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Reuben Vincent Breaks Down the Inspiration For His New Album, 'Love is War'
9th Wonder protege Reuben Vincent highlights life lessons as the source of inspiration for his new album, Love Is War.
Like any young rapper, people are skeptical about your ability to talk beyond money and fame. At 22 years-old, what could you have to rap about that could translate to the core of true rap fans? For Reuben Vincent, the explanation is simple — rap music is his first love.
Vincent has always been immersed in music, whether that be riding in his father’s car at a young age and listening to stories about JAY-Z, or waking up to his mother playing Liberian music as she cleaned. But the parents of the east side-Charlotte native also instilled in him a love for his cultural heritage, too.
Both hailing from Liberia, Vincent's parents are survivors of the Liberian War, one of the most disastrous markers in history for Africa's first and oldest republic. Both personally and musically, Vincent’s embodies the strength and legacy of his ancestry (including his grandfather who died during the war), and reflects his parents' pursuit of the American dream.
“Being a first-generation Liberian, it’s important for me to stay true to my heritage and carry that legacy forward,” Vincent said. “No matter what career I choose, I feel like knowing where my people come from, all the hardships they've been through, that's what keeps me focused.”
This is what grounds Vincent’s music. The artist has been signed to 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records since he was 16. In 2017, he released his debut album Myers Park (named after the high school he attended), and followed that up with the 2020 EP Boy Meets World. Now 22, Vincent has made some notable strides in his career. Last year, he opened for Pusha T as a part of the rapper’s It’s Almost Dry Tour tour. Earlier this month, he made his Roc Nation debut with Love Is War, a vulnerable and intimate listening experience grounded by Vincent’s incisive wit.
Throughout its 11 tracks, he unpacks love from different vantage points — romantic entanglements, the high emotions of releasing love, and the unpredictability of love — over production crafted by himself, Guru, 9th Wonder, and The Soul Council. The album, which was recorded in LA, also includes a handful of features, including labelmate Rapsody, TDE’s Reason, Ant Clemmons, and Domani.
"For several months I locked myself in, abstaining from all distractions to fully immerse myself in the creative process,” he said. “But as I explored LA, the city's beauty, its women, food and weather inspired me. I made the right connections and found myself in the right spaces.”
The end result is a reflective project that highlights just how much Vincent has grown as an artist, his work even inspiring mentors like 9th Wonder.
“His focus is rare. His manners, his commitment to his art — and I don’t have to police him. He’s arguably the most mature on our label, but it’s because of the people he studied: Kendrick [Lamar], Nas, Jay, and Kanye [West],” 9th said. “He studied their rhyme styles and subject matter, and this is what you get, Reuben Vincent. I’ve been contemplating retirement, but then I get a generational talent like this that makes you stay in the game longer.”
Okayplayer recently caught up with Reuben Vincent during his press run in Raleigh, NC. The artist spoke about locking himself in his room to work, his most vulnerable track, and why his confidence should never be perceived as cocky.
Why did you choose the album name, Love Is War?
Reuben Vincent: We've been working on it for about two years, and it was originally titled Eastside Sunset. We often go through wars internally and through external influences. Sometimes to love, you have to go through wars, and I made that connection because my parents are products of the Liberian Civil War. My mom came to America. Her dad was in the war and passed away as a result. She came to America before the war started. And my dad was a refugee who experienced the war, and then they came to Charlotte and had a love child — me. That's why I chose that title, because I was thinking about their whole situation surrounding love and loss, and correlating it to the things that I've experienced.
What’s the message behind this project for Black men?
As a young man, especially a Black man, we don't know how to love ourselves properly, and that reflects in our relationships with women, materialistic things, and non-romantic relationships. This album expresses me going through those motions, and then going to the ultimate realization of self-love. You have to love yourself before you can attempt to love anyone else.
How did you link up with someone as iconic as Young Guru to contribute to this album?
It was fate. I was already tied in with 9th [Wonder], who already has a close relationship with him. I went to LA to tap in with a Guru and he said, “Yo, just come out here and work with me and experience LA. Get away from home. You ain't doing anything else.” I went out there and committed. I consider Guru my brother; somebody who's like a father figure like 9th.
With rap revealing new artists every day, how do you stay committed?
Resilience, having the right team, and self-awareness. I know that God will always have a plan for me, so I stick to my lane. The industry comes with a lot, such as distractions and many ups and downs. But I know where I want to be and fully focus on that. A unique thing about me is that I know my history from my parents, so knowing their hardships and what my ancestors went through, resilience is key for me.
What are some of your favorite tracks on this album?
“Point of View.” I produced that one and it just feels like I've got my chest poked out on it. Also, “2ime Flies” because of [the Janet Jackson sample], and the real story behind that one — late night, parked car conversations with a shorty, and things might go to another place, you feel me? “Bottle Service” is another favorite, and also “February 13th.”
Your energy changed when you mentioned “February 13th.” Is that a super personal record?
That relationship was deep. It came after I got out of a relationship with a specific person and it was like a clash. It was bad, emotions were high. I'm a cool, calm, and collected man, so sometimes women say I'm good when I want to be, and I guess I understand them. My music is where I get most of that out. So, “February 13th” is where I get most of my feelings about this specific person.
For people who have never heard your music, why should they listen?
Because I feel like we're in a time where everybody's trying to do microwavable music. This is soul food, a home-cooked meal. Now, that home-cooked meal may take you a little longer, but the appreciation and heart are there. This is a real meal.
What can we look forward to from Reuben Vincent?
More music, more growth, and expanding myself. I look forward to showing more sides of myself, whether it's clothes, acting, producing or songwriting. I'm trying to be one of the greatest. Nah, I’m going to be. I'm just here to stamp myself, my crew, and the whole Third World Crew, and put Jamla/Roc Nation on a bigger platform than they are.
Quierra Luck is a writer based in North Carolina. You can follow her @Quierra_Luck