Chattanooga rapper soCro wants to remind you of that afternoon in the high school parking lot when the subwoofers of your car or your friend’s car set off a whole row of car alarms.
To backtrack, soCro—whose real name is Eric Lisica—has been on the local rap scene for roughly a year and gained his own modest following that continues to grow show by show, verse by verse.
Originally from California and born to Croatian immigrants, Lisica made his way to Chattanooga via a stint in Michigan that included manufacturing beats for fellow college students and constructing snowboard rollouts from a treehouse 30 feet in the air.
He grew up in a more traditional house, musically, than his current blend of European synth and Southern hip-hop. Lisica began taking lessons on the piano at a young age and performed in the bell choir through grade school. It was his escapes to Croatia during the summers that gave him his fix for club music and his cousin’s guidance that introduced him to hip-hop.
Currently on the regular roster at JJ’s Bohemia, soCro has performed around Chattanooga and in Atlanta and Asheville. His next show is at JJ’s Bohemia on Saturday, Feb. 9.
The musician, who by day works as the website and database administrator for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, sat down with Nooga.com to talk about rap, building the soCro name and French Cafe Radio.
When did you start listening to rap?
The first time I ever, ever heard some rapping was from “All That,” that Nickelodeon show. I used to watch it back in the day, and I got the soundtrack. It had Coolio on there and Naughty by Nature. That was the first time I realized I was listening to rap, and I was like, "Yo, this is fresh."
During my high school years, my mom passed away. My cousins in Seattle, they all came down [to California for the funeral], and my cousin specifically was a hip-hop junkie. He is the one that actually got me into it. He gave me a bunch of mixed tapes and CDs and basically a handful of albums I needed to listen to. That's when s--t popped off. I was like, "Oh, my God, this is fantastic. This is good stuff right here." That's when I really got into it, but I didn’t make my first song until a year and a half ago.
If you’ve been a hip-hop fan since childhood and a lifelong performer, how did you make the transition to rapping?
I don’t know why it took me so long. I had all the right parts. In college, I used to make beats—just messing around and learning programs—for other people. I’ve always loved rap. I guess it was just the stigma of being white and rapping. In my mind, I could never be cool enough to rap. It felt like it was out of my territory, but recently, in the past couple of years, there have been a lot of white rappers coming out getting out there and doing it.
So, a year and a half ago, I was like, "You know what, I'm going to make my first track and just see what happens with it." So I made “Bumpin’ My S--t.” I just sat down one weekend, made it and put it on Facebook and gave it to all my friends. People were like, "Dude, this is hot. We want more." So, I made more, and here I am.
What happened after you made that first song?
I went and did three open mic nights at JJ's [Bohemia] with one or two people in the room, just for my own sake, just to see if I could perform. I went over there by myself and took my CD with two tracks—“Bumpin’ My S--t” and “Chattanooga.” The crowd in there on Tuesday is kind of bluesy and like country stuff. I'd come in there and crank the hip-hop and take my shirt off and run around and all three people would leave and then I'd be there by myself.
After I had 20 to 25 minutes of music, about five or six songs, I did my first show at Ziggy's. I didn't have a reputation around here, so no one was going to book me. Ziggy's was like, "Do whatever you want." I got Stoop Kids—another local act—to hop on the bill with me. And that was it. We invited all our friends, and 70 people showed up for my first show. It was crazy.
I was nervous as hell. I had never performed where it was just me, the attention being all on me, and that's nerve-racking, especially with hip-hop. You have more lyrics than singing, so I was nervous I was going to forget my lyrics. As soon as you get on [the stage], though, everything is a giant blur.
Since then, it's just been all me by myself, booking and trying to get shows. I've written all the music and recorded all in my house, except for two songs—“Bumpin’ My S--t” and “Eurotrash Meets Southern Class”—which got recorded finally with Stephen Nichols at As Elyzum Studio in St. Elmo. We got those mixed and mastered professionally.
It took about a year to get to where I'm at, which I think is pretty good for Chattanooga. The shows are really great. The love is awesome. I can’t thank the people enough because they come out and get down with me. That’s what I’ve always wanted.
Where did the name "soCro" come from? Is it a character?
It’s me. The way I came up with it was that I’m a Croatian living in the South, hence southern Croat. Then, the soCro came from it just being abbreviated. I capitalize the "C" in the name. When someone mentioned the name for the first time, I was thinking someday I want to have a big-ass necklace or a chain that has "soCro" on it, so the "C" has to be in the middle. The "C" just stuck with me.
Besides the name, to what degree does your Croatian heritage play a role in your music?
I describe [my music] as electronic elements from the European club scene coupled with the trunk-rattling bass of the South.
In my summer time in Croatia, I spent a lot of the time clubbing, and hip-hop is not the main genre there. It’s house music and a lot of techno and trance. I’m influenced by those noises and the sounds of the synthes.
Anytime I write music, I basically write a riff and use synthes, and then sometimes I have a beat in mind, but often I’ll just write something piano style and get my hands on the keyboard, and I basically filter it through a bunch of stuff until I find something I like. Then I’ll start bringing in the bass and the drums, so it moves from the European or the Croatian elements and those club days to the low end, where I try to build out with something that makes your butt move.
How do you come up with your verses?
For "Bumpin' My S--t," every single car I’ve ever owned I’ve put subwoofers in. One of my best feelings in high school was riding around and having your stereo cranked up as loud as you can and the bass blasting everywhere and setting off car alarms. It was always a contest to see who can set off the most alarms.
Having the bass shake my rearview mirror and feel like all my hairs are vibrating—it’s a total high. [The song is] a short description of how I like to listen to my music loud, and it paints a description of stereo systems and lifestyle.
“Eurotrash [Meets Southern Class]” is just painting a picture of my life. It is about making it big, but it also has a few key elements in it, like my mom passing away and my dad always telling me to grow up. Basically, the song takes my whole life and crunches it up into three minutes. Plus, I’m European, so I have that European swag in me, and I’m living in the South.
What rap and hip-hop do you listen to?
Ritz—he had his first appearance on a collaboration with YelaWolf. He’s got the double-time spit, but he sounds amazing. The latest CD that I got was Kendrick Lamar, and I listen to ASAP Rocky. They are the heavy hitters right now in the game. I listen to Action Bronson from New York. Riff Raff—he’s got this obnoxious style about him, but let me tell you this about Riff Raff: When I listen to him, he makes me smile, and he entertains me. That’s enough for me.
Right now in my shuffle the most is his Pandora station, called French Cafe Radio. It’s basically a bunch of French cafe music.
What is the rap scene in Chattanooga? It there a divide between white rappers and black rappers and white audiences and black audiences?
I’m still trying to figure it out because most of the shows that I’ve played have been with indie acts. I’ve played with Baby, Baby and Shark Week and Machines Are People. My upcoming shows are with Summer Dregs and [Nashville band] Heypenny. I've also played with Sparkz, Opportunities 423 and Stoop Kids.
I think the divide happens at the content. You have people out in East Ridge and St. Elmo in the hood. They have their own people out there making mixed tapes and making music, and those people want to listen to each other. I personally think they don’t even care about what’s blowing up, like famous people. They have their mixed tapes and their own crews. The stuff on the radio—they’re aware of that—but you go to Kanku’s on the corner, and they’re selling mixed tapes all over the place. The communities out there write music for themselves and their own people and repping their own hood.
I think the biggest divide in white people listening to white music versus black people listening to black music is the storytelling aspect and what they can relate to versus what we can relate to.
To me, one of the things is that I never want to write a rap that’s farce because I feel like a lot of rap is focused on stuff like stackin’ money. Obviously, I’m not stacking money or in sight of doing that. I want to stay true to myself.
I just want to make a paycheck making music. I don’t have or make millions, but I want to make a living doing something I love.