Words By Mercia Tucker
You can probably remember the first time that Lehlogonolo Mataboge made you go “Whoa! This kid can rap!” You can probably remember the time after that when he outdid the first and your jaw dropped at his skill. Meet A-Reece; one of the more talented rappers in the game right now who doesn’t want to be defined with a label.
“I told myself I’m here to make music, I’m not here to be categorized and put in a box where there’s A-Reece, Reason, Proverb and Tumi; the rappers. I don’t want that. But I want them to mention me when they talk about these rapper guys, and I want them to mention me when they talk about these trapper guys, and I want them to mention me when they talk about these singing ass niggas.”
He’s a relatively quiet 19 year old. Hailing from Pretoria West, he’s the skinny kid who grew up just wanting to impress his older brother; one half of the B3nchmarq duo, P.Jay. “You looked up to him?” I asked. “I look up to him” was the response, with emphasis.
So strong is the bond that his album name is an homage to his brother. “When Jay got shot I thought he was gonna die, but he didn’t. Because he has a purpose to serve here on earth still. So I figured I’d make paradise right here on earth, which is the album. If I get rich, he gets rich. If I eat, he eats. Vice versa. We live vicariously through one another. So you already know. This is him speaking to you, but it’s me. That’s how deep this shit is.”
The journey started with impressing Jay but the passion followed. “I decided that I want to start recording music and take it that far, make a body of work and put it out to the people in the internet. And it was basically me and the homies, me and 8 of ‘em, called ourselves 1000 Degrees. It was a just a thing that we liked doing and it was what we had in common. Started up our little studio in our friend’s back room with a laptop, used a TV mic and we wrapped, like, pantyhose around it and recorded our first tape. Our first tape was called Forever King.”
“But I was just looking at the bigger picture, man. And the circumstances around me influenced that, being broke as fuck, having to live in a house where there’s no lights for a good two weeks, having your mom and dad not really getting along like that, having your pops not having a job and always at the crib. Alla dat. So it’s like ‘Yo man, I know for a definite fact that I can make money off of this shit’ so I took initiative and put the first foot in.”
It’s a particularly poignant thought for him as he talks about rappers’ motivations. “I’ve just realized that [the industry] has so many motherfuckers that come from a good background, niggas that got connects. Niggas that just… It’s like they’re not really in it for the long run, it’s like they’re just in it cos they can be in it. And make extra money off of it and be seen.”
“Last night I was like ‘WTF most of these niggas have parents who provided’ and I don’t blame them but just be real with it. Put it into your music that ‘My pops is rich as fuck and your pops is broke’ Cool. But just put it in the music and be real, don’t come here lying to us acting like you’re in this shit for the long run, acting like this is the only thing you got. This aint the only thing they got, most of these motherfuckers. And I just pray they meditate one time and just put that shit in their music.”
“They should just realise that this shit, to someone like me, becomes offensive and becomes an insult. Because I know, nigga I know you’re from a good ass background and you’re lying in your music, you’re lying to the kids talking bout you’ve been poor. And being a young boy from Pretoria, it’s different, because I wasn’t in the industry as such. So to me it was like “Oh shit, I made it. I wonder what his story is.” But when you hear these stories, you’re like ‘Fo real?’ There’s no character lately in the game.”
Ambitiouz Entertainment, more than a label, seems to have a familial bond between artists. When asked about it, he says “That’s what we have against all these motherfuckers, OK against most of these niggas. It’s genuine with us. At first it was very awkward and very… eish… e no le intense man, you know what I mean? Cos we didn’t really know each other like that. And I don’t blame anyone. We took the time to get to know each other, that’s how far it went, the effort we put in, knowing it was gonna save all of us when it comes to this music shit.”
When asked how his sound has developed, he says “You know I still feel like I haven’t figured out my sound as yet, honestly speaking. But I know where I’m headed though. But I feel like I haven’t really discovered that specific sound that identifies A-Reece the artist. But I’ve transitioned from being a rapper to an artist in terms of me now singing as well on the record and having that nice easy melody to all these songs instead of going by protocol as a rapper. Putting in melody, entertaining, being interesting.”
So why release an album? “Because it was an experiment of sound that I’ve always wanted to experiment with, you know what I mean? Singing and rapping and everything. Like, for me it’s fun. Compared to what I was doing before, I was a straight up rapper, 16 bar verse, come at you. Now it’s more about the rhythm, more about the bounce, but the content is still there.”
Being so young and so unsure of his musical footing, I wonder if his label-mates could possibly influence him to the point of him imitating their style. “Even if so, I wouldn’t find it as a bad thing if I do it better.” “So it’s just an opportunity to grow?” I ask. “Exactly” came the quick response.
The trade-off between being lyrical and being musical isn’t something that most emcees handle with dexterity. Asked if it comes easy to him, he says “To me, here’s the thing, if it’s real, it’s conscious for me. You know they say there’s conscious music and commercial music, conscious rappers and commercial rappers. For me, if you’re gonna tell me in your lyrics that you have two Bentleys and you drive them every single day before six, and that’s really what you do, that’s conscious for me cos it’s real. That’s lyricism for me, straight up. Obviously with a skill put to it, how you say it. It’s not just about what you say, it’s about how you say it when it comes to this rap shit. So for me if it’s real, it’s conscious.”
A-Reece is part of a wave of younger artists coming in and shaking up the status quo in SA’s music industry. “I feel like I don’t have to prove a point to anyone anymore. Cos there’s this paradigm shift that just took place and it’s very progressive, I guess, in a sense. Cos looking at all the artists that are coming into the game, they’re very young and so creative at that, and I feel like we can do whatever the fuck we want. Whatever! Just break the rules.”
He’s planning on working on his second album already. With complete creative control over his work his content comes from everyday interactions, he says. “It is good sometimes to just get away from all the distraction, but for me it’s better if I go into the distraction, if I go out more and talk more to people. That’s where I get all my content from. Being around people, conversing, that’s the biggest one, just having a conversation with somebody. Especially someone you don’t know, that’s dope. And for me, more especially if its women.”
Why? “I don’t know man. Y’alls perspective about everything is just some other shit. It’s just very abstract and complex. But I’m fortunate enough to have that patience to chill and try and understand it. And eventually I do.”
Definitely one of the more talented rappers to breakthrough in the last year or so, it’ll be exciting to see A-Reece grow into his own as an artist, a rapper guy, a trapper guy, and as a singing ass nigga.