Review: A-Reece’s ‘Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory’ is a Mixtape From an Artist at The Peak of His Powers
A-Reece's new mixtape 'Today's Tragedy, Tomorrow's Memory' is not a loud and grand proclamation, it's a small and quiet statement from an artist well and truly at the peak of his powers.
"I'm on my second j, but I ain't getting high, 23 stressing like I'm 45, I'm mortified," raps A-Reece on the opener to Today's Tragedy, Tomorrow's Memory: The Mixtape. It's not that difficult to read the subtext of these lines. At 23, the Pretoria rapper's career has had as many operatic twists and turns as most seasoned veterans. In 2016 (then aged 19 and signed to Ambitiouz Entertainment), he released his critically acclaimed Paradise. The album won him Lyricist Of The Year at the South African Hip Hop Awards, but a little over a year later, A-Reece left Ambitiouz Entertainment and went independent which resulted in his debut album being removed from YouTube and other streaming services at the time.
This is all to say, Today's Tragedy, Tomorrow's Memory: The Mixtape is a project that comes with its fair share of baggage. A-Reece is a rapper notorious for his reclusiveness. He takes up minimal space online, often tweeting updates from the studio or guest appearances on his peers' albums. Even Today's Tragedy's rollout could be considered frugal by today's standards. Which isn't to say A-Reece couldn't be bothered with amplifying his music. That's not the case. He's just a rapper of rare vintage: happy to let the work speak for itself and impose itself on its own terms.
So what exactly is the 24-year-old rapper saying on his latest release?
More than just "real rap" pigeonholing
Sonically, A-Reece does enough to make sure the project breaks out of the self-limiting prison of "real rap". "HIBACHI", the second track on the album, sees him rapping on a heavily-filtered, drumless sample reminiscent of anything you might find on Roc Marciano's oeuvre. "I got the kind of drive impossible to format, nigga. Feeling like Neo inside the loading program, nigga. Was living like a nomad without a road map, sleeping on floor mats," reminisces the rapper on the song.
Alternatively, "THE 5 YEAR PLAN" (with its mellow guitar loop and blaring 808s) is one of the closest things to trap on the album. It's not Reece at his most lyrical, but then again, that's by design. "Ain't no way I'm losing this year, on my mama. Ain't no way I'm dealing this year, with the drama," he raps with conviction.
While the mixtape itself is full of expansive raps, "THE 5 YEAR PLAN" (and the song that follows) do feel like they meander aimlessly, throwing out proclamations devoid of either meaning or emotional import. "THE SAME THING", with its eerie pads and lo-fi drum work is one such song. "Damn, life is a motherfucker. Hard to sit back and see the same thing that happened to me happen to you," the rapper deadpans on the chorus. But after hearing this over and over again, without any exposition on the rapper's side, the words begin to feel more like echolalia than an actual refrain.
But these lulls are so rare that they're eventually just swallowed up by the greatness that brackets them on either side of the mixtape.
Reece goes toe to toe with a rap legend
The project's high point comes in the form of "BRAVO", a four-minute drumless cut that sees A-Reece go head to head with South African rap royalty Stogie T. "I represent the Jacaranda tree line avenue. Where the women got the feline attitude. And niggas share a hustlers attribute. I'm only talking back to you if it's about revenue. If you got a problem, we troubleshoot, we perfectly execute," he raps toward the end of his verse. It's an unhurried, multi-syllabic verse in which Reece puts his stake for the throne. Part of it feels like a missed opportunity. It's not a terrible verse, but it's also not his top ten (maybe not even top 1000), which is a shame given how complex and layered Stogie T's verse is.
"Look, there's no country for old men, most of them ghost. Sugar kills, candy-coated nose, lost in the sauce. They call me western, I'm the dark horse that never was bought," raps Stogie T, referencing the seminal Cormac McCarthy novel, No Country For Old Men. Toward the end of his verse, he raps "Might miss at the first listen, it sinks in in a week". Such is the density that makes up his verse (you can read OkayAfrica contributor Sekesi Rasiphei's decoding here).
But any deficiencies A-Reece shows on "BRAVO", he makes up for on the rest of the tape. "DICHOTOMY" is an excellent display of his storytelling skills (a 1:50 denouncement of monogamy and exposition of the end-stages of an ill-fated marriage). On "NO MAN'S LAND", he shares the harrowing story of a friend trying to survive the daily assault of nine to five and an absent baby mama to raise his son.
Ahead of his mixtape's release, A-Reece caught up with the website Flaunt to talk about what inspired his latest work. "It's a mixtape I've been putting together the whole of 2020. The last time I released an album was 2017 after leaving my former record label. A year prior to that, I released my debut titled Paradise that most of my fans still consider a classic. Early 2020, I made it official on social media that I'll be making a sequel to the record and it caused a frenzy. I figured maybe I should get in pre-game mode and give them a mixtape first. Something to hold them as I craft the highly anticipated sequel."
Perhaps this is what makes the project so astounding: Today's Tragedy… is not a loud and grand proclamation, it's a small and quiet statement from an artist well and truly at the peak of his powers.