You hear it in the instantly head-nodding sounds of the Jazz-tinged “Come Around,” and again in the irresistibly body-rockin’ sounds of the Soul-drenched “Life Is Short, you hear the past-meets-present sounds of 21st century boom-bap throughout in-demand deejay/producer Statik Selektah’s just-released showcase for Hip Hop’s likely last generation of true lyricists, 100 Proof (The Hangover).
While there is not merely one organization keeping this ‘90s-influenced sound alive in 2010, there is one force that will surely claim the crown as the standard bearers of said sound by year’s end, and that label/movement is simply known as “Showoff.”
And what’s the Showoff sound specifically? “Hip Hop that doesn’t suck!,” exclaims emcee extraordinaire Reks in response to that question, reciting the tagline on Showoffhiphop.com and the mantra of his label home at Showoff Records.
“I can’t really describe it better,” says Statik Selektah of Showoff’s modus operandi. “There’s just so much shit out there that comes out between the blogs and all these Internet radio shows, and I think our stuff stands out a little bit more. So I take pride in that.”
DESTINED TO SHINE
Showoff launched inconspicuously in 2003 as a street marketing company. Doing more than just putting up posters and stickers, the Boston-based firm began their first year in operation by handling all of the northeast marketing for 50 Cent and his G-Unit sneakers line through Reebok, as well as for another Reebok/Hip Hop union in Jay-Z’s S.Carter kicks. Additional clients soliciting Showoff’s services in those early days ranged from Lacoste cologne to music projects for Def Jam, Atlantic, and Universal Records.
“I started putting out 12”’s at the same time, different vinyl,” recalls then mixtape titan Statik Selektah. “And, I just needed a name, so after brainstorming a bit my man Clinton Sparks helped me come up with it. It’s funny ‘cause I actually said a whole different word to him, and he goes, ‘What did you say, Showoff?’ And I was like, ‘Uh…yeah that’s what I said.’”
Showoff’s expansion in 2006 from solely a marketing operation to include a full-fledged record label happened rather uneventfully with the imprint simply slapping its logo that year on Termanology and producer DC’s Out The Gate to help further the exposure for Statik’s longtime friend, and fellow Lawrence, Massachusetts (a.k.a. “Lawtown”) native, Term. Showoff subsequently handled what Statik describes as “a real, real independent release” for New Hampshire-based duo Granite State with The Breaking Point.
“I always wanted to [start a label], it’s just I never had the artists,” says Statik of Showoff’s somewhat lackluster launch as a music company. “I never really took Showoff Records serious until my first album [2007’s Spell My Name Right (The Album)]. And then when I did my first album, like in the middle of working on that I decided I wanted to do a situation with Reks.”
ALONG CAME THE CHOSEN
Reks is the type of talent that any Hip Hop connoisseur would salivate at the opportunity to build a brand around. “Reks is the flagship artist,” says Statik of the star player on the Showoff squad. “If the label is based off his talent, then we’re good.”
Statik and Reks’ good music connection began way back in 1999, when a then 17-year-old DJ Statik booked the new-on-the-New-England-scene Reks (an acronym for “Rhythmatic Eternal Kings Supreme”) to come perform at the club in New Hampshire where the then high school student deejayed at weekly.
“Statik was about 10 years-old back then,” recalls Reks jokingly of his introduction to the future CEO of Showoff. “He was like 10 years-old, booking shows. It was the funniest thing ever, short little squeaky voiced dude coming out here talking about putting on a Hip Hop show. Dude was about up to my stomach. [Laughs].”
Billing newcomer Reks only as a favor to the rhymer’s then manager, Statik riskily put the buzzing Lawtown spitter alongside a who’s who of emcees from the turn-of-the-century Boston area scene including 7L & Esoteric, Akrobatik, and L Tha Headtoucha, which provided Reks the first real opportunity to showcase his skills in such a star-heavy setting.
At the time of that introduction in ’99 to the deejay five-years his junior, the then 21-year-old Reks was working on a demo and rippin’ open mics wherever he could find them. Impressed by the rising rookie after that first live sampling of Reks lyrics of fury, Statik subsequently became his deejay in 2000, later landing his first formal production credit (for “Work”) in 2001 on Reks’ Landspeed-distributed debut, Along Came The Chosen.
“I was opening up for cats like [KRS-One] and De La [Soul],” Reks recalls of his ’01 breakthrough. “And [Statik] was out there, young as hell, just gettin’ it in, soaking up the whole thing.”
And while Reks candidly admits that back in the day he didn’t foresee Statik’s current standing in the game as a well-respected music maker (“Hell no!,” he comically shot back when asked if he saw that future for his 17-year-old deejay. “I mean, he was annoying as hell!”), the wordsmith was always amazed by one particular talent his young tuntablist possessed. “On the cuts, Statik did his thing,” recalls Reks. “And I definitely respected his work ethic and like his hunger to just be involved. But the truth of the matter is, it wasn’t more him, it was more me. The reason I didn’t recognize [his full potential] is because I was so caught up in my own ego. I wasn’t able to recognize things [I should have] at that point in time. I was very, very egotistical… I didn’t really make it, but getting out of my neighborhood and being able to open up for cats like [Redman & Method Man], and doing shows with Ghostface [Killah]…it threw me off guard, I was ill-prepared, and I took some time to humble myself.”
Prior to his humbling, Reks’ cut creator had already tired of his egotistical emcee and ended what could have years ago developed into a pairing to rival the great emcee-and-deejay tandems in Hip Hop history.
“He was going through a lot of personal stuff, and certain things were happening, and we basically had a fallout,” explains Statik of the split. “We didn’t talk for a long time… It wasn’t a beef between us, it was just he was living a certain way and I was kinda just sick of it.”
“For a long period of time I was just doing dumb shit,” Reks admits of his once whylin’ ways. “I was doing dumb shit just to do dumb shit – not being locked up for [long] periods of time, but getting booked for like some dumb shit and coming back home and then just doing more dumb shit. And [then], I got engaged. And from the moment I got engaged to finding out I was having a son was like a moment for me to step back from the music thing and reevaluate my person, never mind my music.”
While formally stepping back from his music career after his self-distributed street album, 2003’s Rekless (whose “Born Beggar” marked the last Statik-credit featured on a Reks project for five years), the struggling artist’s personal re-evaluation process wasn’t finally completed until the admittedly absentee father and husband was forced to the sunshine state in 2006, to follow his wife, who had relocated to Miami with his young son in tow, and attempt to reconcile their then fractured family unit.
“He’s a whole different man than he was [before that],” says Statik proudly three-and-a-half years later. “He had to go to Florida to get his head together and be a father and a husband, and it worked out for the best.”
Having never completely given up on his former musical partner, Statik reached out to Reks via Myspace requesting they resume their working relationship for Statik’s then in-the-works first full-length. The two friends finally connected in person while Statik was in Miami for his birthday party in January 2007, as Reks recalls, “When he came through he was like, ‘Listen, if you wanna wrap it up, that’s cool. But you only live once, dog…[So] let’s make a album, let’s make it a classic, let’s just focus on making the next Criminal Minded. Never mind just making music, let’s do something timeless.’”
Reks made the carefully calculated decision to abandon his recently started career as an insurance claims adjuster and put his music comeback in Statik’s hands, with his reintroduction to the Rap world coming later that year on Statik’s debut compilation effort, Spell My Name Right (The Album), which was followed by their Criminal Minded-inspired classic a year later with Reks’ warmly-received Grey Hairs.
“Even during the time we weren’t even talking, like I always considered him one of the illest rappers ever,” says Statik of Showoff’s star-in-the-waiting. “I don’t like to gas him up, but he’s one of the illest dudes I’ve ever worked with as far as straight [spittin’]. He loves rhyming. Like, he got a certain passion for it, [but] he doesn’t do it corny. A lot of people might be nice but they come across corny and they pick the wrong beats and they don’t know what they’re doing. Reks just straight up stays in his lane and he does what he gotta do, and we just work really good in the studio [together].”
Like some sort of vision from a lyrical lover’s dreams, the Big L/Big Pun hybrid showcased his unbridled passion for rhyming atop DJ Premier’s sinister production on Grey Hairs lead-off single “Say Goodnight”.
Armed not just with the furious flow displayed on that track, Reks demonstrated his cocksure cool, and perfectly in-the-pocket, mainstay delivery maybe best on the marching-drum driven “System” from last year’s More Grey Hairs, the dozen-track disc of appetizing leftovers from Grey Hairs.
Much like he did on those first two efforts for Showoff, Reks will be balancing his battle-ready rhymes with remarkably powerful autobiographical narratives on his forthcoming third release for the label, R.E.K.S. The best example of those deeply personal poems comes courtesy of the Statik-produced “Mr. Nobody,” in which Reks details the loss of his father to complications from AIDS and the subsequent struggles of his single mother.
Reks further displays his incredible artistry on the Lil Fame-assisted metaphorical meditation on the occasional need for breathing room, “Cigarettes.” Aside from Fame’s appearance on that conceptual gem, and additional guest spots from Termanology and Reks’ pre-Showoff crew MDiesel (Lucky Dice and Chi Knox), the guest list for R.E.K.S. is light, with Reks’ adhering to his strict personal guidelines for only collaborating with emcees that fit the tracks he’s seeking support on.
Reks proves however that he can set the mic ablaze all by his lonely while putting his middle fingers up to haters on the Nottz-produced “Fuck You” or unloading his lyrical clip on the Sean C & LV-laced “Kill ‘Em.” Reks receives additional sonic support for his rugged rhymes from Pete Rock, and Grey Hairs contributors DJ Premier (for the tentative first single from R.E.K.S., “No Looking Back”) and Large Professor.
With a guaranteed springtime release, Showoff is as of the moment aiming to release R.E.K.S. on March 9th, the 13th anniversary of The Notorious B.I.G.’s passing. However long it actually takes to get the album to market, Reks fans will soon have the In Between The Lines mixtape helmed by Statik and DJ Green Lantern to hold them over with some non-album selections (like the previously-leaked “I Too, America” full of carefree spittin’ (a la the Arrested Development flip “Hennessy”).
Already planning the release to trail his next solo effort, Reks is currently preparing a duo project with Tampa-based rapper/producer Soul Theory (who crafted the Skyzoo-assisted soul gem “Money On The Ave” for Grey Hairs) entitled Sleep When I’m Gone to be released via Showoff sometime later this year.
And as his stature in the independent Hip Hop world rapidly rises, Reks’ will also be making an assortment of guest appearances as the year unfolds on upcoming projects from El Da Sensei, Masta Ace and Edo G, and !llmind. “I feel like it should be,” replies Reks when asked when he’ll become that must-have guest for everyone’s projects. “I can’t get an I’m-on-like-that break yet. Yo, they need to put me on the cover of that XXL, with the freshmen, the new breed. Throw me on the cover of that joint so muthafuckas could like pay attention a little bit. I really feel like I should [have that light]. I mean, I give it my all. When I write I’ma always give it 100%.”
WATCH HOW IT GO DOWN
Although he personally doesn’t care for the comparison of his role on the Showoff team to that of a position player, it could be fairly said that Termanology is the Pippen to Reks’ Jordan. But while some may see Term as still sharpening his skills to the level of the awe-inspiring agility displayed by the five-years-his-senior Reks, his friend of over a decade believes Term is already right where he needs to be. “To me he’s one of the best,” says Statik, “like if you really break down how he does it, and like the shit he says.” Anyone doubting Statik’s declaration of possessing two of the best emcees in the game on his Showoff squad only need listen to Term’s relentless flow on “Uncut”, from the forthcoming third installment of his 50 Bodies mixtape series, for complete confirmation of that claim.
Statik has apparently known for nearly a dozen years what the world seems to just now be catching on to. As a then 16-year-old, Termanology first exposed his talents to his future producer during the open mic at Club Heaven, the popular under-21 club Statik was deejaying at in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire that drew in teens from nearby Lawrence every Friday night. “I met Term just through there,” recalls Statik, “and he was like, ‘I rap, I rap, I wanna battle so-and-so.’ He was just a real hungry kid. And I was basically the same way, just trying to work with cats that didn’t suck. So, we started hanging out. I used to sleep over his house and stuff. We were kids, man.”
“Reks was already poppin’ at that time,” adds Termanology. “He was like at least locally [building] a buzz. And me and Statik, we were like nobody, nobody… We were trying, but we were just going to house parties and kickin’ rhymes and battling people. He was like battling people, scratching, on the cuts… But, Reks was already poppin’, so we kinda looked up to Reks.”
The two new friends would soon be separated when Statik moved from Lawtown to Beantown the week he graduated from high school in 2000 to attend The New England Institute of Art. During the next few years Statik began his ascension up the ranks of the nation’s multitude of mixtape deejays, eventually becoming so well-known in the streets that he earned a radio gig with Boston’s HOT97 station.
Back in Lawrence Term was earning his stripes dolo doing as he recalls, “700 shows before I started getting paid.” By 2004, Term reached out to Statik to update his now nationally-known friend about his own musical progress, and with plans to release an album with local producer DC asked about sending one of his new works from the project into Statik for placement on one of the red hot deejay’s prominent mixes.
“And this is when I was really poppin’ with the mixtapes,” Statik recalls, “like I was selling a lot in New York and…all over the world. But I put him on a mixtape kind of to show, not just him but the other Boston cats, like, ‘Look, I do support.’ I mean I’ve always supported local artists up there, but I was like, ‘You know what? We haven’t talked in awhile, but I’ll show you I’m still gonna support and so I put it on there.’”
The placement was a turning point in Term’s career as he remembers, “I know it was a big deal, ‘cause I told my baby-mama, ‘Yo, I’m on a mixtape with Method Man!’”
“Rest Assured” appeared on that Meth-hosted volume of Statik’s Spell My Name Right series, which subsequently led to Statik giving the helping hand with the second and third volumes of Term’s Hood Politics mixtape series while securing Term some much needed radio exposure, and maybe most importantly introducing him to industry insiders and heavyweight artists he would soon collaborate with.
Unlike following his move from Lawrence to Boston a few years before, when Statik relocated to Brooklyn, New York in 2005 the physical separation between Term and Stat didn’t squelch the friends’ working relationship. Unfortunately, new product from the twosome was initially slow to come. “We weren’t like working too much [at first],” Statik explains. “Like, he used to hate my beats. And I don’t blame him, my beats sucked back in the day.”
It took Term roughly a year to finally warm-up to Statik’s ever-evolving productions. “I feel like I pushed Statik to be at the level
he’s at today,” says Term, “and I’m sure he would agree. ‘Cause, like when he first started making beats, they were so terrible. He was my man so I had to keep it funky with him, like, ‘Yo dog, this is the worst beat I ever heard in my life.’”
Stay tuned to HipHopDX for the second half of our definitive story on the Showoff camp coming later this week.