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False starts are a dime-a-dozen in the hip-hop world. Artists take their best shots to succeed and not all of them pay off, through no fault of the artists themselves. 50 Cent had a buzzing record in “How To Rob” before he was shot nine times and had to reset the board for his 2002 comeback. Eminem’s demo was rejected numerous times until he reinvented himself as Slim Shady. Maybe it’s not the right time, or maybe fate intervenes, but the fortunes of a fast-rising artist can be totally upended in a matter of months, days, or even a single moment. The ones who can bounce back are the ones we celebrate, the ones we remember.
Del Amo, California rapper Reason’s comeback story could only take place now, in a world as interconnected as ours. His freestyles on Instagram and self-released mixtape There You Have It got him signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, where he got the shot at a global audience as a participant on the soundtrack to Marvel’s Black Panther. However, rather than celebration, his track was met with confusion; fans of a South African rapper with the same name were disappointed to hear someone else’s voice and words and many let the American Reason hear about it on Twitter.
For some, this could have been a setback. For Reason, it was an opportunity to reintroduce himself. Re-releasing There You Have It on TDE allowed him to expose new, curious listeners to his moody, introspective, lyrically-dense sound. Then, in 2019, he received an invite to the Revenge Of The Dreamers III sessions, an invite that would accelerate his career again — albeit, in a sort of bonkers, unexpected way. The Cozz collaboration “LamboTruck” became a surprise standout — not so much because it was the sole crossover on the album with just the two rappers, but because of the eye-popping topic.
Now, he’s following up with his second project for TDE, the suggestively-titled New Beginnings, featuring Ab-Soul, Isaiah Rashad, JID, Mereba, Rapsody, Schoolboy Q, and Vince Staples. It sounds like Reason’s aiming for a reset but actually, the compilation feels more like a bridge between Reason’s jagged introduction to the game and his impending stardom. It’s another unveiling to potential fans, showing off the complexity of his flow, his paint-a-picture storytelling, his wicked, South Park-esque sense of humor, and the brusque wisdom that made him a TDE artist in the first place, but it’s altered with the presence of a new swagger.
Uproxx caught up with Reason over the phone to talk about New Beginnings, resetting expectations, the unexpected consequences of accidental stardom, and what’s next for the ribald rising star.
I’ve noticed that there’s a little bit of a different mood for this album. It’s a little bit more celebratory. The last one was really personal and this one’s more observational. Was that intentional? Did you want to be more expansive on this one?
Yeah. A thousand percent. It’s funny that you said that because literally I wanted it to be like a celebration. It’s funny, I hate when artists say this sh*t, but I’m going to be that artist right now. It’s not necessarily an album.
I just kind of called it a project because my albums are very conceptual and similar to There You Have It. There’s a lot more personal sh*t like that, but this is my debut project with the label. As you know, There You Have It was just a rerelease.
So before getting into my debut album, I just want to celebrate a little bit, I want to attack it from a fan perspective. And I was like, “What’s some of the sh*t that I always wanted to hear?” And let me do that. So I was like, “Damn, I always wanted to hear a record with Zay and JID,” so let me get these two n****s on the record. And I’m a huge Soul fan, and he’s been ducked off for a little bit. Let me get Soul on the record. “Trapped In” didn’t make the project, but I just wanted to get those records, get records with Rapsody, my favorite female artist.
Then I doubled back after that and added the personal records because I still didn’t want to have a full project without those touches of “personal,” if that makes sense. So a lot of the personal records, you double back and add it and make sure that the album flows well sonically, but it’s definitely a celebration though.
Speaking of the personal touches, I was actually going to save this question, but I got to get it out the way now that we’re on it. I literally was just listening to “Windows Cry” right before the interview started.
Yeah. Yeah. That’s my favorite record in the project.
I don’t know that I’ve heard any artists come so honest. What does it mean to you to have a label that lets you put that kind of a song out and what were some of the ways that you would address those concerns throughout the process of being patient waiting for the album to come out?
People know I make music about my life, so I make a lot of my sh*t from a therapeutical standpoint. I made that record while I was on tour with Rock and it wasn’t supposed to come out. It was a record that I needed to make for me so that I can get over feelings these ways about the label. So I can move forward.
“Gossip” was the original outro on the project and Top just happened to call me. And this is why Top is so dope. He was like, “Yo, what’s that record that you was talking sh*t about all of us on? We going to make that one the outro.” So it was his call. It’s so fire to have a CEO that’s so comfortable with himself that he felt the same way. He was like, “I signed you for your honesty. I signed you because you can rap really well but on top of that, you’re probably like one of the more honest members that we have on the label. So I never want you to downplay that honesty for nobody and that’s including me.”
There’s a line on there that I know is going to cause some controversies… Twitter’s going to get to Twitting. So I’m going to give you a chance to preemptively clear up this Chance The Rapper line. (Editor’s Note: The advance stream of “Windows Cry” which was discussed originally mentioned Chance The Rapper by name. The officially released version replaced the bars discussed.)
Even that line was from an honest place. I was watching the Joe Budden podcast and Chance was on there and he kept saying that he was independent.
He kept saying, “Any artists can do this. Any artist can do this. Any artists can do this.” And he was explaining how he came up and how he called Apple Music and got the billboard on the page and this and this. But when Joe kept asking him, “How do you do that stuff?” He was like, “You just got to have juice.”
And I had a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with Chance but I had a problem with that because I personally feel like as artists in our positions, we owe the people that look up to us and want to be like us honesty.
I feel like we owe them confidence. I feel like we owe them opportunities to be able to elevate. And if I wasn’t an artist in the industry, I would have learned absolutely nothing from that interview because Chance did not give away the secret to be able to get on. So when I say, “Chance told them they could be independent, knowing no one is,” it’s like, yeah, you might’ve been independent, but you forgot to tell them that you had a hundred thousand dollars of budget and you forgot to tell them that you know the n**** at Apple and you can call them to get the billboard. The regular person doesn’t have these resources to know that.
In a way, you’re kind of selling them a dream that they can do something without telling them how to do it. That’s why I said, “You show them dreams, but you don’t wake them up.” You show them dreams, but you don’t give them the work side of it, which is everybody can’t do this.
I’m sure of the aspect of the element of music people discount or misunderstand the most is the importance of sequencing. You go directly from a Rapsody verse on “I Can Make It” to the first verse of “Fall,” and I cannot convince myself that’s a coincidence. Was it intentional?
A thousand percent actually. The first verse of “Fall” was inspired by Rapsody. Rapsody was following me on Twitter and I hit her up on Twitter and said, “Yo, I wrote this verse. It was inspired by you. If it’s okay, can I just have your number? I just want to text it over to you.” And she called me and she told me she was damn near in tears listening to it.
We just had a long conversation about women’s struggle to get into the industry and what they have to deal with. My sister was an artist when she was younger and I saw what she would have to deal with. So when I’m listening to Rapsody, seeing how dope she is, and she’s not at the “starter level” that she should be at, that’s what made me write “Fall.” I even said in the verse, “I had a convo with Laila sharing some of her wisdom with me came to kick it with me…” because I was listening to Laila’s Wisdom when I wrote that. So it was definitely intentional and our relationship just burst off of that record. So I felt like it made the most sense for us to go from a Rapsody verse into “Fall,” because that’s what that symbolized to me. I’m very, very impressed that you caught that here.
“Slow Down” reminds me so much of [Kendrick Lamar’s] “Sing About Me.” The storylines are very similar, how you both talk about someone close to you being affected by an earlier song you put out. In your case, it was “Better Days,” which was about your cousin. On “Slow Down,” you talk about reconciling with him because he felt a way about you putting his story out there. What was the conversation like?
A hundred percent. I wrote that record in 2014 before I even thought… “Better Days” was actually the third record that I ever wrote. At that time, I’m not thinking I’m going to be signed to TDE or heard by a bunch of people and stuff like that. I tell people “Better Days” is the most important record in my career so far because it changed my life. It was always the record that made people feel like “he’s somebody,.”
But when I wrote it, never once, did I take the time to think about how it made my cousin feel? Because I didn’t think that a lot of people were hearing it. It starts to bubble and then it gets bigger and it gets bigger and you know I’m getting all this praise and love for it that I appreciate. But on the other end, I can tell talking to my cousin that that really, really hurt him. And then we ended up having a conversation about it. I had a show in Atlanta and he couldn’t even stay in the venue when I was performing “Better Days.” And it wasn’t until we got to the last show on Jay Rock tour. I gave a speech about my cousin after and the whole crowd stood up in front of clapping and that was the moment that he felt good and felt like, damn, I’m not the only person that’s gone through this.
I just felt like as a man I was still wrong. I didn’t associate his feelings with the record. I didn’t make that connection until it was too late. I felt like as loud as I was when I did it, I needed to man up and apologize on the grand platform the same way. I apologized to him in person, but I just felt like it would mean more if he heard it the same way he heard “Better Days.” He got that because he deserved that, even though he never asked me for an apology, because that’s just how dope of a human he is.
So this wasn’t on the album, but I do have a question because I didn’t get a chance to talk to you about before. It was a really funny thing when it happened, at least for me. But on “The Soul (Pt.2),” you address the South Africa situation. Did you ever get a chance to speak with the other Reason?
I tried to, but he was a little salty about it and I understand it. When Black Panther dropped I tried to reach out to him and he just kind of put up a tweet almost along the lines of, “I don’t know what’s worse: That I found out the artist has my name or that I find out he has the spot on the Black Panther album that I deserved.” So I just told him, “I feel where you’re coming from. I’m not even mad at it, but you got a lot of dope fans.” His fans were tweeting me like crazy. I’m like, “Your fanbase is dope because they’re upset for you.”
It was funny for me. I’m like, “Man, every time I look up this n**** is like getting credit from my shi*t and vice versa. Shout out to Spotify, but sometimes Spotify will f*ck up and put a song of mine on his page on accident. I’m not really upset about it but it’s definitely been a hurdle. It’s definitely one of those things that prohibited me from getting all the traffic that I should be getting because they’re still trying to figure that out. At the same time, you’ve got to realize how dope your fanbase is. Even when I look at countries where my listens come from, South Africa is my second biggest and I know that it’s from that situation.
So what’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get out of quarantine?
The first thing I’m doing is going to show, bro. I miss performing so much. I can’t even tell you. I don’t care where it’s at. I don’t care what venue they do it. The one thing that sucks about putting this project out is that I made these records with the mindset of performing them. A lot of these records I won’t get to perform because I’ll have another project out by the time this sh*t opens.
Don’t think you’re going to sneak by slipping the old “next album coming” and I’m not going to notice!
I’ve worked. Yeah. I’m working on my debut album. As I said, this is just kind of like a project cause I wanted to put something out there, but I’m working on that debut album. That’s going to sound more kind of like what you were saying at first, cohesive, with storytelling and personal touches and it’ll probably be a little bit darker. I’m working on that right now and I’m wrapping it up. I’m probably I’d say about 65% done, something about that.
New Beginnings is out now via Top Dawg Entertainment. Get it here.