Words by Luke LaBenne
Reks, the musical moniker of rapper Corey Christie, is an acronym which stands for Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme, and he lives up to that royal title with T.H.I.N.G.S. (The Hunger Inside Never Gets Satisfied) his best album to date. Informed by a rich career in music, spanning 20 years, a dozen albums, and collaborations with some of hip hop’s finest, Reks delivers an impeccably crafted and culturally impactful record. He weaves his personal perspective into imposing social issues, dense with insightful lyrical detail that stirs the spirit and provokes the mind. This album uplifts, enrages and encourages the listener as he delves into the topics of family, black love, white privilege, the military industrial complex and so many other subjects as pertinent to the modern era as they are timeless reflections of age old arguments. Contrasting himself against the backdrop of our broader culture’s twisted priorities, he expertly emphasizes the things that really matter in life.
Off Shelf: I imagine it’s strange releasing an album during the pandemic, and with everything else going on, but how does it feel to have the album out?
Corey Christie: It’s absolutely a unique situation and an odd feeling but I’m so happy to have people finally hearing it. I put so much into this album and I do in all my albums, but this album here means so much more to me now. With all the growth, not just personally but within my tribe and everything around me and my surroundings. It’s just been a phenomenal feeling to make this happen.
OS: That’s great. Do you feel this album is a little more personal to you?
CC: You know, I do and a lot of times that can come off as cliche, a lot of people say that when they’re in the midst of a new release. I feel it’s the most complete work I’ve done to date. I was able to touch on a range of topics and I was able to use a varied production sound bed, to the point where I feel like I’ve addressed so many things that needed to be addressed that I didn’t address in the past.
OS: Do you feel like it’s appropriate to call this album timely?
CC: I think that so much has happened in 2020 that we need to move as far and away from 2020 as possible. I feel like these messages just resonate more now, I didn’t predict anything with my messages. It’s more just happenstance that these things are occurring right now and my message just addresses the nature of the beast that we’re dealing with.
OS: What is your process for writing your lyrics. Do you strictly write to the beat or do you just jot down thoughts as they come to you and compile them later?
CC: When I first started writing I was a writer who didn’t utilize some of the instrumentation, like I didn’t need the instrumentation to write my bars. Nowadays, I prefer to write specifically to the beat and kind of have vision mapped out prior to even jotting anything down. Having a semblance of an idea that I can go on and know where I’m trying to take it. The instruments have a tendency to bring me to a certain mood and pocket.
OS: So you’re feeding off of the energy of the music?
CC: Absolutely, I feed off of the vibes from the instruments themselves. Also, conceptually I might have ideas that I either think about while I’m sleeping or I might hear conversations with the tribe or with the homies. From that an idea might come together and start to formulate. Then I need to find the right beat that fits that concept.
OS: Speaking of the production, it’s really phenomenal on this album. You worked with awesome people like Apollo Brown and Statik Selektah. How do you go about choosing the people you work with to build the production crew?
CC: Before I come up with any lyrics I come up with the concept of what the album might be. Then I think of the kind of producers I might have in mind to reach out to based on that, people who will definitely fit the vibe of that record. I had Pharaohe Monch in mind day one for that record, and the thing about it is that Pharaoh doesn’t do too many features. We were building to it a while, doing something together, but I knew I wanted Statik to produce it and I knew I wanted Pharaoh on a topic like that.
OS: What made you think Pharaohe would be perfect for the song “The Complex”?
CC: First and foremost knowing what he writes about and how in depth he can be on his topics, but specifically dealing with the conceptual nature of his last couple of albums. I think it makes perfect sense for someone of his caliber to be rapping about the military industrial complex. I didn’t think of anybody else. I didn’t think anybody could do what Pharaohe could do. I got respect for so many lyricists but Pharaohe is one of the GOAT lyricists and very proven in tackling topics of that nature. I think he nailed it.
OS: The title track “T.H.I.N.G.S.” may be my favorite song, it’s such a high energy jam and the title is an acronym for The Hunger Inside Never Gets Satisfied. What made you choose that title and what does that sentiment mean to you?
CC: So I’m huge on acronyms. The title, it came off of a George Carlin monologue. He was doing a bit about the accumulation of stuff. George Carlin is obviously one of my favorites, he’s a great, I’ve used him in past projects, and he’s someone I value as a thinker. It was because of that bit that I started thinking on the concept of what we accumulate and why. From that I started playing around with the word “things” and seeing what it could be and The Hunger Inside Never Gets Satisfied just came out. It was perfect because what it represents is our constant quest to accumulate materialism. That’s just the nature of not only the country we live in but this populous, this world that we live in and my direction is moving so far away from that in my personal life and the people in my environment, my personal area. So it was important for me to have that juxtaposition of that concept.
OS: What made you want to tackle all these important issues, was it everything going on in the world or was it just that you felt that you knew what you wanted to say?
CC: I feel like anyone who looks at my discography and my track record, I’ve always been topical. I feel like it’s gotten more so over the last 5 albums. It all came together now in this time frame a little more fluidly. I feel like I found my true voice and how to express what I want to express, without always feeling like I have to “body” every record. I can be emotional like in “Legacy Driven” and strip down some of the nature of who I was before and be able to clearly define the concept and the message that I’m trying to relay to the people.
OS: On “Legacy Driven” you say “Live from the quarantine” and that had me wondering did you record any of this during quarantine?
CC: It was mostly done prior to the quarantine situation. We were very close to wrapping up when the decisions were being made around March. I’m saying “Live from the quarantine” because that’s what we specifically as Americans were dealing with. We had no choice but to be [quarantined] even if it’s not a mandated specific situation for people being sick in my home. We were experiencing something that we’ve never experienced and may not experience again in our lifetime, and other people might not come across. It was a very unique situation we were in and I wanted to capture that very clearly what the feeling and the emotion is of being in that place.
OS: Another track I want to talk about is “Miss Education.” I know you have kids. Do you worry about the lies that teachers will tell them, as you say in the song, or the skewed or whitewashed education they might get?
CC: I don’t worry about it but I do pay attention very closely. I express to them, more than anything, to question everything. Question it all and be an independent thinker and researcher. Be mindful, with not only what you’re learning in school but what you’re learning online. The age of Google and misinformation is so dangerous, so they have to do their research and be adamant about even questioning their research and being diligent about how they find information. Information can be very powerful, but it can also be very powerful in a negative way, it can be dangerous. Luckily I have a library for them, that we’re continuously building. When they want to build their person and if there’s anything that I disagree with I’m not going to do their teacher’s job. I’m always their teacher as well as their parent, but I’m not going to do their teacher’s job. I’m going to let them do their job and then I’m going to consistently have dialogues with them to work out the kinks of what may be true or untrue.
OS: You talk about your family history in “Nana and Grampy’s Song” and you trace the branches of your family tree from your grandparents to you and your children. How did you manage to sum up this multi-generational story in 3 minutes?
CC: I tapped into the layers. My grandparents didn’t move North during The Great Migration of the black families, but they came around that time and they just had a goal. So I let that be the template for what that dialogue was going to be. Just the actual plan of two people in love, a representation of black love, being like we’re just going to find our place in this world. And because of their plan we’re all able to benefit from the many layers and branches that they created. So I just made sure I used them as the template and everything else that bloomed it just had to touch on it.
OS: In the song you talk about learning from Isaiah and Josiah, I assume those are your sons. How do you learn from them?
CC: So it’s them and my young queen, Jada, who is my fiancé’s daughter and she’s my daughter as well. That’s their new mom and we have an interesting dynamic in our village, but it works and we all understand our worth within it. I learn daily from them. I learn patience, I learn how to apologize when I may misinterpret something that they say or are feeling. I make it a point, a very important point that I made a mistake. It’s very important for me to humble myself even with them and to respect that relationship so that relationship can grow. I feel a lot of time we as parents we talk at our children instead of having dialogues with them and recognizing how intelligent they are about the mood of the room, about energies in the room, just things in general. Their ability to see things that we may not see because we’re so wrapped up in our adult dynamic. They just have a beautiful vision of how the world works and sometimes we just need to fall back and listen to them.
OS: That’s great parenting advice. In the song Rachel Green you talk about white privilege and there’s one line where you brilliantly capture it: “You’re not the cause but you’re reaping the rewards of your forefathers wars.” How did you come up with that idea to use Jennifer Anniston’s character from Friends as an example of white privilege?
CC: So I used Rachel Green because I did an interview a while back and people who know that interview know that I’m a die hard Friends fan.
OS: Oh yeah?
CC: Like it borders on insane. I remember we’d be on tour, Statik Selektah and Termanology, we’d be out on tour and all they would hear is the Friends theme song. They’d be losing their minds, especially Statik, when we’d share rooms and stuff like that he’d be so upset, but I had a period where I had to go to sleep to Friends.
OS: Right. I’ve been there.
CC: I’m a big fan of the show, even though that show is definitely taking from Living Single, it’s definitely a knock-off show. I use Rachel Green because her character and what she represented is a lot of what we see as that privilege. That circumstance where we know it exists but we’ve just grown to accept it as the way it is. I’m talking about all humans on this earth, just allow a situation that we know is not cool. We’ve allowed it to just remain until it becomes embedded into our culture. We’ve got to give it a new name, we’ve got to call it something different. I feel like a lot of what’s going on right now is altering this culture and renaming a lot of the aspects of it, and rightfully so. But I had to have this dialogue about that because it’s a very important conversation that needs to be had.
OS: It’s interesting that you love the show but you can use one of the characters to point at something that is an issue. Do you think that, knowing these things are flawed or exemplify these problems should we cut them out or is it ok to have that nostalgic love for it?
CC: We can’t ever find peace with the actuality of those negative aspects within our culture within the artists that we listen to or watch. The specifics of this dialogue on white privilege and white supremacy, doesn’t play out so much in a show like Friends but you see underlying layers of what it even is in the characters that are there. The extras are individuals who are black but the world in which Central Perk exists is similar to something like The Jetsons or The Flintstones. You don’t see representation of someone who looks like me in any aspect, like you’re just an extra bit-part player in that world. When you really put a lens on it, you see that you don’t even play a part. We need to be mindful about it and I’m very mindful of it and I can watch and enjoy a show like that and know how flawed it is.
OS: What is the main thing that you hope people take away from this album?
CC: The main thing I want people to take away is the need for us to disconnect from our beliefs that we need things that are really just wants and desires. To delve inwardly and to focus on self-reflection but also self-appreciation and creating a circumstance where we transcend beyond all of this materialism.