During Black Music Month, Jamla Records hip-hop artist Reuben Vincent shared a handful of tracks for QCity Metro’s Music of the Movement series. At the same time, the 19-year-old east Charlotte native prepared to release his latest EP, “Boy Meets World.” The project is Vincent’s coming-of-age story as he reflects from a front-row seat in life’s global classroom.
“My first time riding in a plane was a year and a half ago when I was going with Rapsody and 9th Wonder to Los Angeles,” Vincent said, referring to his labelmate and label head, respectively. “I’ve never seen the world like that. ‘Boy Meets World’ was an EP to show people that I finally got to see the world, and I am understanding people’s perspectives, and I’m trying to understand my purpose in the world.”
The first track, “How It Feel?” begins with a 1988 interview clip of a 17-year-old Tupac Shakur eloquently expressing his views on societal issues like education, poverty and racism. Shakur’s words, full of unexpected wisdom and insight from a teenager, resonated with Vincent more than three decades later, particularly when Shakur stated, “The hardest thing about being my age is proving to society that I understand what’s going on.”
Vincent channels that same energy into his own verses, showing maturity even while he’s still learning more about himself.
Class is in session
Before Covid-19, Vincent was navigating his freshman year at North Carolina A&T State University. While he’s weighing options on whether to return in the fall, Vincent cherishes the inspiration he found during his short time at the historically Black university.
“Everybody is grinding. People that look like me are doing dope things. That’s what I love about being at an HBCU,” he said.
Vincent is learning off campus, too. He’s receiving on-the-job training as the youngest member of the Jamla Records family. His hip-hop higher education prerequisites have been led by his record label head and mentor, 9th Wonder, an experienced university lecturer who has taught courses at North Carolina Central, Duke and Harvard.
The Soul Council’s Eric G led the production on “Boy Meets World,” blessing Vincent with quality beats but also letting him provide input. They collaborated on the beat for the second track, “Expedition.”
“I wanted to pay homage to the South,” said Vincent. “I grew up in North Carolina. We have a lot of influences here from Southern artists. I just wanted to put all of that in a melting pot and put it on a record. I wanted to show people I can move on different beats and find different pockets and flows because that’s what I grew up on.”
Vincent describes labelmate Rapsody, a Grammy-nominated emcee and North Carolina native, as a confidence booster when he was new to the industry.
“I used to text her lines that I would write just to get confirmation if it was fire or not,” he recalled. “I remember one day she said, ‘Never second-guess yourself. Never ask for approval from me or whoever.’ That stuck with me.”
A voice for the next generation
The son of Liberian parents, Vincent shaped his lyrics using cultural experiences from growing up in east Charlotte combined with research on Black history. His thought-provoking rhymes can be heard especially on the second half of the album. On “Whatchusay,” for instance, he has an introspective monologue about self-identity within his community. “If I Die” challenges Generation Z to do more than post about injustices on social media.
He took that cultural awareness on the road last month when Rapsody invited him to attend a rally in Kentucky to demand justice over the murder of Breonna Taylor. Taylor was an unarmed Black woman fatally shot in February by Louisville Police officers who entered her home under a “no-knock” warrant. It was the first time Vincent had attended a rally.
Closer to home, Charlotte is experiencing a Black Lives Matter movement of its own. Amid weeks of protests and rallies across the area, tragedy struck the Historic West End with the June 22 mass shooting along Beatties Ford Road.
“I was super hurt,” Vincent recalled. “This is going on right now? It hurt me, but you got to continue to fight for justice. It just gave me more battery in my back to stand for something.”
The pandemic impacted his plans to hit the road for performances promoting his new project. However, he’s optimistic about the circumstance – using the time to spend with family, record more songs and work on himself. Once the pandemic is under control, he’s ready to get back on stage.