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Image via @Xonie
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The Beauty of ‘New Beginnings’: A Conversation With REASON

REASON doesn’t believe in endings. For Top Dawg Entertainment’s secret weapon, one door closed always means another one wide open. “An ending is never an ending, it’s just a new beginning,” he told me. “New Beginnings, then, is the perfect title for a project that is not only his first full-length offering under TDE, but also a prelude to a grander play that he has only just begun to orchestrate.  

New Beginnings is a project that feels like a coming-of-age movie. It’s also a shedding of skin for REASON. In it, he bares his soul over wax and discusses topics that he’d otherwise keep to himself like losing a child, the anxieties of family exploitations, and the varying weight of fame. As a Black man, he also recognized that we often struggle to convey our emotions in a healthy way, so he used writing as a means of therapy.

“It was very therapeutic, and that’s kind of why I started making music in the first place,” he said. “I played ball, I didn’t make music my whole life and I started writing just because it was therapeutic for me and, like most Black men, I don’t really know how to sit there and talk about my emotions. This project was the same way, being able to address things I never spoke about.”

The emotions that layer New Beginnings is also paired with elite rhyme-spitting. Standout songs like “Fall” have REASON dissecting the dichotomy of the male and female rap experiences, discussing the pressures of having to “make it” on both sides, while “Extinct” is just jam-packed with bars. REASON talked about why it was important for him to get Isaiah Rashad and JID on the same track. “I wanted to approach this project from a fan’s point of view because I am a fan,” he explained. “So I was like, ‘what feature does everybody want to hear but would probably never happen?’ and it was Zay and J.I.D.”

Not only that, but he even managed to secure ad libs from the elusive Top Dawg himself, Kendrick Lamar

“As anybody could imagine, I was going for a verse. Like, that’s really what I wanted. But a [K.] Dot verse, you might get one of those your whole entire career; you’re lucky if you get one…Bruh, do you know how hard it was for me to get those fucking ad libs (Laughs). I waited five or six months for those ad libs, so don’t just brush my ad libs to the side.”

It’s been a very quiet year for TDE, with no members dropping any major projects. Thus, REASON took it upon himself to hold down the fort as the rest of the gang silently constructs their next individual assault towards full-on rap supremacy. When asked if he feels like New Beginnings will be a signal flare for the rest of TDE to mobilize, he said:

“I definitely think it’s like that. I think we’re in a good space as a label, I think all of the artists are in a good headspace and so I’m proud to be the one that’s about to kick it off. This is the first project that’s dropped this year, and I really feel like we’re about to run shit at a high-pace for the next two years. So I definitely wouldn’t be mad if somebody considered this [project] that flare that’s about to kick shit off. I feel like that’s where we’re headed.”

REASON remains true to self throughout New Beginnings. From start to finish he reflects, accepts, and moves forward with the lessons he’s learned; embracing the future that he is actively shaping. We spoke with TDE’s secret weapon REASON about all of the emotions that went into his debut project, New Beginnings, the advice he got from Kendrick Lamar about how to create an immersive album experience, the importance of always staying authentic and true to self, and more. Read the interview down below.

Image via @Xonie

A lot of love and hard work went into your last project which you fully funded yourself, There You Have It. What are your emotions like dropping this? 

When I dropped There You Have It, I was in more of a dark space because I was just going through a lot. I’m still going through a lot now, I think as humans we’re always going through a lot, but my emotions were more in a celebratory stance [now]. It was like, okay we’ve been running this race for a long time, and we’re finally at the finish line. But, an ending is not an ending, it’s just a new beginning. So, that’s kind of like where my mind was. Then, making this was, like, celebrating how far you’ve gotten and this is a moment for you and your fans and your day 1’s. Now let’s get back to work. 

In “The Soul,” you open the verse with: “Patience, New Beginnings coming.” That was in 2018, so how long has this tape been in the works?

I’ve been working on two projects at once. I look at this like a project. My debut album will be a lot more conceptual and story-driven, but I’ve been working on both of these projects since the end of 2017. So, when I wrote those lines, “patience, New Beginnings coming,” I thought it was gonna be dope because it sounds like “new beginnings” but when people see the project, it’ll actually be called that. And that just goes to show you how long I’ve had to be patient and it’s funny because when I wrote the line, I didn’t even think that I’d have to show this much patience, you know what I mean? But it’s all about timing, it’s all about where we are, and whatnot. There You Have It was a rerelease, and I was working on it since then.

A recurring theme I saw on New Beginnings was the varying costs and pressures of fame. In the opening track “Something More” you said, “Signed to Top Dawg nigga, that’s my greatest score/ But lost a lot, feel like I can’t lose for winning.” Being a part of Top Dawg for almost 3 years now, how have your feelings towards the industry changed?

I definitely view the industry completely differently than I did coming into it. I always wanted to be one the greatest rapper of all time, and then when I got here I’m like, that title doesn’t even really exist because music is so subjective. There can be somebody that can tell you one artist is better than the other and it will always be that way. And also just understanding—and I know it’s cliche to say—but it’s just a really fake industry which is one of the driving factors in how I carry my career. 

If I can be known for anything, I just want to be known for being honest. From interviews, music, and when I say things. I’m always gonna say some real touchy things that will spark conversation, but also will make people feel a way because that’s what honesty does. So, that’s something that I want to bring to the table, and when you meet me it’s not gonna feel like you met a different artist than the one you’ve been listening to.

And I feel like that’s even shown in the regular interactions you have with your fans on social media. How important is it for you to be in touch with the people consuming your music and supporting you?

It’s super important to me. It’s almost everything because I entered this shit as a fan. I think people forget, I didn’t come in the original four or six [rappers]. I signed way, way later. Everyone already kinda had their family, so coming into this shit, I’m coming in as a fan. So I always want to be in touch with what the fans want and what the fans are looking for only because when I was a fan—and I’m still a fan—there are certain times artists let me down, you know what I mean? For me it’s like, anybody who’s a die-hard REASON fan, I never want them to look back at a project and say I put out some bullshit. I never want to have that moment, so it’s very important for me to stay in touch with my fans that way I know what they’re looking for.

How therapeutic was this album for you? You get really personal on “Slow Down” and “Gossip,” talking about your past and family. Did recording songs like those feel like a release? 

It was very therapeutic, and that’s kind of why I started making music in the first place. I played ball, I didn’t make music my whole life and I started writing just because it was therapeutic for me and, like most Black men, I don’t really know how to sit there and talk about my emotions. This project was the same way, being able to address things I never spoke about, like in “Slow Down” I never spoke about a lot of those issues on there. “Windows Cry,” you could imagine, was going to be a tough thing for me to be able to talk to the label about, so all of these things were ways for me to get shit off my chest because I was too nervous and had too much anxiety about talking about it out loud.

We were just talking about how you were, and are still a fan. Talk about how you secured those Kendrick adlibs on New Beginnings?

As anybody could imagine, I was going for a verse. Like, that’s really what I wanted. But a [K.] Dot verse, you might get one of those your whole entire career; you’re lucky if you get one. It’s funny because even when fans that heard his voice on there and thought it was going to be a feature and it was ad libs, I’d get those tweets where it’s like, “man we got hyped for nothing, it’s just Kendrick adlibs.” I’m like, “bruh, do you know how hard it was for me to get those fucking adlibs (Laughs). I waited five or six months for those adlibs, so don’t just brush my adlibs to the side like that.

Also on “The Soul (Pt. 2)” you mentioned that you had a talk with Kendrick. What did you guys talk about?

For the most part, it was just from the technical side of music and how you approach the writing. He gave me a couple of tips from a perspective of the music and storyline. I view myself as a good storyteller, but Kendrick really opened my mind to looking at projects like an entire concept. That goes from the merch to the shows, to the marketing. All of his shit is tied and woven together and he just opened my mind and challenged me to think further than the music. That’s probably where he’s affected me the most, from a creative process standpoint.

Tell me the story of how “Extinct” came together,  and getting Isaiah Rashad and J.I.D on the same track.

Similar to what I said in the beginning, I wanted to approach this project from a fan’s point of view because I am a fan. So I was like what feature does everybody want to hear but would probably never happen, and it was Zay and J.I.D. That’s the talk, when you talk about Dreamville and TDE, that’s the conversation, so I thought it would be super dope to get the both of them on the same track.

Of course, I’m close with Zay. He’s a part of the camp, but I’m also super close with J.I.D so Zay did the record and he has this thing where he doesn’t finish the record sometimes if he’s not all the way sold on it. So I was in there and wrote a verse on it, then J.I.D called me and while we were talking I was playing him the shit and he was like, “that shit is hard” but he’s not necessarily talking about being on it. It was almost like he just had that look of like: “I hope that you allow me to do that.”

When I finished it, I sent it over to him and he got it back to me super fast, maybe in about a week’s time, and it just grew to be something special. We also have a little special treat behind that record as well that will be coming a little later.

I just keep referencing “The Soul (Pt 2)” because you were really spitting. During it, you talked about all the different criticisms you’ve gotten and one of them was about your relationship with Dreamville after your show out performance on Revenge of the Dreamers 3. Does that still bother you?

Not necessarily bothers me, honestly it never really bothered me. [The Soul Pt. 2] was more, to me, like a clever way to address things that are commonly spoken about me. The “REASON the South African Reason” definitely bothered me though, I’m not going to lie, but the Dreamville didn’t because those are the homies and I feel like I get along with a lot of them because a lot of the TDE members are kind of already set. They’re up there already, but a lot of us are going through the same struggle, we’re all building, we’re all trying to make a name for ourselves in this big ass shadow of a Kendrick Lamar or a J. Cole. So there’s a lot in common there. Honestly, it’s a compliment to me for people to think I’m from Dreamville because it also means it comes with a certain level of talent and authenticity to the music that they have.

Which track meant the most for you to record on New Beginnings?

“Fall,” by far. I feel like “Fall” is the most important conversation that’s on the project from the perspective of women and their trials and tribulations when it comes to trying to get in without being taken advantage of, and the side of men trying to get into this industry and what that brings because we don’t take care of each other. By far I think “Fall” is the most important conversation that we should be having on the album.

Obviously, we’re still dealing with the loss of Kobe. You’ve always referenced him in your music, and I feel like you’ve adopted his Mamba Mentality. A part of the Mamba Mentality is that killer instinct, so when you wrote that line in “The Soul Pt. 2” a year ago referencing Logic, what lead to that?

It really came from a fan perspective. I hold the people that I’m a fan of to a high level, so that means I also hold them accountable. I think it was a misunderstanding, and I learned a lesson as well which is just read the room and understand the timing. So that was my lesson in that, and I’m big on taking accountability for my own actions. For me, the misunderstanding was based around the fact that people thought I was talking about him being a culture vulture in hip-hop, and that’s not what I’m talking about. 

I think you can’t even talk about the last 10 years of hip-hip without talking about Logic. He’s in that conversation with [K.] Dot and [J.] Cole and Wale, and all those dudes. I was more speaking on, I’ve been a Logic fan since, like, 2010/2011 and Logic had built a loyal fanbase off of talking about Black plight and things that Black people struggle with because he is a Black man. But when we get to the album, Everybody, I just feel like that was his big stage-setting, and he didn’t really do that for us on there. He talked about almost every other problem that America’s facing, but not ours and that’s just how I felt.

I was more holding him accountable for that, and like I said it’s from a fan perspective so it’s no hate towards Logic, I don’t feel no type of way about him as a rapper. He’s incredible. I just have a big passion for Black culture and Black Lives Matter, so it came out of love of that, but if I could go back I’d definitely read the room because I didn’t want to seem like “that guy” in terms of the timing.

A really loaded track is the finale, “Windows Cry,” where you get into everything from label spats, to dealing with family, and more. What did all those dates at the end of the track signify?

The dates are actually kind of like an easter egg. Like I told you, this is kind of like my debut project but it’s not an album. I’m working on my album and I’m probably about 70 percent done, but it’s an easter egg about the album. Those dates will kind of narrate my next project, in a sense, so I thought it would be dope to include that on here that way people can know there’s something else coming behind that.

This entire project feels like a major shedding of skin as you enter a new stage of your career. From beginning to end, you reflect, accept, and move forward, true to its name New Beginnings. So, what does this project mark the “new beginning” of?

It’s really just about me moving forward fearlessly. I think you said it perfectly, it’s like the shedding of the skin, the shedding of all your fears, anxieties, doubts; anything that can hold you back from doing something great. That’s what the process felt like, all the weights on my shoulder, the doubts, even the celebrations. It feels like that monkey is off my back about my debut so now it’s like, let’s move forward and focus on making a culture-shifting album that has a storyline and deep, impactful meaning to the culture. So that’s what I’m focused on now, my debut album, New Beginnings.

Clearly, a lot has happened for you in these last two years. Two years from now, where do you think you’ll be?

Two years from now, honestly, I see myself being one of the household names when you talk about the new generation of hip-hop. That’s what I’m aiming for and hopefully, the fans put me there because it wouldn’t be possible without them. I also hope to see myself as somebody who’s just super honest. People should know what they’re going to get when they speak to me, when they listen to my music, what they see me stand for. I don’t want to feel like a celebrity in a way of everything being designed and arranged. As long as I can keep that authenticity, and being grounded, if I can do those two things simultaneously I’ll feel like I’m a success.

Do you see New Beginnings not only being a launching point for you, but also the signal flare for your fellow labelmates in TDE? 

I definitely think it’s like that. I think we’re in a good space as a label, I think all of the artists are in a good headspace and so I’m proud to be the one that’s about to kick it off. This is the first project that’s dropped this year, and I really feel like we’re about to run shit at a high-pace, which is different for us quantity-wise, for the next two years. So I definitely wouldn’t be mad if somebody considered New Beginnings that flare that’s about to kick shit off. I feel like that’s where we’re headed.

Written By

Writer, talker, J. Cole scholar, and hip-hop fanatic. As seen in Complex, VIBE, NTWRK, Medium, Kazi—https://www.complex.com/author/j-rose

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