We’re only 2 months into the new year but there’s no denying that Reason, real name Sizwe Moeketsi, has had quite an eventful 2018 already. A week ago Reason got on Twitter to express his frustrations towards the South African Music Awards. He questioned the SAMAs eligibility process for album submissions after his 2017 album “Love Girls” was initially declared not eligible for award consideration. The album being a digital release was cited as the reason for this but the issue has since been resolved and it will be accepted if submitted for consideration before the deadline. After a day or two, confusion arose when the official soundtrack tracklist for the highly anticipated Marvel film Black Panther was released on Twitter. What followed was a flood of congratulatory tweets to Reason, after fellow South African artists (Sjava, Babes Wodumo) were revealed to be on the album along with a Reason on one of the songs. This Reason was wrongfully presumed to be the South African MC. To the disappointment and equal amusement of most South Africans, that particular Reason turned out to be an American based MC who shares the same moniker as Sizwe. Things took a positive turn however, as Reason managed to secure a beat from world renowned American Hip Hop producer Swizz Beatz. The producer was in South Africa the same week all the above mentioned ensued.
Reason’s entire rap career has been an interesting one. Dating far back as the DJ Fresh Y FM days when he did jingles for him on The Unrestricted Breakfast. Or even farther back to when he earned a reputation as a skilled Battle MC in the Underground scene. My fondest memory of his brilliance is hearing his stellar guest verse on ProVerb’s “Street Music” off the latter’s 2006 sophomore release, “The Manuscript”. His opening four lines on the song are: “Being successful in the game is like Baghdad, sure stuff/ You actually have to be in the streets to blow up/ If that ain’t the case then your standards they won’t budge/ Getting to the top with no stepping stones- there’s no such”. Somehow I believe these lines have come to define Reason’s plight in the rap game. Since releasing his debut album “The Reasoning” in 2010, many still consider him on the verge of blowing up. To some degree, even he still considers himself to be perceived as an underdog of sorts in the game today. It is an understatement to say that Reason has struggled to find his secure place in the South African Hip Hop game. At every turn, there always seems to be a number of MCs generating more buzz than him. This is evidenced by the vexation overt in some of his verses, most recently the freestyle video he posted on his Twitter page in response to the Black Panther soundtrack ‘snub’ where he raps: “I’m tired of being underrated when everybody knows that I am dope/ Even the top two can be rivals, never with I though”.
In understanding why there isn’t unanimous respect and positioning most feel he deserves in the game, it’s important to analyze Reason’s moves against the backdrop of the ever changing landscape of South African Hip Hop. When Reason came out, he was cosigned through collaboration or otherwise by well respected, elite lyricists such as ProVerb, HHP, Amu and Zubz. He was rapping on beats by legendary producers like Battlekat, Mizi, Ootz, Nyambz and longtime collaborator Instro. There was no disputing the sheer prowess he possesses on the mic. There was never any doubt in that regard. What has proven to be a real challenge is making it beyond that and attaining the same level of success and respect in the mainstream in order to become a fully fledged household MC. An accolade Reason believes he deserves but has unfortunately eluded him thus far. One obvious advantage that Reason had over these veterans whom he honed his skills from and with, was that he was younger. This meant that he could appeal to the majority of South African Hip Hop consumers.
Signing to Tumi’s (now known as Stogie T) Motif Records seemed to be a step in the right direction for the Tembisa native. At the label he found a home alongside the cream of the crop in the form of Tumi, Perfecto as well as Zaki Ibrahim. He was touring overseas, collaborating with international artists and gaining quite a notable fan base. His second studio album “Audio 3D” was released to mixed reviews (“I mean the album is doing just alright…”) but songs like “Do It Like I Can” and “Tla K’o Bone” enjoyed heavy air play. What definitely wasn’t achieved is the sought after overall acclaim. While ardent Reason fans were happy with the project, there were still some who believed the album as a body of work was subpar. It also didn’t help that Reason raps predominantly in English. It goes without saying that in a multi-lingual country like South Africa, that somewhat puts one on the back foot. While this era is a lot accepting to English oriented raps, the use of vernacular still goes a long way in making more traction. Perhaps this is one of a number of reasons why despite such commendable output, there still aren’t any awards. Year-end lists of top MCs find him languishing in the bottom half if he makes the cut at all. Despite all these, Reason has gone on to collaborate with plenty of local artists while making it a tradition to drop a plethora of freestyles on his own. He has delivered some of the most endearing and memorable verses covering a wide range of topics through these freestyles. It’s worth noting though, that the frustration that comes with being overlooked remains a reoccurring theme.
Soon after his third studio album “Audio High Definition”, Reason left Motif. While he was by no means in the shadow of Tumi, I don’t think this was a bad move at all. Between his Kool Out ventures and a robust work ethic, his career has managed to keep a steady upward trajectory despite the departure. With his third album, I got a sense of someone who was happy with where he was. On one of the songs “The Crown” he raps: “I used to hate on all the famous rappers/ Like ‘all y’all are whack’ ‘til I was part of all the action/ Now the VIP is where we talk about all this rap shit/ With the same cats I used to diss when I was ashy.” He saw himself as having achieved some form of stability in the top of the Hip Hop food chain. The album itself was another installment in Reason’s attempt to be palatable to the masses while still maintaining his integrity as a skilled MC. On every single track, regardless of the subject matter, he always employs the dexterity of pure lyricism. Whether it’s a trap record, you can always count on him to write masterfully. Its admirable that he still holds views like “All the haters said I need another sound/ My middle finger told them they was fuckin’ clowns/ I would rather run you down than to dumb it down…” as expressed on DJ Capital’s “Skebe Dep Dep”. I however have a feeling that this elusive balance that he is chasing is exactly what is barring him from etching his face in South African Hip Hop’s Mount Rushmore. Wanting to appeal to both ends of the Hip Hop spectrum has proved to be a near impossible feat for virtually all who have tried. The realization of this is what will always make him feel like he is not getting the recognition he deserves. As a staunch fan of his, I find myself reciting arguably my favorite Reason verse often times, taken off The POWA mixtape track “Another Summer Without Sun”. The lines that resonate the most are: “I don’t believe in being biggest or richest M.C./ But I believe in being the realest one to get an M-3”. The Reason today seems to have forsaken this ideal. I am not a bitter old fan stuck on Reason the Mass but in the middle of this sporadic existential angst that he sometimes goes through, I wish he could listen to ProVerb’s verse on “Verse Of Advice” off “The Reasoning” to put things into perspective.