From Radiohead to Q-Tip, John Reuben was More Than a ‘Token Rapper’ [INTERVIEW]
Last week, Rapzilla checked in on what John Reuben was ‘dippity doin’ and in part two of our interview, we’ll look back at Reuben’s roots in hip-hop and some of the music that inspired his art.
Reuben has not been too involved with the music scene since 2010 when he stopped performing. Since that time, Christian hip-hop has grown leaps and bounds, especially when it comes to its influence in the mainstream market.
He admitted that he is “sort of on the fringes” of what’s going on, and only knows some of the bigger names.
He joked that a few weeks ago he was having a conversation with someone about Christian music. The person said, “All Christian music is, is worship and hip-hop.” However, with all kidding aside, the sentiment is not too far off. Right now those two genres of Christian music are dominating the playing field of Christian music.
In his time, John was the “token rapper” touring with the rock bands. His first tours were with Five Iron Frenzy (ska) and Relient K (punk rock). 10 to 15 years ago it was hard to have a “Christian hip-hop tour only” that would be deemed a success. John is happy to see how far it’s come.
Touring with rock bands isn’t all that bad for an emcee. There are things you can pick up as a rapper that can help shift the musicality of your craft. As John said in his last interview, “I was never really in style” so perhaps maybe, he was ahead of his time.
John’s mother was the owner of a death metal label called Resonance Frequency. This heavy music did not really affect John’s musical taste because he was always into hip-hop. His musical tastes did not start to expand until the late 90s when his girlfriend, now wife, got him into the rapidly growing emo/post-hardcore music scene.
How Does it Feels to be Something On by Sunny Day Real Estate really got him into rock music. “From there I got really into Radiohead. I loved the stuff they were doing with Kid A and Amnesiac.”
For those who don’t know much about Radiohead, they had three consecutive albums that are widely considered experimental rock masterpieces. Sunny Day Real Estate is also one of the frontrunners of the emo music wave that dominated the early to mid-2000s.
These musical interests poked their way into John’s albums here and there. On his first record, Are We There Yet?, he rocked out on the songs, “X-Ray” and “Identity.” John showed off some aggressive and even at time “screamy” vocals, something not so common for an artist that was strictly hip-hop.
On his record, The Boy vs. The Cynic he further pushed that experimentation. Reuben continued to add some more of that experimental rock infused with beats to rap over, and at times had a sing-song flow on his subsequent releases. It made his music dynamic and stood out among his peers. It also made him a believable act to perform with the rock bands he toured with.
“Honestly, sometimes I think I did a really good job with it and sometimes I really can’t stand listening to my old stuff,” he said. “Sometimes I think, ’Man, I did not execute’ because what I heard in my head did not come out on record.”
He continued, “At the time when we were doing that stuff, it was really a lot of experimentation. If you listen to my early demos in the 90s it was a lot of straightforward hip-hop. Kind of the stuff I grew up on.”
In the mid-90s, Reuben was part of some hip-hop crews, Showcase MC’s and Prism Cru. He cut his teeth in nightclubs and open mics in the Columbus, Ohio community which was also a big college town.
John looked back with a laugh and said, his crew booked their first show before they even had any songs. They bought an MPC and scrambled to put together beats and tracks for the show.
“There has been a shift the last few years were a lot of the young guys are coming back to what was hot in the 90s,” said Reuben. “Things go in 20-year cycles. If I come back, I’m gonna be right in style.”
He then regretted not coming back in 2013 because “Everyone knows 93 was the best year for hip-hop.”
A casual look to 93 will show that some of the best and well-known emcees dropped a record that year. Let’s take a look at the names: Heavy D, 2Pac, Kid Rock, Ice-T, LL Cool J, Mobb Deep, Run-D.M.C., The Roots, Big Daddy Kane, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Biz Markie, MC Lyte, Cypress Hill, De La Soul, KRS-One, the Fresh Prince, A Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Wu-Tang Clan. And that’s just the short list. (F.Y.I., even Shaquille O’Neil put an album out).
From there, the obvious direction of any hip-hop conversation will shift to, “Who are your top 5 emcees?”
“Q-Tip for his style and cadence. A Tribe Called Quest’s first three albums and even his solo stuff has all been excellent,” said Reuben. “Number two is Mos Def. I loved Black on Both Sides.
He then picked Andre 3000 for what he consistently did in Outkast. He also said he’d be hard pressed to not say Jay Z.
Perhaps the most surprising of his picks was the last spot, Kendrick Lamar. “I hate to be that guy, but it’s hard to argue what he’s done on his last two releases.”
John also thinks some of the best Christian emcees were from the 90s. His picks for that era of Christian hip-hop were: Soup the Chemist, LPG, and Manchild from Mars Ill.
So that’s it. The, “Where is John Reuben?” question has been answered in two parts. Hopefully, Johnny Reubonic will be returning with some new music soon. He said he has the “itch,” which asks the next question, “When will John Reuben scratch it?”
Check out part one here.