In an age where artists prefer to create mystique about their new albums, REASON stands out. His new project, New Beginnings, is out today, and earlier this week he took to Twitter to explain how excited he was. "I entered this label as a fan," he wrote, referring to his home team of Top Dawg Entertainment. "So this debut project for me I wanted to share it with the FANS. I've done shit that the fan in me wanted to see. I'm proud of that." Immediately after this note, he gave a list of seven particular reasons why fans must give it a listen which included that he was, understandably, hype to work with legendary emcee Rapsody, and that he managed to get J.I.D. and Isaiah Rashad together on the same record.
For the 30-year-old lyricist's growing fanbase, this passion goes hand-in-hand with what makes his music the soundtrack to their lives: its honesty, integrity and authenticity. He's only been rapping for five years and has become the mouthpiece for a subset of the culture that respects therapeutic deep dives and acrobatic word stretching. Over (often) soulful beats, the rapper hand-delivers touching sermons on reality, expectations and evolving from circumstance — with a good flex every now and then. He came to mainstream prominence in 2018 for two reasons: signing a deal with TDE and joining a roster that includes Kendrick Lamar, SZA and Schoolboy Q, and appearing on the hit Black Panther OST track "Seasons." That year, he re-released his debut album from 2017, There You Have It, to give new fans the introduction they deserved. But after that, things slowed down considerably. REASON found himself having to learn how to navigate a tough industry.
Two years later, New Beginnings is here. It arrives at a strange time in history, and if it feels like a weird time to share new music, REASON will agree with you. "This project was supposed to come out a while ago, but we were trying to see exactly what was going on with COVID and if we could do shows and everything," he says over Zoom,. Holding onto music is hard, but TDE isa label famous for withholding new releases until fan anticipation can't possibly get any higher. "I think that every TDE fan will agree that patience is the one thing that you have to have to be a TDE fan," REASON says. "Understanding that timing is everything."
That patience has finally paid off with New Beginnings, the beginning of REASON's new era, that features appearances from Rapsody, Vince Staples, J.I.D., Mereba, Ab-Soul, ad-libs from Kendrick Lamar and more.
REASON spoke to PAPER about his new project, being a part of the TDE family, the stories behind his biggest features, and more. The conversation, lightly edited for clarity, can be found below.
Talk to me about New Beginnings. What are you starting new with this album, and why?
New Beginnings, to me, is getting rid of all those old fears, doubts, anxieties and anything that you have that's stopping you from doing something great. I compare it a lot to a long relationship or a job that you've been at for a long time. It's like a lot of those times you might feel like you want to leave every single day, but you just don't out of fears. Those fears can be of losing that comfortable place, having to do something else, or ultimately leaving and failing. That's what New Beginnings was for me — leaving my old life and stepping into this new life as REASON with TDE. It's almost like a celebration of getting over that fear and actually accomplishing that.
What was the creative process for this like? How long did you take to make it?
I've been working on this project for a year and a half on and off, just because I was also working on my debut album. But the creative process was mostly me and producer Kal Banx in the studio just really trying to find records that we could attack from a fan's standpoint. So anything that I wanted to do as a fan, like hearing Isaiah Rashad and J.I.D. on the same record, I did that. Rapsody, who's one of my favorite female emcees of all time and favorite artists of all time, was someone that I really wanted to get on the record. Ab Soul hasn't been out in a minute, so I got him on "Flick It Up" and "Trapped In," which that's not on the project. But me just attacking it from a fan perspective and doing a lot of things that I've always wanted to do as a fan.
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I saw your tweets about Rapsody's feature. What's the story behind that verse?
It's actually kind of crazy. I wrote the first verse on "Fall" based off of my feelings about Rapsody, just about women and all of the issues that they have in trying to enter this industry, about how dope she is and how she struggled to get even to the place that she's at right now. I wrote the verse from that perspective and shared it with her, and that was just the birth of our relationship, and so that's now almost like my big sister. We just kept in contact and when I got the "I Can Make It" record, it just sounded like something that I knew that Rapsody could go crazy on, and that's actually my favorite, favorite feature on the project. No offense to anybody else that's on there, but I just feel like she just went absolutely crazy.
It's been two years since the official release of There You Have It, and three since you actually released it. How has adapting to the major label world been, and what have you had to learn to stay afloat?
Definitely patience. I think that every TDE fan will agree that patience is the one thing that you have to have to be a TDE fan. Understanding that timing is everything. It's been a weird time this year with COVID. That's definitely put a wrinkle in everything. This project was supposed to come out a while ago, but we were trying to see exactly what was going on with COVID and if we could do shows.
But ultimately, I felt like it worked out at the right time, and I feel like I've had to learn how to be patient. How to be patient, but still stay focused because a lot of times you can get distracted trying to be patient. You're trying to do other things to keep your attention that you can get distracted. But I've had to learn how to keep working and be patient and also continue to stay productive. I would say that that's the biggest thing I've taken from this transition.
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I saw Vince Staples joke about the "Sauce" record. He said that you held onto it for a while.
I had this record probably at the beginning of 2019, and he joked about that because I was actually rushing him to give me the verse back. We were trying to hit a deadline. I was rushing them to give me the verse back, and then I did all of that rushing for the shit to not come out for another year and a half. Shoutout to Vince though because he stayed with us throughout that whole process. For some artists, that can be annoying. They can be kind of over it, so shout out to him for still rocking with us and allowing us to get that off.
On "Flick It Up," you rap, "Comin' up as a kid/ I was tryna be Jay/ I was tryna be Ye/ I was tryna be Wayne." When did you become REASON and the person that others would want to be?
That's a good question. I don't really have an exact moment for that. I feel like it's just, it's been an evolving process. I feel like it's still an evolving process. I think that REASON this year is much different than REASON last year. But I do feel like all of these dudes with Jay, Wayne, all of these dudes are big, huge influences for me. You can hear parts of their influences in my music. I think that all of it is just... that's what art is, and that's what admiring someone is. That you're going to see parts of people's talent and whatnot, or you're going to see parts of Michael Jordan's game in Kobe. That just comes from admiration. I feel like all of those things helped me become the REASON that I am today.
What's the story behind "Extinct?" I saw that you were excited for those verses to come.
Isaiah (Rashad) actually started that record, and he has this thing where he'll start records and not finish them, unfortunately. He told me he wanted me to put a verse on there. We were supposed to originally go back and forth, and JID is a super close friend of mine. J.I.D. actually hit me while I was in the studio making that record, and he was just on FaceTime and I played some of the record for him and he fucked with it. Instead of me sending it back to Zay first, I sent it to J.I.D. first, and J.I.D. ended up putting the crazy verse on it, and so it ended up being what it is today.
I saw on Instagram you said you're going through a loss right now. How does that shape the music that you created and will it impact the rollout?
Rest in peace to my aunt. She passed away fighting a battle from cancer last week. It's made it a weird time because it's like this is definitely a celebration for me. This is my first project with the label. I've been waiting for this moment for about two years now, and now we're also dealing with this in the midst of it. It's definitely not an easy process. But she was very, very supportive of my music. In a way, I feel like this is also a celebration for her as well. I know that she's up there looking down happy as hell that all of this is coming. I know that she will want me to enjoy it to the fullest. That's just what I'm focused on — that celebration part of it and paying that respect to her.
So sorry for your loss. This has been a rough year. What would you say that 2020 taught you about yourself?
2020 has really taught me that I can be a lot more patient than I thought, and it's just taught me the importance of enjoying life. I feel like, too many times, people get caught in the right now and the time that we're in, as far as what you're not getting, the things that you're not doing, what you don't have. 2020 is the first time that the entire world can relate to one another. What I mean by that is no matter what the money you make, the class that you're in, the religion, everybody can relate to the fact that we've all had things that we wanted to do this year that weren't possible because of COVID. In that way, we're more connected than ever.
What it taught me is that we need to focus more on our loved ones, the shit that we really, really want to do, whether that's traveling or spending time with family, creating new family, whatever it is. Those are the most important things in life. When you take away the fact that you can't travel, you can't make money the way that you want to make it. You can't do all these things. It's like, what do you have left? You have family, you have loved ones, you have these special moments. It just taught me to appreciate that more and to take advantage of it more and not be so caught up in work.
What do you want the biggest takeaway from New Beginnings for fans to be?
Just for people to just enjoy the music. Don't listen to it with your critic ears on. Not to say that I care about being criticized, I really don't. But it's more of just, I made this project as a celebration and I want people and the fans that support me and the fans that fuck with me to celebrate this and enjoy it the same way that I did. Take in their favorite records and drink to it, smoke to it, roll around, have fun to it, you know what I mean? Even sit there and have your emotional feelings about it as well. But whatever it is that you like to do with the music that you listen to, just enjoy it because this one was really done for the fans.I'm just hoping that that's what they get from it. It's not for me, it's not for, necessarily, "my legacy." This is a stepping stone into something greater, but at the same time, a celebration with them.