Reg Mason Talks on His Creative Process, His Favourite Lyrics, and More
15 Dec 2023
New Jersey, hip-hop artist Reg Mason is not your typical rapper. Having released his debut LP ‘TESTDRIVE‘ this year, he has shown his eclectic musical pallet, which ranges from Alchemist-style beats to autotuned bangers. Not only does he flow over different beats, but his flexibility in his performance is also a standout factor.
Back in August, following the release of the album, we sat down with him over Zoom for an in-depth chat. From the creative process to hip-hop Twitter (X), there is plenty of information to digest and discover in this interview.
The Debut Album was quite a personal and introspective record. What are the challenges with going into that place from a musical and personal point of view?
Musically speaking, I started off feeling a lot of stuff myself. Geographically speaking; New Jersey, with it being next to New York, is such a melting pot of culture and everything entertainment. Being neighbours with a place like that was weird. You were pushed off to your own section. It’s really easy to get caught up in that and go straight into the eye of the storm (New York being that). So, musically speaking, I didn’t really know anyone that did music, especially at the young age of 12/13. Everyone was playing with Bakugan and stuff like that; being kids.
I had to do everything myself for a long time, before, eventually, I met a couple of friends outside of high school and we formed our own clique. Next thing you know, I met Curtis (Grayson), who produced 80-90% of the record. It was difficult at first, but more so having trust in someone to watch my blind spots, musically speaking. It’s made this project fulfilling in a lot of ways. I guess from a personal standpoint, I just wanted to make a record that had Jersey’s fingerprints all over it. You don’t get many artists that are so openly unapologetic about coming from there. A lot of people might try to hide that.
As you said there, I imagine you have to find that person to trust because when you’re being so open and honest, you need someone who is going to respect you for that, who is going to understand, and who knows where to go production-wise in those places.
Exactly. It’s been a long journey and I’m glad that the few people I have had around me, have really invested their time and energy the way I have, it’s a real blessing. It’s been cool, I don’t know how to describe it. (laughs)
People are going to be happy that you have made it very much from the area you come from. As someone from the area I am from, when an artist from that area is a musician, you can tell when they’re repping the area. As a result, the people from the area respect them.
I can’t be from Atlanta. It’s impossible. (laughs) I don’t know anything else. I didn’t start taking flights, as an adult till eight months ago, I didn’t really travel. In elementary school, kids would come back from spring break or any sort of holiday break and a bunch of kids would be like, ‘What did you do? I went to Brazil, I went to Jamaica.’. They’d get to me and I would be like, ‘I went to bed, that’s the hell what I did.’.
Nothing wrong with that. It’s good to see. To use an extreme example, Iggy Azalea is very clearly not from America and people can tell that. (laughs) People clown on her for it.
I got a lot of love for Aussies. There is this pub-rock band called The Chats that I am obsessed with; they are awesome. There’s this other band that is straight-up punk, but they kind of do what they want called Amyl and The Sniffers. I love them! The frontwoman Amy Taylor is a f*****g firecracker. I would watch their videos all the time on mute while making this record so that I could get caught up in their energy. They’re really electric since we’re on the topic of Australian acts.
What else besides your friends you met at school, inspired you to be a rapper?
I came up in the hardcore community, as that was what my brother was into. He played in this one hardcore band (from) (20)06 to (20)08; MySpace era, called Before The Collision and he played bass in it. He and all his friends would get together; they lived down the street from our local high school. We would hit Dairy Queen and I would watch them practice. I got caught up in having a medium where I was allowed to be emotionally vulnerable and people didn’t look at you weird for it.
After a while, I started realising, especially at the turn of the decade (we were in the 2010s, at this moment), people are starting to gear towards technology. (It) was advancing, so it was easier to make music by yourself and it wasn’t that lucrative to try and get people under one roof, and you had to work with all these schedules in a band. It made the most sense for me to give up guitar for an MPC and start making beats.
But then, all the people in my area who rapped, sucked. So, I was like, ‘I guess I do that too. I’m not going to be out here selling beats, I want to make records. That’s what I care about.’. I found out about a few acts. RATKING was a big one, this underground, New York trio that has since disbanded. They were really gritty. A lot of their influence came from a lot of punk-hardcore bands, but also electronic stuff: breakbeat, IDM. They could rap over anything, they were amazing.
El-P from Run The Jewels was a huge influence on me. I love his dystopia soundscapes that he would put over really weird sci-fi stuff. But, it would still sound New York as hell. I think Danny Brown was a huge influence, as well. Once I found out about him, I was like, ‘Yeah, this is over. I am rapping for sure (laughs).
Watching a lot of people, that I knew were close by geographically speaking, but making music that was so left-of-centre and still finding success in their own right and didn’t have to depend on anybody to get it done, was cool to me. That’s what made me pivot towards making rap-centric stuff.
Those are some very interesting influences which you can see in your music. You can already tell from those influences that whatever you do in your career, whenever you change your sound, it’s going to be natural. It is not going to be like some people, where they will say, ‘This is doing well at the moment, I will do this.’. It will flow well, it will fit well. To go back to your point about you rapping because no one else could, it goes back to that old saying: ‘Anything I can do, you can do better.’
(laughs) There was no one! There was nobody, it’s crazy. Around that time, it was the mid-2010s; 2013-2016, and Atlanta, The South has taken over. We were just phasing out of Chicago drill and Chief Keef; ushering in the Atlanta and Southern sound. That was cool and I could do that, but everybody that I loved rapped over samples and sample-chopping.
Action Bronson-‘Rare Chandeliers‘ is one of my favourite mixtapes ever. Aesop Rock-‘Skelethon‘, that album sounds like a tall-bearded man went full J.D. Salinger and made beats in the woods for nine months. I like really abstract, weird stuff. But then, I can meet people in the middle with aggressive stuff like Denzel Curry and Injury Reserve. I like to keep the pot very mixed and just have a little something in there for everybody. That is what I wanted to approach the album like.
What you describe there shows how much more open and varied hip-hop is as a genre now. It took ages for an album from a rapper to top the Billboard chart this year and people were saying, ‘Hip-hop is dead,’ and no it is not. The mainstream stuff isn’t quite hitting, but there is so much of it out there, you just need to check it out. For example, that JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown album got into the charts. That wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago, but now people are on that.
Hip-hop will always be alive, it will always be kicking.
How did you feel about that record by the way?
From the title, I was interested anyway, as it’s a very interesting title. I enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed JPEG(MAFIA) for a bit and Danny Brown, as well and they came together very well. The bonus tracks were good that came out recently. Good record.
I like both of them separately. But, when they come together it’s like a Power Rangers crossover episode. It’s like two people that I love from two different worlds, but also very similar. There were some reservations that I had about the mixing, not going to lie. (laughs) Once I looked past that I was like, ‘This isn’t that much different from how punk bands used to mix their records and they would sound gnarly. It gives it a different texture.’. So, once I looked past that, it is a very unique record.
Enough of that. They got enough promo time, no more airtime for them. (laughs)
They got their 15 minutes of fame from that album. I imagine that is the musician in you with the mixing thing. You know what you like with mixing, so you can tell when something is slightly out of place.
Mixing music is all just interpretation. It’s like, ‘I would put blue on this Van Gogh painting. I don’t like he used turquoise, I would have used teal.’. It’s all going in the same direction, its really which sections do you want to be brighter? As long as it serves the overall dish and as long as it tastes good in the end, who cares about how you get there?
That is why art is so great because it is interpreted differently, you can take it in a new direction. Anything is possible.
I mean look at ‘(The) Life of Pablo‘. How many records over the last 50 years have been remastered to death? Especially, historically speaking, the loudness war of the 2000’s. Rick Rubin was cranking albums to god knows how many decibels and how many of those records had to get remastered over time, so that they don’t blow out people’s speakers. That is an example in and within itself where you have an idea and take it in a certain direction.
Is it smart or not? That’s ultimately debatable, art is subjective. I like how free-flowing art can be, where we have a medium that allows us to take whatever it is in our brain and throw it out on the dish. It’s ultimately up to the public whether it is a good one or not.
What would say is a lyric you have written that stood out to you and stopped you in your tracks during a studio session?
It was during ‘fearful‘; I have two actually. In this one lyric, I said, “I fear I maybe ain’t the best / I fear my pops won’t be around to see his son get a cheque.”. That was off of ‘fearful‘ and I wrote that song at a point that I was unsure where the direction my life was going. I knew I had to get back to work; stimulus money dried up; pandemic was numbing down. I had an idea of where I wanted my career to be at the time stuff started opening again. It didn’t pan out because there was a bunch of other stuff I was dealing with. I was thinking like, ‘Wow, us being human beings, time is the most precious currency because you can spend it and never get it back.’. (Even) dealing with our own mortality, just as caretakers.
My mother has tirelessly been a bottomless pit of encouragement for my art. My dad, he is a bit older and a bit more of a realest, stuck in his ways. He’s been supportive when he can. It made me think, he has been so focused on the results. What if I don’t get the results that he would have wanted before his time is up and dealing with that mortality? Even I have friends who’ve lost their parents this year due to messed-up external circumstances and what must that do to their psyche? So, that is a lyric that has stuck with me.
There was another one off of ‘CHESSBOARD’‘ (the track before ‘fearful‘), where it was a one-liner. “Remember underground apartments with my mom dog / That’s low-living.”. I’ve basically lived in Union, my entire life, it’s where I was born and raised. Culturally, (it’s) rich. You could run into anyone (who is) Haitian, Macedonian, Italian, Portuguese; really just anybody.
We lived in an apartment that was underground and only had one window. We were there because my mom wanted a better life for us. She didn’t want us living two towns over where people get into things they have no business getting into. (I can) only imagine what they would have done for the trajectory of me and my brother’s lives. We had to duke it out; anything to stay in a place that was safe and designed to help cultivate two forward-thinking young men. That is another lyric that stayed with me.
What is a live performance you’ve seen that made you re-evaluate your live performance style?
I probably have a couple. Definitely one (I didn’t see them in person); Foo Fighters, Wembley Stadium. I had a Foo Fighters DVD of the Documentary ‘Back and Forth‘ (I saw it the night of its premiere), and I feel that I watch it once or twice a year, just to keep my creative brain growing. It’s a tradition at this point.
It got to a certain chapter in the documentary where Dave Grohl is talking about him getting approached with the proposal to play Wembley Stadium. Everyone knows it’s for sports! That is a proper sports arena. He was like ok and then, ‘Wait a minute, how many people are there?’. They sold it out in two days. Just for the sheer size that made me re-think. Obviously, arena tours exist, but seeing one happen in front of me or witnessing someone go through the mental ‘We have to play that?’, is something that made me re-evaluate my stage presence. Just having a larger than life persona on stage.
Also, if there is one more, I saw Injury Reserve, 2018. JPEGMAFIA was supposed to be on that bill with them, but for whatever reason he couldn’t make it that day. I noticed how they had this thing where they had a bunch of white tarps all over the entire stage. How they started the show, they had fans going around and they were blowing up the tarps. The lead vocalist came in and you couldn’t even see him get on stage, he was crawling around under the tarps and he pulled it down and said ‘We’re here’.
Small-simple presentation, that is really cool. Even then, they had a glass box with a lightbulb in it that you could see through and the guy climbed in it and was singing a ballad. It looked like he was suffocating, it was claustrophobic as f**k. But, it’s stuff like that which I appreciate because we’re artists, we don’t get thrown huge budgets. Seeing an artist like Injury Reserve (their name is By Storm now) doing so much with so little; they’ve been a huge influence on my performance in general and how I approach art in a visual space.
From what you have described of that performance I can already tell it was unique and it was something that stuck with you. I’m sure it has stuck with other people that went there and that’s what you want in a performance. You’re there to see the artist live, but the concerts you remember are when they do something different or they add another side to their personality or their music.
As for the Foo Fighters concert, I imagine in terms of performing at Wembley, it’s not only about putting on a good show, but keeping yourself composed and not letting the situation overwhelm you.
Absolutely. I think they did a 2-hour set straight. Imagine playing a show to that many people and having the people up in the nosebleeds (stands) and have them feel like their down there. That’s gotta be a real tricky thing to manage, (laughs) while being on stage for that long. It’s influenced me a lot.
Who is someone you would like to collaborate with who would take your sound in a new direction?
Jack White. Jack White is one of the most weird, eccentric; he’s just a mad scientist. I love his use of fuzz and distortion. In a lot of ways, he has changed how people can approach being in a band. I remember The White Stripes being such a huge deal for me because a lot of their stuff was so simple. Yet, they still had a bombastic sound. I would love to collaborate with Jack White in a huge way.
Jack White, Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age; their new record was insane. Viagra Boys, their a Swedish punk band I have been obsessed with for a long time. For something a bit more in the rap sphere: Navy Blue. He is a great artist and he has a very poetic, Gil-Scott Heron, positive thing going for himself. If there is one off the top of my head; you know the rapper Smiley? He did a record with Drake called ‘Over The Top‘ a couple of years ago and he raps in a way like an uninterested girl. (laughs) I’d love to work with him, his voice is just so weird. (laughs)
That is a very eclectic and interesting choice of collaborators. Jack White; what he did with The White Stripes was great. ‘Seven Nation Army‘ is as big now as it ever was and the solo stuff he did, as well was great. Did Navy Blue do a song with Earl Sweatshirt?
Yeah; ‘The Mint‘. He has a few other projects about himself. He has this one album called ‘Ways of Knowing‘, it came out in March. That one was really good. But, his project ‘Song of Sage‘ (the one with the blue cover), that one got me through a lot while I was making this record! If anything, (with) ‘fearful’‘, I took a bit of influence from him in a lot of ways. He just bares his soul whenever he’s on top of the beat. That gave me the confidence to do that.
You need those records in your life. There are records that helped me through the pandemic when things were looking bleak. Yeah, Viagra Boys; I am loving the post-punk options here.
Their great; their animals. ‘Cave World‘ was one of my fave albums of last year because of their commentary alone on social media, technology, and how that affects us as human beings, but taking that context back to when we were Neanderthals and Cavemen. I thought that was cool and a weird, unique almost 90s Pauly Shore way of looking at stuff. It’s funny. It is like a slacker kind of comedy. It was good social commentary disguised as 90s slacker comedy.
I haven’t listened to the new record yet, but that does sound very interesting. I do love the revival of punkism because it is very important at the moment with the current landscape of the world.
You gotta have something to be mad at in order to do it. (laughs) It’s a weird thing; I feel if the world was all put together, us as human beings, we’d still find something to be upset about.
People do that on Twitter (X) every day mate.
Everybody needs that catharsis, something to be mad at.
Music Discourse, especially on Twitter, there’s always someone who has something to be mad about.
I’m so glad we are past the YoungBoy Better era because Jesus Christ man they were not letting that go. They probably still say it, it’s not much of a meme anymore. But, it is all the same thing, ‘Oh my gosh! Who is your top 4? 2Pac? Tyler, The Creator? Frank Ocean, who doesn’t even make hip-hop or J.I.D?’ It’s the most boring lists in the world. There is no way these are the only people you listen to, but they get engagements.
I remember Tyler, The Creator saying something about that. You should just post what you like. You shouldn’t feel like ‘I have to mention 2Pac, Jay-Z, and Nas because everyone likes them.’. If you like them, cool; if you don’t like them, tell us who you like, it is fine. You can like Lil Uzi Vert or YoungBoy Never Broke Again.
The reason why people do that is because there is currency, attention, and engagement. The more engagements and attention you get, in people’s heads (it means) the more valuable your account or brand is. Look at The Shade Room, that is one of the most vile platforms that could ever exist. Their whole thing isn’t much different from regular news, where they will take a topic that they know is polarising and that people will have strong opinions about and they’ll be like, ‘Thoughts?’. They never say how they actually feel, as that would be weird. It’s a breeding ground for hatred and it is disgusting; it needs to be g****d down right now. That’s how I feel about it.
Media like that is not my vibe. They will purposely put a part of the sentence into the headline. We won’t give context because someone will love it and someone will hate it and they’ll clash in the comments. They know what they are doing.
We should expect better from one another to understand what they are doing. But a lot of people, especially with The Shade Room and platforms like that, are not talking to internet lurkers. They are talking to people on their lunch break, having a sandwich, trying to see what’s going on; they are tapping into the internet, basically opening up their virtual newspaper. They see, ‘Somebody who I have never heard of before is doing something I don’t understand. I don’t like that and I’ve gotta let my opinion be known because that matters for some reason.’.
It’s weird, but when you see it for what it is, I guess it’s an easier pill to swallow. I genuinely feel that platforms like that set us back in humanity.
Also, the problem is a lot of people don’t have the time to research topics. They will see the headline and go mad. You have to hope the actual sources of media who are trying to tell the news, not create a big explosion, eventually just get out there to people.
In a lot of ways too. All platforms like Entertainment Weekly or The Shade Room; all those platforms are just a Gen-Z’s response to magazines you’d see when you go to the shop to pick up some bananas or whatever. There would be 30 magazines saying, ‘Jenifer Aniston found out she got cheated on by Brad Pitt for the 35th time. Are they going to get back together? Buy this magazine for 75¢ and see.’ and then it’s all just a bunch of B.S. (These platforms) are an upgrade to what has already been there.
What would you like to achieve in the rest of 2023 and beyond?
I would love to do some shows, get some merch going, and do some vinyls. I appreciate physical distribution and physical ownership of music. It’s important to me, so I want to give people that have listened to this record and let it be known that they really enjoy it, I want to give them the chance to support me in a physical space. Regardless of what medium you are, we’re all trying to make a living in something we at least remotely care about. I (also) wanna do some more music videos and hope I will be in a place where this album is so lucrative that I don’t have to do anything else. (laughs)
I’m also doing another record (an EP). I’m in a hardcore-punk band called Good Teal and we just started tracking and recording a few tracks, so hopefully we will have that out before the tail end of 2023.