King Reign’s debut solo album, Sincere (CLK Creative Works/ Reign Music), hit shelves on July 14th. The Toronto MC, known for his gravelly voice and blunt introspective lyrics, delves into heavy issues on the 12-track album, giving fans a long awaited opportunity to get a deeper look inside the world of Regin.
Weaving stories about racial stereotypes and alienation (“Oh No” and “Killer”), street violence (“Already Over” featuring Shi Wisdom), bullying (“Pretty Girl Lost”), with contemplative, uplifting tracks (“Sincere” & “Happylaidback”), King Reign is in his element–telling diverse stories, filter free.
In this Winehouse summer Q&A, he talks about his inspirations, the early influence of Counting Crows on his music, and the stewardess that got away. Chaka V.
TWM: Why did you name the album Sincere?
KR: Sincere is another way of saying “true story.” I have some connection to all the stories that I tell on the album–it’s a collage of my thoughts. The perspective I offer in these stories come from a real place. I talk about a broad range of topics, so I needed a title that could tie them altogether.
TWM: The album weaves fluently between hope and despair. How often is your music directly inspired by your personal experiences, and how often are your lyrics inspired by stories in the media, friends or strangers?
KR: All of my music is inspired by those things. Those are the only places I go. When I first started writing it might have been more of a conscious decision but now I’m programmed.
TWM: Can you share some stories about what inspired particular tracks on the album?
KR: Some songs like “Pretty Girl Lost” are a collage of experiences of friends of mine. I don’t like to be literal if it’s not my story, but “Pretty Girl Lost” happened verbatim. [And] the third verse in “Don’t Fall in Love” happened exactly how I said it.
So, I was enjoying a first class flight from New York, along with the complimentary drinks, after I got signed to Sony/Columbia Records. I was sitting beside a woman who said she played tennis professionally, and we were deep in conversation when one of the stewardess asked me if I sent his fellow stewardess flowers because she couldn’t stop smiling. I knew exactly who he was talking about because every time she passed I was staring. I had already planned our future in my head.
Long story short, he told me to go the corner by the cockpit where she was there waiting for me. Things moved fast and we exchanged numbers and made arrangements to meet when she would be working that flight and even talked about me going out to Texas. My life was about to change. I had not only gotten a major record deal, [but] now the Universe was giving me a wife to enjoy it with. Right? Nope. Somehow on the way through customs the napkin that I wrote the number on, and had clutched in my hand, disappeared. It’s still a mystery to me today.
The worst part is that I couldn’t go back to look for it. Trying to walk back through those doors at the airport might have gotten me arrested but don’t think It didn’t cross my mind anyway. I also found out that airlines don’t give out the stewardess’ personal information or flight schedule. Who would’ve thought? Anyway, that [experience] inspired the third verse in the song.
TWM: Songs like “Sincere” seem to reveal a different side of King Reign–a mellower side. Do you feel that this album aptly reflects the various sides of your style and sound?
KR: I think Sincere represents more of the mellow side of me. I grew up listening to everything, but hands down my favourite [music] before hip hop was calypso, which is upbeat. [It’s] still political and filled with social commentary but can be played in a party. My next album will have more of a mix but I still feel that Sincere is the way it was supposed to be.
TWM: And was that important to you?
KR: Yes. Being able to try different approaches and using all my influences is what keeps it interesting for me. Otherwise, I’d feel like a factory and not a creative.
TWM: In “I Rap” you say, “My mother told me not to sing/I needed to speak my mind and rhyme was the closest thing,” how cathartic has rap been in your life?
KR: When I was a teenager my sister bought me a diary for me to write down my thoughts. It was the way she did it and I love her for that. I just took my thoughts and made them rhyme. The majority of those rhymes, if not all of them, no one will hear. Imagine the problems you think you have as a teenager, spread over 15-20 pages of rambling. Though sometimes I would take a page out that I thought was OK for people to hear and put it in a song. So, it became my therapy.
TWM: Why did your mother tell you not to sing?
KR: When I was a kid I made a lot of noise. I was infamous for being loud, singing at the top of my lungs throughout the house and drumming on anything that made a sound. So, my mother wasn’t crushing my dream as much as she was protecting her sanity. Lucky for her hip hop came around and gave me an outlet to express myself quietly. If you watch most MC’s when they’re writing they’re in their head for a lot of the process.
TWM: How would you be expressing yourself if you hadn’t discovered rap?
KR: If I hadn’t discovered rap I would’ve been a journalist or some kind of motivational speaker. All my raps were in that vein anyway. I get a lot of that from my father, he always read motivational books and has always been about that life. We had something they called “Speech Arts” in public school. It was a competition where you could prepare any type of speech and the best speaker won. I took that competition very seriously and got pretty far each year. That technically might have been my first show.
TWM: Besides rap did you have a dream career?
KR: My mother introduced me to a movie called To Sir with Love [starring Sidney Poitier] when I was a kid and it became my favourite [film]. I’ve watched that movie more times than you can count on 6 sets of hands, and I can recite the movie from top to bottom. Anyway, the movie is about a black teacher from Guyana (where my mother’s from), who moves to England to be an engineer and takes a teaching job to get by, but makes such a change in the lives of the wayward kids he teaches [that] he decides to stay. As corny as it may sound, I was inspired. My friend, who I had a rap group with, and I were both planning to become teachers. I went on [to pursue] the music and he actually went back and taught at our high school.
TWM: In “I Rap” you also shout out rappers who have influenced you. Can you share any musical, literary or even familial influences that fans would be surprised by?
KR: When Counting Crows came out with August And Everything After, I became their biggest fan and promoter. I’d drive around Scarborough blasting “Anna Begins” and “Round Here,” “Perfect Blue Buildings,” basically the whole album. Those who took a ride in my car learned to love that album. And who wouldn’t? Mind you, most of them didn’t listen to anything close to that on their own, so some would fight but all conceded.
Anyway, there is a song called the “Rain King” on that album which inspired my name. It’s funny because a rapper with a name like King Reign, you’d think ruler and ego, but I originally spelled it R-a-i-n. It stood for King of Sorrow or conquering your pain and keeping your head up. I changed the spelling but if you listen to Sincere you’ll see it still stands for the same thing. I still stand for the same thing. I first changed it to R-a-n-e (like the mixer) then R-e-i-g-n which stands for Rhyme Energy In Gods Nature but still, again, [it] carries the same meaning.
TWM: Outside of hip hop artists, who would you (or would you have) love to collaborate with? Past or present artists, from any era.
KR: I would have loved to have jammed with the Wailers [Bob Marley and the Wailers]. I’m still holding on to the dream of working with Prince. I would have liked to write an album like “The Ecology” with Marvin Gaye.
When it comes to this day and time, I think myself and Pharrell [Williams] could change the game. And some kind of crazy fusion album with the Counting Crows or Sade. I’ll take whichever.
TWM: Now that Sincere is out, what’s next for King Reign? Will you be going on tour?
KR: I expect this album to take it’s time getting out there and we’re prepared to grind it out. We are currently planning a few tours across Canada. I’ll be at AC3 this year, and I have a video for “Chemical Romance” on the way.
Sincere is available on iTunes.