Between the liner notes
John Reuben: Joy and Pain
By Jennifer E. Jones
Nashville, TN Ask John Reuben what it is that’s kept him in the rap game for so many years, and he honestly doesn’t know what to say.
“You ask that question and now I have to answer and either way I’m going to sound somewhat pretentious,” he says with a laugh. “The goal is to write honestly and try to be as creative as I know to be. I’ve made some good songs and some bad songs. I constantly challenge myself to find new ways to not repeat myself.”
He’s done a good job of that. Reuben started off as the hip-hop court jester but as his music grew so did his worldview. He went from party songs to political anthems, and his critically acclaimed Boy vs. The Cynic took on dishonest bureaucrats and shady preachers alike.
“I’ve always tried to strike a balance between making things accessible and hopefully putting some kind of substance in it. It’s a natural progression,” he says. “I’m always trying to get better. I don’t feel like I’ve made my best album yet.”
Reuben pushes himself on every record to make his music even more diverse than it was before. In addition to spreading himself musically, he also strives for songs that are “believable”. That helps when catering to an audience who know him as both a “professional rapper” and a socially-conscious artist.
"Some people haven’t listened since Are We There Yet or Hindsight. They’ll come out for shows and [ask for] 'Do Not'. Dude, I’ve put out three other records [laughs]. I want to be fair to the audience, but I also want to do something that is enjoyable to me. If I don’t enjoy the song that much any more, it’s hard for me to perform it to the best of my ability.”
He hasn’t retired any songs from his set list yet, although there are a few that he would only bring out on special request. “If someone really wants to hear it, we’ll oblige them. They’re the reason we’re up there.”
While his music mixes the serious and the surreal, Reuben’s fans are finding inspiration in it all.
“A guy came up to me and said, ‘My wife is bipolar and she’s battled with depression. Your music has always connected with her, and it’s been very pivotal.’ Stuff like that -- you don’t even know how to respond. All you’re doing is writing tunes and writing from the heart. When it translates like that, that’s not something you can take credit for.”
Reuben knows that his listeners find him as a kindred spirit – especially when it comes to coming out of an emotional pit.
“If a person is struggling with depression like I’ve struggled at times, they think, 'This guy understands where I’m coming from, and the music’s upbeat. It’s not dragging me down.'"
He continues, “Some of the best songs emotionally hit me two ways. I can enjoy it; I can sing along; it’s encouraging. [Yet] I’m also relating to this person’s struggle. I like that kind of innocence mixed with conflict.”
And at the end of the day, that's exactly the kind of message that Reuben conveys.
"The music’s fun and uplifting, but it also doesn’t make people feel like they’re alone."
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