You asking me for bars, mom’s asking me to explain
All that disappointment like she’s looking at my dad’s face
My ex told me I’m a broken man spreading heartbreaks
So, very much like B.I.G, it’s safe to say she lost faith
In June, in a verse for Stogie T’s #FreestyleFriday series, Reason gave an update and shed some light on his publicised personal affairs. The freestyle revealed a man whose life is in disarray, his actions disappointing to those close to him.
The rapper’s verse trended on Twitter, with the conversation dwelling on his intimately honest reflections. This approach is nothing new. Adversity has played a huge role in Reason’s career, and in the development of his style.
The artist, who constantly refers to himself as The Realest, is one of a few stylistically unique, socially conscious and reflective rappers in the country. It is a reputation forged over many years. The lyricist from the East Rand treats a portion of his songs as diary entries that each define an epoch and aspect of his life.
In 2016, the artist was one of the most sought-after rappers in the country. He appeared on countless songs by other artists, and made time to feature on the then popular No Sleep Remix alongside Stogie T, L-Tido, Ginger Trill and Monoea.
Reason reflects on the death of his son in his verse. The song is a monumental South African posse cut, held in high regard by many. Reason’s verse, polished yet aggressive, stands out. He is gunning for the throne. He opens his verse with these words: I’m getting the feeling/ I’m getting addicted to hearing good things about me. He goes on to say:
Got a club hit from a kid who can’t legally get into clubs though
And I’m not even club, though
Just friends with people who run those
I’m friends with people who love dough
In a nutshell it’s because we don’t sleep
But, just before halfway through his verse, the artist delves into a deep abyss of emotions. The plot thickens as he reflects on the industry, calling it “a circus” and stating he’s surrounded by “props”, referencing director Lilly Wachowski.
Then he mourns the death of his son:
I’m thinking the most I spent on my sons was a funeral paid with
Rest in peace to lil’ O
May god accept his lil’ soul
I do my best to live with the fact that he’ll never see me kill shows
The verse does not progress in this sombre mood, however. The artist goes on to shout out his name, chest-thumping, seemingly assuring himself that, despite all that has befallen him, he is still the main man, “That Reason the Mass is real though”.
The poignance of the verse doesn’t just lie in the expression of grief, but in the entire verse’s illustration of life as we know it – your highest moments have no choice but to co-exist with your sorrows. And for musicians, the show has to go on. Even when their world stops.
The Audio Trilogy
At its core, Reason’s Audio trilogy albums were built on the expression of adversity. Each album captures moments in Reason’s personal and professional lives. It is all intentional, too.
“If I [write] something that’s light, I wanna come back next week and change it,” Reason told the audience during the listening session for Audio High Definition, the second instalment of the trilogy, at Red Bull Studios in Cape Town in 2014.
His album Audio 3D (2012), released under Motif Records, was his official introduction to the country’s mainstream music scene. He had released his debut album The Reasoning in 2010, leading with the successful single Do It Like I Can. Audio 3D introduced the artist to mainstream audiences after years of being confined to the underground scene.
In Save Me, he expressed his dread of the music industry and celebrated his wins in Status Update and A Lot on my Mind. He knew his career was about to take off. On Audio 3D, the rapper showed glimpses of the human behind his alter ego, Reason The Mass – a ferocious backpacking battle-and-mixtape rapper who was a mainstay in the Joburg underground scene for many years.
In the Audio 3D deep cut If I Die Tonight, Reason raps his appreciation to the people who mean a lot to him, realising that he could die anytime. It was Reason as never heard before, tonally and lyrically vulnerable. Songs like Promise Me, Such a Brat and I Love You told a story of a young man in love and in a new relationship he hoped would grow to be serious.
Reason in High Definition
By the time Audio High Definition, a follow-up to Audio 3D, was released in 2014, things were different for the artist. After two years of constant growth, he had a lot to celebrate, which he did on most of Audio High Definition with songs like: 2 Cups Shakur, Yangaz’ Mina, Touch the Sky, Glasses to the Ceiling and Awesome.
But, just like his verse on No Sleep Remix, Audio 3D came with a moment of self-introspection. In a trilogy within the album, consisting of the skit The Mind and the songs The Body: Jeremiah 17:9 and The Soul: My Ugly World, Reason shared the dark side of his celebrity lifestyle – debauchery, infidelity and moments of loneliness and guilt.
He repeats the line,”I need to change my life”, in the hook for The Body. This after sharing anecdotes about making bad decisions, including driving while high and considering infidelity. The Soul: My Ugly World depicts the dark side of the music business, a theme he often returns to.
In each of his albums from the Audio trilogy, Reason dedicated a moment to emotional intensity and hyper honest self-introspection. On Audio 3D, that moment came at the very end, in the songs: If I Die Tonight and Promise Me. On Audio HD, the mind, body and soul trilogy appears halfway through the album.
However, on Audio Re-Definition (Reason Season), the last instalment of the trilogy, Reason almost starts the album with that customary moment of emotional intensity. TRVE, a stream of private thoughts in song form that came to him while he was going about his daily life, as he raps in the opening lines of the song, “I be out at pump 5, filling up the diesel/ tryna figure out a way not to be this evil.”
But the second song on Audio Re-Definition became the album’s main song on the basis of the controversy it sparked prior to its release. The song’s artwork, an image of blonde Jesus carrying two naked women on his shoulders, unsettled many, especially Christians. The rapper started calling himself Reazus at around the same time. His actions were labeled blasphemous.
Showing women in this way was not an endorsement of patriarchy and its values, however. The song broke down the symbolism of the artwork. Reason was trying to be as righteous as Jesus, but his demons (mostly vices) were holding him hostage. He rapped:
I tempered with an image of perfection with some evils
Not to disrespect you, but instead to preview
That I would like to be Jesus Christ, but I see evil.
The song, though honest and well intentioned, veers off to what seems to be sexism. The artist’s supposed honesty is not enough to better define it and its intentions.
A turning point
At the time of Audio Re-Definition, Reason’s life had reached a crisis. He wasn’t on speaking terms with his Motif Records boss, his relationship was going south and he admitted being at fault. He grappled with his complicated relationship with the music industry as a rapper who identifies as socially conscious and whose success was based solely on his craft. He reckoned with becoming a permanent fixture on tabloid headlines and the subject of thousands of tweets about his personal matters and relationships.
With his last two albums – Love Girls (2017) and Azania (2018) – failing to make a reasonable impact because of clumsy rollouts and almost non-existent marketing strategies, Reason’s position in the game is now in question. He’s been the subject of jokes, with people claiming he has no money. In an environment where money is glorified and uplifted as the ultimate signifier of status, this is bad news.
All those are issues he addresses in his freestyle, in signature Reason style. He is honest as ever. One only hopes these moments of self-introspection will guide the artist to mending his ways, and that his honesty is not only public but personal. While his honesty leads him to his best art, it raises questions about the cost of fame, both for the rapper and those close to him.
Looking at his body of work, it is clear that while Reason has made triumphant songs, his celebrations always come with caveats. In his lyrics, he ensures the listeners get it in black and white that adversity is always lingering around. Life’s goalposts are always shifting. And it is as if he makes it a point to remind you that his success is an unlikely breakthrough.
It is when he’s facing adversity that Reason gets to touch the hearts of his listeners with relatable content, urging their own self-reflection. In his own words, expressed in a 2017 interview, “I’ve got a lot of colours, there’s a lot of colours in this rap life. I can never imagine rapping about being happy my whole life.”
Stream Reason’s latest single Satan O Wele featuring Boity on Apple Music and Spotify.