We rank A-Reece’s albums and EPs from good to excellent.
By making a claim as bold as “the best rapper in Africa”, as A-Reece did two weeks ago, you inevitably invite scrutiny. When those who are new to Reece take a closer look in order to make an informed decision on this claim, they will find a compelling argument – Reece is an accomplished artist who plays the game by his own rules, and he is winning.
The numbers are impressive (millions of streams and sold-out shows), too. And, what makes him even more interesting is that he doesn’t have the industry machine behind him like most of his peers do, just a raging army of fans who are ready to fight any non-believer.
The 24-year-old rapper and producer from Pretoria also has one thing a majority of rappers don’t have – a sizeable catalogue: a mixtape, a string of EPs, albums and strong stand-alone songs.
Reece surely does make the shortlist? We will leave that to you to decide.
Below is a guide into A-Reece’s extensive catalogue; we rank his albums and EPs from good to excellent.
Note: Projects that are shorter than four songs (such as the Gwan Big Up Urself series) were not considered for this list. Neither was his 2013 mixtape #ForeverKing as it includes recycled instrumentals.
Let’s get into it.
10. Cutaways (2016)
Released two months before his debut album Paradise, Cutaways is what its title suggests; songs left off of the then-upcoming album. As a teaser, it achieved the goal of whetting fans’ appetites for what was one of the most anticipated albums of 2016. However, outside of that, Cutaways didn’t offer much; no versatility lyrically or otherwise. As a result, Cutaways is a forgettable entry in Reece’s catalogue. But it’s still a decent passive listen carried by Reece’s solid raps and youthful energy.
9. The Reece Effect (2019)
Probably the most criticised project in this catalogue, The Reece Effect suffered as a result of listener fatigue. In that era, Reece was flooding the internet with singles and videos, which was cool, but his subject matter and production were starting to border on monotony. The Reece Effect is the least inspired A-Reece has sounded and the features couldn’t save the project either. Still, it included solid songs like ‘We Both Know Better’ and ‘$trange Habit$’, which remain notable entries in Reece’s rich inventory.
8. Browniez EP (2014)
Under pH Raw X and Khuli Chana’s guidance, it seemed A-Reece would take the motswako route as can be heard on Browniez EP released in 2014, under Khuli’s Mythron Records and Raw X Studios. Reece admitted to being inspired by HHP as a youngster in a2016 interview. “HHP is the reason why I started buying hard copies, dawg,” Reece said. “HHP was the first rapper in my life I told myself, ‘yo, Imma buy this album’. So, he played a major role in this music thing for me.” The first song on Browniez EP, ‘1000 Degreez’, named afterthe crew Reece was a member of before the fame, paid homage to his backpack rap background from his rappity rap delivery to name-dropping Nas, Rakim, Biggie and other hip-hop legends. “The lyrics I write come from the spirit of Pac and mind views/ The gimmicks you bite come from the rappers that I chew,” he rapped intimidatingly over a head-bobbin boom bap rhythm.
But the rest of Browniez EP was largely motswako – even though most of his raps were still in English, he threw a reasonable amount of Tswana bars over bouncy beats and came up with catchy hooks like a true motswakolista. Reece was only 16, still finding his voice on the EP, but he was showing immense potential. “First time I heard Reece,” Khuli Chana said in a2019 HYPE cover story, “it was mind-blowing, you know. For me, it was just like, sh*t I guess there’s a whole lot more from where we come from. And then I knew it was motswako-inspired. I could pick it up. I already knew where he was from, so it felt likeokay cool, there’s definitely like a brighter future for the sh*t that we do.” Reece’s homage to Cassper Nyovest titled ‘Cassper’s Picture’, where he poured his heart out about the come-up, is the song that caught Khuli’s attention. Browniez EP isn’t streaming currently, but day-one Reece fans have it somewhere and revisit it every now and then to remind themselves just how far The Boy has come.
Reece’s debut is good, but had it been shorter, it would have been great and would sure rank higher up on this list. But, unfortunately, clumsy executive producing and editing let it down. It was another item on Ambitiouz Entertainment’s conveyor belt of bloated and formulaic albums, an approach that worked for some of the artists on the roster, but not necessarily Reece, who would go on to make way better music as an independent artist. Reece has hinted to interference during the creation of Paradise and famously rapped, “Funny thing ’bout this whole sh*t/ Making Paradise was a living hell”on ‘Pick You Up’ by Riky Rick.
Still, inside Paradise lies a great album – on songs like the title track, ‘Mngani’, ‘Zimbali’, ‘What U in 4’ and ‘You Welcome (Outro)’, Reece made it known he was on his way up and, with refinement, would become one of the best in the country (or the continent).
The highlight of Paradise is, of course, ‘Family’ where Reece and his brother P-Jay (you call him Jay Jody now) tell a moving story about their family, using their father as an entry point. “The song is so personal, everyone in the studio was in deep silence throughout the entire time Jay recorded his verse,” Reece told Apple Music a few years ago.
With Paradise, A-Reece was transitioning from a lyricist to a rapper. He rapped, “Look, I rap to impress/ Finesse/ You can stay with your underground connect/ Cuz I don’t wanna starve, n*gg*/ These girls want a superstar, n*gg*” on ‘What U in 4’. ‘Make Up Your Mind’, ‘Hamba Nami’ and ‘Sebenza’ sounded like songs made with radio in mind. ‘Couldn’t’, the song that impressed AE, leading to his signing, had the cheat code, an Emtee hook, added to it to give it that next-level feel, and it worked.
With all its shortcomings, Paradise is still an important album in South African hip-hop history as it helped launch one of the most gifted and popular rappers of our generation. Hopefully, the lesson AE learned from this is that some artists are better off left to do them to the fullest, even if it doesn’t seem like their aesthetic is marketable.
6.And I’m Only 21 (2018)
And I’m Only 21 was released on 21 October, a special date for Reece and his fans: Paradise and its follow-up From Me To You & Only You dropped on the date in 2016 and 2017. The five-track EP was a reminder to those who needed it that the man running the game was only 21.
Lasting for only 16 minutes, And I’m Only 21 is punchy and makes sure to not spend a lot of time in one place. Every song is well-crafted, consisting of great rapping from a confident Reece which goes along with sung hooks.
The single ‘Holding Hands’ showed a rapper comfortable with himself, living a lifestyle away from the spotlight: “I’m feeling cool, calm, collected in my flannel shirt,” he sang on the hook after stating that, from where he’s standing, he’s seeing “…shawty after shawty and they holding hands/ Walking in my crib like it’s a party, it’s a party/ Can we bring more friends?”
At the time of its release, Reece had broken the internet for stealing the show on a B.E.T Cypher alongside Shane Eagle and Nasty C. The last song, ‘To The Top Please’, on And I’m Only 21 was an acceptance speech by Reece after winning a Grammy, presumably in the future. In the song, Reece attests to playing the game on his own terms and acknowledges those who’ve played a role in his career: “Grateful that my momma let her son rap/ Momma look up your boy is where the sun at/ Now the family can get a suntan and yes we are/ Shining brighter than the sun can.” No lie was told.
5.The Burning Tree (2021)
The Burning Tree wasn’t overthought. A project based on the experience of smoking weed isn’t necessarily the most commercially viable route to take in South Africa. But then, when does post-AE A-Reece ever play by the rules? Evident in its boom bap-leaning sound and less emphasis put on hooks, TBT is meant to be consumed as a whole. It’s an experience, kinda like the very process of getting stoned. A-Reece sounds unbothered and laces the beats with graceful ease, following the mellow soundscape with the smoothest flows.
One doesn’t go into a project titled The Burning Tree expecting anything more than stoner raps, and Reece delivers on his promise here. On songs like ‘For My Sanity’, as a listener, you feel like you are there with him and his squad of collaborators as they roll up. He sings, “Soon as I wake, I tell myself that I won’t smoke anymore/ The same day, I’m with my n*gg*s rolling up again.”In the same song, he makes it clear that burning trees isn’t purely a recreational activity; oftentimes it’s for his sanity.
For this 4/20 release, the rap god roped in fellow PTA rap stoners to smoke some of the beats with him. 25K appears on ‘Red Dragon’ alongside Jay Jody who impressively and fittingly references 25K’s flow on his single ‘Trap Jumpin’. IMP THA DON appears on the jazzy ‘Bellator’ while Maggz is featured on ‘More Than Enough’, where both rappers colourfully describe a steamy session (side note: apparently, it feels 10 times better when stoned).
4.heaveN caN waiT: thE narroW dooR, vol. 1 (2021) by BLUE TAPE (A-Reece and Jay Jody)
During the recording of both Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory: The mixtape and heaven caN waiT, A-Reece and Jay Jody were still grieving their father who passed away in 2020. Their first joint album as BLUE TAPE opens with a clip sampled from the 2001 film Waking Life: “And so time is actually just this constant saying no to God’s invitation.” Well, the title claims heaven can wait, so Reece and Jay Jody still choose to bless us with their presence this side, for now.
heaveN caN waiT might just be the most dynamic release from Reece as the two rappers explore a wider range of subjects than in previous releases. They rap about living life to the fullest on the album opener and explore the struggles of growing up in the hood on ‘blvcK kidZ’. On ‘thE confrontatioN’, Jay Jody gives a rundown of how the music industry actually operates, raw and uncut, while in his verse, Reece takes time to address the dramatic The Wrecking Crew disbandment. heaveN caN waiT made it clear that these two brothers bring out the best in each other without sounding overly competitive. Their chemistry is shown in their film and hip-hop references and interpolations throughout the album which puts the back cover (showing a room full of posters of hip-hop album covers) into perspective. The subtlety on IceMan Beatz’s production took several spins to grasp after years of hearing Reece over MashBeatz’s production. As a result, heaveN caN waiT is a slow-burner with a high replay value. Vol. 2 needs to happen.
3. L3 (Long Lost Letters) (2018) by A-Reece, Ecco & Wordz
Still on the celebratory streak he started in From Me To You & Only You, A-Reece collaborated with then-The Wrecking Crew members Wordz and Ecco the Beast for another easy listen that showcased their impeccable rap skills. The song ‘Better Daze (May 25th)’ was a celebration of A-Reece’s first million views on YouTube as an independent artist. With time, it was getting clearer to Reece that he had made the right decision leaving the label and, essentially, the whole mainstream music industry behind. With lines like, “May 25th, I can’t believe we hit a million views/ The only way to change the game is to break the rules”, L3 (Long Lost Letters) gave the listener a sense of what being part of TWC was like at the time, as the trio emphasised on ‘Welcome 2 My Life’– “look at my life, it’s lit”;it sure was a life to envy.
With sexually-charged songs like ‘B T P H’ (an acronym for “bring the p*ssy here”), and ‘XXX’, L3 is an album centred on the pursuit of pleasure, an everyday thing for the trio and their affiliate collaborators Flvme, Ex Global and IMP THA DON. A-Reece, Ecco and Wordz showed a natural chemistry as they effortlessly devoured a great selection of soulful beats.
The beats on L3, produced by A-Reece and MashBeatz, were soulful boom-bap that didn’t sound dated at all. L3 is a modern SA hip-hop cult classic that will likely stand the test of time. Ecco hasn’t worked with Reece since TWC disbanded, but Reece and Wordz still make for a special pairing in their countless collaborations, which we are still being treated to in the present day.
2. Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory: The mixtape (2021)
From Me To You And Only You and Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory are like yin and yang – one is a celebration while the other is, as Reece once put it, “transition from grey clouds to a clear sky”, five years later. Less than a minute into Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory, Reece has made it clear he’s grieving and frustrated with how events have turned out. The album opens with the line: “Long gone are the better days”, making it clear that things are about to get intensely emotional, as the rapper had just lost his father around the time of its creation.
On the second song, ‘HIBACHI’, he raps that he’s been “turning rappers to Hibachi steak” in the spirit of competition. Like grief itself, TTTM meanders between moments of emotional emptiness and gusts of heavy utterances. ‘THE SAME THING’ is scant lyrically and finds Reece and his brother repeating the thought “Damn, life is a motherf*ck*r/ Hard to sit back and see the same thing that happened to me happen to you” multiple times and coming to terms with the surreality of death. ‘RE$IDUAL $ELF-IMAGE’, on the other hand, is a four-minute epic where Reece talks his sh*t, heartfelt and sentimental, over a drumless, key-laden beat by MashBeatz. Ayanda Jiya’s vocals add to the soul and mark yet another gem from the musical twins.
TTTM is a deeply personal offering from A-Reece, and its guest list mostly consists of individuals Reece is close to, frequent collaborator Ayanda Jiya with whom he hasn’t missed ever, his brother Jay Jody and close friend Wordz. BELO SALO was the newest addition to this close friends circle. On ‘BRAVO’, Reece gave the people the collaboration they had been waiting for; with Stogie T who delivered a momentous verse that weaves scenes from the film No Country For Old Men into his own story.
While making TTTM, Reece, who had mostly lived in his head prior to this, found himself sympathising with others; a great example is ‘NO MAN’S LAND’, a socially conscious song that was resultant from him going back home after an extended period of being away. There, he got a wake-up call: “My n*gg* got a lot to bare/ And here I was thinking beefing with these rappers is a real problem/ N*gg*s in the hood got bigger problems,”he rapped. On the album’s closing song, ‘DOTTED LINEZ’, A-Reece revisited his departure from AE five years later and admitted to disliking the way the industry as a whole operates and sounded proud of the decisions he had made thus far.
1. From Me To You & Only You (2017)
Reece’s first full-length album since leaving Ambitiouz Entertainment, From Me To You & Only You, was the sounds of a man feeling optimistic about the future, a rapper who had, just a year prior, embarked on a new path and was feeling like he had his whole life ahead of him. A rapper not afraid to admit he’d never been on a private jet because he had that much faith in his future on the popular single ‘On My Own’.
The opening lines of FMTYAOY set the tone for new beginnings: “Went back to my mama crib cuz the food she cook amazing.” Albeit being collaborative, the album had enough solo joints – ‘Rio’, ‘Off The Rip’, ‘Rarri’ and others – to prove Reece wasn’t leaning on features, but rather meeting them halfway. Strong appearances from Zoocci Coke Dope, Flvme, Rowlene, Enkei and Ayanda Jiya were vital contributions to this grand soirée shaped by MashBeatz, with whom Reece worked hand-in-hand until recently.
FMTYAOY is near perfect and is a body of work that made a statement, not in so many words but in its genuinely jovial mood. There’s not one wasted moment on here, the album is nothing but a blissful experience that never fails to please.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story failed to acknowledge A-Reece as a producer on L3. The error has been amended.
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