By nature, you might expect gospel music to be a bit, well, preachy. There’s not much intersection between religious and ratchet (well, most of the time). But in Uncle Reece, spiritual rap finds a fun and wholesome balance. The Jacksonville native imbues the slang of the secular (turn up!) with message!- and psalm-packed lyrics on his new album Bold (available now) in a way that sounds far from forced. The man behind “Until I Pass Out”—trekking McDonald's 2014 Inspiration Celebration Gospel Tour this summer—talks about his honest and brave approach to music. —John Kennedy
VIBE: Tell me about your new album, Bold. Where did the title come from?
Uncle Reece: The album’s called Bold because that’s the way I live my life. Everything is bold, everything is big. Everything is beautiful the way that God intended it to be. I’m a real Christian and I believe what I believe with all my heart. And I’m not quiet about what I believe. All the songs are about being bold, having fun, loving what you’re doing. You need to get that album because you know my struggles are your struggles and my pain is your pain. My victories are your victories. It’s a CD for you to get you to the next level.
Did you have a goal in mind with Bold? Something you wanted to convey to listeners?
Honestly, in the beginning I made music from a selfish place. It’s stuff that I’m going through. I got a song called “The Other Side” but the first lyrics say, “I just wanna love you” and it’s really for me. I was kinda mad at God a little bit because stuff wasn’t turning out how I wanted it to turn out. I had a friend whose wife was in the hospital and I was like, “Dang, I can’t really complain too much with everything that’s going on.” God kinda reminded me, “Dude, I never told you you was gonna get a Rolls Royce or a mansion. I just told you you’d get heaven.” So I had to shut up. That song and a lot of songs on the album really blessed me in the beginning. But as I started meeting people I’d read their letters, hear their issues. And, I’m like, “I want them to be blessed like me.” So I’d go in the studio and say, “I just got a letter from this person. Let’s make a song dealing with that issue.” That’s how we did it. It’s very purposely getting you to the next level. If you dealing with anything—hurt, pain, depression, struggles—it’s an album for you, an album that will make you stronger.
You use some phrases that are popular in secular music, like “turn up” and “hard in the paint”—is that a conscious thing to bridge the gap?
Not at all. That’s just how I talk. I’m a product of the culture, so I use some of the same slang. I can’t use all of it. Some of the slang I’m just like, “Dude, c’mon.” But a lot of the songs is just how we talk. Calling my song “Until I Pass Out”—that was very strategic. Because when people hear that they’re gonna think it’s about something totally different, then be like “Oh, you’re talking about when you worship!” That was on purpose. But a lot of times its by mistake and we just get credit for being smarter than we are.
It works. Quite a few songs on Bold feel fun, and then there’s a message neatly folded within. Tell me about the “Without Jesus I Suck” T-shirts that you wear.
Man, that came from me; I was in college. My junior year, I had just start going to Florida State. I saw this kid wearing a shirt that said, “Eff You, I’m An Atheist” and I couldn’t stop staring at it. I was like, “Man, that’s a pretty funny shirt.” I was watching and 20 people done spoke to him about his shirt. I was like, “That’s actually great advertisement.” It gets your attention. So I was like what’s going to communicate to my culture where I’m at? Then one day playing basketball this dude went up to dunk, got hung and fell down, whole tanktop full of them little rocks. They were like, “You suck, bruh.” And then I was like, you know what, “I suck without Jesus.” I really do. Before really I learned about who I was in Christ I didn’t really have an identity. So because I didn’t have an identity whatever song came out and whatever clique I would hang with, that’s what I did. Once I learned how to love myself, I could love people. When I found Christ he taught me how to love myself. And looking at my life before without Christ; I sucked as a human. I sucked as a person, I wasn’t compassionate, I wasn’t giving, you know.. I couldn’t even love a woman, one woman, before I met Christ.
Wow. Can people buy them now?
Yeah, but I made that in ’07. I’ve kinda graduated, now I’m on these shirts that say “Hard In The Paint” or “Worship Mode,” because that’s the mode that we go into, we don’t care who’s watching. That’s how you gotta worship to really affect this culture ‘cause, if it ain’t super-super turned up they ain’t even gon’ pay attention.
Have you worked with Lecrae?
I met that brother two or three times but we’ve never worked together. That guy is the real deal. What he’s talking about, he lives to the fullest. I would love to work with that brother. In the game he’s kinda like one of the people that paved the way so we could be here talking to VIBE. I have the utmost respect.