Before he became known as one of the world’s best rappers, Kanye West was the renowned producer whose work mostly with Jay-Z propelled him to the top of the hip hop production food chain. Many today might have forgotten that it took Kanye many years of consistently releasing more and more of his rap music to eventually become respected for his rapping, and not just be “that great hip hop producer who also raps.”
This is the analogy that came to mind as I approached Remington James’ first hip hop album, Prototype VII, released this week on all major distribution outlets. As a successful YouTuber and with a fitness training career solidified, Remington James is stepping outside of his comfort zone to do something he loves and that he’s wanted to do for a long time: make hip hop music.
If you read the comments on his fitness YouTube channel, then you can clearly see that this is no gimmick that he’s punted to further build his current fitness business. Instead, in his video “It’s Time to Move On,” he even mentions that he’s going to separate his channels to give his fitness audience what they want: meal prep plans, fitness tips, etc. Whether he does that or not isn’t really an issue. What I find most inspiring about Remington James’ effort to enter the hip hop world after finding success in another world is the fact that you can extract the common denominator behind both worlds—the success mindset.
You can expect a whole bunch of predictable trolls commenting away that “Oh look (sigh), this fitness guy is trying to rap.” But that’s exactly what differentiates a negative critic with zero subscribers buried in comment sections and a consistent, disciplined and hardworking creator always at the top of the page. It’s worthwhile therefore thinking in a more constructive way: that since this guy succeeds to sustain a great athletic physique, which is no easy thing to do, and also succeeds to build and maintain a dedicated YouTube audience, also not so simple, then why wouldn’t he be able to succeed in hip hop as well? There’s no reason why, since that same success mindset that get a person to under 10% body fat with a lean muscular physique, and to relentlessly release a video a day for years, is what’s needed also to succeed in hip hop today.
That is why I love the story behind the launch of Remington James’ hip hop career with Prototype VII just as much as I love the album, because of the exertion and determination driving every single song, an undertone of a passion that is trying to communicate itself to the world. It’s also this passion that has urged Remington James to spend hours upon hours practicing how to record and mix his own music, outside everything he’s doing in his fitness career.
Musically, Prototype VII is a well-rounded album that encapsulates different emotions, moods and discernments, just like life itself. The musical direction becomes clear after listening to a few seconds of the opening track, “Villain”: that the beats play not a driving role, but an accompanying one, in paving a path for Remington James to articulate a flow of emotions on certain topics in his life. A leading characteristic of the vocal output is clarity of emotion, a direct communication of what’s in his heart through a stream-of-consciousness style of delivery. Whether a natural talent or an acquired skill, Remington James’ undeniably powerful quality is in his ability to communicate. For the best listening experience, one needs to get into a mode of listening to a man reflecting on his life over beats that serve primarily to set a certain emotional stage to help what’s behind the words to sink through.
Such an approach to vocal expression became very clear when I asked Remington who his main musical influences were, to which he replied with a definitive answer: Lil Wayne. Remington’s approach to going into the studio without any prepared lyrics, and letting out what’s on his mind and heart on a certain topic is the same approach Lil Wayne had from around the early-to-mid 2000s onward. It’s a way of entering into a running emotional stream, unfiltered by intellectual jargon. It also paves an interesting foundation for Remington’s future development: the more he works on developing the mind aspect of such a style (thinking up and combining more and more technical aspects like wordplay and compound syllabic rhythmic push-and-pull) together with the heart aspect, which comes across like second nature, the more we can expect Remington James to blossom into the renowned hip hop artist, who was once a fitness training YouTuber.
For instance, Prototype VII is not one for enthusiasts focusing their microscopes on rap’s technical aspects, nor is it one for the lean-slurring party bangers driven by chest-pounding 808s. This is one for the inspiration, motivation and emotion seekers, something that everybody needs a boost of at any time. Themes Remington James tackles include the way to success, reflections on his success, who he’s been out to make happy (where his mother gains a frequent mention), overcoming hardships and disbelievers through a life where he’s succeeded, and dealing with women, among others.
“Look at You” wins the album’s Catchiest Hook Award for its opening hook, the rhythm of which holds the vocals throughout the rest of the track. The track that touches an even more emotional chord than the rest of it lies humbly at its end, “Hero.” It’s a confession box outpouring where Remington James digs deep into what is behind his continuous motivation to push forward, and the more he comes closer to a truer point—a point that the constant noise of media chatter does everything to distract us from—the more his voice assumes a new, raspier quality unheard in the album’s other tracks. In his “It’s Time to Move On” video, he mentions how he even cried after he let out a line in “Hero” about doing what he did in life to make his mother proud.
I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to review Prototype VII. Just as Remington James primarily emphasizes the direct-from-heart-to-heart approach throughout, the only preparation one needs to let this album enter the heart is to put aside all the intellectual noise that blocks us from feeling the other person—the envious troll that wants to put him down for being that fitness guy who now wants to rap, and the rap orthopedic surgeon who focuses only on checking whether or not specific technical aspects are in place—and let our listening ear absorb the heart of Remington James.