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John Reuben

Columbus, Ohio born and bred John Reuben is not your everyday cookie cutter rapper. He's one of a kind and a favorite among hip-hop fans and non alike. So what makes this 24 year old tick? Mr. Zappin (a.k.a. "John Reu") took some time out after a recent show in Pottstown, PA to answer some questions about his most recent record Hindsight and his upcoming December 2nd release, Professional Rapper...
This interview took place on: 7/18/03.
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  • Jesus freak Hideout: What made you choose the stage name "John Reuben" if your real name is John Reuben Zappin?
    John Reuben: Reuben's my middle name, so at the time I thought Reuben had more personality. A lot of people tend to like the Zappin too but Reuben sounded more soulful, maybe? Zappin sounds kinda flashy. I'm thinking about calling my new album Zappin. Cause then it would be John Reuben - Zappin. *smiles* [Amy (JfH) - It sounds catchy.] Yeah, it'd confuse people more, but... *laughs*

  • JFH: How did a boy from Columbus, Ohio get his start in Christian hip-hop?
    John Reu: I don't know, I started writing poetry and I was always just into hip hop. I actually grew up in like a program/church and I went to the church and lived on the property. It was like a drug rehap and a church. It was in the middle of nowhere and my first experiences it were like all these kids were ushered in from New York City to live on this property to get over their addictions. They had a choice between jail or they go to this Christian program. So my first experiences were fishing with a bunch of New Yorkers in this little pond -- a bunch of hip hop kids in the early nineties, y'know? So that's kinda how I got started. That and I always liked poetry and different things like that.

  • JFH: Who are your influences?
    John Reu: Who are or were? [John (JfH) - Both.] Now? I don't even know. It's really hard cause musically, I'm all over the board as far as what I listen to and a lot of times I don't even write my lyrics to music, I write it almost like poetry. I just write, I have journals and I just write - put them together and make songs. So it's hard to say. But growing up I liked old school hip-hop. When I started getting into Christian hip-hop I really liked SFC, stuff like that.

  • JFH: How does Christian hip-hop compare to secular hip-hop in your mind?
    John Reu: It's hard to tell. Man, this is a conversation piece... From what angle? Like lyrically? Musically? Creatively? [John - Honestly? The whole package...] For years, I heard Christian hip-hop is horrible, Christian's are corny, the music is corny. And, from what I can tell, mainstream music is just as corny if not cornier. And I really feel that way. I even think, to some degree, when we hear songs like "Reuben, what is he dippity doin'?" I don't think it's far what you're hearing on the radios, which is the really random thing - a joke kind of thing. I never intended it to be my video or my single. I was trying to drive home the point that these people - whether it's the hip-hop community or whatever - they brag about the most ridiculous stuff. That's why I threw a hook in there as ridiculous as it is. And yet people still gravitate to it as it's hard or something like that. Not "hard" as in complicated, but "hard" meaning tough. [John - Well, it's a fun song, and the beat is awesome] Right! Right! Yeah! But I don't take it serious where as you got these other guys - I won't name names - but they take themselves so seriously in their videos and I'm just like "This is just the silliest thing I've ever heard in my life!" But somehow, we're the ones who are corny! And I think the thing I've come to, all around the board whether hip-hop or anything, on the musical end - it's all corny. Human's are corny, period. I'm corny, we're all corny. And the point is that we like corny stuff. So I don't think Christian [music] is corny. I think we talk about what's close to us just like anybody else talks about what's close to them. And it might be corny to somebody who doesn't understand the love of Christ, but to us, it's very dear and very close and very powerful. So as far as creativity and quality, I can speak from personal experience, it takes a lot more talent and a lot more creativity to bring forth songs that are really going to impact and effect people and challenge people and make them think. It's a lot easier just to write down whatever and brag and do this and that, y'know what I mean? But I think it's good, I think the scene right now is really good. I think the Christian hip-hop scene is really good like anything else. It's got its good and its bad.

  • JFH: Do you have any favorites in the Christian market?
    John Reu: I really like Grits, I think they're good. I like Mars Ill, they're a new group on Gotee. I like Pigeon John a lot. Omigosh, he's a trip. A group called Lightheaded, these are underground groups. L.A. Symphony. There are a lot of groups I really like. And I think the Gospel Gangstaz' first record is one of my favorite records. Cross Movement's cool. They're all - I really think the music is really good, lyrically good, and I think Christian hip-hop can really challenge you... or really confuse you. *laughs* [John - I think it's getting better, too] Oh yeah! It's hard for me because a lot of hip-hop kids like me, but a lot of them look at me like hip-hop because... cause... I'm kind of over here. *laughs* Everybody is walking this way and I'm kind of taking a right turn, a left turn musically. [Amy - I think the difference, though, attracts people to you and to your music to see why it's different and I think it's an advantage on your end.] Yeah, it's been cool and I've noticed - we just did the See Spot Rock Tour - which I saw you guys in Lancaster with Sanctus Real - and it's cool because those punk rock kids are really into punk rock, indie rock, all stuff and they seems to really gravitate to what I'm doing. It's been really cool.

  • JFH: It's funny because we saw you a couple years ago with Audio Adrenaline at Ski-Fest and we weren't really into you but you had said to the audience "If you're not into hip-hop, you will be by the end of the show" and it was true, we were converted.
    John Reu: I honestly think music is a lot of what you're used. Because I've found, man, that the more I understand why something is good, and why people are really passionate about something, I can really get into it. And environment. I mean like, I can't even count the number of people that say they hate country music. But honestly, if it's a warm Saturday night and you're having a cookout *all laughs* I'm serious! You're having a cookout and you're around pleasant country people - not some backwoods racist rednecks like I grew up around, I'm talking about kind-hearted good ole country folk - the country music sounds really good. And I understand why they like it and understand. One thing I've always challenged myself with is to always find out why people were passionate about what they're about whether musically -- I mean all across the board I think it's really been to my advantage I think cause I never got punk rock. *offers an incoherent but accurate imitation* It all sounded the same to me. Now, I can clearly make the distinction between the different styles of punk. I can tell which I like, which I don't like and I really understand these kids. Those shows are some of my favorite shows because I love watching kids chant so passionately. I try to incorporate it into my stuff. So I virtually like everything. I've been converted myself a couple times.

  • JFH: Do you ever see Christian hip-hop artists gaining the respect and exposure like that of secular artists?
    John Reu: I don't know. I really don't. It'd be cool to be really optimistic and say "Yeah, one of these days it's gonna blow up and really be huge" but I really call it - I don't know, some people have gotten on my case for saying this - I lean more towards finding joy in suffering opposed to something's supposed to be given to me or granted to me. I think that when you look at a lot of the reasons why mainstream artists get big, as believers, that's not the route we're supposed to take. I mean I just know that things and characteristics that attract a large amount of sales aren't the same characteristics that should be found in music made by believers. That's just my personal opinion. And I don't think that to be like, y'know, not to point the finger at anybody but I just that. People just want to latch on to things they relate to or want to relate to. I think Christian hip-hop as a whole - being very careful how I word things here because I've gotten in trouble for saying this because people think I'm trying to be negative, because I'm not at all! I'm really content with wherever God has it. Cause I don't know if I'll ever be "huge" but I can't complain whatsoever. I mean, I'm surviving, I'm doing okay and I love doing what I'm doing. I love connecting with people and I think it's personal and I think it's a lot of times the way Christian music should be.
    JFH (John) - Yeah, I agree! I have more respect for artists like you that feel that way than for those who are just doing it for the sake of playing music or just doing it to get more popular and they'll do anything to get more popular - to sellout or compromise.
    John Reu: Yeah, not gonna front. It's like, look at me! Seriously, don't get me wrong, I do think there are potential in the mainstream, like I've seen a lot of kids really latch on to what I do and a lot of nonbelievers. But I also think they're not gonna be playing a lot of my stuff in the clubs while people are trying to get their drink on! *laughs* I think it'd be kinda hard to hear The Cross Movement as they're saying "Lord, Savior" in a club atmosphere, y'know what I mean? Realistically it could happen, I mean Kirk Franklin kinda goes through that and I think that was cool. This just goes into a deeper conversation, so... I think there is potential, but I think there's potential for it to never be any bigger. And if it never gets any bigger then we should be happy with where we're at.
    JFH (John) - Yeah, I think it's more important for artists to be more concerned with what God wants and not what necessarily they want. Y'know? If God wants the scene to blow up, then they need follow His instructions instead of trying to go about doing their own thing and make it happen their way.
    John Reu: Yeah, and I've heard all different types of arguments - "You have to act like this to reach this person and act like that to reach this person." I'm a firm believer in art and I'm a firm believer that as an artist, we should be authentic and we should be real and I don't know why as believers sometimes we stray away from being authentic about our faith. Obviously I'm not real preachy in my music whatsoever, but I think in just everyday life and your character. I think that's the thing, your character. Like egos, and self-promotion, and self-glorification -- which is funny *laughs* because I think that's why I latched on so much to your review!! (Ed. NOTE: John from JfH had originally interpreted Reuben's song "Doin'" as a self-proclaiming ego trip which Reuben read and didn't realize the song could be taken that way and now clarifies the song's meaning when playing it live. Reuben steal teases him about it...) *laughs* [John - *leans towards tape recorder* Note to self - fix that review!] *laughs* But all that stuff - that's how we need to act. I've earned more respect from the nonbelievers from not taking that approach. I don't have anything to prove to anybody. I don't even consider myself the best emcee. [John - Oh no, I know what you mean.] Cool. I'm kinda rabbit-trailing on a bunch of conversations I've had with people...
    JFH (John) - No, It's cool. I think that's one of the things that really grabbed us when we saw you live is that you weren't fronting, you were very real. It was really cool when you gave your testimony in the form of a rap. *Amy adds "I'll never forget that"*
    John Reu: The song "Identify", yeah.
    JFH (John) - It was just so real and that was magnetic as far as with the audience and the artist and so many times you've got someone who's got their facade on while their performing. You just feel this big separation between ARTIST and AUDIENCE. And I don't think you have that and I think that's really cool.]
    Well it's been fun. I mean honestly, it's I think it's things from my life... I mean, I grew up a very heavy, kinda outcast kid, so I still can't believe that people are into what I do, y'know what I mean? I still get the "Ooo, should I hit the stage tonight?" Y'know? I don't expect everybody to be like "John Reuben's here, yeah!" I almost expect the opposite. *laughs* Are these people gonna like me? - Not realizing that a lot them have come to see me. Y'know, I really want to get back to doing more [of the older stuff]. Cause I think one of the funny things that we do - if you listen to the record, it's always kinds split half and half. I really do like a lot of the silly songs, cause like half the stuff I've done has been really introspective. People must think it's a joke like I'm bipolar. One minute I'm like "Reuben, what's he dippity doin'" and the next minute I'm like "I'm not that person anymore!" But I think we're actually going to move into some more into doing more of a band thing as well. Like some of those old songs I kinda want to do live because a lot of the serious stuff had a band with it, so it's kinda hard to do it live.

  • JFH: Congratulations on your recent marriage. How did you and Erin meet? How has marriage changed your life?
    John Reu: I met Erin in seventh grade. That's when we met, we didn't start going out till after high school. *Amy adds that she and John met in 7th grade and didn't date till after high school* Yeah, I met her in seventh grade. Actually, She was in seventh, I might have been in eigth. Randomly, there was a school play -- this is really weird, this is funny. There was this thing called "Speech and Poetry" where everybody would do different skits and stuff. One girl they wanted was out of the group so Erin said "Why don't you invite her in and I'll find something else to do" cause she had signed up. I was still looking for a partner and randomly, like seriously randomly we decided to do this skit together in seventh grade. We got third place. *smiles* And didn't talk to her for like four or five years after that. Then I saw her at Cornerstone. [We were like] "Didn't we do a skit together?" Yeah, she had just gotten saved and came up with a bunch of friends and went to Cornerstone music festival. We started hanging out. I liked her for probably about five or six years. She was real committed not to dating. Not in an "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" type way, but more like "I don't want to date right now, I want to grow closer to God". *clears throat* I liked her for quite awhile. It was really interesting cause I'm not one of those people who always likes to say "God told me this, God told me that, God told me that". Cause if it's really God, I wanna be committed to the fact that it was God telling me something. And I really felt like there was something more with her even to the point where I thought "I'm gonna marry this girl!" It really started challenging me to think about the kind of person I wanted to become. Looking at my own character, looking at my own relationship with God, and really dealing with a lot of things I needed to deal with in my own personal life. Seriously, I would say it was about five years of hardcore God dealing with me. And because I cared about her, it all worked itself out. It totally was a challenge to me. *laughs* But it really worked out. It's amazing because I know that if I didn't have those feelings for her and I didn't have that time, I wouldn't be where I'm at today. And God totally used it, not only just for my relationship with her, but in my relationship with everybody, dealing with a lot of things I needed to deal with. It was really cool. And honestly? I love being married. And I'm a very kinda scatterbrained, non-committed kinda guy -- not just to girls, but to anything in general. But that's just how I am, I just don't want to committ to this or that. But for some reason. I was just ready to committ. We've got a great relationship.

  • JFH: You're currently in the studio working on your third release with Gotee. In what direction are you going musically and what can fans expect this time around?
    John Reu: This album, I think, has all the catchiness of Are We There Yet? and all the personality of Hindsight. A lot of the live elements that people liked from Are We There Yet? is kinda in this record as well. I don't know. I made it myself this time, I produced myself so. It'll have a couple cool features on it. The girl from Benjamin Gate, Adrienne, sings on it. A lot of cool music. I would definitely not call it "rap rock" but it has a lot of energy. I'm really excited about it. This one's really an all-out-there kinda record. Well, I shouldn't say that cause Hindsight's that way, but I think in the same way, some of the humor that I just went all out with, I went all out again. I was just really opening up with a lot of stuff - journal type stuff, really introspective type stuff. I really think it's stuff a lot of kids are going through. So I think it has a good balance of both. It's funny cause I listen to some of the songs I wrote that God gave me and you always know it's from God when I listen to it and think "How did I write this??" You know what I mean? I was listening to it the other day and I was like, "These songs are really encouraging to me", but I know it's something that God was just like, "Here're some lyrics, go write it!"
    JFH (John) - When does it come out?
    John: December 2nd.

  • JFH: What inspired your song "Doin'" on your last record, Hindsight?
    John Reu: *laughs* "Doin"... was a "self-proclaiming ego trip" with horrible girl sings on it! *heavy laughter all around* [Reuben takes another opportunity to tease John for his review blunder] I'm just kidding, man! "Doin'" was just -- actually, I was gonna write you just to clarify it for you. I don't why I didn't just email you. But you guys are in a tough position because people want you to be honest in your reviews, but then if you're honest... I can't count the number of times I've listened to a record, Cover and generally didn't get something at first. After five or six listens you're like "Oh, OK!" or then you start to like it. So I think reviewing is a tough job! [John - It is! *laughs*] And I appreciate the honesty. Like I really rather you keep being honest and having personality in it. Like I can't stand bland reviews - whether, y'know, they're good or bad. At least you're honest and I appreciate that. The song "Doin'"... again, I think the reason why there's so much humor on Hindsight is I started realizing... I was talking to a guy today at a radio station here in town and he put it best, "I don't take myself serious, but I take God seriously." So I think the whole thing with Hindsight and "Doin'" especially, was in the same vein as like "Hello Ego". It was kinda like this "I don't have to be the best" and then on top of that I figured why not throw in the most ridiculous hook that would possibly be just cheese, y'know what I mean? And just load it up, make it as catchy as possible and ridiculous as possible to drive home the point. Which some people misinterpreted OBVIOUSLY! [Another dig...] *laughter* [John - I'm never gonna live that one down! *laughs*] So that's the jist of it.
    JFH (John) - You'll have to do a song by song explanation for the media for your next album!
    John Reu: You know what I'm doing? Actually, for Inter'linc, cause I'm working with them... Cause I really am concerned because I think one of the things with music that's hard is that you write music from the heart and you write it sometimes and it's gonna apply to somebody and it's really gonna help somebody out, but it can also be a discouragement to somebody else if they don't understand it. And I'm not talking about "Doin'" or anything like that. But I've got some really dark songs on this [upcoming] album that are directed towards college kids, kids who have gone through the experience of having Christianity force on them and it never being their own relationship. And I've read lyrics to people and it's almost to the point where it really impacted them and I kinda wrote it from that perspective. But, to a younger kid, it could be misinterpreted. So I'm gonna explain each song and send them out to people because I don't want to have to write safe, just easy lyrics, I really want to hit people where it counts. Like music that's spoken to me sometimes can be misinterpreted so I'm really trying to be cautious. Cause some of those kids are younger, to be honest, and like my music. But some of those same kids that were younger are getting older and I've watched this cycle with so many people.

  • JFH: Where did the idea for the video "Doin'" come from?
    John Reu: Some kid from Seattle told me about how he was in school and his gym teacher told him whenever he'd ask what they were gonna do, he'd get annoyed and just tell him "Full court duck, duck, goose". So the thought of a gym teacher telling this kid that he's gonna play full court duck, duck, goose, that just struck me as funny. And then as I started putting the video together I thought it really matched the song. And then the whole idea was everyone taking things so seriously and really striving to be victorious and win and in the end it was a dumb game of duck, duck, goose. And I think the irony of it kinda ties right into the song. Like "what were you trying so hard for?" Like in the end when we look back at this life, what really mattered? What really counted? And I think it's a big theme, even on the new record, is we're just wasting our life applying our energy in taking things so serious. It's like high school. If you look at high school, all the things you thought really mattered and counted? "Yeah, right!" But how do you explain that to somebody in high school? [John - I hated high school] Yeah, it's hard!

  • JFH: This kinda backtracks a bit, but what's the story behind the song "Jezebel"?
    John Reu: *smiles* Hypothetical situation. That song -- wow, I'm trying to remember it. *Reuben is then interrupted by some fans conversing about films who bring up a film that sparks him to express his enthusiasm for Owen Wilson before getting back to the song* It's about just being sidetracked by, obviously, females. I think it can definitely apply to both ends. It was a definite personal experience. It was nothing horrible but I just devoted a whole chunk of my time. And all this time I had this ugly gut-wrenching feeling "I'm not supposed to be in this relationship" because I was being persuaded and manipulated as opposed to really letting go and really knowing what I was supposed to do. I look back on a really big chunk of my life, period of my life, that I just wasted. Not wasted! God uses everything. [John - Yeah, it wasn't a waste because you were able to write that song and reach somebody with it] Well, y'know what was weird was I remember getting a call, it happened like two or three times with this song with similar situations. One in particular was this girl literally told me that she - she was an older girl - she was like, "I was on my way over to sleep with my boyfriend and I'm gonna convince him", whatever, it was really weird cause I guess she was a new believer and she said she had my CD and that song came on and it made her turn around. You hear stuff like that and it's like "Wow, that's really cool!" A lot of stuff like that. I remember "X-Ray", one girl told me that she was really contemplating suicide and another kid told me that it helped him because he played Nintendo too much. But I thought it was really cool, it really meant a lot to me. It had both ends from suicide to... too much Nintendo! *laughs* but I thought that was really cool.

  • JFH: What is your favorite song that you've done?
    John Reu: Depends on the time. I really liked "Identify". I like "Breathe" a lot. "Breathe" meant a lot to me. Live, I like "Do Not" and "Doin'" and the fun stuff, and "Run The Night" and all that kind of stuff. But I think "Breathe" and "Identify".
    JFH (John) - Why?
    John Reu: Have you ever felt like you really want to explain how you're feeling and sometimes it's so annoying and finally you get the words to it... and for me as an artist... like the concept of just breathing made a lot of sense in a period of my life when I was shutting God out. Literally, I felt like I was walking around closed in, closed off. It's hard to breathe and there's no freedom and no life. And I think when I finally got that song out it was a cool release for me to be able to listen to it. And even as a reminder. Like I said, sometimes I'll listen to my own stuff and because I write from personal experience, so when I'm going through something sometimes I'll listen to my own music and it's a reminder to me. Like, when I pray, I even write. Poetry and everything, it helps me [express myself]. Both of those songs kind of explain that.

  • JFH: What is one of your most embarrassing live moments?
    John Reu: I haven't had too many horrible experiences. The most embarrassing was I was doing "Acquire the Fire" - it's really embarrassing for me, it's not even that horrible. Like, as soon as I hit the stage, man, the crowd was really energetic. There were thousands and thousands of people. I had a half hour, forty five minutes to do my thing, and I hit the stage and within a matter of probably one verse, one and a half verses, my voice went out and started screeching. *offers an imitation followed by laughter* I think I had just gotten over-excited!

  • JFH: What's your favorite movie?
    John Reu: This a tough one. I like a lot of movies. I don't wanna lead anybody astray, but I really like Owen Wilson flicks, period. Like Shanghai Knights, I really liked that. I'm a big Zoolander fan. Yeah, I'll put it down on record - Zoolander's my favorite movie! [John - *laughs* The guys in Sanctus Real said that! I think it was Matt...] Yeah, I like that. I'm gonna stick with that. I liked Meet The Parents. I'm into comedy. I thought A Beautiful Mind was a really good movie. [John - But that's not funny!] *laughs*

  • JFH: Being a child of the 80's like us, what was your favorite thing about growing up in the 80's?
    John Reu: I don't want to depress you, but I didn't have a lot of toys and I had a really restricted family so we didn't have any TV. *laughs* So the eighties were kind of eliminated from my memory. You know what I remember liking about the eighties? My mom wouldn't listen to any music, no secular, no Christian - even if it was rock, it was of the devil. I remember going to see Petra in the eighties. So my memories of the eighties are pretty much wrapped up in... my mom became a really big Christian metalhead. So Christian metal sums up the eighties for me.

  • JFH: So does Little Richard really think you look like Bob Dylan?
    John Reu: Yup! Ran into him on a plane in Minneapolis and he took off his glasses. He was in First Class in typical Little Richard form. Like literally like you'd expect. *does his best Little Richard impression* "Woo-ooo! You look like Bob Dylan!" So that was that *laughs* I immediately ran to the bathroom and told my fiance' at the time "Little Richard just told me I look like Bob Dylan!" Which, she thought Jacob Dylan was good looking, so you know what... *smiles* But I soon came to realize that Bob Dylan was a very awkward looking man growing up. *laughs*

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