Nucci Reyo Interview
The Jersey product turned heads with his Welcome to Nucc Jersey mixtape series eight years ago. Today, Nucci Reyo is still spitting dope rhymes, only with a more focused and spiritual focus. Peep his dope interview for his refreshing takes on music, spirituality, and spirituality’s place in hip-hop.
You just released your EP Be the Change. What did you want to give fans with that project?
Basically we’re talking about tracks that have that original, what we call that boom-bap sound. It’s that original hip-hop sound. It’s always good. Me coming from that era growing up and the late ‘80s, mid ‘90s feel, that’s where my heart is at. Even though the classic popular sound has changed, that’s still where my heart is so me being able to rock over those beats lets me tune out what’s happening on the radio right now. It was right on top. It was therapeutic as well as creative. It was definitely a good time doing those joints right there. It was like I was just locked in with the tracks and pretty much tuning everything else out. I look forward to continuing to work that way, where my mind isn’t clouded with using beats and subject matters that are pretty much, unfortunately, classic in today’s hip-hop.
And you’ve said in the past that you enjoy EPs more than mixtapes and albums right now. Why is that?
I think with me right now, I remember from coming up in the whole Hot 97 mixshow era, I kind of got stamped as a mixtape artist or a mixshow artist. I have other mixtapes that I’m going to drop because I have some concepts, but I don’t want to do that as much. I want to do the EPs more to show that album potential. It’s a different sound and a different feel. That’s where we’re going with that. I’m going to continue down that EP road. I’d been wanting to do an EP for a while but it wasn’t the right sound and concept until now. We knocked it out and the feedback on this is really tremendous.
I could be biased, because I produced it, but I think there’s a real cohesion in this project.
Yeah, definitely. I think so. It’s pretty much one spirit, one feeling, the whole way through, even though it’s different concepts. It feels like it stays on that feel of just being the change and not only is it saying that, but that’s what I’m doing. My whole thing is that instead of sitting around and complaining about the state of hip-hop and where I think I should go, I’m just going to take the attitude and take it where I think it should go. I’m going to be that change. Everybody’s waiting for a change in hip-hop and with the major machines that I’m talking to currently, I just feel like that’s what I’m going to do that’s going to be my purpose and to start going in that direction.
People who remember you from your days of rocking with DJ Absolut are used to a different sound from you. How would you describe the evolution of your sound?
I would like to say that right now, I would like to call myself an inspirational MC in the same tone as an inspirational speaker. Inspirational speakers talk about positivity. We go through the same things as other people but it’s our view on it. My view is that I see things through the word of God. I filter everything through what God says about that thing. And that’s the difference. Me and one other person can be in the room and let’s say three people are in the room. A guy runs in and shoots one person. Me and the other person alive might have two different views. One guy can say it was good and people needed to see it and the other person might be traumatized by it. I’m in the same room as a lot of MCs in different hoods and different ghettoes, but it’s how I see things. I see things through the light of God’s word. And everything that we write in the lyrics over the years, it flows from your heart. Once your heart is different and you see things differently, you can still be speaking about different things. I’m talking about pimping and sex trafficking, but it’s just my angle on it. I’m not glorifying it. And what prompted the change was getting into God’s word and developing a relationship with Him through that. you can not have an encounter with God’s word and not change. So that’s the whole thing. His word, it just changed me, but it’s more of a blessed condition because I’m still able to keep that lyrical capability and that quality that keeps people tuning in.
Do you feel like you and artists like Lecrae are paving the way for more spiritual MCs to get more mainstream attention?
Yeah. You know what it is? We know the system of getting mainstream is controlled by certain people, certain powers. What it’s going to take is for those people to take a chance on what we do the same way they took a chance on the South as a new sound. The same way they took a chance on Houston, St. Louis, the West Coast, Florida. These places had a run in hip-hop where their sound, their form, their swag, was was everybody was tuned into and it took that turn because some high-level executives wanted to put money into that. I believe what other cats like Lecrae and me and The Truth do, there’s going to be no turning back and we’re going to have it on lock forever. Next to the ignorant music, their stuff looks even worse. When you put it next to it, it looks horrible and it exposes their ignorance even more and I think that’s what we’re pretty much here to do. Just expose that and show the truth next to it. Let’s just be honest. It’s hip-hop and a lot of people are entertained by it, but I’m not entertained by lies and a lot of hip-hop is lies nowadays and when you put the truth next to lies, the truth always shines.
What goes through your mind when you hear what’s popular today?
Well, actually, I feel a compassion and I feel sorry for these artists and I feel saddened for hip-hop, in general, as a culture and as a nation because it’s dealing with people who are lost. In hip-hop, you’re hearing from people who don’t even know why they have the angle or the stance they have in the music. You’re listening to people with no education and no father and people who grew up with no guidance and now they have a microphone and a platform. I like listening to the radio for production and to hear the new sounds people are using, but then for lyrics and then when I see the videos of women being exploited, whether they’re exploiting themselves or they’re being exploited, it gives me more motivation to educate these people and to be the light in darkness. I believe that once my stuff hits the mainstream, which has been a long time coming, but it’s getting there, I believe it’s going to shine such a light and so many people are just going to wake up. Every time I see it it’s a bunch of different emotions. I’m sad but at the same time I’m energized.
How do you feel hearing your old music like Welcome to Nucc Jersey today?
Man, the first thing I think about is the fact that I could hear hints of where my flow and my subject matter is at totally today. I can hear hints of that back then,,. And also, I compare the lyrical capability and I feel like I’m still getting better and still improving and I still enjoy my old music because I always rapped from the heart. I enjoy hearing the transition and hearing the growth and hearing where my heart was at at the time. That’s how I felt and that’s what I was going through and now I’m through it and I am where I am at this point. When you rap about things, that’s the beauty of being an artist. You get to rap about what you’re going through but now that I’m through it, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ I know a lot of my fans still love it and my new fans like it too. It was a little bit reckless at times but they like it.
Are you still in touch with DJ Absolut?
We stay in contact. We speak. We speak about three or four times every six months. I never hesitate to call him and he’ll never hesitate to call me. we had a genuine friendship so with me and him, it wasn’t just all music. We’ll call each other and talk about anything and just hang out. Sometimes when you have a manager it’s strictly business, but he was my manager, DJ, and friend, and even though we weren’t agreeing creatively, we didn’t have a big blow-up. We’re still friends, it just didn’t make sense to work together anymore. he’s somebody who genuinely wants to see me succeed and I want to see him do the same thing. I believe we’ll work together in the near future, actually.
You were a part of the Divine Intervention soundtrack. What was it like working on that?
The soundtrack was amazing because how that came about was I was doing songs with my new spiritual content and as I performed these records, I knew some people would not understand. I went to my sister, who’s a playwright, and I asked what would happen if we turned this into a musical. I think a lot of rap shows are boring. I want my show to be different. WHat if my show was a musical where I’m rapping and instead of having a hype man, what’s playing out in front of you is the lyrics for the people who can’t catch what I’m saying. She wrote it and it’s a 45 minute hip-hop musical. All of the songs that she used to write the skits became the soundtrack. We pressed up the soundtrack and sold it at the musical and it sold so much that I realized we were really onto something here. We just finished running Divine Intervention. We were doing that since 2010. I am White Flag because I surrendered my gift of MCing to God and I encourage others to do the same. The soundtrack is doing well on iTunes and it’s doing well in the street. A lot of people listen to it and don’t realize it’s spiritual until the third verse. At first they just listen to the production and the MC quality of it and it just reels them in. I’m blessed to have that ability to reel people into the message like that.
Your new project is Storm the Gates of Hell. How’s that coming?
Oh, man, I’m five records in and it’s pretty much amazing. I have a new studio I’m working out of in North Brunswick. It’s pretty much amazing. There’s going to be less music on this one because it’s more targeted. I want my mixtapes to sound like albums and more like EPs. It’ll be about ten, maybe twelve records on there, but I really concentrated on this one and I’m about halfway through. I should be finished with it in another week or so. We’ll have that out before March is over. It’s hosted by DJ West Will. He’s one of the Swat Team DJs. Each mixtape I do, I want it to be better than the last one. Usually I’ll have twenty or thirty records on there and I usually rush it, but this one is about quality over quantity.
How do you decide what messages to put out in your music and when to put it out there?
What I do is I pray about it. I read the Bible and I look at the message that is being conveyed to us through the Bible and I just translate that in a hip-hop way. It’s not different than the King James version and the different versions. I’m just translating those Bible messages into the hip-hop language. Being the Bible has so many chapters and Scriptures, I never run out of contact. I can pick a Scripture about how “No weapon formed against me shall prosper” and make a song about that. As believers, we’re not just called to sit in our seats and go to church on Sunday and not really do nothing about what’s going on in the world. The world is controlled by evil powers down here.
What I’ll do is when I go to a bad neighborhood and perform “Stop Shootin’” in areas where people shoot at every day, that’s storming the gates of hell. The gates of hell are controlling what’s going on in those neighborhoods. I’m not waiting for them to come to me. I’m going right where people are doing the devil’s work and I’m telling them to stop and live and to let God turn their life around. That’s my whole point. That’s what I mean when I say “Storm the gates of hell” and that’s where I get my inspiration from. You rarely hear my personal thoughts because a lot of times, I’m a man and a human. My nature and the way I think about stuff is not always the way God speaks about it. I go through things and want to black out but that would contradictory to righteousness. I don’t want to come across with my emotions and my feelings. I like to come across with how I should feel. What’s the logical thought? What’s the productive thought? THat’s how I come across.
Where do you want your music to go?
I pretty much want to get back in the mainstream. I want my music back on Hot 97 and Power 99 everywhere. I don’t want it to be where you have to search for Christian or spiritual content to hear my music. I want my music to be everywhere. I want to be doing arenas and big things on that level and right now I’m talking with major record labels that are willing to take a chance on the kind of music that I do. I need to get it out in the mainstream and the message needs to reach as many people as possible. That being the case, I can not stay underground and I don’t think it’s God’s will that I stay underground.
With the direction I’m heading, I can see that’s where I need to go. I need to go multi-platinum, not because of the money but because the message is going to reach more people. That’s the whole point at the end of the day. I know how to make money as an independent artist, but my whole thing is I want to get this message out. That’s what I need to do – get this message out on the mainstream level. I’m entertaining some offers and I pretty much know who I am going to go with and once I sign that deal, you’ll be the first to know. That’s the whole level and where I’m trying to take it right now. I’m trying to take it as big as possible. I’m trying to be on a level where if Jay-Z was an inspirational MC or if Nas was the inspirational MC. I’m not trying to be limited by the fact that I have a message. I can’t be put in a box because of that because that limits the amount of people it gets to.
Who would you like to work with in the future?
I’ve got a couple tracks from Havoc on Storm the Gates of Hell. A couple tracks from some other brand new producers. I check out Soundclick and I invite regular producers who might need a shot who follow me on Twitter. But as far as big names, I definitely want to work with Premier. I want to work with Dr. Dre, with 9th Wonder. I like stuff that Salaam Remi does. Stuff like that, I want to work with the kind of producers, like Jermaine Dupri, the kind of producers who have been known to go against the cuff at some times. You got Dr. Dre who could have put out any kind of artist but he’s messing with Kendrick Lamar and The Game, who are not so predictable. I want to work with producers who do things that are not so predictable.
And as far as MCs, I definitely want to work with Nas. I’m trying to get my man L.E.S. to put that together now. I’ve never been a fan of that many artists. I want to work with LL Cool J too. Besides people from the Jersey underground, Biz Markie, LL Cool J, and Big Daddy Kane are my influences. I try to have a good time with my music as well. That will be a good time to me and that would be fun to me. I go to those Golden Age hip-hop concerts that I was too young to go to when those artists were hot. I would like to collaborate with some old school cats who had a message in their music as well. I would love to get a skit from Melle Mel. As you can see, my mixtapes don’t have a lot of features and until I can get what I want, I’m going to keep it solo.