Reynos Interview: Washington Heights

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by Alex Shtaerman

As Washington Heights bred rapper Reynos is quick to point out “Hispanics have been a part of Hip-Hop since day one”. However, he also concedes that as far as MCing, “there haven’t been too many artists who have made it as far as someone like Jay-Z or Busta Rhymes”. While breakthrough Latin MCs such as B-Real, Fat Joe and Big Pun overcame significant obstacles to stand among rap’s elite in the mid ’90’s, in 2004 race in rap music has proven to be much less of an issue. Representing his Dominican heritage to the fullest, Reynos, a veteran of New York’s City’s coveted mixtape circuit, now stands on the verge of taking his career to the next level. With his first studio album titled Stand Up dropping July 13th, we had a chance to speak to this versatile MC about Hip-Hop, his hood and his approach towards making music.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You first started rapping at a young age; how did your career develop?

REYNOS: I started rapping when I was eleven. I used to look up to my older cousin and he used to rap. Since I grew up with no brothers or sisters I used to look up to him as an older brother. When I first started rapping at the age of eleven I wasn’t really saying much but through time it got to the point where people were listening to me and what really did it for me was that I started doing mixtapes for DJs; by that time I was about eighteen. The first DJ mixtape I actually got on was DJ Danny S. I did a freestyle for him and a lot of people were talking about it. After that more DJs were calling me to do freestyles since at that time there wasn’t really another Dominican rapper who was rapping like I was and they found it amazing or whatever else you want to call it; so after that I started doing a whole bunch of freestyles on various mixtapes and that’s how I first got known.

After a while people started asking me for songs, DJs started asking me if I had songs; so I said, you know what, lemme do a whole album. Like a street album, so to speak; so that’s when I decided to drop Stand Up. I dropped Stand Up myself, in the streets, hand to hand, out of trunks, straight up like that. I guess it got into good hands because that’s how I eventually got connected with my manager L. Boogs and I also got to know DJ Enuff from the Heavy Hitters. He actually reached out himself, he called the number on the CD and was like – I really like this album, who is this kid? And I got to the point where I am right now where they’re like family and they really have helped me out. So the label that I am at right now, Latin Flavor / UBO, they heard the album and wanted to distribute it. So at that time we freshened up the original album, I added two new songs, changed up the intro and now it’s dropping for the world this summer July 13th.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Coming from a Latin background into Hip-Hop, did you look up to any of the Hispanic MCs like Big Pun or B-Real or where you more influenced by the people around you?

REYNOS: You could say both. The people around me who were supporting me and pushing me like – yo, you need to do this; you need to rep – that meant a lot. For a long time I never saw it as – ok, I’m Spanish – Hispanics have been a part of Hip-Hop since day one, so I did not really view myself as a Hispanic artist but later on I started noticing people asking me questions like – how do you feel being Hispanic in Hip-Hop? The way I see it is we’ve been in Hip-Hop from the beginning; it’s just that there hasn’t been too many Hispanic artists who have made it as far as someone like Jay-Z or Busta Rhymes or other artists like that. But as far as Hispanic artists I would say Big Pun was a real big influence; he was the first Hispanic artist to go platinum, so you know how that goes. Also I used to look up to BIG, that was my shit, that was my food right there, my breakfast, my inspiration. But mostly I would say I just kept doing it with my family, my neighborhood and just kept pushing it.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You just finished shooting your first video in Miami, what was that like?

REYNOS: The video we just shot is for Tato OK which is the single and basically it’s like a Dominican anthem. There hasn’t really been a Dominican artist who came out and represented Dominicans to the fullest in a song as far as Hip-Hop goes; so I said, you know what, let me do it. And basically that’s the song that stuck out for a lot of people who listened to the album; it got played on the radio and a lot of people were looking for it so we just ran with it.

We shot the video in Miami and it was crazy. I mean; it’s the first time that I’ve done a real video. Videos I’ve done before were just me and my boys holding up a camera and rapping, nothing like an actual video; so the whole thing was a great experience. Tato OK means It’s All Good so the plot behind the video is just everyone having a good time, we have a club scene in there, also there is a scene outside with everyone just hanging out; kind of like a Summertime vibe but in Miami.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As of now you are on an independent label. In this day and age it seems like more and more independents are gaining recognition and notoriety, do you see yourself staying as an independent artist?

REYNOS: Right now I’m independent but if someone was to throw some big numbers at me, I mean you never know. I’m not sticking to no sides, right now I’m with an independent label and I’ma run with them but if I get another offer that may help my career then of course I would have to consider that.

RIOTSOUND.COM: For people who have never been up to Washington Heights, can you describe what it’s like?

REYNOS: Washington Heights as far as the news and all that goes is somewhat known for drugs; but basically it’s just like a little Dominican neighborhood but there are also Puerto Ricans and Blacks there too. It’s not a good neighborhood; in a way it’s like every other hood. There’s drugs and there’s bad things that happen but I have grown to love it and I can’t really talk bad about it ’cause this is where I live, it’s my home and I love it. A lot of stuff happens over here, there’s a lot of violence. Back in the day, back in the ’80’s, early 90’s it was real hot over here, it was real crazy. But now I guess it’s a little better but it’s still a hood and every hood has the same problems and similar situations. So you know how that can be.

RIOTSOUND.COM: You recently traveled across the country promoting your new album and performing for thousands of high school kids in different cities, what was that whole experience like?

REYNOS: That was crazy. I’ve never been to Chicago, I’ve never been to San Francisco, I’ve never been to L.A. Outside of New York the only places I had gone to were either Miami or the Dominican Republic, so for me that was a great experience. They sent me out there and I went over and met a bunch of new people while promoting the album. DJs, people in the streets; so in all it was very rewarding. We stayed in Chicago for a week then we went to San Francisco for three days and then we went to Los Angeles for three days and Palm Springs for two days. I performed at a whole bunch of high schools; I was talking to the kids and everything like that. One of the high schools I did was in San Francisco and it was an all white high school, I mean there was like one black kid in the whole school (laughs). So I get there and it’s crazy ’cause I’m walking in the high school and all I hear is Reynos! Reynos! all the little kids screaming out my name and I’m wondering how the hell they know who I am? But these kids were rockin’, I had them saying Tato OK and everything. So for me, right there, that was a really good experience.

Then in L.A. I met up with DJ Felli Fel who is one of the biggest DJs over there and he took me up to the radio station. It’s funny ’cause I’m from New York and my first time being live on the radio was in L.A. He ended up playing the song six times, screaming to the world like – ya’ll don’t know who’s in the building, this is history right here! – and I’m just sitting there lovin’ it with a big cheese smile. I love that dude for that. That was a lot of love right there. I mean, that is one of the highest things that’s happened to me to this day.

RIOTSOUND.COM: I listened to the album and I really like the way you come on Bounce, it’s a real gritty street vibe. Your album seems well balanced as far as having a mixture of street as well as some more mainstream party tracks; what’s the creative process like when you go from one side of the spectrum to the other?

REYNOS: In a way you can say that has been my talent right there. I am very versatile with my music. I could actually jump on a track with someone like Mobb Deep who are hardcore rappers and then do a track with Missy or someone who is more commercial without people saying that I’m selling out. With Stand Up that’s exactly what I tried to do ’cause I don’t really like sticking to one type of music or one mindset to making music. I feel as an artist you have to be creative. So with the album, I took it as; Ok, I’ma take it to the streets ’cause I’m from the streets, I’m from Washington Heights and I gotta talk about what I live but at the same time Washington Heights is not all known for just guns and drugs, we also have a good time, we party and we like to enjoy ourselves. Also with tracks like I Need To Know and Understand Why, I speak about certain issues. I just try to even it out as far as subject matter because that way you could relate to anybody. Someone who doesn’t understand one track may understand another track and vise versa.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As an up and coming talent, where would you like to be five years from now?

REYNOS: Five years from now I would probably like to be on my fifth album. I work, I’ll drop an album every year, that’s not a problem. Basically I would like to be respected and to be known as Reynos; not a rapper who sounds like this rapper or that rapper. I want to have my own identity and my own name. I want to make a name for myself in the Hip-Hop game and just stand out and hopefully people will appreciate my music.

RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as the immediate future, what should the fans be looking out for?

REYNOS: Right now I’m in the mixtape game, as you know that’s a big thing out here in New York. My new mixtape that’s coming out is Next Big Thing Volume 3; it’s all freestyles that I’ve done for DJs in the past month. Then we mix that with a few new songs that are not even on the album and we drop one every month. The new one is probably gonna be out a week or two weeks from now. You can get that at MixTapeKings.com. And on that site you could also find the ones I’ve done before, Volume 1 and Volume 2.

RIOTSOUND.COM: Anything else you want to tell the fans?

REYNOS: Buy the album July 13th! Represent, hold me down!