Rex Regis’ position within the North East hip-hop scene is incredibly understated. In the circles I move between, gigs I regularly attend and the various individuals I’ve interviewed in the past, Rex has been constantly name dropped as an older head who’s always been supportive of younger talent. It shouldn’t be all that remarkable but the sad fact of the matter is, there has been quite a generation gap, which only seems to be closing now. Rex, on the other hand, has always took the time to support and in some cases develop burgeoning MCs. The features for his latest album offering ‘The Third’ is evidence of his willingness to work with the up-and-comers – but does the content need to mature for Rex to be fully recognised as the scene’s uncle figure?
In the wake of Jay Z’s ‘4:44’, hip-hop has its first grown man rap album. A mature, reflective, advice-laden piece of art, Hov offers jewels to the young artists coming through on his latest LP in a similar way to how I’ve heard Rex speak to those around him in day-to-day conversations. Yet, on his album, the Newcastle rapper exclaims he “tried to write something uplifting, something positive” but it’s not for him. Rex may be a few years younger than Jay, but the pair play relatively similar roles in their respective scenes. Rex is widely regarded as an OG, a veteran and one of the better rappers the North East has produced – and I for one am not about to disagree, but even beyond pondering over Rex’s responsibility to create more mature content for his padawan peers, there are flaws in ‘The Third.’
Usually postponing album releases is a sign that an album isn’t ready. Yet, for the many push backs of ‘The Third’ Rex kept feeding the streets with singles – most of which premiered by myself with TheRootMusic on Spark. I’d take an educated guess that Rex had most, if not all of his parts recorded and instead was postponing for the sake of features. Rick Fury and The Great & The Magnificent’s Baron Von Alias and MistaBreeze are notable absentees from ‘The Third’ despite each being advertised to feature in early promotion for the album.
The long roll out meant that by the time ‘The Third’ dropped, we had heard nine out of sixteen songs from the album. ‘You’re Not From Round Here Wor Kid’ with 90BRO and Kay Greyson might have been one of the best collaborations of 2016 and remains a stand-out song. Lesser quality singles such as ‘You Know Who It Is’ on the other hand, which were good upon release become entirely skippable within the structure of the album.
For the most part, the collaborative tracks steal the spotlight – not that Rex ever allows himself to be renegaded mind. From almost Brainfeeders family reunion ‘Sloppy Seconds’ with Max Gavins and U Call Me Sir to ‘Doctor Doctor’ with Reali-T and ‘Drove Me Away’ featuring Sutherland and Izzy Finch, the team ups with fellow locals are fantastic. ‘Dynasty’ with J Smirk is a surprisingly well-fitting link up, whilst H-Man’s guest appearance alongside HB other half Just B for ‘My Lullaby’ is arguably the best verse on the entire album.
One issue that happens throughout the collaborations is the transitions between verse to hook. U Call Me Sir on ‘Sloppy Seconds’, J Smirk on ‘Dynasty’ and Just B on ‘My Lullaby’ each are cut off slightly too early so that the end of their verses are drowned out by the chorus. Whether this is a case of the artist going over their allocated bar-space or an issue with the engineering is unclear. In truth, it’s a fairly minor issue, but one which could have been sorted to make the album sound even more polished.
Whilst the collaborative tracks are likely to catch the most hype, the best track on ‘The Third’ is a solo cut. I think it’s fair to say that Rex Regis isn’t compared lyrically to Wretch 32. Whereas Wretch weaves complex metaphors with regular quadruple entendres, Rex’s lyrical content is a lot more raw and abrasive. Where Wretch’s words might go over heads, Rex’s writtens guillotines necks. From twisting classic fairy tales into visceral horror stories or vividly depicting how ‘Filthy’ he is, Rex’s style can often be classed as post-horrorcore. You don’t often get through an entire Rex verse without thinking at least once, “he might have gone too far with that.”
That said, ‘The Third’ brings out a new Rex. There’s dabbles into introspective vulnerability, but lyrically in terms of intelligent wordplay, the Newcastle rapper is at his best on this album. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve found myself stopping ‘Cold Outside’ and rewinding as he raps “mad slept on for all the nights that I spent wide awake.” Even beyond the intelligence of the lyric, is the truth to it. Rex is constantly overlooked as one of the greats in the North East hip-hop scene. Considering not only the quality of this album, but his past discography too, as a collective we all need to start putting more respect on Mr Regis’ name. ‘The Third’ is a ‘Running The Yard’ away from being Rex’s best body of work to date. I sincerely hope those murmurs of it being his last album aren’t true.