Regardless of the fact that its been just over a year since his last release, it feels like the right time for a new Reks album.
The April 24 release date for his new record, “Straight, No Chaser,” has been circled by hip-hop fans for some time now, but events in recent weeks will likely color audience’s reaction to the Lawrence-born rapper’s third album when they finally have a chance to hear it. The Trayvon Martin case has reignited the national debate over race and justice in America, while in Tulsa, Okla., the African-American community has been rocked by a triple homicide that prosecutors are considering charging as a hate crime.
It’s a time where no easy answers will suffice, and Reks certainly doesn’t pretend to have them. What he does have is a voice, and “Straight, No Chaser” captures him musing on social issues with typical unflinching honesty. He’ll release the album with a show at Church on Wednesday.
“We in the urban communities and those who are less fortunate, we tend to be very passive and deal with the life that is handed to us and just accept that,” said Reks from his home in Florida, where he’s lived for the past five years. “We go through our lives day to day, punching the clock, hoping we have enough money saved up to send our kids to school. It’s a BS way of living our lives and it’s a BS way of approaching the future.”
Though “Straight, No Chaser” doesn't address the Martin case or the Tulsa shootings specifically, it fiercely dives into themes of urban decay, racism, and politics; the song “Lost in Translation” even features a notably skeptical dismissal of an African-American President as “just an empty gift.” He’s not in the mold of artists like Chuck D or dead prez, who spit rhymes with scholarly militant rage, nor does he fit in with the more passive and positive leanings of someone like Common. As heard on the album, Reks takes a hard sobering look at various social issues and doesn’t sugar coat what he sees as the collective failures of America as a whole.
“Try as we might, it’s going to continually be a system set up for our failure until we educate ourselves and allow ourselves to not be voiceless,” he said. “We will receive what we seek. But I don’t want to say we’re not doing enough because I'm not the individual on the soap box or on the pulpit speaking to the general public and uniting them and telling them what needs to be done. But I do feel like our black leaders are failing us. I feel like we as a whole, we haven’t done enough to speak out against the disrespect that we’re receiving in our communities.”
By his own admission, Reks’s music has its hypocrisies; he acknowledges that the brash rapper eager to show his skills audiences heard on his 2001 debut “Along Came the Chosen” may not be the same one they hear today. Backed by Statik Selektah on production, whom Reks says “knows me better than any other producer or person on the planet,” “Straight, No Chaser” shows a writer who willingly tackles challenging topics in thought provoking ways. The album doesn’t simply address social issues in a vacuum but instead examines how examples from Reks own life illustrate larger issues within the social fabric. “Sins” explores his struggles to rise above personal demons, while “Regrets” and “Break Ups” reflect on the recent dissolution of his marriage.
“I touch upon these topics because in my life I didn’t have my father there,” said Reks. “So now people can start to make the connections in regards to how I grew up and how I choose to live my life now. I talk about my infidelity, I talk about mistakes I’ve made in my life that weren’t the proper decisions. But I move on from them. Knowing what happened with my childhood, my pops was never there. So in order to not follow in those footsteps, I try to paint that picture and live that in my real life, in my everyday life.”
But although the album tackles some heavy topics, it has its moments of levity. Action Bronson shows up to trade bars on “Riggs & Murtaugh” and “Such a Showoff” is a lively posse cut with his ShowOff Records cohorts JFK, Kali Raps, and Termanology. On “Power Lines,” he evens flirts with a cautious optimism for the future, encouraging the younger generation to take control of their own collective destiny. For Reks, speaking from his heart will always be paramount, even if the words can be harsh at times.
“I'm the type of individual who doesn’t like to sugar coat what I've done in my life or try to BS what I’ve done in my life,” said Reks, “because I wouldn't want my children to look back and say their daddy wasn’t about this. The reality is I put myself out there, let the people be the judge of the man as an artist, as a person, because then they can look at themselves and kind of like evaluate themselves. There’s always going to be new entries into that story line.”
East Boston-based label Amalgam Digital continued their recent resurgence with the capture of Dutch Rebelle , who performs at the Reks release party, as their newest signee. . . . Rising stars XV and Schoolboy Q visit Boston for shows this month. XV plays the Middle East Upstairs on the 23d, while Q will be at the Middle East Downstairs two days later on the 25th. . . . Over two years after the death of his close friend Guru (of Gang Starr), veteran Boston emcee Big Shug will release his new album “I.M.4EVA” via Brick Records this summer.
Martín Caballero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @_el_caballero.