Belief is difficult to maintain in an industry filled with pitfalls, setbacks, and uncertainty. Music isn’t a kind business; every day a dreamer is devoured trying to make the life they envisioned become a life realized. The late, great Kurt Vonnegut once said, “We have to be constantly jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down,” but dream-chasing often feels like being pushed from a plane with a parachute that turns out to be an anvil instead of a safety net. It’s not the foreseeable obstacles that hurt, but the challenges that arrive before preparation is allowed.
Prior to signing with Top Dawg Entertainment as the label's tenth act, REASON, born Robert Gill, was on the verge of quitting music after a series of unforeseeable, unfortunate events. With his last 100 dollars, the Carson, California rapper entered a contest about which he felt confident. From his perspective, the chances of winning upwards of 2,000 dollars were all but guaranteed.
“I knew the artists and I knew I’d win. I wasn’t walking in there at all thinking I‘m going to lose,” he tells me in a quiet, backstage room following label-mate Jay Rock's sold-out Redemption Tour stop in Atlanta, Georgia.
In a battle competition based on performing aggressive bars, he put all his money on “Summer Up,” a feel-good record that closes his sets and was recently selected as the first single off his TDE debut, There You Have It, which is a remastered version of a project he originally released in 2017. Without elaborating on why, the 26-year-old rapper hinted at foul play, but the crushing defeat nonetheless nearly evaporated his passion to move forward with chasing his dream.
“I got robbed out of the rap contest," REASON says. "I was broke. Literally, no money in my account. My brother loaned me 500 dollars. If he didn’t loan me that money I would’ve gave up. A month later, literally, I met my manager, met Top Dawg and got signed.”
While loving family members and multiple jobs helped REASON to fund There You Have It, blood, sweat, tears, and more went into recording and releasing the original version of the project. Thousands of independent dollars were raised and invested. Nine-thousand of those dollars went towards a publicist who was hired to help push, promote, and create visibility for the project, but shortly after receiving the payment she disappeared. Without any media coverage or placements on streaming services to boost visibility, There You Have It was sunk.
“You either die chasin’ dreams or you gon’ live for nothin',” REASON raps on “The Soul,” the first loosie released after the August announcement that he was the latest TDE signee. The rapper’s heartfelt mantra is followed by confessional reflection: "Shit, just a year ago, nigga, I was hatin' life” and “Nights cryin' to P like, 'I hate music'” are lyrics that detail the mental rough patch that is struggling with shortcomings. Yet, just looking back at how far REASON has come doesn’t happen if he decides to quit in the midst of his faith being challenged.
Onstage is where REASON lost his last dollar, and yet, his live performance is also the reason REASON earned the chance of a lifetime.
“I started managing REASON in August 2017,” Moosa Tiffith, the son of TDE founder and CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, explains over email. “After seeing him perform, I reached out just based off his stage presence. His ability to control a crowd of 300-400 people even though they’re not all familiar with the music is what really stood out! I became a fan that night.”
After watching REASON open for Jay Rock in Atlanta, Tiffith's assessment comes as no surprise. For an unknown opening act from the other side of the country, the crowd was incredibly receptive during the entirety of his set. REASON's performance isn’t flashy, but striking. Being a strong rapper isn’t the only quality that makes him a potent artist; it's matched by the ability to translate his lyricism into a captivating stage presence.
During our interview, REASON described his first encounter with the elder Tiffith, a meeting that could be best described as unorthodox in 2018:
“My manager Moosa took me to Top’s house. He wanted to meet with me after hearing There You Have It and to hear new music. So we played him records for an hour and a half and he didn’t nod his head, not one time. By song three I felt it was over, that we blew it. He wasn’t doing anything but texting the entire time. I played new records I was strong about, old records I was strong about, and songs from There You Have It. Nothing was working.
"After an hour and a half in, we played 'Fuck With Me,'—that’s on the project—and he nodded his head for the first time. It was the last song we played. Top doesn’t give anybody a step ahead, even if he likes you. He’s always three or four steps ahead. He’s always going to have you guessing. He’s always going to have you on your toes. That explains why TDE is where it is. I thought he hated it, but the whole time he [was] thinking of signing me.”
Being signed to a successful label like TDE is a blessing, an honor any rapper or singer would love to achieve, but REASON never lost the desire to present himself as more than just another member on their roster. He wanted fans to see him for who he is, not simply who he is standing next to. It’s this mentality that encouraged the rerelease of There You Have It over a year later, an album that features none of his esteemed label-mates.
There was only one way Top would allow his artist to repurpose a project that was already out in the world: if the music didn’t receive any major coverage. Had the hired PR done as she promised and promoted the project, REASON’s debut would be a different body of work. The tragic circumstance became a blessing in disguise.
When asked why it was worth rereleasing There You Have It instead of having REASON record a brand new body of work, Moosa explained why the album made for the ideal introduction:
“Besides the raw quality of THYI and wanting everyone to hear the growth on his next project, just knowing the process of making the project makes it worth rereleasing to me. A lot of up-and-coming artists talk about needing the big studios, 'super producers,' or just a substantial amount of money to work. REASON is a prime example that you don’t. He put this project together with a bunch of random beats off YouTube, working a 9-to-5 and still dealing with personal issues as we all do. When you work that hard the universe is always gonna reward you!”
There You Have It was rereleased on September 28—the same day as Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V—to a positive reception. The busy release date didn’t discourage REASON but made him proud to have his album out alongside his personal GOAT and favorite rapper. No amount of album sales could buy the feeling of sharing a release date with one of his biggest influences.
It’s a sort of cosmic irony that Tha Carter V, an album that took more than four years to see the light of day, and There You Have It, an album originally released to whispers, would be made available to the masses at the same time. The timing also allowed REASON to perform alongside Jay Rock in Atlanta, a city he considers a second home. With his mom and fellow family members in attendance, it made a special day even more meaningful.
“Atlanta is the first show on tour I was nervous for,” he admits. “I know how much work they did to help me get here; I didn’t want to let them down. I’m trying to show them everything they sacrificed didn’t go in vain.”
It’s this warm humility that REASON carries onstage and is apparent in his music. It’s hard not to root for an artist who is humbled by the difficulties of his path, proud to enter the lexicon of punchline rappers who came before him and has remained a student of the game.
There You Have It is full of hip-hop homages. The third song is named after Kurupt and interpolates lyrics from the West Coast legend's verse from Snoop Dogg’s “Ain’t No Fun," track six flips Kanye’s “Drive Slow," and “Colored Dreams / Killers Pt. 2” is a chilling story that was inspired by the J. Cole loosie “Killers.” As REASON explains: “It’s a continuation. I won’t give too much away but if you listen to 'Killers' and 'Colored Dreams / Killers Pt. 2' you’ll see the correlation. It’s something that I feel Cole didn’t complete, like he didn’t finish it, and me being such a deep Cole fan I had to complete it. So I ran with it. Even on future projects, they’ll see me continue that story. I’m big on storytelling.”
What has always helped the TDE roster stand out is the label's ability to give each of their artists an identity. REASON stands out as TDE’s dreamer. He chased this vision of becoming a rapper through circumstances that would break a lesser man. The lyricist will impress, but the dreamer is where the attachment comes. To know REASON's story is to see someone who represents the idea of trusting the process and staying the course until the very end. As Moosa explained, the universe is just beginning to reward him for making it this far.
REASON built his wings on the way down, and now he has his chance to fly.
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