It’s week two of our Indie Spotlight series, and after chopping it up with Freddie Gibbs last week, we took it to the east coast to talk to Boston emcee Reks.
Reks has amassed a close-knit following around the world, comprised of hip hop heads who can truly appreciate lyrics with a message and know the true essence of hip hop when they hear it.
While the mainstream audience quietly slumbers on the east coast spitter, his insightful, often politically-fueled rhymes are catching the ears of truth-seekers everywhere.
Reks has been an independent monster for more than a minute, and is not afraid to share his opinions on the industry as well as the state of hip hop, so it was only right that we shine the spotlight on the Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme and see what he had to say about the culture and the business.
If I were to introduce your music to one of my friends, do you have three tracks you think would best display your style and abilities?
Yeah I mean there’s a bunch of records that would work in that regard, but if I was just going to show the variations, I would show them “25th Hour“, “Mr. Nobody“, and something off the newer album, off Revolution Cocktail…something like “Judas”, which gives a different take on my flow.
I’ve read you got your start in hip hop doing the B-Boy thing, which is really cool because that’s how Tech got his start as well. Do you still keep up with that aspect of the culture?
I mean more as a fan. I’m definitely not out there doing my own thing. It was short-lived. I did it when I was real young and that’s really what threw me to the culture in itself. My older cousins were doing it and I just wanted to hang out and do whatever they were doing. So I pretty much just followed what was going on at that moment. They would come out with the cardboards and I’d come out and they’d let me join in.
You grew up near Boston around the time that hip hop was becoming really popular in NYC. When did hip hop start to gain traction in your area and what was it like watching the birth of something so important to our generation?
I mean throughout my life hip hop has had a mainstay in my household. I remember my mom and my aunt having records like Grandmaster Flash and seeing Big Daddy Kane & [BDP’s] Criminal Minded, Kool Moe D, etcetera from my cousins and I would listen to their tapes. I feel like once I got into high school, I think that’s when I really started seeing how vibrant the culture was. through the hallway ciphers and after school. We’d chill in front of the library and just battle for hours.
That was around the early 90s with Tribe, the introduction of Biggie and Nas coming out and what was going on the west coast with Snoop – it was just a vibrant time. There was so much amazing music coming out from wherever you were at. You had Outkast in Atlanta, the Scarface and the Geto Boys thing, so wherever you looked there was just so much amazing music coming out, and I think that period kind of influenced me the most coming up, that’s when I decided to try my hand at it for real.
How do you think that compares to what’s going on right now where you have such a huge flood of music coming on from everywhere, and the art is being taken in so many different directions at once?
I think it’s a Catch-22 because there’s an open arena for new genres developing, and there’s so much music that has hip hop leanings, but it’s not so much hip hop in the purest essence of what it started off as in the beginning. And there’s still those super lyrical, super boom bap sounding records that are being made today as well, so it’s all over the place.
The culture is an international phenomenon. It’s grown over the years to be something so prominent and a mainstay in the music industry and I don’t see that ever changing, but I feel all that’s going on in the music industry from Kendrick doing the “Control” verse and cats responding to what that initially brought out, that’s good for the culture and there’s so much energy in it now. It’s dope.
What are your thoughts on the kind of 90s rennaissance taking place right now?
I love it. It’s what’s been a mainstay in my music and it’s going to remain a part of what I do for the remainder of the time that I do this thing. I think it’s dope. I think there’s room for it, there’s a young crowd who weren’t privy to that sound.
It bugs me out when I talk to younger cats doing what I do and still being able to tour. I’m an O.G. in this in terms of my age and what I’ve done, and it’s just crazy talking to younger cats and hearing them not really know Biggie or not really know Nas, it boggles my mind. But, obviously that’s when they were born so there’s so many of these cats that are just hearing it brand new and fresh and there’s cats like Joey Bada$$ who’s bringing out that good feel of like the Beast Coast, what it was like during that era, so I love it.
What are some of the biggest advantages of remaining independent?
It just allows me the freedom to express in record and what I do what exactly is on my mind and not to cater to a label’s demands of what a record should sound like and what kind of paper a record should garner. Being able to voice my opinions freely – I’ve never been one to shy away from my viewpoints on things and whatever my take on the state of hip hop may be – so it’s always been good to be able to express that without the labels restrictions and demands, but at the same time it allows me an opportunity to understand how to start from the ground up and not have that middle man interfering in what my business is.
It’s kind of easier right now without so many CDs being in high demand for us to get our music on iTunes and on Amazon and all these different websites without having to have somebody else put their hand in the pot, so that’s a benefit as well, but I mean it’s a Catch-22 once again, because at the same time my name hasn’t garnered the same attention as some of these bigger names. I’m not saying I would be on that level, but I think I’ve proven my skill set enough to say with a little more promotion and marketing I might be at a higher stature in this rap game.
Has remaining independent provided you with better skills for doing something after your rap career has ended?
I just feel like, yeah, it allowed me the opportunity to branch out into different aspects of this game and it’s not just dealing with other artists. Just things that I’m passionate about, like fashion and art in itself. There are so many things that I can branch off and segue into, and definitely having the know-how and the abilities and making the proper connections and networking properly, there’s all sorts of things I can get into, there’s so many different avenues I can reach out to and that’s what’s good about making my brand and my name known at these conferences and workshops consistently, and building those relationships.
You talked about working on a book, have you made any more progress on that front?
I’ve kind of hit a stall point right now, but I mean it’s something that I had so much of it done for a period of time and I’ve kind of sat it down for a little while, so I really need to get back on that. However, life happens and also on top of the life thing, just working on this last project…it was a little challenging to say the least. It was difficult doing it for the very first time on my own so it took a lot of my energy.
The way you spoke in other interviews about how you wanted the book to be structured and whatnot, it reminded me a lot of KRS ONE’s book Ruminations. Have you read it?
Nah, but that’s 100% on the agenda, man.
You’ve worked with ¡MAYDAY! a few times in the past. Are they a group that you feel share similar values inside and outside of the realm of Hip Hop?
Definitely, and I’m so happy for them and their successes man. It’s amazing to see what they’ve accomplished, and the sky’s the limit for their future endeavors. I’m really happy to see what they’ve accomplished, and I’d like to continue a working relationship with them.
The whole reason we started talking in the first place is because my homie Subliminal caught a Strange Music reference in one of the lines on the track “Flags” from your album Revolution Cocktail. Can you elaborate on what that line means within the context of the verse? Is it strictly a shout out? Does it somehow play into your previous line about Diallo?
I mean of course it’s definitely a play on the words and the usage of how I had placed the actual lines prior, but I mean obviously the link to Strange music and Tech N9ne…it just fit perfectly at the time.
The idea of Strange music…there’s something always to question in terms of the intentions when guns go off and when cops get involved in anything, the main thing was the mysteriousness and the questionable nature surrounding the events that actually transpire, and that’s why I thought of the Strange Music connection.
And also just in general, I wanted to shout out and salute a label that I’m fond of and a label that I respect, so it just made sense.
I’ve seen you say in your interviews that you use everyday life as inspiration for your music, which is something Tech N9ne also adheres to. Do you find importance in drawing comparisons between what’s going on in your life and what’s going on in the rest of the world, like a micro/macro type mindset?
Definitely, I think they coincide and it’s necessary to use our environment and to be products of our environment, and to use our environments as a blank canvas and just paint what we’re seeing. It goes back to me being a major Nas fan and thinking about how he wrote what he saw through his project window.
I write my personal life, but I also write the trials and tribulations of the people around me, so it’s extremely necessary to talk about social ills and also talk about what I see as a confusing way for them to trap our youth and trap individuals in general politically and socially, so everything around me is always going to be free game for my pen.
What do you think is one of the biggest lies we’re told early on that has kind of shaped society into what it is today.
I feel the biggest lie and the biggest set up that is staged for us is that we all live in a free society.
We’ve become complacent, we’ve become laid back and relaxed in the environments that we’re fed. Everything is given to us with such ease, and we take it with such ease and just accept things for what they are and never question and never truly dig deeper to figure out the true essence of – from an individual’s statements to an individual’s actions to a country’s statements and actions, we never really dig deep into it and I think that’s why the wool remains over our eyes.
Well, some of us. Some of us are awake, and we can still be awakened, we can still learn more, but I feel unfortunately that’s the biggest issue.
Can you elaborate on hip hop’s role in removing the proverbial wool from our eyes?
It has played that role from day one. It continues to play that role and it always will play that role. So will rock and roll, and so will any type of music. In all these genres you find pieces of that in individuals’ music. Music just carries such a strong effect on individuals.
It can shape minds just the way movies and books can, music has a lasting impression and it effects us strongly, and hip hop has always been one with a strong social commentary. From the KRS ONE’s and the Public Enemy’s, and the Tech N9ne’s to whoever really has something to say about what’s going on, so our mind states don’t remain dormant. Hip hop has been a mainstay and will remain vibrant with that.
We talked to Freddie Gibbs a couple weeks ago and we were discussing his worldly appeal. You’ve definitely got that going for you as well, you’ve worked with artists from a bunch of different places around the world and I’m constantly seeing interviews with you from Europe and elsewhere. What about your music do you think gives it such a far-reaching audience?
I just feel like that pain and hunger and the passion in which I approach the music, I feel like it transcends cultures. If I’m somewhere in LA or if I’m somewhere in Portugal or if I’m somewhere in Mexico, wherever. I feel like individuals have the same plights no matter how we’re raised culturally.
We’re connected in the nature of the things we can go through day to day. The pains, the happiness, the joys, the triumphs…to the downfalls. Whoever we are across all walks of life, we all have certain things that kind of link us, and that’s why me speaking about what I speak about in my music will remain a constant for me. I feel that’s what ties me to individuals.
When I do a standing room show with 100 people like a small little intimate showcase, I’m able to connect with individuals in the crowd easily, because I come out into the crowd, and I can face-to-face talk about the things we’ve been through, without us even knowing each other.
Now, obviously every musician wants widespread success, but do you sort of prefer that intimacy that you’ve achieved at this level of the game?
I do prefer it. I would love the opportunity to have massive success and a far reaching fan base, but I feel like on this level or on the next level or any other level, that would remain a constant for me. I would continuously have that 1 on 1 connection because I have no issue – like when I’m on Facebook, I contact individuals personally, I speak to them there.
When I’m doing a showcase, I take the time, I’m going to sign autographs and make sure I have a personal connection with individuals. I remember being a fan…I mean I’ll always be a fan, but I remember being a fan only, and if that was KRS ONE, that’s how I’d want him to approach me. If that was Tech N9ne, that’s how I’d want him to approach me. If that was Lauryn Hill, same.
Whoever the individual is, that’s what you would want, and that’s what I try to give when I deal with individuals personally.
That’s the last serious question I have for you, but I have to ask…Being from Boston, are you a Red Sox fan?
Yes, and I’m so happy! What a great win, we’re excited about that. And the Celtics are on a rebuild – I’m a team Boston guy, so you know.
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