texas to work with Laz D in Portland, the two connecting through a mutual friend, Frank Extaniz, the founder of C.H.A.P. "There are fun party songs but the root of it is doing what your true calling is, living your dream and what's in your heart," Gibson continued.
The songs on Laz D's 'The Man Himself' paint life lessons and proffer sage advice. Songs dissect new chapters opening up, overcoming hard times and raising the bar on your own game. Laz D uses his songwriting as an outlet to paint alternatives to violence, fighting, self destructive substance abuse and mostly, just being true to yourself.
Like many gifted musicians and writers, Laz shares with me that his lyrics "just come" to him as he journals and tape records daily his inspirations to flesh out in the recording studio.
Laz is working on his next album, and has no plans to stop. Laz (Do it again) lyrics sum it up:
"Now I found my beat, words that I'd say, now I'm making records, now I'm making tapes, I used to be frustrated, now I feel great, I wanna thank, my family and friends, Laz D gonna do it again."