NERVOUS REKS: “I allowed myself to get caught up in the idea of being a rap star without really being at that level.”
Since jumping skills-first onto Boston’s rap scene seven years ago, Lawrence-born MC Reks has earned a variety of reputations. He’s been known as one of the region’s lyric savants, a raging self-absorbed asshole, and an unwieldy stumbling lush. There’s a reason I say those things with no regard for my own health or for his feelings: Reks has spent the past half-decade exiting the darkness and ensuring that his legacy is tied to the former accolade and not the latter mishaps.
“I burned a lot of bridges,” he says about his relationship with the New England rap establishment, as well as with Brick Records, which released his infinitely respected debut, Along Came the Chosen, in 2001, but turned down his 2003 follow-up, Rekless (eventually self-released). “I was immature, and I made decisions that were devastating toward my career. I just thought that I was on top of the world, and with that mind state, I allowed myself to get caught up in the idea of being a rap star without really being at that level. I had no dues paid to warrant that kind of mentality, but I had that mentality. I learned real quick when things started to get bad.”
Hip-hop artists rarely come so clean, but Reks specializes in telling it like it is, and in the wake of slipping from Boston hip-hop’s top spot, he knew where he stood. Those who find it difficult to understand how an artist could feel so exalted on what amounted to underground scene might consider that around the turn of the millennium Boston hatched more critically fellated subterranean talent than any city save for New York, Philly, and Los Angeles. Akrobatik and 7L & Esoteric were attracting boom-bap fans from as far away as Germany. Mr. Lif and Virtuoso were introducing heads to a new breed of figurative consciousness. Edo G was resurrecting — and the list continues, from Made Men, OVM, and Ripshop to Insight and Edan. Reks’s brazen blacktop enlightenment and writing abilities enabled him to ascend the ladder quickly . . . too quickly.
“I allowed my head to get swollen. Everybody knows my issues with drinking, and a lot of that played a part in it as well — my inability to calm down on certain things was having a devastating effect on not only my music but also on my wife and my son. I had to take time off just to realize what was important and to figure out how I could grow.”
Today Reks is doing press interviews in a cozy Back Bay apartment that belongs to his management at KushdOut.com. They, along with DJ Statik Selektah’s Showoff marketing team and Brick, which dropped his Grey Hairs disc July 22, are orchestrating the final stages of a Reks resurgence. His lead videos — “Say Goodnight,” featuring the almighty DJ Premier on production, and “Big Dreamers (Remix)” (in which I have a cameo as a hip-hop critic) — have clocked tens of thousands of YouTube hits. This month, Reks was featured in XXL magazine. Most important, when street-hearted rap kids discuss such rising threats as Joell Ortiz, Skyzoo, and Papoose, they mention Reks among the freshest.
“He seems to be as hungry if not more hungry this time around,” says Brick co-owner Karma, who hasn’t always seen eye to eye with Reks. “That’s extremely rare. Reks has matured as a lyricist but more importantly as a man — his sense and strength of family has helped with that. You see it when you speak to him — he’s found a better place with good people around him, and I think he’s secure and happy there.”
Along with some stray gray patches, Reks, who is only 30, has developed a new respect for his art, his friends, his family, and, of course, hip-hop. So is his new disc a referendum on the state of rap music? Yes — but he has a greater mission than beating on the same cadaver that every “real” MC has impaled for three years now. “I was getting out of the dirt — personally and mentally — with my life and with this music. Grey Hairs not only represents my struggle in hip-hop, but hip-hop’s struggle right now. Hip-hop is not dead, but it is at a defining moment. When you reach that age where you’re getting those gray hairs, you start to see that it’s time to make decisions. Are we going to settle for the same old, or are we going to do things that are defining and test the limits of what this music can be? It’s all pretty humbling, and I’m not going to lose sight of that this time.”
REKS + TERMANOLOGY + AKROBATIK + O.V.M. (REUNION) + LUCKY DICE + BLAK MADEEN + GRANITE STATE | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | August 1 at 9 pm | $15 | 617.864.EAST or www.mideastclub.com