NEXT: TDE's REASON Wants His Footprint To Stretch Beyond Rap And Into His Community
REASON’s 28th trip around the sun is the bookend to a year of firsts. While his four-person crew—including manager Moosa Tiffith, son of Top Dawg Entertainment’s Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith—is killing time until check-out in front of the suite’s flat-screen TV, he’s splitting his attention between this interview, planning the rest of his itinerary (he really wants to go to Times Square) and admiring the view from the top of the swanky SIXTY LES Hotel.
Last night, during his Irving Plaza opening set for Jay Rock’s The Big Redemption Tour, REASON’s reservation at a Midtown hotel fell through and his tour manager had to grab a last-minute room in the heart of the bar-laden Lower East Side. That spare room, with its sleek black floors and luxe decor, just so happens to be this Empire Terrace Suite with a sweeping, idyllic view of Manhattan. REASON is stealing glances of the balcony from a table in the living room. His excitement is masked by a calm, even temperament. It’s the Del Amo, Calif. rapper’s first time in New York City and he’s sitting here by happenstance. Evidently, REASON has that good juju around him.
It’s a full-circle moment for the Virgo to even be touring with Rock, and on his birthday, at that. Despite his regional proximity to Ab-Soul (growing up in Carson, REASON’s older sister was Soulo’s friend), the steely TDE OG was the first Black Hippy member he idolized and the one he resonates with the most. “I was and still am a Jay Rock fan,” REASON says. “That was the guy for us. He was the first person we knew out of the whole bunch. For us, Jay Rock was really like the grandfather of it all, so when he had to take a leave of absence for a while [after his accident], to see him back and emerge even bigger than he was, and then even be a part of that, is crazy.”
This time last year, the ink was still wet on his 27th birthday gift—a contract with TDE, the enviable powerhouse that, based on signees like Kendrick Lamar and SZA, knows how to spot stars. Moosa clearly has the ear, too. REASON’s newly dropped studio album, There You Have It, is a re-released version of a mixtape he made two years ago. When it first came out, Moosa loved it so much he took it straight to his father—without running it by the lyricist first. The move had REASON shook.
“The original idea was to build me up a little bit in L.A. and then drop [There You Have It]. Get another project ready, build me up and then take that project to Top,” he says. “He just sent it to his dad, which I didn't want him to do because Top is very big with first impressions. If he hears you and doesn't like you, if he writes you off, that's it.” Luckily for REASON, the only things Top heard were skill and promise.
REASON’s parents barely understood how pivotal the affiliation was in the first place. (He waited 11 months to publicize the signing.) “I told my dad, ‘Yo, I think I'm going to get a contract offer this week to TDE,’” he recalls, already chuckling at his father’s oblivion. “He was just like, ‘Oh, that's dope and cool. Just make sure that your work schedule fits around it. As long as they’re good with your work schedule, I'm proud of you.’" At the time, REASON had been putting his Northwestern College business degree to use as an IT recruiter at Tech Systems. He worked odd jobs at Target, in the HR department of Forever 21’s corporate headquarters—he was fired after four days for falling asleep (blame late night studio sessions)—and had a stint at a bougie, Beverly Hills winery. “We would get like all the customers that feel like they're better than everybody, like ‘Oh, carry, my bottle,’” he says of the Wally's Wine and Spirits gig. “It was awful. I hated it.” Although his mother and father were supportive of him doing something he was excited about, music was merely a cute diversion. That is until he scored a coveted last-minute spot on the tracklist for Black Panther: The Album—the feature that placed him on the main stage.
At Top’s request, REASON pretty much camped out in the studio for two months after signing. He’d observe K. Dot at all hours of the night, muttering things into the mic as a mystery curation of songs and features played aloud. He dared not intrude, but on the night Dot stayed later than usual, he had to ask what was keeping him up.
“‘I'm trying to turn in an album tonight and we’re waiting for a verse to come in on this record. But it's taking forever,’" he recalls Dot saying, not disclosing the artist who was the roadblock. As REASON was packing up to leave, Top walked over with a hard drive and played the unfinished version of “Seasons,” the final cut of which would also feature Sacramento rapper Mozzy and South African artist Sjava. “[Top] was like, ‘If you can put a verse on there within the next couple of days, then it may or may not make the project,’” he continues. “He left and then came back in 15 minutes, [saying] ‘We about to dip out, but send that verse to me when you can.’ I was like, no, we did it right now. It wasn't about to wait.” When Kendrick texted him asking him to change the first couple lines of his verse two months later, he knew he’d actually made the album.
Talk about when preparation meets opportunity.
Professionally speaking, up until five years ago, the rapper born Robert Gill, Jr. thought he was going to be anywhere but here. Up until his teenage years, music was somewhat of an afterthought, especially hip-hop. Due to his parents’ musical diet of Michael Jackson and OG funk music, rhymes didn’t really enter his scope of view until 12 years old. And to be honest, most of his time was spent outside or on a court anyway.
Before relocating to Carson City, REASON was born into a well-rounded sports family (aside from the miniature bejeweled ankh hanging from his neck, his staple accessory is a rubber Los Angeles Lakers bracelet) in South Central L.A. His twin brother, Prentice, is an Assistant Wide Receiver Coach for the University of Southern California, and his father is a local football coach for the South Bay Spartans. While his brother took to playing football, REASON's sport of choice was basketball. “I thought I was going to the NBA until I was like 21. I didn't start doing music until I was 23. I got a scholarship to go play basketball in Iowa and was culture shocked,” he says, reminiscing on his first time as the lone black person on a basketball team. As he dealt with those major adjustments, he dove deeper into music to decompress.
“I started using music to get stuff off my chest because I'm not really good at talking about stuff,” he says. “Just through that process, I really fell in love with it. It was weird to feel myself falling out of love with basketball, something I've been doing my whole life because something else had been taking over.”
There You Have It is a realization of that “something else.” The 12-track LP debut outlines the hip-hop author’s dance of show-and-prove, proudly displaying all the gems that formed from unexpressed pressure. “I wrote some of my best songs after horrible days at work,” he says. “It just made me want to change the situations that I was in and made me want to go harder.”
On album standout “Better Dayz,” he holds the mirror up to himself, sorting through words and feelings he wished he knew how to express, and if he should in the first place. “You don't always want to put yourself out there because people know you now.” REASON was taken aback when fans started checking up on him after hearing his lyrical prayers for a gang-banging cousin who got stabbed. “People really listened to every word. People are coming to me that I didn't know asking me about my cousin. ‘What happened? Is he okay? Did he live?’ It's a good feeling, but it is scary to put yourself out there,” he admits. “I didn't talk to my cousin before I put that out, so I've learned certain lessons with intimacy. I should've checked on this, or I should've checked on that, you know what I mean?”
However, with trunk-knockers like “Summer Up” and “Bottom,” and the wisecracking “Rufus Collection (Skit)” opener, it’s not all grimaces and hard times. REASON knows how to have fun with it, too. “I don't take myself very seriously,” he insists. “The music is where I get all the seriousness stuff out so that in real life, we're just clowning.”
His project dropped on an arguably busy day for hip-hop, but if you ask him, he couldn’t be in better company. There You Have It arrived alongside Tha Carter V, the comeback project of his favorite rapper of all time. “I know he's somebody that if I ever met him, I would be star-struck. I wouldn't know what to say, “ REASON says of Lil Wayne, the first rapper he started listening to. He also went through obsessive fan phases for Ludacris (“I got [Chicken-n-Beer] three times. It was a little overboard,” he admits), Fabolous, JAY-Z (“99 Problems” was the first song he learned word-for-word) and Cassidy before returning back to his original fave.
Weezy fueled his desire to divert from basketball to bars in the first place. “While I was out there [in Orange City, Iowa], I had Garageband and at the time, Lil Wayne had just dropped Dedication 5, so I was freestyling on beats like Wayne was, just on my Mac. Just messing around in my downtime,” he recalls. He sent the scattered songs to his brother and received a surprisingly favorable response. “I made it like a little mixtape called Bored in Orange City, put it on Datpiff and sent it to my homies.” Although surprised he had some flow to him, they liked it, too.
After recognizing his potential, they helped him settle on a fitting rap alias to match. He was booted from their group chat for proposing “awful” names like RJ and Rampage, but eventually settled on REASON because it suited his natural sense of balance. “I feel like a lot of my music is like the middle points,” he says. “To reason with somebody is trying to come to an understanding or an agreement. I feel like that's what a lot of my music is. It’s very honest in the fact that nobody's super, super conscious all the time. Nobody's really turnt all the time or whatever the case.”
That affirmation from his brutally honest friends and the freeing feeling he got from purging his emotions, revealed how much he wanted to be on the court less and in the studio more. He even turned down a contract to play basketball in Greece to pursue this new passion. “When I got back home from school I just hit the ground running, and it was good that I went to school because I had a different mindset,” he says. Now, in retrospect, REASON admits his experimental first tape was pretty trash, but just look at what has since bloomed from that seed.
There You Have It’s title track says it all. “I accept everything God gave me: The good, bad, the ugly/Lot of work to show a little growth, the flows scruffy/So when I'm done I rather say I'm deservin' of it then lucky,” REASON raps in the gravelly voice he inherited from his father. His words are weighty with the responsibility he feels to take this chance he’s been given past the rap world and to where it really matters: to his people.
“My ultimate goal is to gain the influence enough to change my community. That's what I'm more passionate about, so this is a stepping stone to be able to do that,” he says, noting that voicing his frustrations with racial inequality on wax has driven him to tears. In Iowa, being surrounded by people aware of the myriad professional opportunities awaiting them, made him determined to bring that same feeling to the black and brown communities that raised him. Especially to men like him.
“I feel like if you can change the way that black men think, it changes the society,” he says. “Men are the ones that are out here killing. You don't hear about women out here doing drive-bys and sh*t like that, so I want to have more role models.”
Well, consider REASON the first one up.