Ask any successful Canadian what one of the most important ingredients was behind their rise and see how quickly they cite leaving Canada as a catalyst. It’s not because they have any ill will or resentment towards their home country, it’s just a matter of scale. Despite its land mass, the population of Canada is only 35 million, an amount that pales in comparison to America’s 314 million people. The state of California alone has three million more people than the entire country of Canada. It’s not impossible to break out, but it’s impossible to do so when you have nowhere to break out to. And that’s the problem that currently faces Raynford Humphrey, better known to the world as P Reign, who finds himself trapped behind the Canadian border for reasons that are best described as esoteric.
After he was arrested for cocaine trafficking in 2004, P Reign signed off on a conditional discharge. This meant there was no jail time served and that he could legally proclaim that he didn’t have a criminal record when applying for jobs in Canada. However, the way the border reacted to his charge was a different story. “If you’re going to America, anything you plead to is considered a record,” says P Reign as we meet in an old printing press that had been converted into a recording studio on the outskirts of Etobicoke in Toronto’s west-end. A few years ago, P Reign caught a gun charge that stemmed from him carrying a firearm in his vehicle. He was arrested, and after a lengthy legal battle he finally emerged victorious in May of 2011, but was surprised to learn he was still unable to cross into America. “I beat the gun charge, so now [the United States Border Patrol] is saying that I can’t cross because of all of my failed attempts. They say I have no respect for their border.”
Now, at 28, P Reign has been told by almost everyone involved that he’ll be able to go to America “any day now,” a phrase he has heard repeatedly in the last six months. His album Dear America was completed a year ago, and is just now being released under RCA, a label he has signed to despite never stepping foot in their New York headquarters. Originally slated to be a full length mixtape, the project will now be released in two parts: the 18-track mixtape, which was released as a free download this week, and a five-song EP, available for purchase September 9th. Essentially, RCA has taken P Reign’s completed project, cherry-picked the most appealing songs onto an EP, and used the remaining tracks as promotional material for that EP.
Despite all of these setbacks, when we met with P Reign, his attitude was far from defeated. Even with pressure on him from numerous people, including a label that needs him to cross into America to perform a live show, and a perennial cheerleader in Drake, who insists that P Reign is “next up,” the Scarborough rapper feels confident in his future. We spoke to him to find out more about his situation, his history, and what he plans on kissing when he crosses the border.
Noisey: When did you officially get signed to RCA?
P Reign: My label signed me without meeting me, like two months ago. They never announced it or none of that shit because I wasn’t sure about the situation. They still haven’t given me anything. They’re losing their minds, every month they're like: “Ok you want us to give you 150k to shoot a video but uhhh, are you ever coming to America?”
Did they not know the situation when they signed you?
They knew, but we told them what the lawyer said: “Any day now.” We’ve been saying that for a year, and now they’re wondering what’s up.
Do you wish you stayed independent?
Sometimes. It’s fucked up, but then again it’s like, I’m potentially making millions with a label. I have a single that may go number one when it hits radio. “DnF” is not on radio yet, and it won’t be until late September. It’s selling on iTunes now, it went number five last night, and that’s beating Drake and everybody, and it’s not even on radio. What can I do, independently, to push that song on the radio? I can’t even leave Canada. So it’s either put it on a mixtape and it’ll live for two weeks before everyone gets bored with it, or the label pushes it for six months and puts a ton of money behind it to service it and gives me money to shoot a video.
All the videos you’ve made so far, who have they been funded by?
Just me. RCA hasn’t paid anything, everything is based around the fact that I can get across the border. I have my deal all set up, they owe me hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I need to be able to cross that border.
Where did you get the name P Reign?
The P stands for Preme. I lived in Brooklyn for two years, I did junior high there. I spent the summer at my aunt’s in Queens, and they always used to tell me stories about the drug dealers, the Supreme Team, and about Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff. When I came back to Canada, I started hustling and I was like “call me Preme” and that name stuck. To this day, my parents and close friends call me Preme. Then when I started rapping, I realized I needed a rap name, and since I reigned supreme I ended up flipping that into the name.
How did you get into rap?
My older cousin was rapping. He moved in with me while his house was being built, and he never went to school or went to work, he was just sitting at home listening to beats and rapping and I was like “yo, teach me how to do that!” We made a group: me, my boy, and my older cousin, Anon. We were The Reps, it was a group we all made in high school, but I continued to take it seriously and I just broke off and did my own thing, but “Reps Up” just stuck. “Reps up” was what we used to say, like a slogan.
You stuck with rapping after high school?
Yeah, I was just hustling seriously to pay for my studio time and video shoots. “Money In My Pocket” was a $30,000 video, “Call My Name” was a $30,000 video. I had no label, I had to pay for these things. I was hustling to pay for music.
How did you meet Drake?
I met him through a friend of mine named Hollywood. The first time I was already rapping, and when I met him I knew him as an actor, and I was like, “who the fuck is this guy?” I was probably like 19. But then we met and kicked it off right away, it was instant. We just stayed friends from there. When he told me he was rapping, I would listen to it and I’d see his MySpace followers and shit, and I said “you have a shot, a real shot.” The only other person I believed in up to that point was myself, but I believed in him and his shit when I saw the following.
Do you feel that having Drake cosign you adds more pressure to whatever you put out?
Definitely, 100%. People are always going to compare it to what he does, and I think we rap from two different ends of the spectrum, as far as the lives we’ve lived. He’s been on TV and came up that way, I came up hustling. So it’s not something you can compare. Music wise, maybe, but the stories being told are completely different.
What’s the story on Dear America in a nutshell?
The story is the struggle. It’s about my struggle to get to the point I’m at, and hoping that my future isn’t what it is right now, which is being stuck in my city. It connects to everyone, who hasn’t struggled? Everything is about getting from point A to point B, no matter what you’re doing or what type of industry you’re in, I think anyone in any industry can relate to your struggle.
Why do you think it’s so difficult for an artist to become popular just by staying in Canada?
People don’t understand that making it out of Toronto or Canada is a hundred times harder than the US. They say that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. I say if you can make it out of Toronto, you can make it anywhere. Not only are we the screwface capital where we have the most haters and we just grow up hating on each other for no reason, but our population is not even a small percentage of America’s. And the target market of people who listen to rap is so small. So of the few people we have, who listens to rap? These kids listen to pop and EDM and all this shit, so how many hip-hop fans do we even have in Canada? We can’t go do what Lil Flip did and sell 150,000 copies out of a trunk in your region. It’s impossible. The ways of making it in Canada are very different than what you’re able to do in America. We don’t have a hundred buildings in a neighbourhood. There are like, two.
What’s the first thing you’ll do when you eventually cross the border?
Kiss the floor. I don’t care where I am, I’m kissing the floors and taking a picture for Instagram. I don’t care where it is, I’m kissing the concrete, that’s the moment.
Slava Pastuk used to eat things off the concrete for money back in grade school - @SlavaP
All photos by Julien Bowry