Artist Stories, Stories

Reason Meets Hip-Hop At A Crossroads, with ‘Love Girls’

Image by Sabelo Mkhabela

The Joburg rapper Reason has an enviable hip-hop success story. His entry into the industry, as far as hip-hop purists are concerned, is near-perfect. He “paid his dues” – starting out as a battle rapper, releasing mixtapes, EPs, an underground album and then eventually entered the mainstream. The rapper recently released his fourth album, Love Girls, which is his third since he entered the mainstream music scene five years ago when he released Audio 3D under Tumi Molekane’s Motif Records.

Love Girls is essentially a concept album, in which every song is about the rapper’s romantic relationships with women. “When I say ‘women’ you’ll start thinking about your auntie, mother, and grandmother,” he says explaining why he used the word “girls” instead of “women”.

“This album is not meant to be self-righteous, like, ‘I treat girls well’ whatever. It’s about the experiences. I’ve been both a good and a bad guy in relationships,” he says as I interview him in Cape Town about two months before the album’s release. “I think it’s supposed to be a conversation starter. Hip-hop doesn’t do that anymore, it doesn’t start other conversations other than ‘you see his car?’”

Every song on Love Girls is about a different type of woman the rapper has encountered. The album’s lead single ‘All The Time (The Other Girl)’ in which he sings on the chorus, “I think about it all the time/ Even when I’m with my shawty still I always think about it all the time,” is about a mistress.

‘Prescription (Molly Cyrus) [The Happy Girl]’, the second single, is about a woman who brings happiness into the rapper’s life, using the motif of a happy pill. The third single ‘Celebrity (The Club Girl)’ is about the women who work in clubs, who Reason says make him feel like a celebrity with their hospitality, and so on.

Love Girls comes at an interesting time when women are speaking candidly and openly against patriarchy, mostly recently by way of the infamous hashtag #MenAreTrash. Reason makes his stance clear about the hashtag and the notion behind it. “We are trash. I’m not even gonna come out and act like we’re not, because we are. I think it starts with the conversation of putting it out there – the how, because I don’t think a lot of guys know how,” he says.

The album also features the voice of a particular woman. ‘Dangerous (The Broken Girl)’, starts with a monologue by media personality Loot Love, who talks about being teased about her complexion as a young girl, among other damaging societal practices.

“But a lot of the women that I’ve dealt with that are completely broken are almost always sexually violated,” Loot Love concludes before Reason raps one of the most heartfelt verses on Love Girls over moody keys. “I ask you not to blame yourself if I ever falter/ ‘Cause if I ever ought to know that, I would have forced ya/ into hating me for failing you then I wouldn’t warned ya,” he raps.

Image by Sabelo Mkhabela

Reason is at an interesting place as an artist – he resonates with “real” hip-hop fans, who love him for his undeniable rhyming skills. But his radio hits like ‘Do It Like I Can’, ‘Glasses To The Ceiling’, and ‘All The Time’, among countless others, make sure the casual hip-hop listener knows and appreciates who he is. This is a rare feat in South African hip-hop, where there’s a firm dichotomy: you are either “underground” or “commercial” – there’s hardly ever a middle ground.

In complicating this split, Reason will work with artists as mainstream as Danny K, DJ Speedsta, and AKA, while still dropping verses on tracks by niche artists such as Uno July and Al Da 3rd.

That dichotomy doesn’t always work towards the rapper’s favour (because, hey, hip-hop heads). His old fans from his days as Reason the Mass, the backpacker he was in the mid-2000s, feel betrayed when they hear the rapper crooning in autotune. In his defense, the rapper once told the hip-hop podcast The Sobering’s hosts, “I am part of hip-hop, not an era.”

On Love Girls, Reason attempts to merge those two worlds by keeping his bars intact and thought-provoking, while favouring more mainstream production. That has been his working formula for his last three albums. On this new album, though, he really stretches himself – using autotune on his vocals for the first time. He even had one of the gulliest rappers in the game, his long-time collaborator, Mr. Beef singing instead of rapping, on the song “Lovey (The Angry Girl)”.

 Image by Sabelo Mkhabela

“Mr Beef came into the studio and he was pissed,” Reason begins to tell the song’s backstory. “He had just gotten into a fight with his girl. In the middle of him wanting to vent I told him, ‘you know we just made a beat right now, so let’s make a song.’ And we even ended up doing a singing song instead of a rapping song. It’s all about going into unchartered Reason territory.”

The features on the album are a fair split between well-known names like Kwesta, Moozlie and Monoea; and niche artists like Ginger Trill, Melo B Jones, Aylaan and BK.

Image by Sabelo Mkhabela

Reason is one of the most sincere rappers in South Africa. His albums tell you his story in real-time. On The REASONing, the rapper was battling with the curse of being ridiculously talented but still getting overlooked. On Audio 3D, he spoke about the anxieties of entering the mainstream music industry, and was excited of having a dream come true. On Audio High Definition, he revealed the bruises he had suffered from the music industry. He was ambivalent – he was also happy he had made it and was living comfortably, but that came at a cost of his happiness, privacy and a failing marriage.

Perhaps the most revealing moment in the rapper’s history has to be when he released the single “#TRVE” off of Audio ReDefinition, his last album under Motif Records. First it was the single’s artwork, which showed an image of Jesus with two naked women on his shoulders. The backlash that came from his Christian fans was unthinkable. On the song, Reason, who had just given himself the nickname Reazus Christ, spoke of trying to be like Christ but fighting his vices. He revealed his marriage was falling, and it was his fault. He also revealed that he wasn’t on speaking terms with Tumi Molekane, whose Motif Records he was still signed to.

In our interview, the rapper admits that he’s emotional. “I can’t rap about being happy my whole life,” he says. “Sometimes I envy L.E.S.. He’s been making happy music his entire career. I’ve heard him say ‘I can never be serious, even on a serious song. I’ve tried many times, it’s not my character.’ But I’m emotional.”

I ask him if this album is about celebrating singlehood. He bursts into laughter before saying, “I don’t think that’s really how it is. But it has a lot to do with that. Throughout my whole career, my reference has been based on one girl.”

Love Girls is a certainly relatable album– some songs will have you crack up, while others will have many men looking at themselves and how they treat the women in their lives.

The album is a crossroads for the Reason fan. It’s either you choose to grow with him or lose him as a fave. But either way, Reazus certainly found a way to share his truth with the world.

Take a listen to Love Girls in full on Apple Music, which you can find here.

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