Exclusive: The Showoff emcee talks about why he calls out hipster Rap and mainstream acts so he, Skyzoo, eLZHi and others get their due, and why he's grateful that Hip Hop gave him a second chance.
Last week, Lawrence, Massachusetts emcee REKS (f/k/a Rhythmic Eternal King Supreme) unveiled the video to "25th Hour." The visual to the DJ Premier-produced first single from March 8th's R.E.K.S. album finds the emcee walking through Coney Island's boardwalks as if he's the last man on Earth. The landmark for fun, food and amusement is flurried with snow, and REKS' mean mug and eyes on the sky accent his hard raps about restless work and deep dedication.
Those themes live in REKS' life when the camera is off, and no acting is required. The Showoff Records veteran, often mistaken as a new artist is quick to wave Hip Hop's flag instead of Louie rag, and would rather talk about Big Shug than Big Meech. In an interview yesterday afternoon with HipHopDX, REKS explains why he's comfortable calling out the powers that be in Hip Hop, why he fights for his peers, and why 10 years removed from his Along Came The Chosen debut, he still embraces a second chance at making things right with the industry.
HipHopDX: "25th Hour" is a really special video, for any fans of Coney Island and/or The Warriors. Tell me about the concept behind that video, especially with you not being a native New Yorker...
REKS: Exactly. Obviously, you look at Coney Island and it always takes us back to The Warriors. But obviously, Coney Island being historical and a place that's been an attraction in America for a [long period] of time...the whole amusement park being shut down [for winter], and the dreary, dark feeling in New York [on that day], it only made sense. Statik [Selektah] orchestrated that idea himself. It only made sense. It's the "25th Hour." I really, really wanted to capture the visuals of Spike Lee's movie [of the same name], however, obviously Nas used the concept [in the "Be A Nigger Too" ] video. I wouldn't go there, and I'm kinda happy we didn't, 'cause we created our own video with this last man in a day's time type of vibe - without having it possibly be cliché. It was a great thing to utilize a place like Coney Island. Even though I'm not from there, I've got respect for the New York scenery and the fact that when we do this music, we have to pay homage to New York, 'cause New York is where the birthplace is. I'm always gonna rep Massachusetts till the death of me, 'cause that's where I'm from, that's where I was born and raised, [but] I still feel that New York is the heartbeat of this music. I don't wear no [New York] Yankees cap. [Laughs]
DX: [Laughs] I wouldn't expect you to. You've had some amazing collaborations with DJ Premier over the years - more than I think a lot of people even realize. Where does this one in particular stand for you? This is my favorite, and it's a great first track kick-in-the-door to what this R.E.K.S. album is about...
REKS: Definitely. For me, "25th Hour" stands ahead of the rest for a few reasons. "Say Goodnight" , that was the beginning of our working relationship. It was a great opportunity. I was still stuck in that phase of awe and amazement that I had reached that opportunity. I grew up idolizing Gang Starr and the [Gang Starr] Foundation. To be able to work with somebody such as [DJ] Premier, it just left me awestruck. At this point, I'm obviously a few songs in with DJ Premier...this one, I wanted to be the opening backdrop to this whole R.E.K.S. album - 'cause I'm givin' 'em the true definition of who I am as an artist. "25th Hour" represents that to a tee. This is really a crowning achievement, but I really feel like there's more to come.
DX: Lyrically, you really get personal on this album. You rap a lot about your parents, and things that a lot of emcees might shy away from. You mention about your distant relationship with your father, and your parents having you when you were so young... to what extent would you say that Hip Hop raised you?
REKS: Oh, to the utmost. I was a latch-key child. My father died very young; my moms, she was out trying to provide for us. When she was home, she had a household to tend to. Me being the oldest, I had two younger sisters, [and] a brother and another sister [with different parents]. Growing up in that household, I had to find other avenues to escape, with the streets and the struggle around me on a day-to-day basis. Lawrence, Massachusetts is a very poor neighborhood, a very violent neighborhood - heavy gang territory, a lot of issues in that community. So I could've went two routes: I could've followed the street path that a lot of my friends were on, [but] I opted for another route. I was able to be blessed with a lot of older heads - not just my parents, but I had aunts, uncles and cousins who put me onto Hip Hop, had me break-dancing at a young age. I don't like to profess or tell a story like others...I've lived in street situations, however, I'm not gonna profess to be a gang-banger or profess to be a drug-dealer or anything that I'm not. I'm Hip Hop, born and raised. There's a lot of cats like me. I'm raising children now, and I'm proud of the person I've become.
DX: This culture means so much to you, I respect that. You're so passionate that you'll speak against the direction Hip Hop is going. You've got a record called "This Or That" on R.E.K.S., where you call out hipsters for treating this as a trend. As somebody who lives that, do you feel that stuff is not being said enough?
REKS: It's definitely my job, as an artist, to bring the light to a lot of things that people are not willing to take into account or speak on. I've been blessed to be raised on this Hip Hop thing, and to be taught from the likes of KRS-One, Ice Cube and the brothers who came before us and laid a path. They showed us a way to respect this culture on a day-to-day basis, and live this culture. Who would I be if I would sit idly by, and allowed the industry and the masses to take hold of what we cherish and disrespect it the way that it's being disrespected. People will say, "Oh, he talks about Hip Hop too much," or "He's always talkin' about the need to bring it back to the golden era." I don't care - they're always talkin' about rims, talkin' about bitches, talkin' about shit that's not uplifting the culture - the complete opposite of that. I'm gonna keep feedin' it to them till they're dead. If I can five or six [kids] from goin' out there and livin' a destructive path, then I'ma do that. And I don't just talk about Hip Hop; anybody who listens to my music [knows that].
DX: That same song, "This Or That," you have some outspoken remarks about people like R. Kelly, Lil Wayne and Kanye West. As the Showoff squad, particularly Statik Selektah, is elevating into some affiliates of these guys, do they ever go, "Damn REKS, why'd you have to say that?"
REKS: Of course. [Laughs] Statik doesn't want to stifle my creativity. He's a friend before anything else. He understands my frustrations, and I understand his frustrations. We understand the fans' frustrations. It's my job though. It's my job to speak out, and speak for those who can't speak, about what's goin' on with our game. At the end of the day, I want to respect some of Statik and [Termanology's] friendships, and some of the other individuals' associations with individuals. I don't mean disrespect to T-Pain or Lil Wayne. If you look at my track record, I'm actually a fan of Lil Wayne. I just don't want to be force-fed music. I don't want to be force-fed who to like and who to dislike. Why isn't a record like Skyzoo & !llmind's ["Speakers On Blast" on radio?] Back in the day, that record would have gotten a massive amount of spins. Not discounting it at all, 'cause I know it got a lot of love, but for me, Skyzoo is a premiere lyricist in our game. When I look at individuals I respect and admire in the game of Hip Hop, he's one of the brothers that I really look to. I respect the fact that he takes time to honor the culture and honor his pen. So when I see a brother like him put out a record I consider [classic] and see it get negated or pushed to the side a bit, it kind of baffles me. We're obviously being fed certain things. If all a kid is hearing when he turns on the radio is Roscoe Dash and those artists, then that's probably who he's gonna grow up listening to. In order to hear someone like Torae or Blu or eLZHi, he has to be put on. He has to be accepted into a specific culture. It always makes me laugh when people say, "Where was I for so long? I can't believe I haven't heard your music." That's what the game is. There's a machine, and we're not part of that machine. There's a million artists who represent this artist the right way, who should be in the forefront, and they're not. It's sad to see.
DX: Torae goes by "The Young Veteran." I get frustrated when people treat you, or him, eLZHi or Skyzoo like a new artist. You guys go back five to 10 years. Your first album came out a decade ago on Landspeed, and still you're treated like a new artist. Is that a good thing to get that attention, or frustrating thing to have the history ignored?
REKS: I don't have problem with [being looked at as a new artist]. The reason I don't is because I feel like I've put myself in certain positions, and I don't have someone else to blame. I wouldn't put the finger at somebody else. For a long period of time, I didn't devote myself to getting out there and networking and being a part of everything that goes on. During the period when I dropped [2001's] Along Came The Chosen, I was fresh and brand new, and really didn't understand the necessity of making time to do these interviews, and being on time to studio sessions, and playing nice and being respectful towards deejays and individuals who had my career in their hands. I looked at it as, "Yo, you need me more than I need you." And that was the wrong approach, definitely. I can look back at it now and be more mature and recognize it. I feel like I've been given a second life, 'cause at the end of the day, I could've been thrown to the wayside. They could've said, "Yo, this dude has an ego and he doesn't deserve this position." You're just as important to my career as I am, because you get it out to a certain group of individuals who let me be heard. If this interview doesn't happen, there's a massive amount of individuals who'll never pay attention or know REKS' story. It's a good thing for me, 'cause I can come out refreshed and brand new and tell my story, but I'm never gonna lie about my [past].