It's a pleasure to bring hip hop and rap artist, songwriter and producer Reach, AKA Stacy D. Smith, to the Listen Local project. Reach is not only well-known to audiences as one of Kansas City's premier hip hop artists, he also teaches courses on Creative Writing Through Hip Hop Poetry and Hip Hip Writing and Performance through the Kansas City Young Audiences program. For this edition of Listen Local, Reach shares some insights into his approach to his craft and how teaching has influenced his lyrics, as well as providing some personal book and movie recommendations from the JCL catalog.
Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
I live in midtown Kansas City, Missouri (just a few miles north of Westport). My job, however; is on the west side of the state line (in Overland Park, Kansas). I work a typical nine-to-five job so my average day consists of commuting to work at 6:30am, an eight-hour work day, and a garden variety home life (when I’m not performing, teaching, or doing work in the community).
A few years ago you described your style as ‘blue-collar rap’, a response to ‘industry-saturated propaganda’ of commercial rap and hip-hop. How do you view the current Kansas City hip-hop scene in light of this concerted effort to bring rap and hip-hop back to their roots?
Rap music mined in Kansas City often treks a similar path to the one I alluded to in my biography. Most of the artists I come across and keep company with reflect the daily realities of their lives—as independent artists, parents, and members of the working class. Artists in this town tend to paint realistic images of their lives whether they tend toward the so-called conscious or “street-wise” ends of the spectrum.
You have taught creative writing classes on the poetry of hip-hop lyrics. How has teaching informed your own lyric writing?
Writing curriculum has forced me to parse my own writing process in an academic way. It’s given me a deeper understanding and command of my writing styles. I’m convinced it’s also helped me to further establish my voice as a writer.
Describe your musical creative process. What tools do you use? How do you break through creative blocks?
My creative processes vary. Music that captures my ear often serves as an inspirational catalyst. There are other times where I write in silence (without accompaniment). The latter tends to be the exception; the former, the rule.
Who or what inspires you?
A little bit of everything, to be honest. I’m inspired by tragedy, triumph, love, nature, various genres of music, television, film, and the many people I’ve come in contact with in life.
1. 12 Angry Men (DVD) - 1957
2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Book)
3. The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel (Book)
4. A Raisin in the Sun (DVD) - 1961
5. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (CD) - 1959
6. Black Power Mixtape (DVD) - 2011
7. Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder (CD) - 1976
8. The Outsiders (DVD) - 1983
9. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (Book) - 1947
10. To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar (CD) - 2015