Laz D: Rapping positively
Lake Oswego's Cameron Lasley finds his beat creating rap music
Behind a curtained room, Cameron Lasley does pushups, grabs a water bottle and high-fives his friend Jack Gibson. The young men descend through a small corridor lined with concert posters at a downtown music hall.
Moments later, Lake Oswego's Lasley takes the performance stage, puts his head down and stands - frozen for dramatic effect. The bright lights turn on. A beat begins. The sound is amplified through oversized speakers, competing with the cheers in the audience.
Friends and family walk closer to the stage to see Lasley - a.k.a. Laz D - at his first public performance in support of his rap album.
'I wanted to do rap because I like rap, I like rock, I like (rhythm and blues),' said Lasley, who blended a variety of genres on his rap album.
Sharing the stage with Gibson - who produced all but one song on the album, co-designed the layout and sang back-up vocals - the duo turned Lola's Room at McMenamins' Crystal Ballroom in Portland into a private rap concert a few weeks ago.
Finding new talents and sharing
Lasley, who doesn't talk about having Down syndrome, also doesn't let the chromosomal condition affect his music or outlook on life. He surrounds himself with positive influences and says he's passionate about music and is excited to finally expose it.
On stage Gibson backed Lasley up vocally and Lasley poured soul into the hour-long performance. Gibson encouraged audience involvement while Lasley rapped while moonwalking and jumping up and down.
After spending nine months lacing Lasley's rhymes with Gibson's beats, the young men said it feels good to finally perform tracks off Laz D's first album titled 'The Man Himself.'
The album showcases Lasley's rhymes, with catchy pop-influenced choruses and a rap/rhythm and blues song titled 'Girlfriend.' And the concert showcased this versatility.
Nicknamed Laz D by peers while attending Lake Oswego High School, to friends and family Lasley is knows as Cam.
Back home in Lake Oswego, the 24 year old converted space above his parents' detached garage into living quarters and music studio to record the album.
Lasley uses life experience to his advantage - providing insight and meaning into some of his song lyrics. When classmates started parting ways for different colleges, Lasley's writing became more frequent, his family says.
He says he'll never write a song with swear words. He says he wants his lyrics to be inspirational, positive and encouraging to people wanting to achieve their dreams - something Lasley says he is experiencing with the release of his CD.
'There's definitely a positive message that one will get listening to the CD,' said Gibson, who travels from his home in Texas to work on the Laz D project; the duo met through a friend of a friend. 'There's fun party songs but the root of it is doing what your true calling is, living your dream and what's in your heart.'
Topics on the album span from starting a new chapter of one's life, singing songs on MTV to overcoming hard times and using songwriting as an outlet instead of violence, such as in the song 'Street Anthem':
'You're lost in the struggle/ this pain is a beast/ hear the music/ and the words I say/ you can change your life/ start today.'
'I just walk around and the lyrics come,' said Lasley, who often carries a tape recorder to remember ideas as they come. Sometimes his mom jots down lyrics for him because she can write quickly.
Album is only the beginning
Although this is his debut album, Lasley says he is already working on a follow-up release. Some lyrics on 'The Man Himself' imply this goal.
'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,' from the song 'Laz (Do It Again).'
Lasley says he hopes that through his songs, listeners can gain 'confidence through (his) words.'
Lasley's lyrics promote becoming an active member of society. Two years ago he earned his certificate from Portland Community College as a culinary assistant. Now he works three days a week at Markham House Assisted Living near Mountain Park doing maintenance work. He is a skilled basketball player - especially with free throws - and fan of the Portland Trail Blazers.
One glance around his garage annex and it's easy to see who his musical influences are. Neatly hung posters of rappers 50 Cent, Snoop Dog, Ludicrous and Tu Pac face his bed. Also framed is a poster-sized framed picture of him, as Laz D.
'Of course,' Lasley said, pointing to his picture.
A drum set sits in the corner of his room. A guitar lays upon his bed for easy playing access. Lasley says he has been performing music for a decade. He got his start as a drummer in the Lake Oswego Junior High School band where he performed songs like the National Anthem and upbeat tunes for school events.
'We did the rock version of 'Louie, Louie' and I rocked it,' said Lasley.
Recording 'The Man Himself' seems a culmination of Lasley's life's hardships and joys, compiled in a comforting environment and through the support of people he loves and trusts. His parents - Tom and Marcy Lasley - are listed as executive producers of the album.
'Cam's own determination is what founded this project and has brought it to fruition. It was completely driven by him,' said Marcy Lasley. 'It's a very positive expression of his feelings and his perceptions of life; everyone who knows Cam well is pleased for him.'
The song 'Stay' Lasley wrote about finishing his recording without losing focus.
'I wanna stay here/ I'm untouchable/ all the girls say/ I'm so crushable/ my album is selling/ concerts selling too/ I'm a worldwide traveler/ better stay tuned/ shows on the east/ shows on the west/ everybody knows/ Laz D is the best.'
But songwriting isn't the only craft that interests him about the entertainment industry. He recently got a business license through the city and began an entertainment business called D Entertainment and is writing movie scripts, distributing Laz D merchandise and shooting music videos in support of his album.
'I just want to be there,' said Lasley of his hands-on involvement.
Gibson says Lasley's focus and attention on personal projects is inspirational. His album is already making its way into local homes.
But the two friends say they have larger goals for the album. Gibson says he hopes the Laz D album reaches a national audience. Lasley says he hopes to someday perform on a TV show. They designed Web pages online and say they are devoting 2007 to promoting and touring in support of the album.
'I don't think it should just be a Portland thing. It's a bigger message; it's a bigger record than that. It should be everywhere,' said Gibson. 'It's feel-good music - makes you feel good. And Cam wants you to dance, get involved and throw your hands up.'
For more information about Laz D and to order a CD, visit one of his two Web sites: www.laz-d.com and www.myspace.com/lazdmusic.