I first met Reesa Renee at her album listening party in 2012. She was just beginning her career as a musician, but I could feel her passion and energy from the moment we met. Reesa’s debut album, Reelease, released soon thereafter. August 28th, 2012, to be exact. She quickly found a receptive audience, thanks to her eclectic musicality and striking charisma. Most importantly, we could feel the emotion in her voice. Songs such as “Got Me Loose” truly pulled listeners such as myself into her world. We felt the complex emotions that she spoke of. We understood instinctively that the stories and situations that she spoke of were not hypothetical. We felt the authenticity of her perspective. That hasn’t changed.
More than two years later, as Reesa re-emerges with a powerful visual for a single called “Invisible,” changes are evident. She has traveled coast to coast for performances, connected with her idols, and sharpened her artistry in ways that we are just beginning to see. I was fortunate enough to sit down and talk with Reesa about her journey as an artist, and much more.
Read on below to learn more about the powerful story that sparked “Invisible,” her thoughts on the role of artists during periods of cultural controversy, and how her artistry continues to evolve.
First and foremost, how are you? It’s been a while.
I’m great, honestly. It’s weird to be back in the promoting phase again. I’ve been promoting the old album and traveling, but I haven’t done an all out promoting phase for a while. It’s different, but it’s exciting.
It’s been over two years since Reelease debuted. In retrospect, how do you feel about its reception?
I feel great about it. It’s amazing to think that Reelease has fueled my career for the past two and a half years. I know that you remember our conversation when I first started. Reelease was a very honest album, and it was my first time getting into the process of releasing an album. To have been able to accomplish so much is a blessing. That album didn’t just get me into the circuit in the DMV. It got me out of town, and all across the United States. I also went to Toronto. I have been traveling a lot. I’m very grateful for it all.
How has your mentality changed since Reelease‘s completion?
I did’t know what I was walking into. I’m more educated today. It’s impossible to be in some of the environments that I’ve been in and not have your perspective change. I’ve been on the road, and at so many shows. I’ve met a lot of people. My art has developed. It makes you think differently. I wanted to make my writing better. I’ve had my work critiqued by friends. I’ve had my work critiqued by strangers. I’ve had my work critiqued by idiots. I’ve had my work critiqued by professionals. After all of that, I was still able to silence all of the noise, and just write. It’s a chess game. “Invisible,” which has been written for a while, manifested during my time traveling.
How has your artistry changed during your time traveling?
I’m more mature. I put more thought into what I’m doing. I would rather let the music speak for itself, which is the biggest cliche ever. It’s true, though. It just changed. I am making music for me, but it’s not just for me. I want my music to reach people. I want my music to reach a vast audience, so I have to think with a mentality deserving of that vast audience.
I’m working on a song right now that I’ve written five or six different ways. I can’t just throw it out there. More people care now. I need to make sure I put my best foot forward.
Who do you speak for, as an artist?
I can’t put it in a box. I’m connected with people my age. I recently did a speaking tour with the Full Gospel Baptist Church of Glenarden, and we hit different schools. I spoke to middle and high schoolers. The kids were very receptive there. I also have a lot of old heads that appreciate me, and come out to my shows. I can’t put it in one box. What I can do is be more open to being myself. When I first started, I thought it was just so cool to be accepted. Now, I’m proud of the unique voice that I have. I know that in real life, people can relate to it. I try to do a better job of telling my story. If I can delve into myself, people can relate to my music even more. It’s more of a people thing than a demographic thing.
You’ve had a lot of new experiences. What were your most surreal, unbelievable moments during this process?
All of my surreal moments happened during that first year. The Apollo Theater, having my first video get 14,000 hits, meeting Jill Scott, hitting the BET Awards…all of those things. Right now, I’m on a mission. When things happen now, it’s cool. But I still have more things to do. I try not to get my hopes up, because it’s so easy to get caught up in moments. I can’t be distracted. I can’t put my art down for anything.
I’m super appreciative, but there’s a lot of work to be done. November has just been a hard month, and not just for me. November has been tough for America in general. Everyone is feeling the heat. In Washington, D.C., we lost Marion Berry, and another councilman. Personally, I lost my grandfather. It was a very rough month for me. I needed another Reelease. I forgot how fulfilling it is to share my music. “Invisible” is just a window into everything that I plan on releasing. I haven’t been able to drop everything as quickly as I’ve wanted to. I just have a lot that I’m dying to share.
You’re right, November has been a very tough time for many people. A lot of artists have weighed in. Some say that entertainers should just make their money, and not speak on large scale cultural issues. Others feel differently. What’s your take?
I’ve never blended in. I’ve always been a rebel. I’m glad that my management has calmed me down a bit during these times, because I’ve always been a black and white kind of person. I’ve been raving on Twitter. I really connected with Trayvon Martin’s story, and Mike Brown’s situation, and Eric Garner’s story. It’s all very disturbing. I’m wide open to voicing my opinion, but I don’t want to make it strictly a race issue. It’s a humanity issue. I’m forcing myself to not get completely caught up in it all. I’m not a politician. I never have been. What I do best is make music and connect with the people. The best way that I can fight against all the bad things happening in America right now is to make music to the best of my ability.
I’d hate for anyone to die in vain. The shock of death hits hard, but for whatever reason, we’re still here. We’re here for a reason. These situations shouldn’t happen in vain. They shouldn’t be forgotten. Whatever we can do to carry forward that energy and that spirit should be used for positive gain in our communities. “Invisible” is talking about the spirits of those who have passed. We have the responsibility to carry on and honor their spirits.
“Invisible” is a very powerful record. Talk to me about the story that sparked your songwriting process.
I first started singing in January 2008. My friends were attending my birthday party in 2007, before anything really began. My friend Vernard had a little much to drink, and he was driving. He and my friend Alycia left the party. They were driving right by my house, and they were moving too fast. They couldn’t stop themselves going around a curve, and they slammed into a cement wall. That wall is actually in the “Invisible” video, in the beginning. You see me walking back and forth along a wall, and sitting on the grass. I actually went back there to record the video.
When they hit the wall, they knocked out the power in the whole neighborhood. We went to the scene of the accident, and we saw that their car had broken through at least two feet of concrete. At this point, we didn’t know it was Alycia and Vernard. We were still turnt up. It was my birthday. When I saw the car, I instinctively knew that somebody had passed away. I remember everything. We ended up sitting in our car, and dialing 911. We watched the paramedics cut these two individuals out of the car. I saw bodies being put in the ambulance. While we were out there, I just had an inkling in my spirit. So I called Bernard, because the accident shook me up. I wanted to make sure he was ok. The phone just kept on ringing, and ringing, and ringing.
We had no idea that it was Vernard and Alycia in that car until the day after. We were all still together, after seeing something like that. All of our friends who knew them were shaken up. We were all just sitting there in shock. All I could think was that this couldn’t all be in vain. We felt robbed and cheated. It’s a deep story, and I don’t know how much to give to you. My mentor, who you saw at the end of the video, was killed by a drunk driver when I was ten. She used to go to my church, a church that my parents pastored. We found out early Sunday morning. That road in the video, that you see the guy and girl on, is the same road that my mentor, Ms. Minnie Exum, passed away on. It only happened because we needed more B roll for the video. So, in essence, we were able to capture the spirit of all three of them in the video. It wasn’t intentional, but it just worked out that way.
After my Alycia and Vernard passed away in 2007, I fell into a deep depression. I didn’t care about anything. I barely cared before, but it got much worse. I didn’t know what the point of me being on this earth was. I went into a heavy drinking phase. I went into a spiritual phase, and ultimately I discovered my art when I came out. I found myself drawn into poetry, and discovered that singing was very relieving for me. The person you know today was birthed from that situation. With “Invisible,” I wanted to pay respect to Vernard, Alycia, and Ms. Minnie, so that their passing was not in work at all. I take their stories along with them. It continues with me, and I hope that this story will inspire someone else along the way.
When I first spoke to you in 2012, I asked you how you would describe yourself to a complete stranger. How would you answer this story today?
The first word I always say is funky. It’s hard to say that today, with “Invisible” being such a solemn release, but it’s true. When I get upset, I’m either screaming, or I’m literally moaning. I literally feel better when I allow myself to make a sound. My music can be felt through my tones. I guess it could be the definition of soul music. I give you my soul.
In 2012, you listed influences such as Jill Scott, N*E*R*D, Chuck Brown, and the Northeast Groovers. Who would you list among your chief influences today?
I drew from myself, first and foremost. I had to learn myself and educate myself. I had to enhance myself. Janelle Monae‘s Electric Lady album is ridiculous. She captured so many different sounds and eras in one album, in terms of black history. She had a huge musical influence on me. I never sat down and said I wanted to be like her, but I know that I was listening to Electric Lady when I was writing. I tried to make it a point to find something new, and to find the positive in everything. It’s easy to get caught up in the negatives of the industry. It’s easy to find things that you don’t like. Instead, I tried to find the positive; I tried to create the positive and bring it to my listeners.
Do you have a timetable for your next releases?
Expect another release around February. I am doing everything in my power to make that happen. I know I’m ready. I have the bullet. It’s just a matter of being able to package it properly; knowing when to pull the trigger. I just want to give my audience the right sound. I wish that Reelease was mixed better, as I look back. Now that my circle has changed a bit, and we’ve grown, I’m ready to take things to the next level. I can put a better project out now. I want to make sure that I keep elevating.
Your first album relied heavily on production from PKay the Producer, who is also your brother. Should we expect more of the same in the future?
I have to keep him around me. That’s my brother. The next two songs that I’m going to release will be produced by him. I have a live track with my musical director, Anthony Robinson, that I want to release as well. I have an outside song with a different producer. It’s a banger. You can expect more collaborations. I’ve done some collaborations that I’m still waiting on the release date for. We’ll see what happens. Maybe they’ll start jumping out the woodworks.
My offer as a professional shower singer still stands.
You know, Outkast actually recorded their entire ATLiens album in the shower. The water wasn’t on, but their actual studio was in the shower. So, you never know. You’re joking, but you might mess around and make something great! *laughs*
How do you feel, now that the video is completed?
There are so many different levels to my emotions. I’m happy that I can finally share something with my fans. I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long, but the moment is finally right. I can’t wait for my fans to share in this with me. Last night I actually spoke with Alycia’s mother, and she gave me her blessing. That impacted me in a way unlike anything else in my life. I’m just happy to be able to release it. I’m honored to tell their story. I know that my music has catchy parts to it. I just hope that while you enjoy a certain harmony, or hook, or lyrics, I just hope you don’t miss the story.