"It's just in him": An ode to Reese Youngn

Vol. 24

Happy long weekend Friday and welcome back to PFOS. Today’s edition is a heartfelt tribute to Pittsburgh artist / viral sensation Reese Youngn, penned by the legendary Nora Lee. Hope you guys enjoy it…

Like so many others, I was first introduced to Pittsburgh's Reese Youngn in March of this year, when my roommate cued up what I thought would be just another “No More Parties” Remix. The first 30 seconds invited a whirlwind of emotions; but my initial “is this man’s onomatopoeia off key?” quickly gave way to a “hold on…” Amidst the hum and drum of half-hearted melodies tidily slotted over dinky guitar loops and cookie-cutter 808s, it’s all too easy to grow overly comfortable with the predictable. Though Reese Youngn’s out-of-bounds style may demand a few seconds for adjustment, that “aha!” moment is well worth the wait. (After all, most worthwhile endeavors require at least a little patience). 

Art has always spoken to pain—to loss, to heartbreak—the all-consuming swells of which are essential to the human experience. Many artists set out on a mission to emote, but seem to get lost somewhere along the way. Perhaps they’re singing other people’s words written about experiences that aren’t their own, or perhaps it’s a matter of simply placing the carriage before the horse; either way, the emotions they aim to channel often feel half-baked. It’s as if some original sense of earnestness was lost in translation amid an endless chain of imitation. 

In a market oversaturated with the “sad boy” motif, it can prove difficult to discern sincerity from mimicry, and the quality that separates the real from the rest feels impossible to pin down. Whatever it is, Reese Youngn has it. He puts every fiber of his being into each lyric, leaving his voice trembling with emotion. When he sings, he creates a tangible yet indescribable atmosphere: it’s almost as if the pain he laments takes physical form, left lingering in the air after he belts out his words. It’s like you could reach out and touch these emotions—or better yet, feel them for yourself, if only just for a moment’s time. Reese’s mentor Peezy, a Detroit rap legend in his own right, described this phenomenon best: “It’s just in him.”

His excursions off key managed to strike a chord in the hearts of many. Long story short, Reese Youngn went viral: in the mere 3 months since its release, his “No More Parties” Remix (“THE LET OUT”) has amassed over 10 million views on YouTube. He ran with this newfound momentum and never looked back. Lately, Reese Youngn has honed in on his unconventional melodies. Over the past several weeks, he’s dropped a double-digit streak of similarly impassioned ballads, with emotionally charged standouts such as “Warrior” and “Ke’Ke” gliding well past the million-view mark. 

Though Reese’s explosion into the spotlight indisputably spurred from his spin on a pre-existing trend, to reduce his success to a “right place right time” narrative would be a gross disservice to his years of hard work and dedication: preceding this moment are countless releases spanning nearly a decade. Born and raised in the neighborhood of Homewood, Reese Youngn first dipped his toes into Pittsburgh’s music scene as he approached the start of his teenage years, when he began spending time with the locally renowned group FTR (Full Time Real). Now 22 years old, Reese Youngn put out the first song of his own at the age of 13: “Ride Out” by Reese Youngn ft. FTR Drama went up on YouTube on Christmas Eve of 2012. 

Reese hit his next major stride in 2015, with a slew of loosies that racked up six-figure view counts on YouTube. On “MMR Remix,” Reese takes a spin on the “March Madness” instrumental. Perhaps inspired by Future, Reese lets the grittiness of his vocals shine through in certain moments, as he begins to experiment stylistically with elements that define his signature delivery today. Notably, his June 2015 single “Thug Passion” made its way into the Pittsburgh radio rotation, garnering well deserved local attention and helping to fill the venues at his first ever solo performances. 

Just as his career was taking flight, Reese experienced a world-shattering loss. At the start of 2016, Ryder, a fellow FTR member, was fatally shot. Devastated by the death of his dear friend, Reese put out two final songs dedicated to Ryder, “Long Blink” and “Paul Bearer,” then made the decision to walk away from making music—potentially for good.

It wasn’t until October of 2018 that Reese made his way back to the hip hop scene—and he returned with unprecedented tenacity. His homecoming moment, “World Record,” also marked his first time working with Treeburke, a videographer from Treehouse Collective who would continue to film many of Reese’s future videos, including his “No More Parties” Remix. On singles like “Money Multiplier” and “Ricky Jeans,” Reese Youngn let the raspiness in his voice ring with newfound clarity. 

It is this Reese Youngn who Peezy first met in 2019, when he nonchalantly rolled into a studio in Pittsburgh aiming to turn over a quick 3k for a guest verse and be on his merry way. Little did he know, Reese would stick by his side from that day forward. “I liked him. Soon as I seen him, like, the first words came out his mouth, I instantly liked him,” Peezy told The Hip Hop Lab podcast. “He can sing, he can rap. He ain’t scared, he fearless. Like he got so much aggression, so much pain in his music. And just… his whole aura is just so serious.” 

After spending the rest of that summer in Peezy’s hometown, Reese began traveling back and forth between Pittsburgh and Detroit, staking out his ground in the Detroit scene. Reese soon signed to Peezy’s imprint, #Boyz Entertainment LLC, started jumping into collaborations with Detroit rap major players such as Rio Da Yung OG, and even joined forces with BHM Don to form his own group, BHM (Been Had Money), whose YouTube channel houses the majority of his current releases.

Reese Youngn can rap—he’s proved that a thousand times over. But in a moment where some of our generation’s most talented vocalists are carelessly (and often racistly) pigeonholed by mainstream media as “rappers,” full stop, it is with great intention that the following distinction is made. Reese Youngn is an artist. He can be a rapper when he wants to be—but he’s a singer, too. And right now, no one is singing like Reese Youngn, whose gasps for air communicate more than many of his contemporaries could over the span of a full length album. Perhaps what we really need at this moment are more people willing to ditch the template, ignore the rules, and, most importantly, take the truly terrifying risk required to express oneself authentically. After all, some emotions run too deep to be flattened by the constraints of pitch. 

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