Everybody has a reason for doing what they do. For many looking to climb their way to the peaks of the rap game, the spoils are on display every day on the screen of their choosing. Successful rappers constantly flaunt their luxury designer gear and shimmering jewelry, pull women out of dreams, push miracle whips and absorb the adoration of their bountiful audiences. While that’s fine, the legends in the rap game seem to be in it for more than the immediate gratification the material can provide. Enter Newark’s Casmir Francis, better known by his stage name See.Francis. In our exclusive interview, the Jersey native made it evident that through his music and Lights Affiliated imprint, he is trying to construct a figurative domicile, built with his efforts to live in. “Success for me is going to be like, when I’m able to do the bigger thing. Music for me is like, not the gun, but it feels like it’s just a weapon. It’s a tool in my arsenal. Like I’m trying to build a house. I’m trying to build a home,” he said. “Success for me is like building this home and having that. That’s what I’m working on. It’s big for me. The number one song in the country, sure. But that’s just another room of my house. That’s just got its own room. That’s the trophy room. I have a trophy room, of course. I got an ego. I got pride, too. Yeah, I got a trophy room where I want the best album and I want the number one song and I want the most streams and I want the most downloads and the most views. Of course, that’s a piece of my success, but I also want to get my niggas jobs.”
With two official projects in the world and a string of loose singles, See.Francis has made a name for himself online and in the industry. He most recently dropped his latest single, “Fashion Weak” yesterday (November 13) which can be heard above. An emcee and producer, he leans on a heavily musical background to give him the edge over others out there. He was set back by a three-year prison bid for a gun charge and drug conspiracy, but that hasn’t held him back in his pursuit of his crib decked out with personal and professional accomplishments. On top of voting for the first time this year despite his record, he is cooking up a new body of work which should extend his theme of enlightenment in his releases. “It was like a nigga was making music out of some of the darkest places he’s ever been in and then a nigga that started to find some light and come out of that dark place.”
Life wasn’t always a crystal stair for See.Francis. He comes from humble beginnings, spending time “all over,” especially during the school week with his loving mother in Newark and weekends at his computer whiz father’s in Queens. He says that his family was poor, but he never really realized it growing up because he was in happy homes. Tragically, two weeks shy of his 11th birthday, his life was changed when his father was struck and killed by a drunk driver. “It hit me hard, man. That was my best friend. Like, I look at that man, I see myself. We look like twins,” See.Francis remembered. “I learned everything [from him]. It’s crazy because I was young, but [he gave me] everything I needed to know that gave me the blueprint and the script of what a man is, and looks like and does, like morally and ethically. Responsibility-wise, he laid all that shit on me early. This was a man that never, like, never hit me. Like, he never had to. We never even had to get there. The amount of respect that he demanded and commanded from me was like, why am I even gonna fuck with this nigga?”
He would go on to play “both sides of the field” with the absence of his father. He spent time teetering between straight A student and struggling pupil. His life in scholastic limbo led him to be selected as a peer leader only to be caught a week into his post selling bud, an endeavor he took on to help support himself and help his mother. He would soon put the packs down for a second to work a legit job at Pizza Hut to cop his Jordans and other extras, as well as helping his mother with domestic maintenance and other matters.
One highlight of See.Francis’ early life was when his mother bought him a grand piano– like he wanted– for their East Orange apartment around 6th Grade. He took a liking to the musical options at his school such as music class, the band and choir (his favorite cartoon was also Alvin & The Chipmunks due to the characters’ musical prowess). He would play out songs by ear and learn music theory, but he felt truly accomplished after teaching himself how to play the chords for Junior Mafia’s “Player’s Anthem.” After some practice, he taught himself how to flip that into Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” and played it in a school recital.
His musical knowledge was further enhanced by his Uncle Keith, who was a signed rapper who had set the record for the longest streak as the winner of Amateur Night At The Apollo before Lyfe Jennings broke it. His uncle stepped up after his father’s passing to school him about that side of his family and the great artists and tunes available from Redman to Fela Kuti to Pink Floyd to Diana Ross to Barbara Streisand. “Like when kids was listening to all of the shitty, shitty rap that came out for a while– like the really cheesy, corny commercial shit– I didn’t get that because he was taking me to get a CD. If I try to take us on bullshit, he’s gonna call me all types of punks. ‘That shit is corny!’ And I was going to put it down and I was going to have to get, you know what I’m saying, Naughty By Nature,” he said. “Like, it was all over the place. Ice Cube records. I’m like, yeah, we listen to the West Coast niggas. Snoop. ‘Nigga, this shit crazy. You ain’t never heard The Chronic?!’ Shit like that.”
He continued, “So, I caught that from him, and then I just spiraled more. So now I’m listening to this music and I’m listening to the radio and I’m hearing the samples and I’m seeing where the music is coming from and like how hip-hop is built and made. And I’m just falling in love, bro. Like at first, I fell in love as a fan.”
He got his start rapping in church, encouraged by the love his cousin, Michael, was getting from the young girls for spitting bars. See.Francis was a singer, who had dreams of joining the ranks of Jodeci and Case as an elite crooner, but the attention his cousin drew was more enticing. “We would go to church and after church, all the little girls would be like, ‘Yo Mike rap, rap.’ So he rapped a little bit and the girls would go crazy for him. I’m like nigga, get the fuck out of here,” he reflected. “So I tried one day. It was horrible. It was so horrible, girls laughed at me. I left there. I’m a super competitive person. I said in my head, the next time, I’m going to be the best rapper out there. A couple of months went by, we went back to church. Mike [stepped up to] rap. I didn’t even let him, I just jumped in. I don’t think I ever spit as good as I did, but the fucking girls liked it that way. I used the girls for the motivation, but it is definitely me. I felt like I lost to my little cousin. Fuck this. So I started rapping and I remember even him, he was like, ‘What the fuck?’ So it started from there. And then, I left it alone, really. Like what about taking it serious? I just wanted to be able to compete with my cousin at church, for the girls’ attention.”
Another pivotal rhyming event came after See.Francis failed an assignment on George Orwell’s 1984, which he didn’t read. He admittedly “bullshitted” his way through the assignment and his teacher, Ms. Harris, noticed. Though she gave him an F, for the rest of the year, she required him to write poems about the books she’d assign. “She knew that I wasn’t going to do shit, but she would let me come to class late, fall asleep in class, as long as I wrote a poem or wrote a rap about the book,” he reflected. “So then I started actually reading the fucking book so I can write the rap about them. Ms. Harris made me like a literary monster. She taught me how to use words correctly. Aight, bet. You can be as creative as you want, but if you can’t translate that creativity, especially, verbally, like using English diction, if you can’t get those points across, it’s pointless. It’s going to be lost.”
Furthermore, along the way, See.Francis learned how to use Fruity Loops to produce original pieces, working his way from making EDM instrumentals to full-fledged hip-hop beats. He would soon graduate to unauthorized use of the MPCs and other equipment at a local Guitar Center for six to eight hours before being kicked out. Having his own beats set him apart from the other fledgling emcees spitting over the same instrumentals from Sickamore and DJ Armz tapes. “Like, man, I made that one and it’s been off and running. Off and fucking running. I never turned back,” he said. “I don’t do freestyle. SoundCloud was going to take it down. I can’t get it cleared. I don’t do it because I felt like I worked too hard and put in too many hours and too much like actual learning and just trial and error just to take the shortcut and use something that’s going to be friendly and familiar to somebody else so that hopefully I get to piggyback off of someone else’s hard work, passion, and drive.”
See.Francis went on to spend some time in college after graduating high school, but he also fell on a wayward path of crime. “I got the county bids and all that type of shit,” he explained. “Everything else, you know, all the drug shit, fighting and robberies and bullshit like that.”
His longer haul behind bars came after he got caught with the gun in his car on the way to a party in the part of town where one of his friends had been killed the week before.“I had a drug conspiracy charge, which you can’t beat. The motherfucker said I thought about thinking about doing some shit bad. Listen, I was like, how much time are you just going to get me? Let’s get this shit over with because that’s some amazing shit they could tell somebody,” he expounded. “We know you thought about thinking about doing something. It’s an amazing thing because that’s what conspiracy boils down to. But I caught the gun charge, too. It was a lot of wild things going on out here. I’d rather be able to make sure that me and the people that I love got back home safe than to ever get caught without it again, shit like that.”
He continued, “What if I would have got there and who would have been in the same issues and I ended up getting killed or I would have killed somebody or some shit like this,” he inquired. “That’d been a whole lot different than getting three to five.”
See.Francis spent about two years being locked down most of the day, reading books such as The 48 Laws of Power and Machiavelli. “For the first time in my adult life, when I got locked up, they put me in a room. That’s fucking like mental torture damn near,” he described. “I got to slow down though. It’s like, Cas, are you a hardened, seasoned criminal where they got to lock you in a room for 23 hours because you’re so stupid that you can’t be in society with regular humans. Is this you? I’ve never thought about it before that.”
He was released into the Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) for a spell. One of the conditions of the program was that the former inmate have a job. See.Francis took a job as a barista at Starbucks. He used his time at home in front of bars to rediscover himself.
Yet another life event changed his life even more: the birth of his son. Knowing that he could create something he loved dearly from jump drove him to want to create some more. His desire to make music was rekindled. His son is so influential in his music career that he released his two official projects, Red Lights (2012) and Fiat Lux (2014) on his son’s birthday (July 14). “It’s really in the titles, honestly,” he said of the difference between the releases. “Red Lights is literally where my life was. I was at a red light. Like I told you, I’m fresh home fro prison. I’m trying to figure out what to do. I feel like I was at a stand still. I was stagnated. I had to figure it out. I’m at a red light. That’s what that whole project is. It’s me at a red light. That’s why, if you listen to it, it’s literally a blunt ride, right? It’s like I’m driving around in a car trying to figure it out. That’s what that is. It’s a blunt ride. That was my happy place and still is. It’s where I listen to all my beats, in the car. Fiat Lux in Latin means ‘there will be light.’ So after you get stuck with this red light, that’s like the one metaphor for it, but it being a standstill, like it was like a dark place for me. But outside of that, like when I started to figure it out, like my son’s born and the things are going on and shit, like I’m figuring life out and I’m becoming like happy with myself and inside myself, you know what I’m saying? Which is something that I didn’t know for all this time. Like, all my issues was inside of me. I wasn’t happy with me, so it was no way I can be happy, but I wasn’t never gonna succeed at shit because I wasn’t ready. So Fiat Lux says ‘there will be light.’ That’s what that means. So I found it.”
As he’s consistently dropped a string of singles and videos, See.Francis is prepping his third body of work, Beta, for a later release. “It’s not going to be a technical album, because I’m not approaching it like an album. I’m approaching it like a project, if that makes any sense,” he said. “I like themes and all that. So if I’m in album mode, it’s deeper than just the actual music of it. I got a whole story. It’s a whole picture. It’s like a movie for me. I’m not making a movie right now. Might be making a documentary. That’s what I’m making. I’ll make an audio documentary.”
At the end of the day, after See.Francis has built his house, he just wants to be free and remembered as someone who put his all into everything he did. “What I view success as, it’s freedom. And I don’t mean that like, oh yeah, you’ve been locked up, so you’re trying to stay out of jail. I mean, freedom, like true freedom. It’s even hard to explain it,” he said. “I just want to be able to do, or not do. I want to be able to not have to decide if I want to be late on my rent or send my mother some money. I want to be free to make the music that I want to make and reach somebody because they need it. Success for me is going to be like, when I’m able to do the bigger thing.
He closed by saying, “I want to be a person that niggas remember like, ‘He tried.’ Not even tried, like he gave 100% all the time and he was a good person, 100% of the time. I don’t want to be like in my grave and nobody would be like, ‘Thank God.’ You know what I’m saying? I don’t want nobody to look at me and be like, ‘Well, only if he would have done this.’ I want to die with nothing left in the tank. I want to know that I gave everything my everything. And I want to know that I was a good person doing it. I don’t believe in being a shitty person. I don’t need to be. But, I don’t want to be a bad person. You know what I’m saying? Morally and ethically, it’s just things. It’s just things you know you should do and you shouldn’t do out here in this world. And I want to make sure that I die with that shit intact.”