When it comes to hip-hop, there seems to be a developing reverence for the styles of the past, some sort of renaissance of that period that saw hip hop crawl out of the primordial ooze of spoken word and the variety of cultural influences from which it so powerfully sprung. Songs rooted in soul are starting to approach a heyday, while the bluntness and bling of gangster rap seems to be losing its luster. The fact is, every musical genre is inherently mercurial, searching for the next big fad, an excess of outre, and the trends that may seem played out are never necessarily completely removed from the game.
The reason REKS is such a player on this kind of scene is obvious. If you haven’t heard of the artist yet, it’s no wonder. While REKS may have not carved his name on the main stage just yet, he has been patiently creating his genius music out of the glare of direct limelight. He jumped onto the scene in 2001 with Along Came the Chosen, a critically-acclaimed first effort that earned REKS nominations for Hip-Hop Album and Artist of the Year by the Boston Music Awards. His fourth major LP, the recently released Straight, No Chaser, sees a matured REKS coupled with longtime friend and producer Statik Selektah and a slew of new and established guest artists in a poignant, superbly effective hip-hop tour de force that seamlessly gels records of introspection and extroversion into a lyrical molotov cocktail.
Take “Sit/Think/Drink,” on which REKS cracks open a nerve about his mother and the situation that brought him into the world, the anthem-like “Power Lines” that seductively slings thoughts on the state of affairs in this country, or the topical “Parenthood.” While this is hardly shoe-gazer hip hop, the visceral energy behind the tracks makes them incredibly timeless.
Then you’ve got the album opener “Autographs” and the title track “Straight, No Chaser” (featuring Slain), which showcase more of REKS’ boastful side, and the chill “Break Ups” (featuring C Sharp), which weaves a relatable tale in a novel way.
Put all this on top of inspired, jazzy beats by Selektah and you can be sure Straight, No Chaser gives hip-hop heads just what they are craving — true throwback tunes from a stalwart survivor of the ever-evolving scene.
Check out the latest video release for one of the best tracks on Straight, No Chaser, “Sins,” below:
Just wrapping a Canadian tour and with the new full-length release just a month prior, I got REKS on the phone to get the low down on this very busy artist.
Tell me about your mindset going in to record Straight, No Chaser.
First and foremost I wanted to work with Statik [Selektah] on a project for 10 to 11 years. We wanted to get to a point where we could put out a record together, the most cohesive, respectable kind of project. Static is working now with Freddie Gibbs, Action Bronson and Freeway — you know he’s always so busy — and I just dropped an album [Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme] last year. It’s not often that artists put stuff out every year, so we wanted to do a three-part EP series, but the album came together so cohesively that we decided to put it out as an LP.
You’ve been working with Statik since the beginning. Did you know right away you two were destined for collaboration? What impact has he had on your career?
I met Statik when he was 15. He booked me for one of my shows in New Hampshire. He was 15 and booking shows — it was weird. He shouldn’t have even been in the club. That speaks volumes about Statik’s work ethic, of him as a person and why he is in the position he is in today. He’s my brother for life.
When he first played me beats, I was like, “Yo, you suck.” He gave me one beat for my first album, but other than that I was not a fan of his beats at all. He would walk all over Boston, talking about all the artists he was going to work with in the future. He saw the vision; I didn’t. I was just a kid from Massachusetts who could rap. I could rap, everybody could rap, but he saw the vision.
You’ve got a lot of guest appearances on this album, including Ea$y Money and your ShowOff crew, Termanology and Action Bronson. What did they bring to this record?
Everybody played their part. I never do things [with artists] because people have a certain level of notoriety. My whole justice is like, “Let’s put out a record that makes sense.” You know it was good to get in a booth with Action Bronson. I would write a rhyme and then he writes a rhyme. We would go back and forth. It was great.
Slain comes from Southey in Boston, a straight-up Irish neighborhood, and I come from a straight-up Hispanic neighborhood. Things were different, but we were the same in the end. It was a hard life for both of us, but we want to bring it anyway, straight, no chaser. It made sense to do that title track together.
How was your recent May tour through Canada?
It’s a place I’ve never performed at, and I thought it was great. Statik and Term have been there before, but it was brand new for me. It was great to get out there and meet new people, great that they felt the vibe. I will tell you traveling the streets of Canada where there were either mountains or prairies, I wasn’t feeling it. Driving 18-hour trips from spot to spot, that puts a toll on you. At the end of the day, you do a show, travel to the next city, then sit for a couple hours and then perform again. My diva really came out. I complained a lot.
You first came on the scene at the beginning of this decade when the dot com craze was in full effect. Since then, the internet has become the conduit for start-up rappers who want to get heard but can’t seem to land the right co-sign deal with a label. You independently released your second album yourself. What is your experience as an artist growing up alongside the expanding online world with things like free mixtape downloads becoming mainstream?
I think it’s absolutely necessary. It’s a catch-22 because sometimes individuals don’t have to pay for my music, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t be exposed to that big of a market without it because I can’t pay for marketing tools. The money we do put into marketing, we want to use to the best of our ability. We capitalize on YouTube, Facebook, all those sites that give the fans the chance for an interaction with an artist they love and crave so much. There are positives and negatives, but for the most part, I am happy with it.
Many hip-hop artists are known for their regional loyalty and their music speaks to that. How does your upbringing in Boston affect your sound?
First of all, I’m not from Boston. I’m from Lawrence, Massachusetts, just across the border to Boston. We come from nothing. The city I came from, it’s so minute. Coming from a small town, it’s nice to get the music out to the larger public. It’s difficult to get the music out because individuals are not interested in people from these small-time towns. It’s not LA or New York or Seattle, you know? It’s tough, but that’s why I want to do it.
Your latest mixtape references family as well. What power does family have over your life and music?
My mom is from South Carolina, a small country town. My mom went to school there early, you know? When she moved to Lawrence, she had her children, did her thing, and her story is kind of sad for me. She had me at 16 years old; that’s the story of a lot of females coming out of the hood. She was influenced by a man who told her the right things. Her children are her legacy to the world. My mom is struggling right now, in the hospital in and out. She’d had a hard life, but she’s found peace now. When the drugs left, God came, and she found what makes her happy.
What’s next for you musically and on tour? Any dream artists you still want to collaborate with?
Who don’t I want to collaborate with? I would say Freddie Gibbs — I’ve already done two records with him, but I want to do 4 billion with him — Kendrick Lamar, Bishop Lamont — I’m gonna rap with him real soon — definitely Scarface, Nas, Pharoahe Monch, definitely Ice Cube. Producer-wise, I would say A1, Dr Dre, DJ Khalil, Opollo Brown, Black Milk, and Elzhi.
I’m dropping a thing called “REBELutionary” on July 24 through Gracie Productions, and my single “Shotgun” with Jon Connor and Vanessa Renee comes out this Tuesday (May 29th).