The coming-of-age narrative will never get old. One of the backbones of literature across the world, stepping into yourself as a young person, is a timeless tale—a story 19-year-old Charlotte, NC native Reuben Vincent has embodied since his earliest days rapping under the alias E$AU. Reuben, a proud lover of all things hip-hop, found influence early in his life, listening to everything from Lauryn Hill to 50 Cent, to Bow Wow. His family’s deep love of hip-hop transferred into his bone-deep appreciation for the genre.
In 2014, Reuben Vincent, by what he believes to be the grace of God, was put on 9th Wonder and Rapsody’s Jamla radar. They heard his IDOL.ESCENT mixtape, released when Reuben was just 13, and were impressed with his raw potential. For the next few years, 9th would take Reuben under his wing, helping him perfect his talents and showing him the ropes of recording. In 2016, after years of hustling to grow as an artist, Reuben would officially sign with Jamla. A debut mixtape, Myers Park, would come the following year.
Reuben Vincent’s story may seem picturesque, but, as he tells me, his entire career has been plagued by self-doubt. So much so, he brings his newest offering, an EP titled Boy Meets World with one word: “Free.” For Reuben, freedom means releasing yourself from your mental confines. It means working to rid yourself of self-doubt. It means being a stronger man and growing into a competent leader by way of actually feeling confident.
Across Boy Meets World, we’re treated to productions by Eric G., a feature from GQ, myriad flows from Reuben himself, and a wonderful take on catchy introspection. At Eric’s weirdest, as on “Expedition,” Reuben Vincent sounds right at home, jogging over the production. On the heavy closer, “If I Die,” Reuben ponders mortality and his legacy. Legacy, he tells me, is something he considers every day, is something he knows the people will ultimately decide for him. Whatever they decide, Reuben concludes, he just hopes they remember him. They will.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did music first come into your life?
Reuben Vincent: Music is one of the first things I [was drawn] to. My mom had BET on the TV. I grew up in a Liberian home—my mom, at one point, was housing two of my older cousins. They were 15, 16, when I was a toddler. 106 & Park was always on. Rap music was heavily influencing the house. I didn’t live with my father, but [he] would pick me up, and he would play rap music. My mother would play Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, and then I would go in my dad’s car and [hear] Pac and 50 Cent, Nas and Biggie, and Jay. My cousins were big on Bow Wow. Seeing them fall in love with Bow Wow… If he can do this, I can do this, too! I got older and started to realize who I was as a person and what I liked, which was Kanye.
My father had gifted me a PSP. My cousin from Philly had come down and put all Kanye’s albums on my PSP! This was 2009, 2010. I had all the [Lil] Wayne mixtapes on my PSP as well.
I always wanted a PSP; I never got one.
Man! I used to [just] listen to music on there. I didn’t play games, for real. I’d just be listening to Wayne, Kanye, and Young Jeezy. Then my cousin stole it, and I was so hurt.
I listen to a lot of rap, but I’m not a rapper. How did you know rapping was your passion and transition from fan to creative?
I felt like it was something I could do. The way I grew up, I was always big on words. In pre-school, I was writing on a first-grade level. I used to write and tell stories about my day. I remember one day one of my cousins was babysitting me. She was telling me to write spelling words. When she fell asleep, I disregarded the spelling words and started writing a rap. As soon as I understood I could do this, I hit the ground running. I was writing ever since.
You signed with 9th Wonder’s Jamla in 2016. How did you two connect?
I connected with 9th in 2014, actually. I met him on Twitter, which is the age we live in now. I put out a mixtape called IDOL.ESCENT under the name E$AU, which is my middle name. I recorded it in my room, in my closet. I remember somebody had tweeted [it to] 9th. A week before that, I tried to email 9th. That just shows you; God’s timing is always impeccable. I went to school that Monday, and after school, on Twitter, someone was like, “I don’t know this kid from a can of paint, but he’s 13, and he has talent.” 9th and Rapsody heard it, and they were like, “Yo! DM us. We hear the talent.” I would go to [his studio] in Raleigh.
They were helping me develop, and as I got older and started to go through life experiences, it helped me have more to talk about. [9th] was like, “You sound about ready. Your voice has developed.” I ended up going back down, recording some stuff, and he was ready to sign me.
What does the 9th and Jamla co-sign mean to you?
A lot of people, these days, they kinda shade co-signs. If you’re talented enough, the co-sign is just a boost to help you. It’s just somebody who’s established, a legend in the game like 9th, who is telling people: “Yo! This is somebody that’s gonna be great.” That’s all a co-sign is for me: a boost to help you become who you need to be.
You went out on tour with Rapsody for select dates on the A Black Woman Created This Tour. What did you learn from her and touring together?
I learned passion and standing up for what you believe in. Being yourself and being a loving person. Regardless of Rap doing music, she’s just a great person overall. She’s very humble, but she’s confident in herself. She stands in what she believes in. Going on that tour and seeing how people reacted to her once she goes on stage… People’s eyes brighten up because she brings that energy. I want that one day! I just take mental notes of how she performs—breath control, stage presence, how she interacts with people on stage. Every night, I learned something new.
Today, you’re releasing your new EP, Boy Meets World. It’s your first major project since 2017’s Myers Park. What have you learned in the years between these two releases?
I’ve learned so much. Myers Park, I was just going off the experience of being 16 in Charlotte. I finally got to travel the world; I went off to college. I was learning a lot about myself and the people around me. At this time, a lot of kids I grew up with all went [down] different paths. I was learning about who I wanted to be inside this world. Knowledge of self has been surrounding me these past couple years. I’m growing into my own. I’m learning myself, and I understand who I am now. I’m just putting that back into the music.
The first word you say on Boy Meets World is “free.” What does freedom mean to you?
Freedom is knowledge of self, knowing who you are and what you stand for. There’s a lot of things, especially as a young man, in today’s age… Physically being in prison is not the only prison. There’s a lot of people that’s mentally trapped. So, me saying “free” is just letting people know I’m letting go of all the doubt and insecurities. If you have [doubt] in your mind, it’s trapping you from fully becoming who you need to be. Though we’re not free in today’s America, I have to be free within myself.
On “Close,” you rap about “addressing my imperfections.” What’s something you’re working on within yourself to this day?
Self-doubt. I’ve learned to be a confident person. There was a time when I was younger; I used to let words affect me. Learning confidence and [understanding] everybody goes through their fight, learning to be a man about things. I’m growing into a young man, and I’m just trying to evolve.
On “If I Die,” you rap about surviving and leaving a legacy. How do you hope you’re remembered in the music game?
I think about [legacy] all the time. I want people to look at me being a leader, but also, me being human and understanding my flaws. When I do mess up, I admit those mess-ups. I’mma have my good days and bad days. I wanna speak for the people that can’t speak, and I wanna speak for my generation. I understand you, and I’m here with you. My legacy… I just wanna be the best person I can. And be one of the best artists ever to live. You don’t choose your legacy, so I just wanna do the work, and when I’m gone, people can decide what legacy I have.