King Reign says he’s a mix of Slick Rick & Rakim
Stylistically aware with a vocal tablet that flows with unapologetic truths, King Reign is on a trajectory of growth. His presence within the hip-hop scene came in bits and pieces, through praised singles, EPs and collaborations that included chief names like Drake, Boi-1da and Saukrates. Reign has reached a stage in his career where those same bits are being pieced together to form his newly released solo LP, Sincere, an embodiment of his development as an artist. After a public release party, which reaped a humbling gathering of fans and friends alike, Reign took some time away from all the excitement and noise to speak candidly about his journey.
NOW THIS IS A BIG DEAL FOR YOU, IT WOULD BE A BIG DEAL FOR ANYONE, RELEASING A DEBUT COMPLETE ALBUM. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE EMOTIONS YOU’VE BEEN GOING THROUGH? You feel a sense of accomplishment. But I think with me my problem is that I don’t stay in the moment. I am kind of already onto the next. The excitement for me is that it feels like the beginning of something that I can throw myself into. You have ideas and you have aspirations, but not until you do it for the first time or start something. They always tell you to just start, my mom always used to say that to me. If it’s something that looks like a big job, if you just start it, put your head down. When you look up and it’s done, it’s like, it’s great, it feels good.
A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS PUSHING ARTISTS TO PUT OUT ALBUMS, BUT SOME MAY NOT FULLY REALIZE HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO ACTUALLY DO THAT AND BE PROUD OF THE END PRODUCT. WHAT ARE SOME DIFFICULTIES YOU PERSONALLY WENT THROUGH IN PUTTING TOGETHER SINCERE? As far as creating the album, it came out pretty easy. The hardest part, and I was telling my team that ‘you have the hardest job,’ is getting it into the hands of the media and getting it out there and promoting it, it’s a job that we’re still working on right now. Another hard part was picking the songs. But wasn’t as hard for me, because when I recorded the songs, I recorded them as an album.
YOU HAVE QUITE A FEW SONGS ON THIS ALBUM THAT SPEAK ON SOME PRETTY DEEP SUBJECTS. “CHEMICAL ROMANCE” TALKS ABOUT DRUG ABUSE AND THE EFFECT IT HAS ON PEOPLE. AND THEN THERE’S “KILLER”, WHICH IS RELATABLE JUST FROM A BLACK MAN’S PERSPECTIVE. WHERE ARE THESE STORIES COMING FROM? ARE THEY INSPIRED BY FICTION OR ACTUAL LIFE EXPERIENCES? They’re actually real life stories. I’ve always been a storyteller. I was reading an old report card the other day, might have been grade two or three. We went to New York on a family trip and a family friend took us out and I basically wrote a monologue or commentary of everything that I was seeing in the city and I wrote it like a story. I handed it in at school and got a really good grade on it (laughs) and I was mad proud of it. But looking back, it was just a bunch of ramblings. Point is that I always liked to use the things that are around me and talk about that and those stories that I experienced.
The first show that we did, one of my verses was about the racism and politics going on at my school. It was easy to grab that stuff because we listen to hip-hop from out here, coming from Toronto and we didn’t necessarily live all the stories at the time, especially depending on our age. A lot of the thug stories or hood stories, I didn’t really experience until I was 13, 14 or 15 through getting older.
Before that, we were still hearing those stories, but it was always important to me to just rap about what I knew. Of course, the emcees big up lyrics, that’s like our training staple for emcees. I’m this, I’m that, it’s great for a lot of things and it’s great for confidence. As the hip-hop generation, who else is going to tell us that we’re dope?
AT THE END OF THE DAY, WHAT DRIVES YOU TO WANT TO TELL STORIES? IS THERE A PARTICULAR INSPIRATION THAT DREW YOU TO WANT TO WRITE THAT WAY? I always had it. My dad is a big calypso traditionalist. He used to DJ and he also played a lot of music, and a lot of that calypso is always about telling stories. They were always funny and they could have been about anything from sex to the way the government was, whether they were charging extra money for cheese or whatever (laughs), but they always made it interesting. They could take the smallest thing and make it into a song that people could relate to that everyone would want to sing. So it started from there. But afterwards I think Slick Rick solidified that in me with The Great Adventures of Slick Rick, because the whole album is a form of storytelling.
I always say my style is a mix between Slick Rick and Rakim, but he gave me the more contextual stuff while Slick Rick gave me the storytelling with the context and the realness. He didn’t hold back. There’s a lot of dope storytellers in hip-hop, but if you ask me who changed the game for me and provided the turning point, it would be Slick Rick.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO NAME YOUR ALBUM SINCERE? LOOKING AT THE WORD, IT IMPLIES A SENSE OF HONESTY. ELABORATE ON THE PROCESS YOU WENT THROUGH IN COMING UP WITH THE NAME CHOICE. I wanted a name that fit the tone of the album. The stories being told on it are all true stories, things that happened. There’s a lot of dope emcees that make up stuff, but this album is really just real life stories, It’s not Sci-Fi at all and it’s stuff that I actually went through. What I actually loved about going back to Slick Rick, and even Rakim, is that when they told stories you still found different perspectives through their stories. You could still feel Slick Rick’s personality through his stories. Even with his talk about, ‘I’m Slick Rick, and I do this and I do that,’ he didn’t really have too many rhymes like that. Through that album, you get to know the person through those stories. So for me, and the people that know me, they know, that’s me. I make sure that the intent is real and the message and story is real.
I also want it to be a staple for them, just like Slick Rick was for me; I’d like to do that for somebody else. I want people to get the idea that I’m here, and that there is music like this out there and there’s more of it to come.
A LOT OF PEOPLE LIKE TO LABEL YOU AS A SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS RAPPER. HOW DO YOU WEIGH THE NEGATIVES WHEN IT COMES TO FOCUSING ON THAT KIND OF STYLE? SOME WOULD SAY THAT IF YOU WANT TO BE POPULAR AND WEALTHY IN THIS GAME, IT HELPS TO TALK ABOUT SEX, MONEY AND THE VIOLENT SIDE OF THINGS. As long as they understand that socially conscious means that I’m conscious of the fact that I’m not who you think I am (laughs). As long as people calling me socially conscious means that people understand that I’m conscious of the fact that I still do everything that you do, I’m just talking about stuff that I feel is important.
A lot of different genres of music have songs that changed the way I thought about things. Just like an affirmation can change the way you think about stuff. Somebody says something to you and it gives you perspective, so that’s where I get that. Socially is fine, just know that I’m going to talk about everything. I can talk about going to the strip club, because I’ve been to the strip club (laughs).
I remember awhile back, I heard that The Roots were in a strip club and everybody was like, “Oh my god, The Roots had strippers come to one of the sessions or something,” and I’m like, when did they ever say that they don’t like strippers? Are you not listening to their lyrics? It’s like when Common said, “Because I’m an intellectual, I can’t be sexual?” When some people look at a socially conscious artist they say, “Well you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” (laughs) just know that you won’t get that from me and I don’t care what you think. I’m not here to please anybody; I’m just speaking my mind.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO TAKE AWAY FROM SINCERE WHEN IT’S ALL SAID AND DONE? I want them to have a good time with it. I want them to live with it; I want them to get something from it. I’m just putting in some of the stuff I learned and I want them to be entertained by it. I want the melody to be something that stays in their head. I also want it to be a staple for them, just like Slick Rick was for me; I’d like to do that for somebody else. I want people to get the idea that I’m here, and that there is music like this out there and there’s more of it to come.
Words By. Noel Ransome + Photos By. Ashley “Iris” Gill