It’s funny to think how old rap is. Sure, it doesn’t yet compare to some of the more established contemporary genres, but it’s no longer the new kid on the block. A part of the reason is that rap is constantly in a state of flux – always letting new kids onto its block. This brings about regular shifts in the core of what we thing rap is and should be, and an a genre with artists as obsessed with being the best as this, these shifts in values are important.
Some of the most recent changes have come in the form of a move from the verbose, “lyrical” and battle rap of the 2000s to the verbose, introspective world of Kanye and Drake, and finally, it’s moved into the words-come-second, all-action state it’s in today. Katlehong-raised rapper Reason has been around for all three of these cycles. Originally nicknamed Reason “The Mad Massacre” (because, you know, battle rap), he then went on to form a solid fanbase dropping monthly freestyles which veered from topical audio think-pieces to personal audio blog exposition. It was more internet-ready than we realised at the time, and a format that suited him best. On this record, he finds himself between worlds, out-rhyming his old self at moments, while often still reaching far beyond what he could hope to grasp.
This album is meant to serve as a victory lap for his most recent, and most successful commercial projects. 18 songs were originally recorded with a rasp of collaborators, of which the 11 here were chosen. Even with this cut-down, though, more editing could have resulted in a better final project.
The record’s first half blazes through the gates with few flaws. Reason sets the intro up to be a perfect alley-oop, with ever-building production and a compelling chorus, for Mr Beef to slam his commanding flow and delivery. This piggybacking off of the energy of more charismatic artists to create something better is a recurring thread here. AKA lends a welcomed cocky swagger and flow to the single ‘Yippy Kaye’, while producer Tweezy imbues ‘The Realest’ with an undeniable energy. Its expert curatorship that continues on the genius sampling of a Skwatta Kamp classic for ‘Great Kings’. It’s a song based on an idea so good, one wonders why it has never been done.
In this first half Reason is like a producer for a major film – hiring the talents he needs where he needs them. And where he doesn’t need them, he knows where best to expend his energy: longform, schmaltzy verses over unobtrusive beats (see ‘TRVE’, ‘Gold’). It’s when he aims to go beyond this, into the hook heavy world of pop rap in 2015 that things fall apart. ‘Brand New’ is a perfect case. Modelled after the chorus-first, single-verse arrangement popularised by Drake, it fails in every way that makes Drake’s ‘Worst Behaviour’ great. Whereas the Torontonian’s music is crisply produced, lean and hooky without being too repetitive, this just isn’t. The mixdown is incomprehensible, the hook goes on too long and is no way novel (aimed at the now much maligned “fuck boys”) and the (second) Skwatta sample is redundant and clutters the already mediocre beat.
Even worse is the album’s ”ballad” song, ‘The Mantra.’ This song is just… Just please go listen to it. There is so little content here, yet the song self-satisfyingly tries to feel insightful. Cliche can be used artistically, I understand, but here it’s just cliche (“everybody live your life, don’t be scared baby love your life!”), and nothing more. The production, almost amazingly, matches this nothing vibe all too well with anonymous chord progressions and limp drums. And all that’s left for you after this is is the mild misogyny of ‘Bad In December’ – its placement here on the album an utter mystery. At this point Reason’s message seems to be ‘you can do whatever you want, except if you’re being too bad a b*tch’. Funnily enough it’s a half decent single, but it just has no business being on this album, letting Stilo Magolide rub salt into our collective wounds (“Yeah I know you wana slide out, back to the titty right, titty so big I’ma whip em out, WHALA!)
At the launch for this album, in the Joburg CBD on a Sunday night, Reason was preparing to perform ‘The Mantra’. Poised confidently on stage, he stopped the music to let us know that this was the song that would show people that Reason was an artist. After performing some of the better raps of his career, astounding us with ‘Great Kings’, it was this failed crossover that he felt would earn him credit for his musicianship. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that this attitude could be the reason this project doesn’t live up to expectations. It really could have been a strong EP if Reez had just let it be, but instead it panders and meanders at its end.