Gracie Productions, 2012
The well-known REKS, from Lawrence, Massachusetts, isn’t a new face to the game. His work with Statik Selektah, Alchemist and DJ Premier are just a few highlights on his resume, and his discography is now as far reaching as 2001. As one of underground hip-hop’s raw representatives, REKS doesn’t shy away from the soapbox that he’s created for himself and his music. On REBELutionary we see this in full force, as he teams up with Florida producer Numonics, to create a record that makes the listener engage in the truth and ongoing deception swirling all around.
The first full-length track, “Unlearn,” does exactly that. As the song that embodies the whole “rebelutionary” perspective, “Unlearn” pops into the speakers what conscious heads like KRS-One and Yasiin Bey have done before.
“For worthy angst Picasso paints a white Jesus/ Black is evil I guess, that’s how elite sees us/ Can’t hail Caesars, need somebody for us non-believers/ See I ain’t racist but Apollo Creed and Mr. T is/ Just not enough heroes to make us not feel like zeros/ My school ain’t have no Langston Hughes murals/ No Medgar Evers paragraphs/ No conversations on the Willie Lynch theory in my history class/ Yall could laugh at Honeymooners and the Happy Days/ Shit is not amusing, no black neighbors/ If I moved in, the house value depreciate/ Show ratings decline/ Gotta unsee, be not blind”
With a song like “Unlearn” and this whole record as one tactful concept, REKS and Numonics make it clear that there’s a message they’re distinctly trying to share. Under REKS’ lyrically aggressive and angry bars and Numonics’ versatile energy, REBELutionary is a testament to hip-hop that can deliver meaningful messages about inequality, truth and racism while retaining impressive bars and supplementing production that dances.
For those looking for raw hip-hop, smart hip-hop, aggressive hip-hop, insightful hip-hop and true hip-hop, REBELutionary is one of the best recent examples out there. Whether it’s the versatility that gets you, or the subject matter, this record’s listen is an example of cultural strength. Like an open textbook, REKS and Numonics deal the cards flat-out, and without wading through pages, REBELutionary throws the truth at you first hand.
There is no doubt that the message of most mainstream hip-hop, and popular culture in general, is deeply rooted in a culture of materialism that glorifies the consumption of drugs, sex and money. There is no doubt about this and this is not new–one need only turn on the television. In reality, the amount of rappers that get paid a substantial amount of money to do what they love and are at the epicenter of popular culture is minimal. Underneath that small percentage is a multitude of MCs that stay on their grind, working hard to make music that is relevant to the ills of society. Some of the artists are easier to find than others such as Dead Prez and Immortal Technique, but even these more well-known artists are not directly in the spotlight. That being said, these artists exist, whether they are signed to an independent label or produce music entirely on their own. Out of Lawrence, Massachusetts, REKS is one of these hip-hop artists.
In 2012 REKS released his sixth studio album, REBELutionary. A collaborative effort with producer Numonics, REBELutionary is politically charged and encourages the listener to think and potentially learn more about the history of the United States and some of the systematic forms of oppression that were established over the course of centuries that still exist today. On “Unlearn,” REKS encourages us to challenge the misinformation about African-American history that is fed to us within a highly racist education system. As he explains in his well-crafted second verse, “My school ain’t have no Langston Hughes murals/ No Medgar Evers paragraphs/ No conversations on the Willie Lynch theory in my history class.” This is the type of content that could and should be used alongside scholarly texts to talk about African-American history but also the story of the United States in general. Perhaps the best part of “Unlearn” is that it’s just the start to the album as REKS’ educated and politically charged narrative continues on REBELutionary.
With chilly production from Numonics and an on-point guest appearance from J Nic$, “Bang Bang,” contextualizes the plight of the working-class black experience in the United States. The next track, “Shotgun” sheds light on the truth about the election of Barack Obama: “My homie said, ‘Don’t blame Barack for all your problems, playa.’” Finally, near the end of the album is “Obedient Workers,” one of the most powerful songs you will hear. The majority of the hook is a clip of George Carlin explaining that it is not beneficial to big business or the government if the United States has well-informed, up-to-date citizens to challenge the status quo:
“They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them.”
REKS falls in perfectly alongside this brutally honest clip of the late comedic mastermind as he purposefully slams capitalism and what is considered democracy in the United States with two short verses that pack a punch.
One of my favorite things about music is how it can be used to process thoughts, emotions and as a way to get ideas out there. REBELutionary is an example of this as he expertly displays his rhyming ability and knowledge of politics, history, education, big business and how these things have systematically hurt people in the United States. There are many artists like REKS that are outside the mainstream narrative and will probably not be heard on your local top 40 station. However, if you take the time to search out artists such as REKS and give albums such as REBELutionary a listen, you will have a musical experience that is multi-layered, intelligent, educative and most importantly, revolutionary.