By Cameron Lee
Photo: Sayma Waleh
June 26, 2020 (updated)
Reuben Vincent’s rap career started when he was just 13, when a tweet of a home recording got 9th Wonder’s attention, although Vincent had been rapping long before that. He wrote his first rhymes in preschool, inspired by the bravado and mystique of rap music, and discovered that his writing skills were at a higher level than most kids at a very young age. “The way people set up words, similes, and word play, and how you can tell a story… I was always big on English, in classes I used to write stories,” said Vincent.
Growing up on the east side of Charlotte, Vincent recalls music always being a part of his life, whether it was his mother playing soulful hip-hop/R&B of the ‘90s like Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill or car rides around the city with his father listening to Tupac, Biggie, Nas, and Jay-Z. He was only eight years old when a spontaneous freestyle inside his uncle’s car led to an impromptu studio session where he spit his first verses. Enamored with rap music and hip-hop culture, he would draw out album covers and tracklists at an early age while also dreaming about one day owning a sneaker business.
It wasn’t until he was 13 years old that he started taking rap more seriously with amateur DIY recordings that eventually landed in the right ears.
“9th heard it and I guess he was impressed with the talent, even though the music quality was terrible, like I was recording on some bad headphone microphone but he heard the talent through it,” said Vincent.
They kept in touch through Twitter and 9th would recommend albums to study before he invited him to his studio in Raleigh to record later that year. But the day before Vincent and his mother headed to the Raleigh studio to work with 9th, he lost his rap notebook; so he had to rewrite the songs on the way. Vincent went on to record nine songs that weekend, and 9th was impressed.
Vincent would come back to the studio periodically to record while receiving coaching from 9th on his breathing, flow, chorus, and hooks before he was signed to the label at 16. “I got older, my voice started to change, I experienced life a little bit more, we moved to the south side, and things started to happen and life started to hit…9th was like ‘We ready to sign you’,” he said.
Moving to South Charlotte in the middle of his freshman year of high school, Vincent went from Rocky River High School to Myers Park; somewhat of a culture shock that helped him focus more on music but took him away from most of his childhood friends. The experience also presented first-hand the disparities among the CMS school system.
“We need to have more kids that look like me that go to Myers Park. It doesn’t have to be so segregated… because we all need these resources, and we all need the same amount of resources and knowledge to persevere especially in today’s time,” he said.
While 9th provided invaluable music knowledge and life guidance, Vincent has also been mentored by Jamla labelmate, fellow North Carolina native, and Roc Nation artist, Rapsody.
“9th is an O.G., regardless of me being signed to him, I always looked at him as an O.G., and Rap is like my big sister,” he said. “Whenever they had a chance to, they would hit me and give me advice on life– just me being a kid– letting me understand things and also giving advice on music, always telling me to be myself and stay the course.”
He’s been able to watch Rapsody’s career flourish right before his eyes from mixtapes to Grammy nominations to one of 2019’s best albums, Eve, a masterful 16-song LP that pays homage to 16 influential Black women.
“I saw it first hand, I saw the sleepless nights in the studio, I saw the night’s where there was frustration, I saw the nights where they celebrated; that’s why I have so much love for her because she deserves everything that is coming to her because she put in the work….She’s a good person as a whole so everything that is coming to her, she deserves,” Vincent said.
He’s accumulated a lot of rare career experiences in a short amount of time having met Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Isaiah Rashaad, and Childish Major in Raleigh backstage at the TDE tour. He attended the BET Awards with Rapsody, went to the EA Sports offices with 9th Wonder to record “No Problems” for the Madden soundtrack, and the Roc Nation office a day after Jay-Z’s B-Sides show, where he got to meet and engage in some casual conversation with Hov himself.
“It’s been a lot of blessings, man. I’ve seen a lot in the past two years coming from where I’m from,” Vincent said.
Now 19, Vincent is studying business at North Carolina A&T, and has released his second major project, Boy Meets World. The eight-track EP is a more focused effort than 2017’s Myers Park, and includes standout songs like “Albemarle Road,” a nostalgia-soaked track produced by veteran Justus League member Khrysis. He demonstrates more depth and vulnerability in songs like “Close,” a haunting and reflective track produced by Eric G. of The Soul Council, the production team headed by 9th Wonder and his label Jamla Records.
Vincent has not only gained some astonishing life experiences at a young age, but now he’s equipped with the acumen and wisdom of some of the greatest minds in hip-hop music. It resonates with a young Tupac’s words, words that Vincent included in the first track of the EP: “The hardest thing about being my age is proving to society that I understand what’s going on.”
Reuben Vincent is ready to embark on a journey to prove to society that he does understand what’s going on, and Boy Meets World is a very promising start.