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Q&A: Charlotte rapper Reuben Vincent on becoming your own idol

Charlotte-based rapper Reuben Vincent talks about signing with Roc Nation and the persistence that got him there.

Many artists and rappers talk about what it takes to get their big break, but few put in the work, and even fewer get the opportunity to make their dreams a reality. Or as they say on TikTok, “I just needed the platform… I had the plan.”

For Reuben Vincent, the platform came through in a big way, and he has every intention of capitalizing on that plan. With a sound that is comparable to the likes of J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and OutKast's Andre 3000, Vincent is putting his plan into action.
Not everyone gets to meet their idols, but Reuben Vincent signed a record deal with his.

Hailing from the east side of Charlotte, Vincent is a 22-year-old artist signed to Roc Nation. Yes, the same Roc Nation that is owned by Jay-Z — one of the most well-known hip-hop artists on the planet.

Vincent's music journey started at an early age. As a kid from Charlotte — growing up in a Liberian household — music and battle rap were some of his first loves. At the age of 13, he made the conscious choice to pursue his rap dreams early on. He put out his first mixtape, which through persistence and faith, eventually found its way into the hands of North Carolina legend 9th Wonder, who is known for his record producing and his time in the rap group "Little Brother."

From there, he signed to 9th’s label Jamla Records, and put out several more projects. One of those included the single “State of Mind,” in which he shot a music video that ultimately got him the phone call of a lifetime.

Changing Channels with Reuben Vincent.mp4
Follow @915wunc and @wuncyouthvoices to keep up with the Youth Reporting Institute and watch episodes of Changing Channels.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Talk a little bit about your upbringing in Charlotte.

"We have our own culture and I think people need [to know that] and people are starting to finally get a taste of that. You know what I'm saying? To
new upcoming artists — and you know, basketball has been going crazy lately — to sports. Charlotte has been grown, because a lot of people come here to raise their families. One thing I can say about Charlotte, [is] it has its culture, and it's finally starting to get its flowers."

Talk about the start of music for you.

"My mom is from Liberia. And my father's from Liberia… So, even when I used to go to my pop's crib on the weekend, he's cleaning up, he plays African music… Then you know, I step outside, and I'm embracing all the hip-hop culture from my homies, my older cousins… I've always been passionate about music. So, if you know me from elementary school to middle school to high school, you're not even surprised that I'm doing what I'm doing now. Because even though I was quiet, people knew me because when the mic came on, that's when the big voice came out."

When did you start taking music seriously?

"When I was 13 years old, I put out a mixtape called "IDOL.ESCENT." And I put it out, and the quality was terrible, but I was still trying to get it... And I was emailing all my favorite producers. And the last person I was going to email was 9th Wonder. So, I was like, 'Nah, he will never see it.'

"Ironically, like a week later, somebody from Oakland, California, named ‘Mr. Drake’ on Twitter and Instagram — I still talk to him today — he tweeted 9th and was like, 'Yo, I don't know this kid from nowhere. I don't have a dog in this fight. You need to check him out.' And he just so happened to be on Twitter. He clicked and he liked what he heard… So, he was like, 'I want you to come down to my studio in Raleigh.' And then I went down to the studio, and I did like nine songs in three days.

"And as I got older, he was just giving me a place to record at first. But he saw a hunger and a drive that I had, and he ended up signing me when I was like 16 or 17 years old. So, he took me under his wing. And you know, I started working, working, working, working, working."

So, from there to Roc Nation. How did that happen?

"I took a leap of faith and we put out a “State-of-Mind” [music] video. And Roc saw it because, you know, I took a meeting with them earlier in the year and played them a couple of songs, but they wanted to see the work. They want to see your persistence and they saw it and they [were] like 'Man, this kid ready.' So, they called 9th [Wonder] up and was like, 'We want to sign him.'"

You have met a lot of your different heroes. What have those experiences been like for you?

"I mean, for me, I feel like the reason why none of that really fazes me is because, I kind of knew what I was getting into. 9th [Wonder] already kind of prepared me that people are just human beings… And I met Kendrick Lamar when I was 18. Before I even signed to the Roc, when I was just traveling around with 9th. And then I met J. Cole, then I met Hov [Jay Z], then I met, you know, a few other people. But even when I met them, I was just like, you — they just regular people, at the end of the day... I'm not taking that away from them. But at the end of the day, we're human…

"It's like, you know, we put people so much on a pedestal, but not even just stuff on a pedestal, we put accolades and awards on a pedestal. But, really, man, none of that really matters. At the end of the day, it's about who you are as a person. It's about feeding your family, protecting your family. That's how I look at it, man."

I see some of the influence from these artists... Talk to me about how you make the music your own. Where do you pull from, as far as writing?

"I pull from life experiences, honestly. Like, especially what I've been doing during the music I've been doing now… And one thing I used to do in the past that I stopped doing now is I used to be very cryptic with stuff because I was like, 'Oh, this is a life experience that happened to me and I want to keep it personal to me. So, I'm not really going to go into detail on the song but I'm going to just say a little bit, enough that I at least know what I'm talking about.' And you know, I've been learning to just get more vulnerable and get more personal."

What's next?

"I got a new album that's coming out on the way. It's called, ‘Love is War.’ It's a very personal album to me. It's very vulnerable. We definitely are trying to tour more next year. And man, I just want to continue to make great music. Make great music and other ways I can be artistically free. And that's my goal.”

Vincent recently performed in Washington, D.C., and at the Pour House in Raleigh. He says he hopes to be back soon.

Caitlin Leggett was WUNC's News Administrative Intern & Youth Reporting Mentor.