The Mysterious Road to A-Reece’s ‘Paradise II'
A-Reece has all eyes on him in anticipation for his upcoming album 'Paradise II', but the South African rapper is not perturbed.
A-Reece loves The Matrix—a movie about, among other things, our power as human beings if we realise the vastness of our potential and the fact that there's more to life than what we know. The movie depicts a world under the control of machines while a few enlightened humans who "escaped the Matrix" rebel against this simulated reality humanity is trapped in.
Two weeks ago, A-Reece released a trailer of sorts referencing scenes from the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster. Fans agreed the trailer was for Paradise II, the South African rapper's upcoming album.
Just like Neo, A-Reece did escape the Matrix. Ever since 2016 when he left Ambitiouz Entertainment, the label that launched his career into the mainstream, the talented South African lyricist has been free-falling further away from industry circles and the public eye.
This includes social media. Save for his Twitter bio ("busy working on the album") and Instagram stories, some showing him teasing unreleased music, A-Reece has been relatively quiet since releasing two songs in January. It's still not clear if those two songs will be on the upcoming album, which he announced in a cryptic tweet in the same month.
Prior to that tweet, Reece hadn't tweeted in eight months. When he rapped, "I say it on the microphone while you n*ggas tweet it" on the song "Dablibs", he clearly meant it.
The irony is that the rapper who tweets the least trends more than those who tweet regularly. It could be a Tuesday evening,Thursday morning or Saturday night, and A-Reece's name will be trending for hours on Twitter. Clicking on the hashtag, the lyricist's fans are just quoting his lines, showering him with love and making the case of him being the greatest ever.
His own rules
A-Reece could release Paradise II anytime now. His fans are convinced and waiting impatiently for the release. The artist, however, hasn't said much about the album.
The latest clue he dropped was the aforementioned Matrix video which had fans convinced A-Reece had revealed the release date of Paradise II. The date came, nothing from Reece. Five days later, it turned out he had been promoting "Re$idual $elf Image", the single he released on the day.
That's the type of relationship A-Reece has with his fans and, seemingly, the establishment. Save from extensive interviews on Yo! MTV Raps Africa in 2019, B.E.T's Behind The Story in 2018 and the online culture magazine The Plug in 2018, A-Reece hasn't spoken to any media platforms. It's widely known that Reece is difficult to get ahold of and generally doesn't say much about the goings on of the scene.
Last year after his crew, The Wrecking Crew, disbanded and there seemed to be friction between him and close friend and frequent collaborator Flvme, some of the former crew mates told their side of the story in an interview with Zkhiphani. Not even a subliminal tweet came from A-Reece. Not even after a video showing him and Flvme quarrelling surfaced online. The only utterance came in song-form. Titled "Carele$", the song which featured Wordz, revealed that Flvme and A-Reece could have clashed over a woman (more about that here).
In April, when a mysterious A-Reece album titled Sotho Man With Some Power appeared on Apple Music and Spotify, the rapper instead of opting for a Twitter tirade (as rappers usually do), he responded with a press release that didn't even come with a caption. He distanced himself from the project whose title was distastefully adapted from Reece's rival Nasty C's upcoming album Zulu Man With Some Power.
A-Reece is frugal about how much of himself he shares with the world. Releasing music and telling the stories around him, he says, has to be done in his own terms.
"It gotta be curated," A-Reece told Slikour on Lifelast year during an interview about his reluctance to do interviews. "It gotta sound like a storyline, it gotta be well-planned. It gotta be well thought-out, it gotta have substance. 'Cause, man, these days, I could tell you right now, the questions people got for me, if I answer them, then a nigga gotta get paid. Because if I tell the story that I got right now, a lot of motherf*ckers gon' get paid."
A-Reece has become a torchbearer for independence to the new generation of hip-hop artists in South Africa. A majority of the country's impactful hip-hop artists are either signed to a label or are in a "partnership" with one. A-Reece, however, has managed to maintain an ever-growing cult following on his own. By remaining prolific as an artist while saying little about his personal life and explaining himself to no one, A-Reece has created a high demand for himself and his music.
His music videos are accumulating millions of views. His most popular, "Meanwhile In Honeydew," is currently at three million, an impressive number for a South African hip-hop artist, and even more impressive for an artist whose music reaches fans without the industry machine's backing.
The Road to 'Paradise II'
Paradise II is a sequel to A-Reece's debut album Paradise which was released in 2016 under Ambitiouz Entertainment. The album did a great job of introducing the lyricist to the country, and came with impactful singles such as "Paradise", "Zimbali", "Couldn't" and "Mnagni".
A-Reece is a different artist in 2020. In the last few years, he has managed to leverage the momentum of his Ambitiouz days into one of the most impressive independent careers in the history of South African hip-hop.
For the last few years, A-Reece's direction as an artist hasn't been clear. There was a substantial difference between Paradise and the follow-up From Me To You And Only You, which was his first full body of work since leaving Ambitiouz. The project saw Reece at his most carefree. While Paradise came with the extremely personal song "Family", FMTYAOY was like a house party at The Wrecking Crew mansion with close friends on the guestlist.
The songs were mostly celebratory. After sharing he had "bought a new house in the east on the wall is Bob Marley" on the song "On My Own", he mentioned being grateful for his life, rapping "I aint' broke, I wouldn't want it any other way" in the song "Rari". That was the album's fundamental premise.
Long Lost Letters (L3), a joint album released by A-Reece and members of TWC Ecco and Wordz in 2018 took the same route. (More about L3 here)
The 2018 EP And I'm Only 21 came with the hit single "Holding Hands" and "To The Top Please", a lyrical masterpiece ("Five classics in the bag, now that's a literal slap" 🔥🔥) which is one the emcee's most loved deep cuts. And I'm Only 21 was released on the 21st of October, the rapper's birthday and a date which is notable on the A-Reece calendar—on the same date, he released Paradise in 2016, and released From Me To You and Only You in 2017.
To promote the second instalment of his annual concert The Reece Effect in 2019, Reece and his long-time producer Mash Beatz released a project of the same title. While The Reece Effect is a decent body of work, its main shortcoming was showing no signs of a new direction in Reece's path as an artist.
The two songs he released earlier in 2020, however, showed Reece in top-form—the lyricist was rapping proficiently. Both songs had no hook to distract fans from his bars. It could have been deliberate. Not that there's a high chance of knowing for sure.
But one thing was clear to fans—A-Reece was in album mode. Those songs could have been throw-aways from the project, they could be unreleased songs from a few years ago. They could indicate the direction A-Reece will take on Paradise II. Or not. A-Reece has maintained the cloud of mystery around him and his music, and it has led to intrigue and a fervent anticipation for his next steps.
Re$idual $elf Image
If his latest song "Re$idual $elf Image" is anything to go by, it's clear A-Reece is still playing in his own league. The song, which features R&B artist Ayanda Jiya, wasn't built for the radio—it doesn't take the chorus-verse-chorus- format. And for the most part, the beat never really gets to drop, so, for most of the song, A-Reece is rapping over keys and a sample loop without any drums. Boss shit.
A clip from The Matrix plays between the song's beat-switch. It's from the scene in which Neo has just been inducted into "the real world". Morpheus tells Neo, "Your appearance now is what we call residual self-image."
In the song, A-Reece raps about a range of issues. The first verse reveals an A-Reece who's had a paradigm shift. He raps:
"Acknowledgement without the accolades/ still I celebrate 'cause any day could be the last day I hear this record play/ My heart is in a better place, my mind is in a different state/ so I don't really care what the records make/ how many lives can this record save?/ How many minds can it liberate?"
It's clear The Matrix plays a role in A-Reece's upcoming album. For now, liberation and subversion, which are two of the movie's main themes, seem to be the only clear connection between Paradise II and The Matrix.
Paradise II is one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and its rollout borders between clumsy and organic. It depends on one's preference really.
While some industry insiders may feel he's running the risk of getting forgotten and losing traction by taking time with his album, his fanbase is waiting in anticipation. They are commenting on his every move and protecting their fave every part of the way. While A-Reece's cards remain close to his chest, one thing is clear for his competition: they need guns, lots of guns.
This piece is part of Sabelo Mkhabela's South African hip-hop column. He's happy to debate you on Twitter: @sabzamk.
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