It’s a warmish spring night in the East Bay, and the sky lingers blue in anticipation of the impending summer. I’m on my way, past the tree-lined residential streets and past the corner stores, to a warehouse party in South Berkeley. Tonight Y.E.A.R.S. — a new musical, visual, and performance arts collective whose acronym stands for ‘Your Everyday Artist Reaching Success’ — is celebrating its debut and website launch with live performances by its members.
The warehouse fills up quickly with cool-looking kids, some social media fixtures and some not, clad in their silken pants and see-through tops, brushing back their pastel-y hair. Then I spot the young artist I’ve been scanning the room for. He’s got on a yellow, long-sleeved shirt and small, rectangular sunglasses — a vibrant alternative to the tattered jeans and simple hoodie he was wearing when I sat down to speak with him about his music only a few days before. You can tell he’s dressed to deliver what will be one of the best performances of the event.
Ricky Lake, the Oakland-based rapper, was born Marcus McAlpin in Los Angeles in 1994. Lake, who prefers to operate solely under his stage name, didn’t grow up in a particularly artistic household. His mom played the piano, sure, but the setting was more academic than anything. Still, this setting provided a platform for conscious departure for Lake, who began to explore music of his own accord. “I guess the first music I really started to listen to on my own, like, LimeWire downloading it, was Death Cab for Cutie, the Postal Service, a lot of the Shins,” Lake tells me. This was before he started listening to Southern hip-hop artists like Mike Jones, Slim Thug and Three 6 Mafia. Lake laughs recollecting his early music preferences, adding “it was an electric group of shit I was listening to — I had my whole weird side of things.”
Ricky Lake has only been operating under that name for a little over year, which seems like a short time given how fully and prominently he’s built out his image. In addition to being a founding member of Y.E.A.R.S., Lake is also a part of another Oakland collective called Creative Native. There are Ricky Lake songs and music videos and logos and images— on several platforms. “Ricky Lake is a full thing,” he says. “It’s one person, but it’s a full experience. Like, I would never say [my previous stage name, My Friend Marcus] in third person, but I will bring up Ricky Lake in that way.”
And of this “full experience,” the same can be said for the world of his songs. What started under strong influences of the music he was listening to when he started making his own at seventeen, has since blossomed into its own sound. Lake has given up “copying vibes and emulating artists,” in order to make music that sounds and feels closer to his essence — and even that of his tight-knit group of friends. He found musicians and rappers who were on his artistic plane, “evolved in the way of being more confident in [his] craft,” and began to really delve into the possibilities of creating a unique, signature oeuvre.
If you listen carefully to Ricky Lake songs you’ll hear their inherent and compelling tension. The beats, in songs like “you gone get seen” or “piratesbooty,” are often bubbly and easy. But the lyrics can be another story, expressing, in one way or another, the somber tones of personal experience, of late nights accessorized with drugs and contemplation. “Even if my flow sounds positive and happy, usually there is a darker note in there,” Lake admits. It’s why he calls it “sad-happy music” and it’s why these tracks intrigue.
As for the actual production of his songs, it’s more or less a bedroom operation. Many of Lake’s beats he’s found on Youtube, a platform which has allowed him to forge relationships with several little-known producers. And in this way, I think the Ricky Lake operation is nicely representative of the larger movement of young artists on the internet. With a wifi connection and a little resourcefulness, artists like Lake and his friends and the Youtube producers, can find one another and collaborate. This, of course, plays upon the ancient magnetism which has always drawn talented weirdos together. But there’s something particularly powerful about the multi-platform personas being crafted today. They’re adaptable, all-compassing and entirely energizing. Just like Ricky Lake, in his yellow, long-sleeved shirt and small, rectangular sunglasses, as he takes the floor in the warehouse in South Berkeley, where he gives the best performance of the event.
Ricky Lake photographed in Berkeley, California, by BARE’s creative director, Lieyah Dagan.