Words by Mercia Tucker

Traces of exhaustion lace his voice as Reason lets me know that he sees his different albums as books in an anthology of his life. He’s been hard at work on the new addition to the collection and while working on it he’s listened to those albums and revisited those depictions – in an apt interpretation of his first label-released album, Audio3D – to see how far he’s come. They paint the picture of his life’s journey. “I can’t help but realise the growth, because I can remember every stage of my life when I made those records. Even the monthly freestyles; I pretty much wrote down an entire journal of my year musically and put it out to the world.”

That growth has led him to an album that he says will be a defining moment of his career. Enlisting the help of the likes of Mpho “37mph” Phoolo and Sthembiso “Instro” Herimbi, who produced his label-debut Audio3D, he reflects on the scale of Azania and its importance in his trajectory. “To be honest with you I feel like… I’ve always said to people Azania’s almost like my second first album. Because it’s all those productions and learnings from all those albums put together and being used on one record.”

“All those people [who worked on Audio3D] are involved, with the exception of Tumi, obviously, but there’s just so many people around this project that it’s been given life and a lot of direction to actually become something special in my career again, something very, very big because I think this is one the best products that I’ve ever done in my entire life, in my career. I think this is the best album because it’s just everything that I’ve learnt coming together all in one.”

The title track fittingly released on Freedom Day, it gives the listener a glimpse into what the album is about. “Azania is almost like a painting of a lot of South African realities, more specifically the ones that a lot of artists don’t talk about anymore; cops, depression, a whole lotta things, people being poor, poverty, crime, the ghetto, all those things. But at the same time it’s a very hopeful album because I think that was the most important part of creating an album that highlights a real picture of a place. You’re gonna get some dark spots, but at the same time there’s a lot of bright spots. So it’s a very hopeful album. “

His growth as an artist has also led him to a maturity of his artistic outlook which shows itself in his unwillingness to cater to a crowd, but rather create his own narrative. “My album kinda stems from the result of not wanting to sound like everything that already exists and not wanting to be what is already out there. Try to create something fresh. It may not be new, but it is fresh because it’s a fresh outlook in this day and age to actually talk about the other perspectives.”

In a state of flux earlier in his career, he admits to pandering to the crowd with the final instalment in his Audio trilogy of albums. “Audio Re-definition really was a result of ‘Yo man, there’s a new sound, there’s a new wave. Are you in or are you out? Are you gonna be a part of it or are you not gonna be a part of it?’ So we called in the Tweezys, we called in the Instros to make the trap… Brand New, Bad in December with ZanD. It was just fucking with the new age. Did it come from pressure? Yeah, definitely. Because we’d literally done everything Reason but we’d never done anything non-Reason.” Even though there were some good singles on the album, I feel like the album was just a bunch a bunch of singles thrown together as opposed to a coherent effort at telling a story, that it felt like making an album for making an album’s sake. He responded with “It literally was that.”

Trying to balance commercial appeal with being a rapper’s rapper came with a lesson on artistic identity. Moving forward with Love Girls, the cathartic expression set the course for the kind of music making that he was to set sail on. “I got divorced two years ago and in the beginning it was originally just about figuring myself out; it was a sense of therapy. I was like ‘You know what? I wanna write songs about my relationships with women, or my interactions with them, rather, just to kind of see what kind of story comes out.” he says of the album. Sonically directed by the production trio The Boys Upstairs, they raised the bar conceptually.  “We had one job and that job was ‘How do we be in this space and own our own creative space? We’ve been a part of this culture since way back, and we are still a part of it right now. So how do we make something out of everything that we know? Let’s not be restricted to just being trap. Let’s not be restricted to just being old school. Let’s actually just make an album.’”

Releasing Love Girls independently came with more challenges than he anticipated. The only experience he’d had with independent artistry prior was with the release of his first album The Reasoning.  “The Reasoning ended up being funded by me and Instro. We went and took a loan, and we printed these copies and we made this album. We paid for the sessions and we released it together. It was a very expensive demo because we didn’t do much. We didn’t sell much of those records, we didn’t get much radio airplay, we didn’t really get on. But what it did was Tumi called me a couple of months later and was like ‘Dawg, I just listened to this album and I just feel like you need my help. So just let me know when you’re wanna start working on the next one. I’ve got some ideas.’ So I hit him up, I’m like ‘I’m ready to work on the next one, what are your ideas?’ And in came 37mph. And the rest is history.”

Working with Motif allowed him the space to grow as an artist under the tutelage of Tumi Molekane and hone his craft to the standard of Reason as the artist we know him as today. Why did he leave? “Record label and artist bullshit. Record label and artist bullshit, number one. Number two, it was just about time.” Seeking clarity on what ‘record label and artist bullshit’ means exactly, he responds with “Contracts, direction, control, involvement, budgets, everything. I think after Audio HD… Long story short, my involvement with Motif is literally me and Tumi. And at some point Tumi couldn’t be involved in the record cos he had to start making his own record. And he left the suit. And as far as I’m concerned, the suit fucked up everything. From the relationships to the contracts to the monies to the videos to executing everything; the suit fucked up everything. That’s why me and Tumi’s relationship is still cool, me and him are still on a good vibe, and it’s more on a brotherly level. But on a professional level, it’s just our business relationship got ruined by the suit. And that’s just being frank.”

Since leaving Motif and his distribution deal with Sony, independence has come at a time-consuming price. “We wanted [Love Girls] to come out sooner so badly. But it just couldn’t. Everything we tried to do just didn’t allow for it. It’s the first time releasing an album by yourself; it’s the first time submitting to iTunes by yourself. Before, we used to send the tracks to Sony and then they’d send us a link. If we don’t get a link on time, send an email, be a rapper, shitting on the label ‘Where’s my shit? The other guys’ shit is always on time, my shit is always late.’ You know what I’m saying? And now literally you go through the process yourself. Going through mastering the album, going through registering the album, filling out SAMRO forms, working out percentages, calling people and finding out who their publishers are, all that shit. That’s the two years of just figuring it out. Before the album even comes out.”

Reason is also part of Kool Out Concepts, a boutique brands agency, as a Content Conceptualiser. I asked if focusing on the business took away from his artistry in terms of time and resources and was also partially responsible for his two year hiatus. “That’s literally what it was, that’s exactly what it was. To be more defined, I had to take this as seriously as much as I had to take my music as seriously. But there’s only Reason between both. And the corporate side started taking more influence I think largely because of Kool Out.” Working on branding concepts made sense because of the artist offering they could present in their campaigns, but he adds that “eventually I see myself moving out of the Kool Out space to actually focus a lot on my music. Because starting a label, releasing music, creating your own music, and now we also have these ambitions of going overseas, all of this takes time.”

Reason has come a long way from his days of bunking school in grade 11 as an underground rapper, demo in hand, and pitching up at Yfm’s door to see if he could make something of this music career. When Proverb, who worked at Yfm at the time, listened to his tape and introduced him at the folk at Outrageous Records, it laid the groundwork for the path he wanted to continue on. Verb had to leave Yfm in anticipation of his debut album drop and asked Reason to take over doing the jingles on air. “So I started doing jingles, which was technically my first job that I never got paid for. But I was down because The Unrestricted Breakfast show was the biggest show, it was huge! So just to be able to do jingles every three months for that show was just incredible. So I started doing that and I did a bit of interning as well at Outrageous and I became pretty much part of the family. I was that young kid running around following people. When they go shoot Street Journal I was there, I would watch Scoop out there doing his thing. And then I would go with Verb to go see them doing Head Rush and all that stuff.”

He’s graduated to working with one of the biggest hip hop producers in the world. “These are people I idolised growing up. Swizz Beats produced one of my favourite songs of all time, one of the best albums I enjoyed.” After he dropped a freestyle and asking Bacardi to organise him a beat from Swizz at the end of that freestyle, Black Coffee took up the baton of intercontinental artist collaboration and introduced the two. He listened to Reason’s work and as soon as he landed in the US after a visit to SA shores, he reached out to Reason to begin working together.

The road to Azania has come with a host of lessons directing his path but he’s taken them in his stride. “There’s just a great network that’s forming now. And that’s the mindset that I’m in. I’m in a mindset of independence and become a machine myself. We’re getting a step closer to becoming exactly what we wanna be, and that is global stars. We consider ourselves a team of up and coming international artists, trying to become established international artists. And that’s what this album is supposed to produce; it’s supposed to be a product by an international acclaimed mindset.”