John Reuben Talks New Album, Short Film, & Swearing on a Song
“Yes indeed like who, I John Reu, do promise you the listener always to…keep it innovative.”
John Reuben is no stranger to innovation in his music. Every release dating back to his 2000 debut Are We There Yet? and out until what would be his last album, Sex, Drugs, and Self-Control, Reuben has toed the line between the introspective, the silly, and the sacred. He’s dabbled in elements of boom bap, pop, rock, electronic, and everything in between and his latest project, Reubonic is no different.
In a previous interview with Reuben, he had been away from music for roughly six years and was not even aware of the new school Christian hip-hop scene and what was popping currently. Music for him was way on the back burner, but perhaps, just maybe, that interview sparked the creative juices in him again.
Over the last seven years or so he had been writing or using Evernote to jot down rhymes, lyrics, poems, and thoughts.
He wasn’t sure if these would be anything or just ideas to help him process through life.
So John, why now?
“Well…I don’t know if I’m back,” he says with a laugh.
He clarified, “You do it because you love it and it’s fulfilling. I created a space to be able to do that. I felt I should just put it out. It wouldn’t make sense keeping it to myself. The end goal has already been fulfilled in working on something I’m extremely proud of.”
There was no reasoning for the timing except, it was just time.
“A lot of these ideas have been around for awhile. The process was interesting and it’s really been six or seven years of short rhymes I would write out in my spare time,” he explained. “I started putting the thoughts together and following my thoughts to an end. Some of it was very fragmented, pieced together, and slightly chaotic.”
The best way to understand the fragmented but yet uniformity of Reubonic is to watch it in its short film version which has portions of songs bleeding into the next. It’s almost like a highlight reel version of the record. Now, when you listen to the album as a whole, it really comes together nice despite the songs being written and put together all over the place.
Reuben teamed up with producer Seth Earnest to take his thoughts and create music to it. The task may have been a bit harder than usual because the music was composed after many of the songs were written.
“It was on and off throughout the course of four or five months. We would work the music around the lyrics,” he stated. “Everything you hear on there is me and him. A lot of the hooks and melodies were reworked to fit in my range and suit the song.”
Reuben knows that he doesn’t quite hold the ear of the streets like he used to, but nevertheless felt this project justified a release.
“For me, I needed to be able to just do something for the satisfaction of doing it without thinking about the marketing, and not think about the audience, but not because I don’t care, but because it becomes daunting and exhausting,” Reuben said. “I have no delusions of grandeur, I don’t think everyone is sitting around anxiously waiting for a John Reuben record. There is a small audience that is engaged and I’m very grateful for them.”
He continued, “This could potentially be the last record I ever make. I am maneuvering my way through to figure out what I’m going to do.”
So with all that being said, how did Reubonic become a cohesive album that makes sense. What is actually going on in the record?
“There might have been 300 or 400 pieces of paper of ideas I pulled together. This is what I’m thinking about, this is what I’m working through. I think as absurd as it might sound, the album could have easily been called ‘Christian Rapper’ because it puts a microscope on everything from religion, to industry, my childhood, the concept of faith being tied to my financial well-being, a whole slew of things,” he revealed. “Coming out of my past, I’ve been able to look at it all and realize that what put me at odds, I always wrote from a perspective of working things out, not necessarily from a level of boldly proclaiming things. And that’s not a knock on boldly proclaiming, that is how I would write. Writing lyrics is very attached to my spiritual life.”
He said some of the album is not to be taken literally as pertaining to him. Reuben gleans from different experiences whether from himself or friends that are going through something.
Speaking of experiences and the aforementioned “innovation,” Reubonic can be seen through the lens of a camera thanks to Dust Brand Films or as most know him, DJ Dust of Mars Ill.
“In a time when everyone is saying, ‘Make your content shorter’,” Reuben stepped out of the box thanks to Dust’s urging. “It wasn’t the practical thing to do.”
“Dust and I were just meeting together as friends, but then we started talking about me making music again and sent him it. He got back to me with a whole idea around it,” said Reuben. “Dust took it on himself. It was his baby and he masterminded it. It pulled from the emotion of the music and the general tone of the album. I’m thrilled, it’s great.”
They then took the film and broke into down into individual shorter versions that serve as music videos, seen in the releases of “Fallen,” and “Candy Coated Razor Blades.” Those aren’t the only two music videos coming out by the way…
“Candy Coated Razor Blades” has a great music video and is even a better song, but something happened in it that had a flurry of fans furious – John Reuben swore in the song.
“Look busy, got places to be/ the bullsh*t’s exhausting, no rest for the weary” (2:20 mark).
Many defended John and a few others were outraged and vowed to not listen to his music anymore. He heard things like, “he sold his soul to the world,” “he’s just trying to be edgy in the world’s eyes,” and “he’s not a Christian anymore.” None of these things are true, and he took to his Facebook to explain the whole thing. (Read it here).
“There was no other word to use there,” he told Rapzilla. “That was the right word to use in that context. To me, if I use that word in my regular vocabulary, I feel like it would be disingenuous to leave it out. I don’t see that as profanity, I get that some people do, I’m not naive but I also, don’t see that as a big deal. I expected a little backlash. It’s been seven years since I put out music, I’m not writing under any expectations other than taking what I’ve already written and put it out there.”
Other people wondered why he couldn’t just avoid any controversy by changing the word or subbing something else instead.
“What am I going to say, bull poop? Bull pucky? No, it’s bullsh*t, that’s the word. That is the most effective word to use there. There was a good line there and I wasn’t going to waste it over something petty. That was just my opinion,” he explained.
Reuben said he has a lot of respect for parents doing the best to raise their kids and wanting to create a good environment. “I’m not on a quest for anything, this was a very honest and heartfelt album and to me, that was the best word I could use there.”
The general response from people has been “fantastic” he admitted.
“It was not my intention to grab a bunch of attention by using a word that got people up in arms,” he said, before saying that, “There’s nothing else on the album that would be deemed explicit.”
“I can only communicate from the posture of my heart. I think we get better music if people weren’t walking on eggshells as much.”
Reuben said that he could have gone the route where he psychoanalyzes Christian music consumers and creates an album that targets people’s specific wants. Yes, this is a thing that happens he revealed.
“To me, that feels creepy and a little scary. A world I don’t want to exist in,” Reuben said. “I took the path less traveled for my music. There’s a definite game you can play, and some people will run with that game. I have too much respect to do that.”
This was not an attempt to go mainstream or make some sort statement about Christian music or his faith. It’s simply a word he used on an independent album that was up until this point not seeing the light of day.
“People need to take a deep breath. Life is challenging. It’s not always clean cut and in black and white, there’s a lot of nuance to life. Sometimes people are afraid if it’s not at the surface and very clear cut,” said Reuben. “I think when you find the people who are seeking the truth, seeking after God, trying to navigate life in real life scenarios, and do that from a nonjudgmental place of integrity, you have a true honesty.”
With that behind him, John Reuben is looking toward the future with slight uncertainty. He has a couple of festivals booked and is open to a potential tour or more shows.
“The question is, can I make it work? It has to be the right environment and the right expectations. Is there a package I can put together to do something?”
His final thought, “I think there will be a lot of people who don’t know this comes out, but I’m proud of it, it can stand the test of time. Maybe this will be the last thing I ever do, but who knows, maybe this will open things up.”
Stay tuned to Rapzilla for part two with John Reuben where he breaks down Reubonic track by track.