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Donald Morrison starts off his day by watching David Lynch’s weather report.

As we settled into a cozy booth in the back of Long Beach’s dimly-lit 555 Steakhouse, Reaper Mook said something I’ve never heard anyone say. It was an opinion that hadn’t even crossed my mind as a possibility and one that I’ve since rejected.

“The Godfather: Part 3 is the best film of the series and it’s the one that’s still quoted most often,” Reaper Mook said, before reenacting the film’s most infamous scene, since eulogized by Silvio Dante in The Sopranos: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”’

Even though the film is often considered the worst in the series, Reaper Mook says he can relate to the arc of Michael Corleone being pulled back into a life that not everybody understands. A life where you can avoid a typical 9-to-5 life in lieu of becoming your own boss and taking care of the family. Reaper Mook has been making music in Long Beach on-and-off for nearly a decade, but it wasn’t until he found out he’d be having a son of his own in 2019 that he began to take it seriously. It was sink-or-swim time, he told me.

“A month before my son was born I was just sitting there going crazy, I knew everything was about to change,” Reaper Mook says. “I decided to give myself a year to see if I could really make something happen.”

Reaper Mook really made something happen this year when he released For The Pagne, a slow-burn, mobster-music masterpiece that plays like if Currensy and Rick Ross had a 6 foot 7 inch child with exceptional taste in fine dining. It’s luxury rap without the pretentious nature of Ross’, and with production, handled mostly in house by NiceGuyxVinny, that reminds me of Currensy’s penchant for world-building. Reaper Mook is able to flex by merely describing scenes from his own life as if he were sifting through b-roll. He has a poet’s sense for finding meaning in the mundane, whether he’s on the sidelines of a New England Patriots game getting mean-mugged by Bill Belichick or conjuring up images of a lava lamp while pouring lean into lemon-lime soda.

As we begin our interview, Reaper Mook orders four oysters and a helping of crab cakes for the table. He tells me he was born and raised in Long Beach and that he moved around a lot while growing up with his mom. At 6 foot 7 inches, Reaper Mook was practically expected to play football in high school and he played well. But he was always more attracted to creative pursuits, like drawing or making music. In 2015, Reaper Mook became one half of the duo Crimewave 5150, with Dez Yusuf. Back then he rapped under the name JSN MSK and would attack house shows in Long Beach with the same fervor as the actual Jason did his victims. The song “MSK Wanna Die,” sounds more punk than it does hip hop and is a good example of Reaper Mook’s ability to experiment with different sounds.

On For the Pagne, Reaper Mook takes similar risks in sound. With “Alpina” and “5th & a 8th,” he stretches out his singing voice and channels his inner Max B to croon about diamond rings and nightmares. This is in fact where Reaper Mook feels most comfortable. In his free time he mostly listens to R&B and he says he never intended to be a rapper. You can sense as much when listening to his music. There’s a certain complexity to being concise and he’s at his best when he slows down. Other highlights from the album include “Capone” featuring sstray and album closer “GMMW,” which sees Reaper Mook reach a near meditative flow over a somewhat romantic sounding keyboard riff. It encapsulates the cigar-smoke-tinted, basement feel of the record perfectly.

It was almost dark by the time we left the 555 Steakhouse. Reaper Mook asked if I’d like to smoke a blunt in his car. We listened to some of his new music and it sounded good. Less than two years after Reaper Mook vowed to make music a priority, he’s already received important co-signs from artists like Ty Dolla $ign, and North Carolina’s MAVI. It’s not surprising that fellow writers are clinging to Reaper Mook’s sounds. He breathes new life into well-worn “rise & grind” rap platitudes by not trying to be clever or over the top, because that’s not the point. The point is that he’s serious.

Do you come to 555 Steakhouse a lot? It looks like they have a nice bar.

Reaper Mook: I don’t hit the bar too often. When we’re thinking about coming to 555 Steakhouse it’s usually for lunch or dinner. They don’t even open until 5pm, so it would be a late lunch.

How old are you?

Reaper Mook: I’m 29 and I’m really starting to build. I feel my age less and less these days. I feel like there’s less pressure on me the older I get honestly. I know a lot of people who dread getting older, but for me it’s just getting easier to make my way through this bitch.

There does seem to be this unneeded pressure on your early to mid 20s to always be having fun or always be doing something.

Reaper Mook: Or there’s this pressure to make a ton of money and change your life while still having a bunch of fun and shit. But it doesn’t work that way.

When did you start making music?

Reaper Mook: I started making music about seven years ago and I’ve made a wide range of sounds, all with the same two or three producers. I was just trying to make different types of art, you feel me? I didn’t really have any motivation to try and get rich off of music at first. We didn’t really know anyone from this area that had blown up like that. We didn’t know it was possible.

Everyone in our little ecosystem is really, really good at making music. We’re constantly trying to out-do each other on a friendly level. Whether we’re raging, or if we’re on some smooth shit or really rapping, it’s always a healthy competition.

When you say “ecosystem” do you mean all of Long Beach? Or are you talking about your own circle within Long Beach?

Reaper Mook: Long Beach itself is a huge collaborative city on so many different levels. There’s a lot of really talented musicians from the East Coast and the South that ended up here after traveling to LA.

When most people think Long Beach, they think Snoop Dogg and Sublime.

Reaper Mook: Exactly, and that’s my whole point! There’s a 30 year gap between Snoop and Sublime, and Reaper Mook. There’s been so much good music overlooked in that span of time.

You mentioned that you and your crew like to try out different styles of music. I was getting a Max B vibe from the track “Alpina” off your latest record, For The Pagne.

Reaper Mook: That’s a really dope comparison, because I fuck with The Wave, man. Super tough, free Max B. Honestly, he wasn’t on my mind when I was making that song. When I sing in my music, I try to sound like some oldies or R&B type vibe, except I’m saying the type of shit that I say, you know what I mean? But I fuck with French Montana and The Coke Boys. Same with Dipset and Dipset and all them.

You seem like somewhat of a hip-hop head yourself.

Reaper Mook: I’m really more of an R&B type of guy, but I’m familiar with all music.

Have you always been interested in music? Like in high school, were you always the friend that discovered new music?

Reaper Mook: People used to come to me to make mixtapes and shit. My brother used to put me on to a lot of shit. I used to listen to anything that was coming out. Not just what we knew. I think my first CD I ever had was a Bone Thugs & Harmony record. I think I stole it from my dad when I was five or six. It was the E. 1999 Eternal record.

The first CD I actually bought from the store was I Like It by Sammie. It was like right before Lil Bow Wow or maybe around the same time. He was a little kid and he had a hit.

Your music feels very cinematic to me. It gives me the same warm and cozy feeling that mob movies give me. I’m looking forward to talking about movies with you.

Reaper Mook: I try to paint pictures man, I try to be super visual with it. I try to leave people satisfied with what they’re taking in, even if they don’t fuck with what we’re talking about. I keep shit digestible.

Is there a certain part of Long Beach that you’re from?

Reaper Mook: I’ve lived on every side. I moved around a lot when I was a kid, there wasn’t much stability. There were a lot of us and it was just my mom taking care of us.

What were you like in high school?

Reaper Mook: School played a major part in me knowing what kind of artist I am. I was moving around a lot and it wasn’t like I was going from one nice neighborhood to the next, you know? It forced me to find other things to do. Drawing, painting, music, I’ve always been good at that shit. I play instruments too, I just naturally like being involved with the arts.

I played sports, too. I’m a big guy and with my family it was sort of expected. I have a big sports family. Football, obviously, was something that people could see and relate to even more than my artistry. That’s why it’s still hard to promote myself, it stems from my school era. I try to make music without the expectation that people fuck with it.

With the way music is shared on social media these days, I feel like up and coming rappers are forced to always be promoting themselves online.

Reaper Mook: I hardly ever get online and do that type of shit. I’ll post photos that my photographer takes of me and I’ll post videos of me smoking. That’s my status update.

What’s your favorite way to smoke? You ever take dabs?

Reaper Mook: I had a cool little phase with dabs, but I feel like dabs are some shit you do primarily when you’re kicking it with white people. You’re not just going to be kicking it with a bunch of niggas looking to get that high. We like to get high, but that’s a different level. Like you’re escaping from something or you got some shit to prove.

If you need a torch to smoke you’re basically doing drugs at that point.

Reaper Mook: We roll up a lot of Backwoods. I grew up with Swishers, but I want to say that Backwoods became the norm in the mid-2010’s.

What prompted you to really begin taking music seriously in 2019?

Reaper Mook: It might sound cliche, but I had a son on the way. He’s about a year and a half now. Flashback to me in the trap on the regular. Still doing my thing, making my little plays and shit. I’m not a 9 to 5 type of guy, you feel me? A month before my son was born I was just sitting there going crazy, I knew everything was about to change. I decided to give myself a year to see if I could really make something happen. That was about two months before the world went on lockdown.

Sounds like you made the best out of the pandemic lockdown.

Reaper Mook: It took the pressure off of me feeling like I have to compete with other artists. It put us all into the same category of not being able to make money off of shows. Everyone was at home, it didn’t matter if you were 50 Cent or 50 Tyson.

Where’s the name Reaper Mook come from?

Reaper Mook: I used to go by the name Jason Mask, but with no vowels, so it was “JSN MSK”. I was in a group called Crime Wave 5150. I’d always introduce myself as Mook though because that’s always been my nickname, so it would confuse me when people would call me Jason, but I couldn’t fault them! So I switched it up to Reaper Mook, because that’s basically the only thing I’m comfortable being called.

Do you have a few producers you like working with?

Reaper Mook: Historically, I’ve only worked with a few producers, but that’s only because I’ve really only had access to a few producers. I opened it up a little more on For The Pagne. My main producer is my man NiceGuyxVinny. He’s my DJ, my producer and my engineer. We did most of the tracks together and mixed the tape from our crib.

Have you two gotten to perform any shows together?

Reaper Mook: We’ve rocked hella shows. I haven’t been able to do many as Reaper Mook with the virus and all, but the homies have brought me out on stage plenty of times.

Are you excited to perform more shows once that’s an option again?

Reaper Mook: That’s where people are going to be able to experience this the best. It’s a huge component for me. My physical presence just allows for everything that I say in my music to feel more real.

Would you say videos will be a big component in the future as well?

Reaper Mook: Moving forward, I think so. I have a good photographer named 94analogs. Ever since he came into the picture my video shit is on another level.

What are you looking forward to in the future?

Reaper Mook: I want to do more collaborations.

Your music sometimes reminds me of artists like MIKE, Earl Sweatshirt and Navy Blue. Do you ever listen to artists like that? I’m forgetting the word used to categorize that kind of sound.

Reaper Mook: That’s funny, one of my homies came up with a term for it: Incense Rap. It’s just some rap music you’d put on to light incense and shit.

Roc Marciano is kind of like that.

Reaper Mook: Roc is different, bro. Roc started all of this, but there’s a difference. He’s talking about drugs and killing, while MIKE and Navy Blue feel more introspective. And I feel like with me, I walk a fine line between those two.

I can definitely hear a little Reaper Mook in those artists’ music.

Reaper Mook: It’s the musicality of the samples. I’m a big fan of classic R&B, oldies, jazz music, and alternative music, all that shit. Like, I’m sampling Connan Mockasin and sampling the Isley Brothers and everything in between. I have an ear for most musical loops. It’s all in the details. I’m trying to say the realest shit that I could say, but just in the most unique way that nobody else would think to do over this type of music, you know?

Have you been working with new artists lately?

Reaper Mook: I’ve worked with a few bigger names, it’s been really dope. But honestly, I’m not the type to just tap in with people. I feel like that’s something that hinders us out here in Long Beach.

You feel like Long Beach cats have a chip on their shoulder? Or is it the other way around?

Reaper Mook: Maybe it’s the chip on ours. You look at that 30 year span of nothing coming out of Long Beach until Vince Staples. That’s a long time between Vince and dudes like Sublime and Snoop Dogg. It’s easy to become skeptical about the industry and what it takes to be successful.

On top of that, I was raised to be skeptical of your friends; to move cautious and everything. I feel like once you make it to a certain level or a certain age, you just kind of know better than to be putting your trust in people like that. I keep everything super tight knit and it’s not always easy. I got my little weed company, Reaper’s Cut. I got Reaper Mafia Wear, which is my brand and clothing company. I’m trying to invest in myself in a real way, because I’ve already accomplished so much and it’s still such a secret. It’s lowkey what’s happening out here in Long Beach.

So rapping isn’t even the end all be all for Reaper Mook?

Reaper Mook: I never thought I’d be a rapper. Even when I first started making music with NiceGuyxVinny, we were working on some shit that had a smoother, R&B vibe. And when I decided that I was gonna make music, I was super uncompromising about the shit that I wanted to make, because I had a feeling that if I just kept building on my sound, I’d be able to narrow it down and make a simplified version, which is what I’m doing now.

That reminds me of a famous quote from some French Philosopher: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.

Reaper Mook: That’s the realest shit, bro. To make something ultra-complex really ain’t that hard. You just have to know some shit. But to be a minimalist? That’s the art that I’m trying to portray with my music. Saying less, to actually say more.

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