In the Phone Booth with Rel

By: Gordie Tamayo

Legends like Genaro Hernández, the Ruelas Brothers and Shane Mosley are a few who come from the boxing hotbed of Southern California. Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson although not a California native, also built his career by fighting at The Forum in Englewood and Arrow Head Pond in Anaheim. With this in mind, it is safe to conclude that the land of California is a beacon for attracting and breeding champions. This goes for outside of the ring as well.


When thinking of Southern California the Tony Toni Tone chorus: “It never rains in Southern California” always comes to mind. This may be true in song, but for Darrell Byrd aka REL, the “Inland Empire” rained down plenty from the gate. Taken away from his parents as an infant and placed into the foster care system, REL spent the first three years of life transitioning between homes until eventually he was adopted by his grandparents. Although stability had finally came, a life of normality would be short lived when both grandparents passed away in succession due to illness. From being taken from his mother as an infant, to losing his father to gun violence and now his grandparents, REL had lost everything. A sequence of events as such is enough to destroy the average soul. (Thank God for angels that walk among us.) In REL’s case though, his saving grace came in the form of his uncle Robert Buchanan; his grandmother’s son.


We’re not done telling the story, but let’s fast forward a bit. From state property, to standout collegiate athlete and now newly signed talent on the roster of Wu Tang Management; REL continues to be a testament that champions always get up to fight another round. We invited REL to step “In the Phone Booth” to discuss the battle of overcoming, his partnership with Wu Tang Management and what to expect from his upcoming release of “Legacy Reborn”. Knuckle Up!

@TheTitleFight : REL Thanks for stepping “In the Phone Booth”. Your story has had it’s fair share of chaotic moments as much as those of triumph. Early on you encountered some of the largest setbacks a child and young man could have faced. It somewhat reminds me of Mike Tyson’s struggle he went through, both inside and outside of the ropes (which he so eloquently describes in “Undisputed Truth”). How did personal tragedy prepare you mentally for later on in life when you would confront some of the challenges of being an independent artist?

@Rel2Real : The personal tragedy that I faced growing up has made me stronger mentally.  I’ve learned how to survive and carry on through the pain.  It’s what the greatest are built to endure; Pain.  From that tragedy I have built character, and that same character keeps me focused as an independent artist in the music industry.  Tragedy has taught me wisdom.  Seeing how precious and short life is, I strive to live everyday as if it’s my last, and that is exactly how I create and finish every song, as if it’s my last song ever.


@TheTitleFight : The fight game is a lot like the Hip Hop game and one of our tag lines for this column is “#music and #boxing go together like Talib & Kweli”. This is true on multiple fronts. The ‘Sweet Science’ is more than two individuals lacing up leather and swinging for the fences. It’s a mind game, a chess match, a challenge of who can outwit the other and dissect their game plan. Or at the very least, lure the other into letting their carnal instincts take over and abandoning their original objective. The music industry can be a similar scrap. Independent artists are sometimes influenced to abandon creativity in order to pursue the industries perceived model of what success sounds like. For your latest endeavor “Legacy Reborn” (launching March 31, 2014), how did you maintain a balance of developing a creative and commercial worthy product that satisfies mainstream’s attention as much as it does the underground Hip Hop head?

@Rel2Real : When you take a look at every song on Legacy Reborn, you will find that it displays every single genre that is popular today!  I did this strategically to not only display my diversity as a singer/rapper but to appeal to a worldwide crowd.  In the music industry, your trying to sell music, so you have to step outside your comfort zone and be ready to at all times.  You only sell out when you lose the originality and creativity you have to offer to a composition.  As long as you tell the truth, how can you be judged for a song that may not be your “normal”, to me, it only shows how extraordinary you really are as an artist especially when done correctly.  There are songs on my album “Legacy Reborn” from dubstep to R&B, Pop to Reggae, Trap music, Hip hop cyphers, Westcoast flavor, Fast rap to slow flow, and I couldn’t forget the Live instrument and rock and roll approach.  I confidently say that there is at least one song on the album that fits every popular genre today, and it was done on purpose to give the fans a chance to see a true artist in the new music era who’s comfort zone is in the diversity and potential to touch all levels of the music industry.


@TheTitleFight : Las Vegas adopted the moniker, “The Entertainment Capital of the World”. It’s also home to some of the largest fights made in history. And although known for staging a great fight, Vegas has only birthed one world Champion; Ishe Smith. Growing up in this region for a large portion of your youth had to have had an influence on your vision of entering the entertainment realm. Any plans to one day return and leave your mark back home or expand your brand in that direction?

@Rel2Real : Absolutely G!  Growing up in Vegas from ages 12 to 18, I was exposed to the darkest sides of the entertainment “hustle” to the most star studded events.  It’s like it helped to build me into who I am today with the understanding I have now about what it takes to succeed in the business.  from Coming out the trunk with CD’s for sale, to learning how to build a following all comes from the things I learned growing up in Vegas.  If God permits, then yes I’d love to make a mark in Vegas and bring it home to them per say.  Eventually it will happen, hopefully sooner than later!


@TheTitleFight : Every person needs ‘a rock’ in their corner. Someone to lean on, have guide them, someone you can have complete trust in. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that person appears to be Robert Buchanan, otherwise known as UNC. Talk to us a bit about his role in your life and career thus far.

@Rel2Real : Unc, has been my rock since day one.  He is the person in my life that points my spirit towards God at all time, and I couldn’t ask for a better influence.  My uncle Robert grew up in gangs in California, lived a really hard life, been through it all, and still stands today.  He’s been shot, stabbed, and left for dead.  Now he spreads the message of God, has a beautiful life and is everything to our family.  Now, in his latter years he has reformed himself and changed everything that was holding him back in life. He’s very successful today in all his entrepreneurial endeavors while doing it all with a repenting heart.  Watching his progression in life has been a blessing because it taught me how to be a man, how to change for the better, and how to love others through it all.  Unc is the first major influence to my music career. Unc is the man who bought me my first pair of Numark turntables, beat machines, and gave me every album known to man to learn from!  I love him and I wouldn’t of gotten signed with Wu Tang without his help!


@TheTitleFight : It takes a rare breed to undertake the role of a champion and not every one is as fortunate or willing to endure what is required to reach the upper echelons of the food chain. What skill sets or traits do you believe set you apart from the masses and how do you manage to consistently maintain a champion’s mentality?

@Rel2Real : I mean when your favorite athletes are Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan what else can you say.  I maintain a champions mentality because I believe I’m a champion and I never ever give up.  Key word, Believe!  Through belief comes sacrifice and however much your willing to sacrifice to win, will be yours for all time.  I grew up in seats of leadership, from sports to the community.  It has all prepared me mentally with a champions mindset.  One example I have is when I was a quarterback in high school. The year before I got to Desert Pines High School as a junior, the Jaguars were 0-9, I confidently say I tailored the beginning of a Legacy when the very next year with me as the starting quarterback we won our division and went on to state finals, even being ranked 9th in the west at one point in USA today top 10 HS football teams in America.  It takes a strong heart, determination, sacrifice, and patience to be a champion! And your right, music is like boxing, you have to have heart to be in the ring with Lions.


@TheTitleFight : We have seen other athletes cross over into boxing with some levels of success and others not so much. You were also an athlete for Idaho State University before you put the cross hairs on your music career. Why the transition into music and how did your background in sports assist you with your music if so?

@Rel2Real : I chose to transition from athlete to music when I decided what really made me happy in this life.  Music is not only my life’s giving breath but my friend when I’m in pain.  I soon realized what music meant to my life when I looked around one day and no one was there but the god given melodies exuding from my heart into my mind.  Experiencing what it took to reach a collegiate level of athletics instilled into me a work ethic second to none.  From my experience at Idaho State University, I learned how to discipline my mind through weakness, what it truly means to work with champions (Big Sky Champs 2002), and how to overcome adversity consistently!  In the music industry it’s the same principals for success!  But as you know, the journey is endless because even if you win the championship on a set day, the very next day your starting over and preparing for the next seasons chance at the title.


@TheTitleFight : “Legacy Reborn” has an entourage of musical influences and interestingly, you are responsible for a large portion of the production which is a byproduct of over two and a half years of hard work and dedication (no pun intended Floyd). What was your overall goal with this project or describe to us some of your favorite tracks you got to work on?

@Rel2Real : My overall goal for Legacy Reborn is to bring inspiration and hope to all those aspiring to reach their dreams who may be losing faith, to produce a high quality unforgettable product for the fans, and finally to take the God given talent I’ve been blessed with and use it for bettering humanity!  I can die happier knowing I’ve achieved these things then having a billion dollars in my Swiss account.  As far as my favorite tracks I got to work on, probably my song Dangerous ft. Don Willie, Hiding In Tha Shadowz, and Drinks Up ft. Live Wire, Marka, and Don Willie.  Dangerous was originally a reference singing track I was selling to a pop singer out in Virginia that ended up being so hot that Wu Tang manager Frank Nitty Newman put a stop to it and made it one of my top records on the album, saying that “it just can’t be denied”.  Dangerous also sets in my heart deeper because it is the only song that I have ever made that just has me only singing on it, something that my family has been asking me to try and do for years now.  Thank God it came out hot!  “Hiding in the Shadows” is an epic display of my producing skills, singing and extraordinary rap style all in one. Just know that  when I get to unleash all my skills on one song (singing, rapping, and engineering the instrumental) you better believe its one of my favorites. And last but never the least, the song that got me signed to Wu Tang, Drinks Up.  Need I say more about Drinks Up, not only is it a undeniably worldwide song that has a true message, it was the song that solidified my career with Wu Tang and the music industry forever.


@TheTitleFight : In boxing, having the right team/manager can be the difference between putting food on the table and moving on to bigger fights versus just becoming another name on someone’s padded resume. Recently you signed a management deal with Wu Tang Management. How did this signing come about and how has this relationship helped you in taking the next step in your career?

@Rel2Real : I signed with Wu Tang management in 2012 after winning “The Get Noticed Tour” previously known as “The VA Stand Up Tour”.  Wu Tang arrived in Boise, held the event at Quinn’s on Vista and the rest is history.  I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in the music industry and it has taught me how to effectively develop my own campaign towards success.  I’ve gotten to meet superstars, and have a home base to go to with questions and help.  The misconception people get though is that a label pays for everything where there artist is concerned, that’s far from the truth.  What Wu has done for me is give me a chance to be represented by a major label, and supplying me with guidance and direction towards creating a name for myself with the help of their influence in their brand (Wu Tang).  So when it comes to taking the next step in my career, Wu Tang is helping me by pointing me in the right direction which is something they could be doing for others, but yet they chose to help me because they believe I have what it takes to be successful on my own.


@TheTitleFight : Like many industries (boxing is no different), developing one’s craft in the amateurs can pay dividends when one hits the pro-ranks. In your case, you hit the ground running by landing opening spots for recognized names like Lil Wayne, Pit Bull and Game to name a few. What did you take from these experiences and how are you able to apply them into your career now?

@Rel2Real : Those experiences built a strong sense of hope and determination.  As I sat back and watched these other major artists at the time, I studied them, picked them apart, and learned from their performances on what it takes to put on an unforgettable show.  They way my mind thinks though is this, all those people you mentioned are flesh and blood, so the only thing that separated myself from them was exposure and money to invest in promotion, not skill and talent on the microphone.  This fact alone put me on a mission to create a council of key players that do specific things that can get me the exposure I need to compete.  That’s exactly what I did and so far, it’s paying off tremendously.


@TheTitleFight : Styles make fights. Styles can also make or break a track. How would you describe your delivery? Do you tactically place your words, only investing where they provide the biggest return like a Guillermo Rigondeaux or do you focus on output and brutalize a track with hard shots that eventually succumb to your onslaught as a Leo Santa Cruz? (Neither is necessarily better over the other).

@Rel2Real : With every fight you participate in, there is preparation!  But, soon as the bell sounds off, it could go either fighters way depending on how focused, prepared mentally, spiritually, and physically they are.  It’s the same for music, case in point, not every song sounds the same but with a disciplined style and proper preparation you more prone to being victorious in your delivery and creating a successful track.  My style is ALL styles, and it’s nothing I’m ashamed of because like a prize winning fighter,  you have to have more than one angle to attack, be able to switch from “strong arm” to “south paw”, from brute to finessed, to know when to lay it all on the line and when to conserve for the knockout blow.  In Music, its the same as boxing except your using your words and your voice to be victorious.


@TheTitleFight : We have to test your boxing IQ of course. What fighters are currently catching your attention and what resonates the most with you about boxing?

@Rel2Real : Floyd Mayweather, that’s who.  I mean what was he thinking.  God bless his life, he will have to figure the rest out behind bars (If rumors are true).  What saddens me is all the children and fans he has that have to see a role model conduct himself in such a manner but he will see through it.  My fighter right now though is Manny Pacquiao, the man has fists of fury!  What resonates with me when I think of boxing is the actual work it takes to be successful at such a high risk sport.  Boxers have to have a lion’s heart to step in the ring and put it all on the line.


@TheTitleFight : We want to thank you once again for stepping “In the Phone Booth”. Any last shout outs, plugs or words you would like to leave us with?

@Rel2Real : For sure, I’d like to shout out to Wu Tang Management (Lisa Sullivan, Frank Nitty Newman and John Mook Gibbons) for their support, The “50 Cal Coalition” for always having my back, my family, friends and most of all my fans!  Thanks for having me Gordie, until next time my good friend! God Bless!









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