For his latest album, Cash Lansky set an ambitious goal: record 50 songs before deciding which would make the cut.
The nine tracks that make up S.E.E.—which stands for Stairs, Elevators, and Escalators—find Lansky stretching his creative potential, adding subtlety and nuance to the style that's defined his previous albums and placed Lansky on the leading edge of Tucson's hip-hop scene.
The guiding mantra for the S.E.E. project was there's more than one way to make it to the top, which can stand in for Lansky's approach to music in general. Recording 50 songs forced Lansky to break up whatever formulas he's been working with before, experiment with new ideas and put a lot of trust in his producer, Jet Taylor of Honor Roll Gang.
"I set out to get 50 songs and just break it down from there," Lansky says. "I told Jet Taylor to just send me anything: no set beats, no set anything. I think after the 20th song he got what I wanted to do."
Lansky wasn't looking for any particular sound, but he did want to the consistency of working with just a single producer, pushing each other creatively as they took the 50-song journey together. At one point, Taylor had bought into the challenge so much that he talked Lansky out of moving forward with the album before they'd hit 50.
"Probably after the 25th song, it started coming together. I took my time with it, but I just kept pushing everything," Lansky says. "At one point, I wanted to say 'Let's run with this.' I sent all the songs to Jet and he said 'Hold on. Let's keep going and see what we got with all 50.' At song 45, I felt strong and the last five songs I did all ended up on the record."
To borrow the metaphor behind Lansky's album title, the rapper did use the stairs, elevator and escalator, also probably a ladder and even climbing rope. Lansky's flow is familiar from his past work, 2013's Simplicity, 2014's Independent Days and his collaboration with Marley B, The Tonite Show (also released in 2014), but his lyrics reach out more expansively than before. In that sense, it's a more direct and personal statement from Lansky.
"There's also so much power in the word 'see.' I wanted to explore that and use that. With this one, I wanted to you to step into my world, my thoughts," he says. "S.E.E. is more of my baby than any of my other albums. I did it more for myself. Independent Days, I did it more for other people to like."
After the two albums released in 2014, Lansky jumped right into his 50-song goal. Once he got there, it was a process of evaluation and elimination.
"When I finish a project, it's a sigh of relief, but at the same time, I have to create something else. So I got the idea and started putting the songs together. If something came to me, I'd knock out a song fast," he says. "This project was more of who I was. Not that I got lost with The Tonite Show, but I wanted to show people the growth I'd had since Independent Days. It was my stepping out of the box."
Taylor's production also pushes the album out of the box. From the bright trumpet that characterizes "Day In Day Out," to the spare and dark "No Guey," to the smooth, bass-heavy "Be Like This," the album's dynamic sound gives Lansky's lyrics a boost. V.A. Da Gray, Jaca Zulu, Runt and Murs contribute guest verses.
In conjunction with the album's release, Lansky put out S.E.E.'s first video, but again breaking the mold, the audio isn't actually the album version of the track. Lansky recorded his performance for "You Know It" live for the video, captured in black-and-white at Pursue Creative Studio by William Olguin.
"Nobody I know has done a video like that. My strongest ability is live performance so I felt like it only made sense to give that a live visual," he says.
The look of the video and the vibe of the studio inspired Lansky to turn it into the venue for his S.E.E. album release show. Having performed at most venues in Tucson, Lansky was interested in making the album release a special night by hosting the show at an entirely new spot.
"We were talking during the shoot for that video and I asked if he would do the show there," he says. "I wanted to do an all ages show. There are almost no places for kids to go to an all-ages hip-hop show. So I wanted to give them a spot."
Also during the release show, Lansky will premier the next video for the album, "Can't Be Over."
"People would rather watch a video now than listen to a song, so I want to get a video for every song. We're up to four now," he says.
The videos are part of an effort to reach a bigger audience outside Tucson for this album, says Lansky, who's working on a summer of increased touring.
"I'm at the point now there are only so many shows I can do here and also I love performing in front of new people," he says. "I get a rush off that, trying to win over people who have no idea who I am."
Before that, Lansky will be an officially featured artist for the first time at Austin's SXSW conference in March. Two years ago he performed with Murs at SXSW and says there's as much to learn about networking and the business side of music as there is about the music.
"Since I started, my whole thing has been trying to be better than I was the day before," Lansky says. "When you listen, you get that this guy has been doing this for a while. This is the artist I want to be. S.E.E. is the album that solidified that for me."