'The South always gon' have something to say.'
Evan Dale & Mitch Dumler // Sep 16, 2019
On a hazy day in North Nashville outside the Elks Lodge, we met hip-hop artist and producer, Reaux Marquez and his talented creative conglomerate, Black City. The venue - historically preserved and known as Club Baron - once played host to Johnny Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Fats Domino, Etta James, Little Richard, Otis Redding, and Muddy Waters. Today, it still stands tall a symbol of Jefferson Street's identity as a vibrant African-American community. Adorned with celebratory murals from local creative collaborative, Norf Studios, the space is a bridge between the past and the present, a symbol of continuing artistic fervor, and proof that Nashville has always been and will always be much more than the country music capital.
It was a kismet location to meet Reaux Marquez who himself embodies everything that Club Baron long has. As a rapper, his music holds true to the strongest and oldest of stylistic pillars: rhythm & poetry. He attacks his beats (all self-produced) with ferocity, meaningfulness, and cadence rarely matched in the modern soundscape. And yet, he does it in a way both modern and one-of-a-kind. As a producer, he blends the tenants of imperfect low-fidelity production with experimental breakdowns where he never fails to make a statement. And as a person, he represents Nashville through and through, coming to exist a cornerstone figure of the city's vibrant underground hip-hop scene that's seemingly working as one to pull Nashville up alongside them.
RNGLDR: When concerning Tennessee hip-hop, most people are probably drawn to think about Memphis and Chattanooga before they dive into Nashville. In your opinion, is it Nashville’s identity as a country music capital, the youthfulness of Nashville’s hip-hop scene, or simply the star power of the names from other major Tennessee cities that can be attributed to Nashville’s still-emerging stance as a hip-hop centric city?
REAUX: Definitely, the youthfulness of our hip-hop scene and the star power of Memphis' have played a big role in the opacity of Nashville hip-hop. Memphis is the capital of the South if we’re talking pyramid influence. Nashville & Tennessee as a whole are just now crafting our own sound outside of gangsta rap & trap music. I see ahead and back so I can say I’m honored to be apart of this extended Tennessee hip-hop history.
RNGLDR: Tennessee is a place with a rich hip-hop past and present. Who are some of your biggest influences from the volunteer state?
REAUX: Not sonic influences to me personally, but as far as sculpting the culture of the Tennessee soundscape? Three6, Ball & J, Tommy Wright III; I ain’t tapped into those influences sonically but when or if it’s ever time for that lord help us. I’m telling the story from a completely different side and perspective, but same if not a more complex spectrum.
RNGLDR: And who are some of your influences from other parts of the Southern hip-hop soundscape?
REAUX: When talking roots my southern influences solely Dungeon Family (Organized Noize, Kast & Goodie Mobb) & if you’re familiar with their content you know it outlives time and transcends dimensions. That being my rooted influence I can never stop growing as an artist. It's a sacred attribute that comes with being an understudy of the era they created.
RNGLDR: In a modern era where music from across the world is so accessible, which hip-hop artists of the past and present from outside the South altogether do you find particularly influential on your own sound?
REAUX: My generation hates to admit it but the internet is a real place. It can take and save lives. That being the case, alongside Big K.R.I.T., outside of the south Kendrick & Nipsey changed my complete perspective on how music is presented. Nipsey more so outside of music. My quality of self sufficiency tripled receiving Nip’s messages & triumphs. With Kendrick it was more how he presented the other side of the coin of growing up in lower/middle class America. For us who grew up around news headlines but not in them it was refreshing and something new to enjoy while applying those perspectives to my own involvement and interactions with these same issues where I’m from. I got introduced to the jazzy and soulful side of LA which I didn’t know existed. Terrace Martin + all the west coast musicians & producers he works with just to name drop.
RNGLDR: We run a series called Collab Elation where we explore hypothetical collaborations that we want to see in the music industry. So, when discussing influence and inspiration from other genres, we’re always curious about joint work. If you could collaborate with any artist of the past or present, who would you like to work with and why?
REAUX: If I could make a full length, fully produced (outside musicians involved) album with Namir Blade it w/o a doubt would be the hardest shit to come out of TN. It’s just not realistic right now. We’re both artists + producers + our own engineers. He's somebody that I respect as all three.
RNGLDR: Not including yourself, if you could have any two artists work together, who would you like to hear a collaborative project from? Why?
REAUX: Imagine a Noname & Little Simz project. That content grittiness & butter over soul lifting rhodes & heavy basslines would do me (selfishly) and the world so much good. Both are black women powerhouses.
RNGLDR: Let’s dive into The Garden. What does it mean to you and can you explain it to those who may not be familiar with your creative space?
REAUX: The Garden is my creative haven, it is it’s own planet, & metaphorically the south. The more content I release will bring a definition closer to listeners better than I can elaborate on right now as I’m still engineering it.
RNGLDR: In discussing The Garden, is Farmer Lando the name of your alter-ego when you’re existing in that space? Is there another story behind the name?
REAUX: Farmer Lando is everything that I’ve ever experienced/endured & everything that I want to be simultaneously. Without holding on to the past of Reaux Marquez I transfer those lessons, knowledge & wisdom into that entity. Farmer Lando created The Garden.
RNGLDR: In your interview with Curated Flame, we read the origins of Reaux (Ro) being taken from your birth name, Rolandis which has Ghanaian roots. Is your family of Ghanaian decent? Has that West African blood played a role in your artistic upbringing?
REAUX: This is always a question that I just have to trust my spirit & ancestors on because what “African American” without physical or living proof can be sure of their lineage? Some years ago I came across a picture of a Ghanaian community & in every face I saw me, my Mama, aunties, cousins, they all looked identical to us. Never felt more connected to an idea of roots before. Then to find out my name given to me by my pops has Ghanaian origins made it make sense but I’ll never know. I’m from North Nashville, USA.
RNGLDR: Let’s take it back to your music. Your earliest SoundCloud work comes from five years ago. Listening to Curb Kick and Let Me Ride today, the tracks are obvious foundations of where you’ve come since where meaningful lyricism, a cut-throat flow, and low-fidelity production define your music most fervently. What does your early work mean to you now? In which ways do you think you’ve grown at an artist since those first singles? And what about your early music to you still look towards for inspiration when creating music today?
REAUX: I held on to that version of myself for a long time. Long enough for it to still exist in parts of me & long enough to receive & fully comprehend the messages I wanted to send to like-minds & to my future self so my early work means everything & nothing to me at the same time. Once I release something & it comes full circle it’s not mine anymore.
RNGLDR: Your early releases came to be compiled in a debut EP called 199X. What can you tell us about the project and is there anywhere fans can access the mixtape now?
REAUX: I was 19. I had alot to say about my surroundings at the time. I thought I removed it from the web but I missed the Audiomack rerelease under 199XTRIP. That’s the only place it can be found.
RNGLDR: That mixtape caught a lot of recognition and opened doors that eventually led to you performing at SXSW. What was the experience of performing at such a renowned festival like for your younger, less experienced self? What did you learn as a live performer from SXSW?
REAUX: Performing at SXSW only told me one thing and that was that I needed to see the world to speak to the world. I met Nip that same weekend walking on the strip by himself & we had a short convo. If I was aware of the knowledge that would come to me in later years it would have been a completely different conversation not involving music at all.
RNGLDR: You seem to be performing a lot of shows and festivals these days. What is it about concerts that you love as an artist? What is the difference in mindset between performing in front of an audience and hitting a booth?
REAUX: The reception of it, I produce my own music too so seeing heads bobbing & bodies moving before a word even leaves me is always the first connection. The receptiveness of my delivery & lyrical content is always second. After shows that face to face/hand to hand interaction is always intimate enough to me to remember the 2nd home of my art is always the people & to never forget. The difference between recording & performing for me is taking you to a place vs. giving you an experience. A thin line that can thread either side of the loop when executed properly.
RNGLDR: On the subject of concerts, we run a series called Dream Venue: a narrative series taking the reader on a journey culminating in the perfect live performance. As the artist performing, what would be your Dream Venue?
REAUX: I haven’t seen enough live performances or venues worldwide to translate that dream. But imagine a afro-futuristic Roman Colosseum packed wall to wall & the craziest after-party at a Paris Pantheon type spot.
RNGLDR: We were fortunate enough to catch you opening for EARTHGANG at the Deep Tropics Music & Arts Festival Pre-Party. What was it like having the chance to be part of such an intimate festival local to Nashville? What are your thoughts on EARTHGANG and their especially recent role in hip-hop music?
REAUX: It was a wild weekend even outside of the performances the whole festival was up. I got to see the homies & Earthgang kill shit in front of a interactive sold out crowd. I met some tight ass visual artists in the midst of all the smoke. If it’s anybody beating down rap barriers right now it’s Earthgang and I’m glad that it’s them that’s carrying that flame. And them being from the south makes it that much more meaningful to me.
RNGLDR: Along with EARTHGANG, the Deep Tropics pre-party was an exhibition of Nashville’s hip-hop scene. For those reading that may not know the scene well, how would you like to introduce the music of Case Arnold, Bryant Taylorr, Chuck Indigo & Tim Gent?
REAUX: All 4 are tight ass artists. I'd rather listeners/readers see the names & go & tap in on their sound than me describing it from my perspective this early in our careers. The south always gone have something to say.
RNGLDR: The same culture of community that defines Nashville’s hip-hop underground also defines the relationship between you and your creative collaborative, Black City. Can you dive into the team, what they mean to each other, and the art of bringing a crew up together?
REAUX: Mos definitely, Black City is a artist/management conglomerate (The BlackSon & Divine Dopey on the artist side). Woop, MZA & Causey manage and do a lot of dot connecting, navigating on the scene & facilitation. I’m not “in” Black City but that’s definitely family. Everybody in and affiliated with the collective moves tight knit & it’s a real camaraderie based tree. Everybody’s their own individual & artist, 9/10 if you see one of us you see half of us if not all of us.
RNGLDR: In that crew, you and Josephfiend collaborate for music videos under the name, Country Cousins. Through two visual releases: Exhale and Pass Go, it’s obvious that you’re taking advantage of another platform through which to make a statement. Tell us about you and Josephfiend’s vision for the video direction and what you’re able to say or accentuate with visuals that you may not be able to with music alone.
REAUX: Fiend my Country Cousin forreal. You just click with certain creatives and you’re able to execute ideas flawlessly with or without putting in “the hard work”. Directing is a niche that’s natural & organic to both of us as artists. Majority of the time I’m seeing the visuals as I’m producing or writing to a song and at that point it’s no need to even write it down because it’s in my head and it’s easy to translate it to somebody who can see your vision & bring it to a screen. Fiend as a producer as well. I remember the night I first showed him the basics of production, left him alone with it, and now he’s creating sounds I would have never thought to compose.
RNGLDR: Pass Go is brimming with audiovisual statements on racial issues still pressing the America, but the South in particular. Can you speak on the inspiration for the project and why having a voice and using your pedestal is so important to you?
REAUX: Pass Go was produced as a feet moving piece, written as a chest pound, & directed as a statement to address & pump air back into the panther backbone on social issues. Sometimes you have to cut off the finger to save the hand with the finger being rotting seeds (self destruction in black & hip-hop culture across communities). The fight starts in the mirror before any other entity and if you as a person of African decent raised in America choose not to help, you’re choosing to harm. It’s not OUR or everybody’s job to teach & bring awareness but I feel it’s mine so that’s how I move. It’s not straight-cut seriousness & militant all the time. I live a fun life, but I won’t let anyone downplay or forget who we are at anytime. In these times that's the face I gotta wear.
RNGLDR: You released a clip taken from the making of the Pass Go video where a lady walking past your shoot attacked you with racial slurs. In the comments, you wrote, ‘ain’t too far-fetched for TN. The passive ones worse.' Can you give us a taste of the obstacles growing up in the South as a person of color? How has that and does that continue to shape the music from Tennessee and beyond?
REAUX: First I just wanna clarify, it was a truck that drove by, he was hanging out the window when he made the statement & had it been a red light the video would’ve ended for a totally different cause. My whole life I grew up in black neighborhoods & with peers & communities I could see myself in. They didn’t have that much hate in their hearts to come in our neighborhoods looking for problems, it’s just not a smart thing to do. Racists have found a new voice & outlet through stances from the president & those stances built confidence to express that hate more vocally. Tennessee is the home of passive aggressive racists so imagine how much fun they’re having right now. They wouldn’t say it, but you could almost sense it & see it in their eyes. I don't let that dictate or manipulate my feelings toward white people as a whole but open racists get a different book. Zero tolerance.
RNGLDR: You’ve been in the process of putting together a debut album for some time. Can you give us any updates in Fif and what the rollout of singles towards the album will continue to look like?
REAUX: The update is I’ve produced & written three projects since the start of Fif & I decided to save Fif for a more cemented time to allow myself to get engulfed in that concept. That’s not where I’m at mentally or musically right now. But these projects I have in the works will paint a perfect prefix for Fif when it’s time for that. & one of those are definitely dropping before the year is up.
RNGLDR: Aside from the new projects and the road to Fif, what’s next for Reaux Marquez?
REAUX: Touring & face to face connecting my sound & messages with the people.