Reuben Vincent: ‘I do have the focus level of someone that’s a bit older’

Photos: Nuku Muingbeh

I’d been hearing about the wunderkind for many years before we talked back in July. Of Liberian descent, like I am, the achieved lyricist is signed and mentored by one of Hip-Hop’s most valuable players, 9th Wonder. A quick blurb for anyone who isn’t aware, 9th Wonder is known for countless widely-known and praised records, but for my fellow Beyhive fans, he produced ‘Girl’ and ‘Is She the Reason’ and moulded Rapsody’s career. He is also known for pioneering the concept of remixing entire mainstream album releases. In June, Reuben Vincent released a stellar eight-track project that showcases his lyrical prowess, what influences him the most, and how he feels about current events. Shortly after its release, the young star and I hopped on a call to “meet” and talk about it.

GRUNGECAKE: Hey, how you doing big man?

Reuben Vincent: Hey, what’s good Richardine? Nice to finally talk to you!

GRUNGECAKE to Jimmy, the publicist: So Jimmy, I’ve known about him (Reuben). He probably was thirteen or fourteen-years-old… I had written about Say’hu, I wanna say, like, 2013, 2014, and they were telling me about Reuben then. So it’s an honour.

Reuben Vincent: It’s nice to finally talk to you, I’ve always heard good things about you.

GRUNGECAKE: Awesome! So, I’m really excited about everything that’s going on with you, and so when your team reached out to me I was just like, “Okay, this is the time”, so I just wanna jump right into it. Can you tell me what it’s like to be on Jamla (Records), working with 9th Wonder, and having him as a mentor and a collaborator? Because that’s huge! So, I want to know your thoughts about it.

Photos: Nuku Muingbeh

Reuben Vincent: Working with Jamla has been a blessing. That’s the way I can sum it up. You know, because being so young and trying to maneuver in this industry… You have a lot of people who don’t have your best interests in mind. But with 9th and Rap, and everybody at Jamla, Cash too, who is the president at Jamla, they make sure that I do things that are in my best interest. It’s more than just music and industry stuff with them, it’s like we’re a family. They want to protect me and make sure that number one, I stay out of trouble, and just make sure I’m doing the smart, right moves and continue to grow as an artist and as a person. 9th is like—having him as one of my mentors is like having one of the best mentors ever. He’s so focused and persistent, and he knows the principles of life; it’s more than fame and clout. It’s love for your music, love for your family and love for your people. So, having that around is always dope.

GRUNGECAKE: Yes, definitely. And that’s something that I’m also excited about, because I know that whenever he works with someone, it’s not like “fast fashion”. He creates and works with artists to have longevity. So, congratulations to you on that! That’s amazing!

Reuben Vincent: Thank you so much.

GRUNGECAKE: So, your project! You kicked it off with a sample from a young TuPac. Do you feel like you’re beyond your years? Or ahead of your time? Do you feel like you belong in another era?

Reuben Vincent: I feel like I’m definitely wise beyond my years just because of the home I grew up in, and the people that I was around. Like growing up, I was always attracted to hanging with people that were older than me. And I was always thinking ahead, you know? But I don’t feel like I was born in the wrong time. I feel like I was born in the right time, and the reason I was born was to show that you can be mature, still young and still enjoy yourself all at the same time. I feel like with my peers, at least from watching, I feel like a lot of us are young, but even though we’re young, we don’t take maturity into accountability and how our actions now will affect us when we get older. I feel like I’m here, in this era, to show that of course, I’m still young, I still love to have fun, go to parties and be with the homies, but at the same time, I do have the focus level of someone that’s a bit older, if that makes sense. So, it’s just me trying to maneuver that, in this space, and just be an example.

GRUNGECAKE: That’s great! So, when I listen to you, I think of Common, Kanye, and even Joey Bada$$. Not to say that you sound like them, but I feel like content-wise and who they are as artists, all of it reminds me of you and vice versa. Do any of these guys inspire you or influence you, musically?

Reuben Vincent: That’s crazy that you say that, because all three off-top are big inspirations. Common, when I was seven, I stole from my stepfather the ‘Be’ album and the ‘Finding Forever’ album. He couldn’t find them, but I was listening to them in my room. And then, Kanye was like my favorite rapper growing up. When I was younger, I got gifted a PSP and my cousin from Philly, he put every Kanye album from ‘College Dropout’ to ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ on there. And that was all I was listening to in elementary school. And then, with Joey, I found Joey when I was thirteen. And he was a teenager, my age, and I was like “Oh, this dude reminds me of me!” The stuff he was talking about, I could relate to. So, I was a big Joey fan. I remember when I was younger. I grew my hair out, trying to be like him, so it’s funny that you said all those names because right before we got on the phone, I was listening to Joey because I haven’t listened to him in a minute. So yeah, all three of those guys are big inspirations, for sure.

GRUNGECAKE: Look at that! Okay, so I was listening to ‘Close’, and you said that you’re “praying for ‘Ye.” With all of this stuff going on now, how do you feel about that? And I know that you put this out way before what’s going on now, but what are your sentiments?

Reuben Vincent: The thing with ‘Ye… Like I said, growing up, I was a big fan of ‘Ye. So, I used to defend him whenever everyone used to say “he’s crazy”, I’d be like “no, you gotta listen to what he’s saying!” But as time went by, I’m like man, you’re seeing what can happen with that limelight and the things that can happen when you’re not on the right path. But instead of judging him and dismissing him, when I said that line, I wasn’t trying to push him back down; I’m saying we need to really pray that he gets some help, with the mental issues that can be helped. Praying that ‘Ye gets some clarity because, be honest, Kanye is one of the most creative people of this generation. A creative genius. And it would be wrong… That’s our family. That’s our brother. So, as much as he’s fallen off the curb of what we think “old Kanye” is, that doesn’t mean he can’t come back and reform and get that energy back. So, instead of us just dismissing him, let’s pray for him and give him the love that he needs. Because, from what I’m seeing, he doesn’t have that love in his circle.

GRUNGECAKE: Okay, I see where you’re coming from. So, you released a project in the midst of a lockdown. How has that experience been for you?

Reuben Vincent: Man, let me tell you. Lockdown has been an eye-opener for real. As much as it’s been sad, because I wanted to tour this Summer, I wanted to be out, I wanted to enjoy myself, but it really gave me the time to sit down and think. Gave me time to sit down and strategize, figure out what I want, my purpose. As a young individual, I feel like this year, one quote I always remember: “Before you see the sun, you gotta go through the storm.” So, I feel like this year has been the storm we gotta go through in order to see the sun. And everything is amplified, too, because of lockdown! All the problems that today’s America is going through are being amplified. This year, if we do things the right way, we can fix them. So, with the lockdown, as much as it’s been “Ah, I can’t go out, I can’t do this”, etc, it’s also been eye-opening. And it shows you how to hustle when things are boxed in, you can’t go out, all that. It’s been good and bad but the good has outweighed the bad.

GRUNGECAKE: Got you. What is it like growing up in North Carolina, now that North Carolina has a spotlight on it? How does that make you feel? And are you in touch with any of the other stars that are from your hometown?

Reuben Vincent: Yeah. With the stars in Charlotte, there’s a girl named Cyanca. She’s an R&B artist and super dope. There’s another kid who’s my age. He’s a couple years older than me. His name is MAVI. He’s been doing really good. I’m tapped in with a lot of people in the Charlotte area, and North Carolina as a whole. But the thing that makes it dope is that I’m right in the middle of it. Like, my teenage years—when I was a freshman in high school, DaBaby was Baby Jesus. He was running around Charlotte, and as I went through high school I saw him wearing a diaper… And then just to see his growth, it’s like man, he did it! Because, when I was younger, there wasn’t really anyone in Charlotte that you could name, besides Anthony Hamilton, that had some sort of success. So, for us now, to have a spotlight on us, thanks to Rap, thanks to Cole, thanks to 9th, thanks to DaBaby, now we just have to continue to keep that torch lit. Seeing that, it’s just like man, this is gonna be history. I tell people all the time, five years from now, people are going to be talking about the staple artists that made noise in North Carolina, in Charlotte, and how we all came together. And that’s my plan now; to bring us all together. That’s my end goal. Because, if we go all together, we’ll expand more than if we just go one-by-one. And obviously I can’t do it alone, so I just have to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

GRUNGECAKE: For sure. My last question is about your song, ‘Here We Go Again’, on the project. I’m from New York; you have a line in there about the Twin Towers. Was that a controversial lyric at the studio? And if it was, how did it fly?

Reuben Vincent: I ain’t gon’ lie. ‘Here We Go Again’, I didn’t write the lyrics down. I just pressed the beat and just let it come out however it came out. And I remember when I said the line, I was like “Man, I love people in New York. I don’t wanna offend nobody.” And I was like “Dang! I don’t wanna do it!” But I have love for New York. I love visiting, and I know it’s a sensitive line because of people that were lost—and if anybody was affected that way, I apologize. But, it’s a form of expression. I didn’t mean any harm. I freestyle the whole thing, so I wanted it to just be as pure as it was instead of re-recording. And I was like, if I gain any backlash from it, I’ll take it to the chin and take my L. But I just had to let it be as pure as it was when it was recorded.

GRUNGECAKE: Okay. Because I know people like to go back and listen to things and be like “Oh my gosh, how did he do that?!” So, you know, just to clear that up, I just wanted to ask about that.

Reuben Vincent: Yeah nah, for sure, I knew that was a thing too. Like when I heard the line, when I play it back, sometimes I’m like “Man, should I have said that?” But then I’m like nah, it’s too pure and no harm intended.

Rachelle Saint-Preux (Transcriptionist)

Written by Richardine Bartee

Her unprejudiced love for people, the arts, and business have taken her this far. Join Richardine on her journey as she writes history into existence, one article at a time. Richardine is a member of the Recording Academy/GRAMMYs, and a GRAMMY U Mentor. She is the North American Press Agent and US Business Manager for Oxlade; Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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