Sacramento rapper Luke Tailor educates listeners on money, politics and snacks
Luke Tailor’s life as a 19-year-old college student often went like this: “Do I spend this dollar on a sandwich? Or do I spend this dollar on light rail to get to the studio?”
Usually, it was light rail. Sometimes the studio had free snacks.
Now, that seemingly small choice has paid off. Tailor, real name Ronnee LaRae, releases his long-awaited debut record Textbook Money Friday, October 17. On the album, the 21-year-old reflects on his beginnings as an eager, innocent student plunging into the depths of debt. In other words, he didn’t have textbook money.
“It’s like first semester, freshman year,” he says. “You’re trying really hard, you don’t wanna fuck up, you want to make sure you’re spending your parents’ tuition money well.”
There aren’t the all-too-common rap references to drinking, drugs and sleeping with lots of women. When he wrote the bulk of Textbook Money, Tailor said he’d never done any of those things.
The result is honest, earnest and powerful, an album full of anthems for broke and lost young adults. He says he wants every song to be relatable, and one of the only times Tailor gets really personal is in the song “Cream,” in which he mulls over the difficulty in telling his dad he wants to be an artist. And truly, Tailor’s dad didn’t learn about his son’s raps until this past spring.
But “Sallie Mae Blues” might be the most stunning, poetic track, with lyrical gems such as, “My empty refrigerator is teaching me to survive / On a couple dollars and swallowing all my pride / Dying to live, it feels like I’m living to die.”
It makes sense coming from a guy who says he thrived on spoken word as a student at Sacramento Charter High School. But Tailor’s introduction to hip-hop happened relatively late in life—growing up, rap was banned in his Christian, smooth jazz-loving house.
“When I heard rap for the first time, that was it,” he says. “That was life.”
That was in fourth grade, which he describes as his peak dorky phase. He never went to recess. He ate lunch in the library. He spent his time writing instead of trying to make friends. He had a stutter. Then he got challenged to a rap battle in the bathroom.
“Everyone freaked out,” he says. “Here was this little dork who could rap. I stuttered but I could rap.”
Tailor still has some serious silliness in him. He nearly named this first album Thug Life and Fruit Loops. He has a song—ready for the next album—named “Dreadlocks and Sensitive Shit.”
And he’s really excited about that next record, Bored of Education, due early next year. If Textbook Money is about being 19, Bored of Education is about being 21. Yes, hangovers and dating, but also heavier observations: gentrification, sexism, alienation on social media, police brutality. He wants to call out people like Iggy Azalea, who use the N-word but won’t publicly speak out about Ferguson.
“Everyone wants to be black until it’s time to be black,” Tailor says.
Until then, Tailor continues to work on his live show. He’s long taken the stage dressed in student wear—often a varsity jacket—but now he wants more theatrics. He wants to incorporate more poetry and dance—create a real one-man show—and experiment with music styles and production.
“I want the transition from song to poem to be questionable—you don’t even know what’s happening,” he pauses dramatically and nods. “But you like it.”