Reuben Vincent just wanted to do that one last show before live gigs were shut down for the foreseeable future. The Charlotte rapper had joined up with Jamla Records labelmate Rapsody in early March for a portion of her six-week A Black Woman Created This tour, but it soon became clear that the tour would not complete its run as COVID-19 cancellations clamped down on the country.
The 19-year-old Vincent had been looking forward to the March 12 show scheduled for Amos’ Southend in Charlotte, but things were starting to look questionable.
The Charlotte native currently attends North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, and the college had informed him earlier in the week that all upcoming classes were canceled and all students would need to clear their things from campus housing by the end of the week.
He knew the potential of performing again in 2020 was bleak, but he just wanted to do that one last gig. Vincent, Rapsody and a third Jamla labelmate Heather Victoria did take the stage that night, and it was everything he could have hoped for.
In the crowd were Reuben Vincent’s mother; fellow Charlotte rapper and friend from Rocky River High School Isaiah Ford, aka Ahmir the King; up-and-coming Charlotte R&B singer Cyanca; and others, all of whom got to see Rapsody bring Vincent up during her set to “crown him,” as he put it — the next voice to check for in hip-hop.
“It meant the world to me because that was my first big show in the city. I had did little shows, but that was my first one in like a huge popular venue that’s in the city, so just seeing all the people that was around that’s from the city, and seeing them support me was love,” Vincent recalled during a recent phone call with Queen City Nerve. “I don’t take it for granted.”
Reuben Vincent Meets World
When we spoke with Vincent, he was back on the road with Rap, as he calls her, but the two weren’t performing together this time. In fact, they were heading to Kentucky to attend a rally for Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old woman killed by Louisville Metro Police officers during a no-knock raid on March 13.
Reuben Vincent wanted to do be there in Kentucky to show support, regardless of the fact that he had plenty going on in his own life. On June 26, just two days after the rally, he would drop his new EP, Boy Meets World, an eight-track adventure that’s already gained national attention and could set him up to be the voice of a generation that Rapsody has already tagged him as.
While recently he’s just been chilling in his south Charlotte home learning to use a new studio setup that he bought at the onset of the quarantine, the new EP is about his experiences getting to see the world for the first time and how that’s affected his outlook.
Growing up in the Becton Park area of east Charlotte off Albemarle Road, for which he named track 7 on the new EP, Vincent was big into creative storytelling, but didn’t have the same life experiences to inspire him that he has now.
“Growing up, I didn’t really get to travel that much,” he told Queen City Nerve. “My first time going on a plane was because of music, so Boy Meets World is me finally getting to go and see the world. I’m more open-minded to seeing different perspectives on things, but also, don’t let the world change you, where you come from, who you are, and your perspective on life and what’s your purpose.”
A Breakthrough Project Drops
Each track on the EP shows new growth from Reuben Vincent, who for years has shown a talent for wordplay and storytelling. With Boy Meets World, however, Vincent highlights a new range of skill, from the fast-paced trap verses of “Expedition” to the nostalgia of “Albemarle Road,” which calls back to an early ’90s hip-hop that existed before he was alive but not-so-subtly inspires much of his music.
The closing track of the EP, “If I Die,” serves as a grand finale that mixes Vincent’s passion for social issues, his penchant for storytelling, and his tendency to look at things in a deeper way than many his age, regardless of generation, all the while paying homage to inspirations like JAY-Z, Nas and 2Pac through creative wordplay and name-dropping.
Vincent said he was inspired to write “If I Die” while watching the 2018 film Blindspotting, which digs into issues around how Black people are viewed in America as compared to their white counterparts. He closed the project with the track, his favorite of the eight, as he recognized it to have a mix of everything he offers in his music.
“‘If I Die’ was me trying to say something, letting people know who I am, and letting them know that I’m standing for something and that I’m not going to fall for anything,” Vincent said. “I feel like later on in my career, that song is going to stand the test of time.”
Finding His Place at Jamla Records
There’s still plenty of time left in that career, however, as the teenage rapper is still coming into his own with the support of his mentors Rapsody and Jamla Records founder 9th Wonder. Reuben Vincent values his role as the “little brother” at Jamla, which he takes seriously not only as someone who has a lot to learn but someone with a lot to teach.
“I feel like being at Jamla, they gave me the space to be myself,” Vincent said. “They let me be, they let me explore, they let me expand because of my age. I’m young, I’m in these high schools, I’m in these colleges, I’m in these rooms with people my age, so I know what they like and I know what I like.
“So I’m forever grateful for 9th and Rap because they gave me the space to be myself,” he continued. “They let me try new things in the studio, whether it’s with [Jamla producer] Eric G going crazy on a trap beat and I’m just flowing crazy on that [referring to ‘Expedition’] or even just sticking to the essence I know of myself and the things I grew up on. Mixing those two and making it a melting pot is how I continue to succeed on that route.”
And yet Vincent knows that his age can still be an obstacle for him to be taken seriously. In the EP’s opening track, “How It Feel?”, Vincent quotes a 17-year-old 2Pac, who stated, “The hardest thing about being my age is proving to society that I know what’s going on.”
One needs only listen to Boy Meets World, however, to hear a young man who comes across as more self-aware than many of us could have claimed to be at 19 years old.
Rage Against, or Be Weary of, the Machine
One theme that Reuben Vincent revisits throughout the EP, proving his tendency not to take things at face value, is his love/hate relationship with technology and social media. Vincent is, after all, a member of the first generation that has had the internet since birth, with social media playing a major part in their developing years.
Vincent looks at the growing technology with a weary eye, calling it “a gift and a curse,” and remaining a reluctant participant.
“You look on the ‘Gram, and it’s like a race. You see everybody in there cheating, because nobody is really going to post when they’re down bad, let’s be honest,” Vincent said. “It’s a highlight reel, so when people see other highlight reels, they think that’s all people’s life is, but you don’t know the hard work it takes, you don’t know the struggles people go through, so I feel like people have to understand that and that’s the way we have to move with social media.”
However, he’s also well aware that social media has played a big role in his own career. After all, if it weren’t for Twitter, he may not have gotten on with Jamla Records in the first place. Vincent has rapped since childhood, and was only 13 when 9th Wonder came across a tweet featuring one of his very low-budget, DIY recordings. He immediately recognized the talent.
While Vincent had already acquired an education on early ’90s hip-hop from his parents, 9th Wonder would send along some more deep cuts for him to study, and a few years later signed him to Jamla.
Reuben Hits the Scene at 16
At 16, Reuben Vincent dropped his first mixtape, Myers Park, named for the area where he had moved to from the east side during his freshman year of high school. Safe to say now that Vincent recognizes how valuable a good social media presence can be, though it’s all about using those platforms wisely, he said.
“Even me, I’m young so sometimes I will look on the ‘Gram and I’ll be like ‘Dang, this person’s doing more than me, what am I doing?’ But I gotta understand that everybody’s journey is different. And I feel like that’s a problem with our generation because everybody’s looking at everybody else’s journey, they’re not focusing on theirs.”
In the meantime, Reuben Vincent will remain focused on his journey, as he grows to become one of the defining voices in his generation — definitely in hip-hop, potentially well beyond that.
As he wrapped our conversation on his way to Kentucky, he showed that mix of maturity and cockiness that remains so present in his music.
“The songs and the things I’m talking about, a lot of people my age can relate to because they’re going through the same exact thing, and people who are older than me can probably understand — if they’re not going through it at that time, they went through it at one certain point in time,” he said. “I just want people to get that from the EP, and I want people to understand that I’m here, I’m here to stay, I know how to make records, I know how to rap. I’m here to be one of the best ever. That’s how I look at it.”
We’ll be focused on his journey.