Tragedies can feel short-lived when they occur in quick succession. As news notifications appear and headlines stream in each day, it can be difficult to remember what the world preoccupied itself with the day before. Add this to one’s personal tragedies, and it’s impossible to keep up. A person only has the option to keep moving forward, regardless of a life’s inevitable trials.
South African rapper A-REECE, though young, knows the nature of calamity. His apty-named mixtape Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory, released on March 26 via Platoon. The work follows his critically-acclaimed debut album Paradise, from 2016, which received a nomination for Best Rap Album at the South Africa Music Awards. He won ‘Lyricist of the Year’ at the South Africa Hip-Hop Awards at age 19, making him one of the youngest writers to earn the title.
A-REECE started rapping and recording music in the fourth grade. He was a classic younger sibling, interested in the music his older brother listened to — Mos Def, 50 Cent, Talib Kweli. He watched his brother battle and record songs in his friend’s bedroom studio. One day, A-REECE asked his brother to help him write a verse of his own. He hasn’t stopped since.
Now, A-REECE is 24, and Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory Is his fifth full-length project. It began in early 2020, when he teased a sequel to Paradise on social media. Fans responded so fervently that A-REECE decided to preface the sequel with a mixtape, to give himself time to truly perfect his second record. The mixtape became an undertaking of its own, especially as 2020 became more difficult for the globe. He usually takes a couple of months to finish a project, but Today’s Tragedy, Tomorrow’s Memory became a yearlong venture.
The album opens on an ominous track called “MARK 15:35.” Over looping horns, A-REECE asks whether the personal loss he has experienced was divined by God. “23, stressing like I”m 45, mortified / feeling like I’m not spiritually fortified,” he raps. He does not want to question God’s will, but experiences lapses in spirituality every time he experiences pain.
Songs that reflect upon individual tragedies, like “MARK 15:35” and “THE SAME THING” are juxtaposed with jubilant tracks, like “RESIDUAL SELF-IMAGE” and “5 YEAR PLAN.” Instead of remembering disaster, A-Reece remembers how those trials manifested his current career. “HIBACHI” is one of the first songs A-REECE wrote for the mixtape. It reflects on his journey as a young independent artist. “ I finally made it out when they thought it never happen / I don’t take losses I take affirmative action,” he raps. This song centers his experience, but others were inspired by conversations with friends and family. “DICHOTOMY” describes divorce, and “NO MAN’S LAND” tells many stories of men where A-REECE is from, working to survive, unable to pursue their passions.
The songs unfold like collages. Many songs feature contrasting sections pasted around A-REECE’s main idea. A-REECE says these production choices are influenced by one of his musical idols, Kanye West.
“I’d ask myself: what the hell was Kanye thinking?” A-REECE says. “How’d he end up deciding he is gonna chop the record like that — dissect it and put it back together into something totally new. I’ve always wanted to be able to do that.”
But even though A-REECE learned from the past, and now feels as if he’s reached a degree of success, It hasn’t been easy adjusting to managing a full-fledged career as a young independent.
“I realized that you can’t do everything by yourself,” he says. “What has worked for me is putting a team together of people I trust who can help cover every other aspect while I take care of the music. It’s a huge responsibility, but I have no choice. I’m my own boss now.”
Ultimately, A-REECE’s music isn’t entirely about achieving personal success. In “RESIDUAL SELF-IMAGE” he raps: “How many lives can this record save? / How many minds can it liberate?”
“These are questions I ask myself every time I make a record,” A-REECE says. “I want my music to make a difference in someone’s life. I want to be a part of something timeless and special. My lyrics could be the reason why someone decided not to commit suicide, or got that job they always wanted. I want my fans to know anything is possible and that life isn’t perfect but it goes on. I want my music to give people hope.”