The “rhythmatic eternal king supreme” himself Reks (Corey Isiah Christie) from Lawrence, Massachusetts, while not a direct product of one of the major East Coast metro zones like NYC, Philly or Boston, has also never been given flack for his style, which is just as hardcore and authentic as the most craft-conscious emcees that came before him. A true student and practitioner of hip-hop, Reks, who had breakdancing and B-boy starts in his youth, also developed his rap skills at an early age during the nascent years of the music, the 1980s. Since his career began up to this day, Reks, now in his late thirties (young enough to still have fire in his lungs and belly and old enough to guarantee super sharp maturity in his words), has never given in to media gimmicks or fads and has constantly eschewed the fake, relying staunchly on the trusted principles of his trade.
Friday, September 9 marked a very special day in his career, the release date of his tenth album, a discursive double disc entitled The Greatest X (The Greatest Unknown). An issue of Brick Records, Reks’ independent fallback label-home since his 2001 Along Came The Chosen debut, The Greatest X is without a doubt his most standout LP since he dropped Grey Hairs with Statik Selektah on ShowOff Records in 2008. He is as pointed as ever with his vocals and messages, it’s packed with tons of fantastic material (just over two hours worth!) and the guests are no lame industry role players but rather Rek’s own well versed rap friends.
First off, the discussion topics that Reks covers could never be handled by most of the sloshed clowns and poor excuses for rappers now in the industry, who are marketed and promoted on countless hit or miss platforms, so the rich extensiveness of this project is really a rarity. As listeners will see, Reks maintains an articulated, enunciated, rhyme-filled delivery all the way through, and it’s because of this delivery that he’s able to extend his ideas clearly. Reks’ foray into addressing politics, street crime and violence is the first especially notable trait, with plenty of pressing urgency in his tone to emphasize his points. He admits that Obama, the current head-of-state spokesperson for the American business class, and his administration really didn’t change anything in America over the past eight years, and he skewers the careless cult of corrupt politicians in the intro and expounds on the situation in “Hands Up”’s talk on unlawful knee-jerk police and the prison industrial system. Later on, he has some choice words to say about Trump, Hillary and even Bernie Sanders in “Impression, Sunrise.”
His roots run deep because he goes back to his childhood a few times at least, whether it be to mentally stir on the good (“H.I.P.H.O.P.”) or the bad (“1980”). As he should, he also notices a generational divide in society these days. Bringing up the loss of substance in hip-hop and how some values of the past are missing in the kids today plus commenting on the general move away from golden era boom bap and tradition (scary stuff in a certain light), Reks has cause for concern. He’s like a musical scientist the way he meditates on and analyzes hood problems like racial discrimination, gun violence and the formation of hate, conflict and aggravation in the economically oppressed.
Above all, The Greatest X would not be as great as it is if not for its bright, positive spots. Two in particular, “Good Women, Thot Bitches” and “The Promise,” are odes to the search for love, and almost as if Reks is deliberately not trying to look for romance for too long, he digresses to other more pleasant pleasantries. The conscious Reks, all about the mind, motivationally communicates to us his confidence in and respect for the demoralized, down-and-out youth in “Future Kings,” gives his take on how to handle stress in “Cigarettes 2” (hint: it doesn’t involve cigarettes), and claims “he is his own institution” who listens to his inner counselor and turns away from the poisons that others try to feed him in the “Intuition” denouement. Track thirty-five “Yesterday/Today/Tomorrow” is even more pure wisdom and divine bars in which Reks shares his memories of learning how to be comfortable in his own skin – pigment, style and all.
You have to respect Reks because his attitude, personality and “stilo” are all grown and smart to the max here. This is a gargantuan undertaking, and it’s outstanding from top to bottom, plus it has no filler, which is surprising because it’s huge. It is relentlessly traditional in a very good way and the exact way hip-hop should be: lyrically challenging, out on the edge and risky. If we look at the guests, it would be unfair to name only a handful of them and skip the rest. They’re all great, hard-knocking and esoteric. We’re talkin’ restless emcees from the basement, real cellar dwellers from the gritty catacombs of the game. On the beats, the incredible music-production is an old style, sample-heavy set of new crate creations from masters Large Professor, Alchemist, Statik Selektah of course, Nottz, Black Milk, Buckwild, MoSS, Streetrunner and Apollo Brown among several other maestros. The Greatest X is real rap with right-on social/societal awareness.
5 out of 5 stars