“I’ve seen stories, man,” he says, shaking his head.
Reks leans against the wall of Laced 569, a shoe store on the outskirt of Back Bay, on a hot July day with cigarette in hand. Though the Lawrence native cut his teeth in Boston, he now splits his time between the Hub and Florida. He’s in town promoting REBELutionary, his second album of 2012 (the first was April’s Straight, No Chaser). The stone-faced rapper has some grey streaks in his beard—appropriate, seeing as he ended a five-year hiatus with 2008’s Grey Hairs.
Many thought it was his first album, but Reks (birth name Corey Christie) actually debuted in 2001 with Along Came the Chosen.
Despite local awards and buzz from national magazines like Source and XXL, he went quiet after 2003. With two sons, one a newborn, Reks put family first and rap on hold.
“My sons can’t eat beat,” he says,
quoting his song “Like a Star” (featured on NPR’s Song of the Day). “I worked as a claims adjuster for awhile in Florida. Thought about doing it full-time; going back to school.”
Instead, the frustrated veteran returned with Grey Hairs, an underground hit delivering fierce rhymes and harsh critiques of modern hip-hop. In 2011 Reks released Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme, praised for adding introspective songs like “Mr. Nobody” to his catalogue. On Straight, No Chaser, Reks continued mixing ferocious rhymes and personal hardship.
Now comes REBELutionary, Reks’s first political album, produced entirely by Miami beatsmith Numonics.
“I never got the opportunity to delve into the topics that affect black, Hispanic, and disenfranchised communities,” says Reks. “I think this album’s needed. Especially in an election year.”
“We share similar views on how the world is set up,” says Numonics (aka Jonathan Rosenfeld). “We set out to address things like institutional racism and power systems in America.”
Nu’s soulful take on boom-bap beats complements Reks’s intensity on tracks like “Bang Bang,” which focuses on police brutality and gun violence, and “Unlearn,” a call for reeducation. Samples of Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton are scattered throughout the album, and the voice of George Carlin appears on “Obedient Workers,” where Reks discusses capitalism and complacent workers.
Tracks like the saxophone driven “Shotgun” address violence among the disenfranchised, a topic especially close to Reks. Lawrence is the poorest city in Massachusetts and has struggled with violence for years.
“I’ve seen stories, man,” he says, shaking his head. His own cousin, Timothy Walker, was a victim, fatally shot on his own porch at 21.
“Crime is crime. But there’s something [worse] about hurting someone in the same struggle as you.”
REBELutionary isn’t a gimmick, nor is it preachy. These topics are real to Reks—he’s already educating his oldest son about the hardships he’ll face as an African-American.
“He’s about to be nine, and I talk to him about Emmitt Till, I talk to him about Trayvon [Martin]. I tell him you can be a kid and love Pokémon, and play with your friends, but it’s a tough world. Better he learn that from his parents.”
“This is a very American album,” says Numonics. “I believe a true American speculates.”
“Me and Nu, we don’t think we’re gonna change the world,” says Reks. “But if we can get two or three people to think more proactively, to see what’s going on, I’m satisfied.”
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