Published Date Written by Timothy GillisLucas Salisbury started out at Empire Dine and Dance as a bouncer, ushering troublesome types out the door. On Saturday, March 30, he is performing songs from his new rap CD, Flannabis, busting out rhymes instead of busting up fights. His CD release party is the last show at Empire under the current ownership of Bill Umbel. New owner, according to a city liquor license application, is Matthew Parker, doing business as LoKey Entertainment.
Flannabis, a word Salisbury created that pays tribute to pot smokers in Maine, has six hip-hopping songs, rap originals on which Salisbury, aka Wisdom, is joined by musical friends from the neighborhood.
Salisbury and his brother, Forrest, came up with the cover design, a red and black flannel pot leaf that symbolizes the potent combination of grass in the Pine Tree State, and especially the big city of "Potland," a phrase he uses in the title song that makes the obvious cannabis reference with a Maine accent.
A friend, Sean O'Connel, has a clothing company called Potland Maine, and that led to the lyric.
Salisbury was born in Northampton, Mass., and has lived in Illinois, California, Florida and New Hampshire. He moved to Maine in 2006, and started bouncing at Empire in 2007.
Now he's a bartender and manager there, and is waiting to see what will happen when the venue begins under new ownership.
Salisbury has tuned his talent at "The Couch," the Sunday open mic at the Empire, between shifts at the door and the bar. His steady pace and lengthy lyrical odes would have one believing that he's reciting memorized songs, but to hear him react to what's happening around him — like an Otto's pizza delivery — confirms that he freestyles as comfortably as most others recline and listen to music.
"I started off freestyling before I began making songs," Salisbury said. "Now, I'm focusing on written music and putting a band together." In live shows, he intertwines freestyle with more formal arrangements.
His new CD includes "Most of My Life," featuring Tess Collins who sounds like Lauren Hill mixed with Erykah Badu.
"I met her when freestyling at Rap Night at The Big Easy (on Wednesdays)," Salisbury said. "She stopped me outside and we exchanged cards. Seven months later we got together to record the song."
The song "Hip Hop Symphony" is an attack on mainstream hip-hop, on where the genre has gone. "It's faded into a bunch of mush," he said. "All dumbed down for the public instead of the poetry it started as."
"Make Our Own Club" features Dave Ernst on guitar and bells and DJ Tommy Blaze with vocal cuts. It's based on high school life, "going to parties and getting f'ed up," Salisbury said. "Doing things you're not supposed to do."
Salisbury met Ernst three or four years ago when doing a show at the Empire with Justin Keck. "We grew as good friends and still keep in touch," Salisbury said. "Tommy was Justin's DJ. They have a group project called Illonic."
The song "Got No Time" features Inspektah (Keck) of BackWudz Productions, from The Barn Studio in Portland, who mixed and engineered the CD. Keck wrote the chorus for "Most of My Life," "Got No Time," and "When the Darkness Comes. "Got No Time" also features Saiyid.
The song has a line that sounds overtly misogynistic, aimed at "you bitches and hoes." Salisbury doesn't seem like a woman-hater, so he explained, "It's not really regarding that so much as, the people I hang out with, the dudes are just as much bitches and hoes as women. I have no time for any of that," he said.
The song "When the Darkness Comes" features Anna Million, Inspektah, and O.D.
Salisbury met Million a couple of years ago through the Empire scene and ended up working on a few songs with her. They recorded that song last December.
When asked to compare the creative workings of freestyle rap vs. writing lyrics out and memorizing them, Salisbury said, "Sometimes I think of the first line ahead of time and just go with it. It kind of just clicks. I can't process what's coming next. A lot of the time it just happens naturally. I can't really explain it. It just starts coming to me. When writing lyrics out and memorizing them, it's like freestyle, but I write a couple of lines and then stop, reread them and try to come up with another line that works. It's kind of the same process, just slowed way down."
Salisbury said his musical inspirations were Frank Sinatra, Otis Redding, Tupac, and Eminem, mostly hip-hop and oldies. "A lot of people can't picture when I put the two together," he said. "I like a lot of old R&B songs, which is where a lot of hip hop comes from. I heard Sinatra growing up, at my grandparents. He had a great voice and a natural ease of delivery."
Salisbury said his lyrics come from a combination of the Portland scene and his own experience. His favorite pastimes? "Between work and sitting at home making music, that's about all I do," he said. "I watch some movies, but for the most part, I work five days a week. The other two days, I write, record, and work on promotion. I've knocked my social life down a peg just to focus on music for a while."
He's got four or five shows booked right now, and is also working on a duo project with Keck called "2High."
Wisdom: Flannabis CD release party is at Empire Dine and Dance, 575 Congress Street in Portland, on Saturday, March 30. Doors open at 9 p.m. Cost is $5. For more information, visit www.portlandempire.com.