When I was told I was interviewing Salt Lake City hip-hop artist Reaper—quite frankly, I expected to sit down with a thug in a puffy jacket and baggy jeans.
But, of course, hip-hop is obviously much more complex than just thugs dressed as stereotypes. In fact, contemporary music owes a great deal of thanks to artists like Nas, Busdriver, Talib Kweli, Odd Nosdam and countless other innovators who fall under the ever-expanding umbrella of “hip-hop.”
Reaper—and his craft—represent the intelligent arm of hip-hop. Reaper is the least thug-like person I’ve met. He exudes depth, originality and brilliance.
Reaper is quick to laugh and crack a joke with his large, toothy smile.
“People sometimes come to my shows expecting to see 50 Cent and the type of stuff you see on MTV, and that’s just not what I do,” Reaper explains. “Not that I dislike that stuff. It’s just not me.”
Reaper’s brand of hip-hop is all about storytelling, a tradition reflected in his adopted pseudonym.
“Someone always dies in my stories. But it’s not as morbid as it sounds,” he says. “What I do is mostly about cycles. I explore the cycle of life.”
Reaper’s many years in the healthcare industry—working with a range of patients, from disabled adults to sex offenders—have taught him a great deal about the human experience.
“I’ve always been an activist. I can’t help it. It’s just part of who I am,” he says.
Reaper stresses that he always has pamphlets available—for every cause from rape recovery to domestic violence—at his shows. “It’s amazing how those pamphlets magically disappear from the table. People always secretly pocket them. It just goes to show that everyone has problems.”
But Reaper doesn’t want his listeners to forget that he is first and foremost an entertainer.
“Entertaining is a very important part of what I do. I want people to have fun at my shows,” he says. You can think about something and have fun at the same time. I promise.”
Reaper’s shows seamlessly integrate spoken word poetry, live hip hop beats, and even a few props.
“I always use original beats. I’m not one who likes to sample. My very talented partner Jebu helps me out in that department. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, so there’s always a little soul in my music.”
Reaper’s most recent EP, The Storyteller features plenty of smooth, relaxed beats that recall the glory days of ’60s and ’70s soul.
In the past, Reaper has been backed by everyone from straight up rock & roll bands to a calypso outfit. “It all depends on what feels right. If something feels like it flows, even if it isn’t straight up hip hop, I’ll still use it.”
“What I do is pretty different from anything you’ll see around here,” Reaper says. “I urge people to come to a show and see it. You just have to see it to believe it.”
Reaper’s next show is a birthday bash. “It’s actually a week after my birthday,” he says of the Oct. 17 gig at Monk’s. “There will be costumes changes, props, and even a few presents for the audience. I always like to give other people presents on my birthday.”
By Jenny Poplar