In October 2016, A-Reece sealed his breakout with ‘Paradise’, a monumental debut album that’s regarded as a cult classic today. The LP, even with its rough edges, was an impressive introduction to a dynamic rapper, one who could flip between being a charismatic lyricist with a razor under his tongue, an introspective truth-teller, and a pop-rap savant, all on the turn of a dime. Subsequent releases have sharpened these weapons in his arsenal, as going indie shortly after his debut has afforded him the creative license to tinker and experiment, in the full glare of devoted fans who swear by his abilities.
After months of build-up, and a sparse 2020 campaign which was rare for the typically prolific rapper, Reece’s new mixtape, ‘Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory’, has finally arrived as scheduled. Only his second mixtape, since 2013’s ‘Forever King’ earned him initial attention, the South African wordsmith’s new project indicates something of an inward journey. The lead single, “RE$IDUAL SELF-IMAGE”, is one of the most striking feats of honest contemplation in Reece’s catalogue, and its cover art is a painting that’s hauntingly entrancing, completely different from the somewhat cavalier images of the rapper that has graced previous projects. Well, now that the music has arrived, let the speculations cease for the music to do the talking.
In usual 1-listen review fashion, all reactions are in real time while the music plays. No pauses, rewinds, fast-forwards or skips.
I’m not sure this made our anticipated project lists, but I’ve been looking forward to this. Plush horns and soft keys, Reece is entered with vigour but these lyrics are so dark. This is like watching someone yank out their heavy heart and place it on a scale just to see how much it weighs. Yeah, he’s spitting from the heart. Very little percussion, it’s become a big part of his music.
Ah! YES! This soul sample is so radiant, like a jazz piece being played by a band of angels. This is triumphant soul-sampling rap music, so many boastful bars in an infectious cadence. “I got the kinda drive impossible to format, nigga” is a BAR. Ooooooh! The beat switched up, but Reece’s momentum is still steady. This is somewhere between Roc Marciano’s plush, writerly tales and Elcamino’s graceful brand of reality rap—if you know, you know. Another beat switch to close things out. Returnning to this as soon as the album is done.
“THE 5 YEAR PLAN (feat. Wordz)”
The hype single, very alt-boom bap. “Still got nobody to thank/he came from the bottom to the top of the rank” is one of my favourite rap lines this year. Reece and Wordz have the potential to be the Hardy Brothers of rap music in Africa, their chemistry gets stronger with each collab, not in the way of finishing sentence but in the way of generally being on the same wavelength. Three songs in, and this is the most boisterous track, says something of how much Reece’s approach to beat selection and music making has changed in the last few years. This still slaps adequately, and it makes sense here.
“THE SAME THING (feat. Jay Jody)”
Another Jazzy instrumental, but it’s wonderfully off-kilter. Someone once told me life is uniform even if our contexts are different, and Reece is gave me the same vibes with that opening intro. He’s repeating that line over and over, like an incantation. This is inspired by losing a very close friend or family, he’s saying something about how death will alter how you view the life works and I get that. This incantation is like saying so much with the same words, it will probably get your mind turning—I know mine is already.
“NIGHTMARE ON BRYANSTON DR – Freestyle (feat. BeloSalo)”
This has some knock to it, but there’s very little animation or rowdiness. “I ain’t been outside in a while” reminds me of Earl Sweatshirt’s sophomore, which might be a direct influence to this album. My man went from asking for a sign before his death to demanding a lady pops some pussy for him, stream of consciousness ways. Why does BeloSalo sound a bit like Nav to me? His voice is somewhat syrupy, though. Dropping out the drums entirely for his verse is a nice touch, it sounds very much like a freestyle. A sombre piano solo is a cheat way to end a song.
I want to know this sample, I promise I won’t snitch. This is giving me Alchemist vibes, the sample is barely adorned but it still gleams pristinely. I don’t think I want to ever experience divorce, that shit sounds horrific. “Nothing lasts forever like monogamy”, and the polyamorous church yelled Amen. This sounds a little too personal to be just a made-up story.
“NO MAN’S LAND (feat. Wordz)”
The sample usage on this album has been extensive and immaculately done. Memories are how we keeping moments from being fleeting. A devoted father trying to cater to his son’s future while dealing with his deadbeat ex, sounds like a harrowing experience. Beat switch to match Wordz’s entrance, but he’s in the same storytelling element as Reece. We’re back to the original beat, and God knows my soul-sampling geek self is so happy. “Niggas ain’t got a license but got a handgun/these niggas shoot but ain’t been to the range once” is such a striking vignette. These bars on Black-on-Black violence are poignant, they don’t dig too deep into the root but the intentions and sentiments are genuine. That line about being luck to make it past 21 jarred me. Damn.
“JIMMY’S INTERLUDE (feat. Ayanda Jiya)”
“These one goes out to the niggas we lost” makes me want to pour some alcohol on the floor. Evocative piano sample and muted tribal drums, an extremely effective combo. This thing about getting rich while eulogising the dead homies is a bit discordant, but I get that loss can help align your goals in life, especially if you both had plans to flourish together. I really like Reece’s cadence, it’s an apt mix of mournful and optimistic. Beat switch, twinkling piano and blown out bass that thuds gently. “They keep telling me that ‘we ain’t fucking with your albums anymore’/but when I perform these songs, the people scream like Drew Barrymore” is a hard bar and a phenomenal flex. Keeper, this one.
“RE$IDUAL SELF-IMAGE (feat. Ayanda Jiya)”
I remember hearing this song for the first time and being stopped in my tracks, the honest and exuberance grabbed me by the ears. “Acknowledgement without the accolades/still I celebrate because any day could be the last time I hear this record play”, a bar that’s so self-aware it’s quite scary. It’s crazy how the guy that made “Calabasas (Fulfilment)” has changed his main priority to dropping knowledge. There’s still some discord in how to interpret his intentions because he was talking about getting filthy rich a song ago. The way Ayanda Jiya’s voice goes from smoky to fluttering is such a marvel, also looking forward to that ‘QUEEN’ album next month. I imagine the vocal sample on this beat switch to be new angels chanting out of ecstasy from walking on clouds for the first time, SO MUCH heavenly soul! So many great rap bars in this coda. Still a keeper.
“MORNING PEACE (feat. Jay Jody)”
This has a Caribbean Pop tinge to it, but the album’s Jazzy feel is still predominant. “I don’t wanna wake up to no drama in the morning”, me and you, Reece. Me, you and millions of others. I don’t know how I feel about this song on an album filled with honest reflections, but it’s not a bad song. Jay Jody is eating, great verse. This is the closest thing to a commercial “banger”, and I can’t really even seeing it playing in clubs. Maybe he’ll do a Tropical House remix, because “MORNING PEACE” is more suited to intimate moments in the morning, than a sweaty dancefloor at night. This beat switches to close out songs has been a nice touch on this album.
“BRAVO (feat. Stogie T & BeloSalo)”
These horns are so triumphant, you can smell the self-congratulatory props in the air. By the way, this isn’t an ad, but listening to music with Tidal heightens every single thing in a good way. Those BeloSalo mumbles were cute, but here’s Reece going in. “I’m trying to be unforgettable” is such a loaded mission statement, but it puts a lot of things about this album in perspective. Okay, I like this hook better than when it first opened the song. Stogie T raps with the deadeye assurance of a shark going for a kill after smelling blood. “Might miss it the first listen, it sinks in a week” is a great self-description of a bunch of Stogie T’s music. Such a strong collab, keeper.
This album has moved at a steady pace, perfect for an early morning listen before the world starts being noisy. Whoever helped source for the piano samples on this song deserves a higher royalty rate! “They could try to take me down, but they won’t take this all from me/they won’t take my artistry, this music is a part of me”. Another strong stamen of self on an album filled with plenty of them. I’d like to hear Ladipoe rap on this, mainly because of the topic, he’s one of the best at conveying being assure. Anyways, that Reece verse might be a figure 8 verse, but I’ll have to run it back. Rappers and including voicemails from close people, cue in the popular Jacob Zuma meme.
Final song. There’s some bounce to this, but the soul remains central. Reece is taking a swipe at pop culture and the gossiping it engenders, a topic I rarely enjoy because pop culture is meant to be vain. “I don’t take advice from niggas who don’t know how much it takes for me to get where I am today” is an assured bar. I think he’s referencing the shit that went down with Ambitiouz, but his determination doesn’t exude any spite. “I can’t go out this way”. Would have loved to hear a Shane Eagle verse here, but yeah, this is a solid closer.
There’s a popular saying in Nigerian pidgin English saying that goes, “Jungle don mature”, and I’d like to think it applies to A-Reece’s ‘Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory’. With every body of work, Reece has always mirrored where he is and what his priorities are at that time, and those projects chart a linear progression of a young man with dealing life’s challenges, while juggling high ambitions, fame and a lavish lifestyle. With his new tape, Reece’s evolution has clearly taken an exponential turn, with a wider leap in ideals that different from the small steps that characterised the gap between previous projects.
Where previous projects had a running boy-meets-world motif, albeit with far less innocence than it connotes, ‘Today’s Tragedy’ is a striking portrait of a young man readjusting what he thinks really matters, after gaining more raw experiences and better understanding the way the world works. On the project, as already indicated by the title, there’s allusions to losing close friends either to death or prison, and it’s clearly realigned Reece’s aim since there’s an understanding that life has a cap on it. Inasmuch as Reece still stands out as a vigorous rhyme slinger, this personality shift affects his approach to writing and rapping, filling the tape with introspective bars and intentional statements of self.
To match this shift, Reece strips down his musical choices considerably, foregoing the composite and booming sound of earlier projects for immaculate soul samples, radiant vocal chants, jazzy horns and noodling drum loops. These tastefully curated, bare samples make his raps sound lighter and sharper, even when the content and overall mood is heavy with self-realisation. The tenets that make ‘Today’s Tragedy’ a delightful first listen are clear on first listen, but it’s also evident that it will take multiple listens to fully unpack the growth he exhibits on the album. This tape is proof that Reece, who turns 24 tomorrow (March 27), is very invested in maturing as a person, and it’s positively affected his evolution into one of the most poignant rap voices out of South Africa.
Listen to ‘Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory’ here.
Dennis is a staff writer at the NATIVE. Let me know your favourite the Cavemen songs @dennisadepeter