Reach is a big boy. He could easily have chowed down the whole cake that someone brought for him to commemorate his winning the nationwide Scion Next Up Unsigned MC Search. And he deserves that cake, because the way Reach sees it, he clamored to the top and snatched up that prize for all of Kansas City hip-hop. Reach beat 2,000 other rappers who sent in their tracks from all over the country to win recognition from the Toyota-offshoot car company. Reach's track, "Comin' for You," beat the last ten finalists who came from places such as Atlanta and Brooklyn. Now, all of KC's hip-hop scene seems to be at the downtown bar to congratulate him.
"You writing an article or something?" asks Konnect, the guy who's slurping on the girl drink while his friend performs. His real name is Anthony Adkins, and he claims to have given Reach his handle. Reach is a Kansas City native and graduate of Ruskin High School. They met in 2001, when Adkins was a producer for a local enterprise called KingDome Records and Reach was laying down a track for the group at a recording studio.
"When I met him three years ago," Adkins says, "his name was Preach. I told him, 'Brother, you need to drop that P, because you just reached me.' I was a grimy dude, and I named him. Me. He's had tons of names, but that one stuck. He's the pinnacle of the word reach, it can't be denied. He's bailed me out of jail."
Reach's first album, Joys, Disappointments and the In-Between, is so full of sunshine and buttercups that it makes you forget how the mainstream hip-hop that rules the radio is drowning in sweaty booty and smoking guns. The second song on Joys goes: Good morning, day, how are you?/I'm feeling powerful. Wonderful. Hoping your newness will keep me functional/I know the night will soon be taking you away/So give me peace so I can make it through the day.
"He's like Jesus, and I'm a disciple," Adkins continues, draining the pink juice from his martini glass. "Now I can reach the drug dealers and gangbangers in the streets and say, 'Get this CD!'"
Reach has to be up early tomorrow for his day job at Maytag. This Scion contest prize, which includes $5,000, a trip to four cities to perform and a music video for his winning track, isn't exactly his ticket out of refrigerator repair, but it's a start. His song was selected by heavyweights DJ Premier, Green Lantern and Sean Cane to be among the final ten. The songs were posted online, and voting was held to name Scion's top unsigned MC in the country. Reach won, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a label will offer him a contract. If that happened, though, the local scene would get a healthy boost.
Joys, Reach says, is Kansas City inside and out, from the cover design by artist Sike Style to the production from beatmakers Vertigone (aka Clarence Draper) of the Guild and Miles Bonny of SoundsGood. "This sound kind of embodies the Kansas City sound, at least from my perspective," Reach says. "I think it's jazz-influenced. Not as much as that particular track ["Comin' for You"], though it does have jazz samples in it, but just kind of edgy, really. It has a lot of movement in it. It's really musical. Like I said, the jazz being the center of it kind of gives it those overtones."
Reach makes a priority of thanking the people who have helped him along the way, and the winning song is basically that: a huge shout-out listing names of locals he admires while announcing his own arrival as an artist. He can't wait to travel with Scion and tell people about his hometown rap scene. "I'm going to tell them it's really diverse," Reach says. "You get a lot of different sides of the rap genre here, everything from the more substantive, positive, conscious rap to the harder-edged, more reality-based rap, to stuff that's even experimental like the Deep Thinkers, where you're branching off into other genres and infusing those into hip-hop as well."
Reach is Eeyore-humble when asked to guess why he won. "Oh, I honestly don't know," he says. "I've heard a lot of people say that they think my sound was just different, and some of the other artists, while talented, maybe they've heard that particular brand of hip-hop before. Some of the artists had a more commercial sound that we've been acclimated to already."
Speaking of commercial, for a few years now, the Scion company has feverishly tried tapping into the hip-hop youth market to access young urban adults who have change to spare on cranberry vodka, new vinyl and, they hope, the company's easily customized cars.
Scion's ad reps have hitched a ride with hipsters, convincing style makers nationwide to put up Scion posters and pass out mountains of Scion shwag at events where licensed kids congregate. Scion compiles mix-tape-style hip-hop CDs and passes them out free; the samplers, surprisingly, include some really hot shit, even though the company has been known to bleep political lyrics (even censoring the word Bush) as well as profanity in order to keep every possible consumer subgroup in Scion's corner.
Reach's victory may be a lucky break for Scion, then. The guy's lyrics are introspective and almost entirely positive.
"It's really just my philosophy," Reach says of the niceness that sets him apart. "I really don't know the other side of the coin. I don't know harder-edged stuff. I never really got into being in the street and all that kind of stuff. Just being more positive and having something more conscious to say about things was more my background, more the way I live my life. It just came out in the music."
Next month, a director will film Reach's first music video his first taste of fame.
It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.