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Moving 2 miles away from his childhood home changed a rapper's world view

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

On a map, South Central Los Angeles and Carson, Calif., are just under a couple miles apart. For rapper Reason, moving from the former to the latter meant seeing a world he never knew existed.

REASON: It was my first sighting that Black people can be middle-class.

MARTÍNEZ: Reason is part of the record label Top Dawg Entertainment, along with artists such as SZA and, formerly, Kendrick Lamar. His new album is called "Porches." In it, he raps about how that change of address changed his whole world view, how meaningful it can be for Black kids to see themselves represented beyond a narrow view.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PORCH STEPS")

REASON: (Rapping) Yeah, (inaudible) about the porch steps. I ain't run my course yet. I done made some bad choices. I've been feeling boisterous. I've been feeling energetic. Get it from these porch steps. City going to give me fuel to ghetto like a fortress. I just heard...

For me, it just let me know there isn't a ceiling. Like, you can be creative outside of just - which, ironically - outside of just a rapper and athlete, which is what I grew up thinking that was the only thing that you can do. And then I live on a street where my neighbor is a life insurance agent, and then another one is an engineer, and then another one is a dentist. So I would still go visit my cousins in South Central, and I would see the difference between our mindsets. And that's not a knock towards them. It's just, I can see the difference of where my mind was when I was a kid. Moving, my mind changed, and then their mind kind of stay on this similar path.

MARTÍNEZ: So where do we hear that in the album, in "Porches"?

REASON: I rap about all of the different experiences porches gave me, from the negative, but also from the positive. And I felt like it was important to talk about the positives because I feel like all rappers do these days is talk about the hood and how awful it is and how violent it is and whatnot. So I wanted to also talk about, like, the power and confidence that it gave me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AT IT AGAIN")

REASON: (Rapping) I'm at it again. Great challenge - I'ma (ph) stack it again. Y'all ain't really about that action to win. Been bragging regular, little - I don't speak broke. I'm in beast mode. Got something to the - (inaudible) we do. Get your weed rolled. Ways rest, Donatello (ph), my window went long ways from the ghetto. And I need some new - I been settling. Money, it feel good.

MARTÍNEZ: That reminds me of something I heard you say. Like, I feel like I'm the only honest rapper left.

REASON: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: Is that part of that?

REASON: That's literally part of that narrative. I feel like I'm almost, like, a comedian - not from the, you know, make-you-laugh standpoint, but how honest comedians are. Comedy is almost the only true art form left where you can just be brutally honest.

MARTÍNEZ: Great comedy, I've always felt, makes - hurts you a little bit.

REASON: It hurts you, you know what I mean?

MARTÍNEZ: It hurts some part of you.

REASON: Because there's some part of you that's walked that, and you try to ignore it.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, so speaking of this honesty, I know that you've gotten in trouble with your own family because of some things you've said.

REASON: For sure. Yeah, yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: So, like, what are some of the things that have come up between you and your family because of your work, because of what you put out there?

REASON: Yeah, yeah. "Better Dayz" was a song that I wrote about my cousin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER DAYZ")

REASON: (Rapping) I'm just praying for better days. My older cousin been dabbling in cocaine sniffing. Love him to death but feeling like I can't hang with him.

He was going through some drug addictions, and we had some issues where he, like, stole some of my jewelry. He did a few things that - I just noticed that I had to separate myself from him at the time until he got better. But what I didn't do and handle it the right way was ask him before I put the song out. And I also didn't think that the song will end up with 40 million streams.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER DAYZ")

REASON: (Rapping) I wish I could show my cousin a better way. I'm just praying for better days. Just got stabbed and might be headed to heaven gates. I'm just praying for better days. Just got the text. The docs is operating on them. Wish I could say I was shocked to hear the news 'cause he went off to have him a couple bangers on him. And karma like movie trailers. It's always coming soon. Pray for him. Hate how he living but love him, and never change on him. Praying he make it so I can create a way for him. But if he don't, I'll be praying on heaven gates for him.

I'm also not a great person at expressing myself to people, so I kind of do it through the music. That was why I got involved in music, was for therapy. And so a lot of times, my family doesn't even know what's going on or how I feel about something until I make a song about it.

(LAUGHTER)

REASON: And it's kind of - and it's like - it comes off as, like, diss records to my family. But it's really just, like, me expressing myself.

MARTÍNEZ: So I read that you thought that there's one particular song in this album that's going to cause a lot of commotion.

REASON: Yeah, the song called "Gang [Expletive]."

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

REASON: And so...

MARTÍNEZ: Actually, let's hear a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GANG S***")

REASON: (Rapping) This is paying back the (inaudible) system, diapers. You used to be here just like us. You moving to high (ph). Look down on regular guys, look down from pedestals. (Inaudible) tip every time. Reason I really know you. I swear this ain't jealousy now. Reason, I really know you. Wait, I thought you knew me as Rob? You was my cousin, brother. I love you. Was never at odds. I get into the spot that I'm at (inaudible) sever them ties. Know that you use my name just for benefits, hating all of your sentiments. Candy in their ligaments, written down in these differences.

MARTÍNEZ: So who's not going to like this?

REASON: The TD fan base - Top Dawg Entertainment fan base. The second verse was basically about my expectations coming into the label with the other artists and how I thought that there was going to be this camaraderie that there isn't. I always tell people that when you sign with TDE, when you're from LA, you feel like a kid signing to the Lakers. You get there, and you're like, I have zero relationship with SZA. I have zero relationship with Kendrick Lamar. And you start to feel like, well, damn, I'm just kind of like on this island trying to figure it out.

MARTÍNEZ: So that - then that song and that verse came from that experience. So in a way, was it a good thing that it turned out the way it did?

REASON: I thought I was going to get on this label and take the elevator, but I had to take the stairs. But it's like the growth and strength that you get from taking the stairs is valuable in a way, you know what I mean? But it took me a while to see it that way. Like, I was very, very, like, bitter.

MARTÍNEZ: Let's hear a little of "Winter Break" (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A BROKEN WINTER BREAK")

REASON: (Rapping) Let's go and slide through. That's a meal waiting for us. Only right we drive through. I could see it in your eyes, something that changed inside you. We debate for hours and hours, just going back and forth. But we forgot something very important also on that porch.

It's a story about this kid that comes home from winter break and gets robbed. When he - he left the hood and went to college, and he transformed into a different person. But when he comes back, his friends expect him to be the same person. So he gets his stuff stolen, and they expect him to stand on it and be a man, you know what I mean? Go, you know, grab a gun, get your stuff back. And he faces the pressures of having to do that, but being fearful because he's not that person anymore. We forgot his little brother was sitting there on that porch, so he saw the gangbanging, the robbery. I love that song because, to me, that is what "Porches" is the epitome of, is sitting on a porch and learning all of these things, good or bad, that end up shaping you for the rest of your life.

MARTÍNEZ: That's rapper Reason. His new album is called "Porches" Reason, thanks a lot.

REASON: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

REASON: (Rapping) Keep me engaged. Truck to the plane to the truck. Truck to the hotel lobby. Remember when these was only mirages, cutting the verses in (inaudible) garages? You never hit me to check up on me. Only hit me when... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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