Smile Politely

RENEGADE EL REY keeps going

A man in a white t-shirt and white bucket hat leans back on an off-white wall with his hands in his pockets.

In the bustling corridors of the music industry, few artists epitomize the essence of perseverance and creativity like RENEGADE EL REY. Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, he has charted a unique path through the hip-hop world, marked by a relentless work ethic and a deep-seated commitment to artistic authenticity. Currently managing the legendary Stankonia Studios in Atlanta, his journey from a finance graduate to a respected emcee and audio engineer encapsulates the spirit of hustle that defines him.

Our conversation, following his guest lecture with the University of Illinois’s Hip-Hop Collective, shed light on his career trajectory and the principles that guide him. Central to his success is his hustle — a principle he regards as foundational to his achievements. This hustle propelled him from graduating with a finance degree to pursuing audio engineering at Full Sail University and ultimately to his influential role at Stankonia Studios.

When he first arrived at Stankonia he started as an intern. He had to rely on that hustle to see himself through those early days of doing the less glamorous tasks around the studio. He did menial tasks with joy and enthusiasm, understanding by this time that this was a part of an essential dues-paying process; that it was bringing him closer to his goals.

His strategic approach to elevating within the game has been all about developing his skills to a high level so he can be a dangerous collaborator. He learned audio engineering to earn his seat at Stankonia. While recording other artists, he is able to display his skill and his hustle, endearing himself as a candidate for collaboration and using those sessions to develop relationships.

A young man in a black t-shirt and sweatshirt with white printed designs speaks into a microphone while looking off to the side of the camera.

At Stankonia, he has earned respect as a recording engineer and a recording artist. This again, flows from his work ethic. Even when he’s recording the likes of T.I.P. or Big Boi, there are certain standards even these established legends must meet during the session. They trust his creative intelligence; they trust that he is out to make the best record possible each time. His model is to do good work, do it consistently, and do it with a humble spirit, and from there has flowed much networking success already.

I asked him: “How do you want to be known as an emcee? What kind of spitter do you want to be known as?” He responded, “I wanna be known for actually being able to touch you.”

RENEGADE EL REY has bars for days, and he mentioned being inspired by the likes of Eminem, Jay-Z, and Tupac as lyricists. But even though his songs offer value just for their lyrical prowess alone, he feels that a true emcee is someone who can impart powerful messages, and emotional and psychological imprints on their audience.

Growing up in Memphis, he lived in the hood. That’s where the spirit of hustle was first imbued into him. His peers were always into finding different ways to make money. His mother was an “artsy” type of person who taught him to never be afraid of being different from others. From his dad, he got access to a deep and eclectic library of music in the form of a CD collection. His family wasn’t the richest, but they weren’t the poorest either. Importantly, they did a great job of instilling values that he would hold on to and grow to work into his musical creations.

I want to highlight lyrical moments from a few records that really platform this expression; that really rely on the way he grew up and the specific circumstances of struggle and aspiration:

“Who can I count on?
If I ain’t have the heart to push this shit myself
Who could I count on?
They say I act like I don’t need nobody else
Who could I count on?
When all this shit get overwhelming
Tell me – Who can I count on?”

From “Who Can I Count On?” on the album Levitate

Or when he takes perspective of potential or experienced naysayers to highlight his hustle mentality:

I guess that’s just my style
My POV is POE, America, I’m yo child
Case by case
Each situation
If it’s fuck It, then It’s strong
I be making declarations
They think this shit just be songs”

From “Declaration” on the album Levitate

This speaks to his upbringing and that deeper purpose in his music that’s wrapped up in his principles and approach.

A young man dressed in a gold and black jacket with black pants stands in front of a backdrop to get his photo taken at the Grammy Awards.

Besides being lyrically formidable, RENEGADE EL REY’s music is also sonically excellent. His twang and attitude in delivering call-to-mind acts such as Hot Boyz, UGK, Scarface, and 36 Mafia. In our discussion, he mentioned being heavily impacted by T.I.P., Outkast, Jay-Z, Nas, Common, and The Roots growing up. He said there was a distinct west-coast influence on him in the form of the powerful G-Funk Era by way of Warren G and Nate Dogg. When I asked him if he mostly listened to rap growing up, he was a bit taken aback. 

“Nah, I listened to R&B too! Cuz my dad was the type, he bought everything, you feel what I’m saying? My dad used to have the biggest CD cases ever!”

As our conversation carried on, he went on some more about his artistic influences, transitioning from childhood music to his habits of reading. He mentioned reading those books that everyone is compelled to read as a public school student, like Goosebumps. As that canon evolved as he grew up, he would eventually work to discover a more intrinsic love of reading for how it could help him connect with the world and develop his worldview. He talks about how now, in his continued commitment to developing himself as an artist, he tends to read a lot of thesauruses and dictionaries. 

Speaking about his app:It kicks me five junts, five to ten junts a day. And then I just rearranged how the first page on my phone looks.” He goes on to show me how he has it blown up as a large widget on his phone’s home page.

Reading is the quality assurance of his emcee craft. It helps him stay lyrically sharp while developing his worldview. His music touches people when it speaks to his experiences, but as he keeps himself informed about the world around him, he can craft more and more meaningful messages, like how he did here with this pandemic era video for “God, Guns and Groceries.” He uses the creative space of the video to make this point visually. This is the video’s description on YouTube: “RENEGADE EL REY gives the people an intimate video on a personal level to new release GOD, Guns and Groceries.”

RENEGADE EL REY is making a name for himself in the music industry — a name that rings of hustle, authenticity, and impact. He has formal experiences teaching music production that have naturally come about from his networking prowess, but he is the type of individual who can’t help but to teach everyone around him, who can’t help but to make his impact felt on all who cross his path. His star has recently been elevated when he won a Grammy as a part of Killer Mike’s unprecedented sweep of the Grammy Awards (he won Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Album). The future is bright for RENEGADE EL REY, and that bodes well for fans of Rap and R&B Music.

Before our conversation ended, I asked him about that pinnacle moment; that moment when his Grammy Award was announced.

When they called it bruh, it was like. I don’t know how you are spiritually, but you know, sometimes you can slow down time and you can freeze time like for moments that go so fast. I’m able to do that every so often. And in that moment for like 20, 30 seconds or so, nothing around me mattered. It’s just like: SIGH, ‘Preciate that, God.

He went on to talk about texting his loved ones simple, pithy messages, different variations of the message: “We won.” And then right after that mountaintop moment, his hustle mentality made itself front and center again, as he began to remind himself that he has more mountains yet to climb, more Grammys to win, but as an emcee.

RENEGADE EL REY’s values and approach to music and life offer a refreshing counter-narrative to the more vacuous celebrity that tends to find popularity in today’s rap music. He knows his mission on earth, and has worked hard to make sure that his music faithfully reflects and expresses that. Tap in with this artist if you like hustler music and for an early seat in what is sure to be a long and effective career in the music industry.

You can learn more about RENEGADE EL REY on his website, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, X, or Spotify.

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