The D.C. artist talks resilience and resurgence upon releasing her latest album, “Time Flies.”
Reesa Renee has a way with words. If you ask the musician to describe her sound, she doesn’t blink: “If Jill Scott and Pharrell had a baby, and Chuck Brown was the godfather.”
Her first hit, “Got Me Loose,” put her on the map. She’s been exploring and developing her signature style and performing, writing and releasing her infectious music ever since, including the albums “Reelease” and “Lovers Rock” and singles “The Cure” and “Wonderland Cool.”
This summer, Reesa Renee will release her latest album, “Time Flies,” a title with significance.
“You set the plans, and life lifes,” she says. “The name of the album is partly in reference to the fact that it took five years to make it — and partly to the pivot I had to make, to focus on myself for a while.”
During the album’s production, the singer-songwriter experienced a personal crisis that profoundly affected her.
“Nobody expected the pandemic to do what it did. That, combined with some personal things, caused me to fall into a mental health crisis.”
The experience forced her to cede control.
“I was always in the driver’s seat, but when things fell apart, I wasn’t even able to be in the passenger seat — or even in the trunk, for that matter. That was a hard season of my life.”
Now, with the support of medical care and therapy, Reesa Renee is looking back on that hard season — and looking to the future with a new perspective. We caught up with her to hear more about how she came to this place in her life and how her journey influenced her art, identity and relationships.
District Fray: Where did your path to becoming a musician begin?
Reesa Renee: As a kid, I was an athlete — and being an athlete taught me discipline. I was classically trained in piano and learned to play lots of different instruments. My brother, P.Kay, is a producer and has been since we were in high school — if I go back even further, when my brother and I were kids, we’d make cassettes with our own mixes. In 2008, while I was in college, two of my friends were leaving my birthday party and died in a car accident on my street. That was a very overwhelming incident for me. During that time, my brother had been making music. I was playing his music, and I found myself writing lyrics to it — and then singing. It was poetry. It was releasing for me. I wrote a song about the accident and the emotions I was processing called “Invisible.”
How did your break-out song, “Got Me Loose,” come to be?
“Got Me Loose” was originally written in 2008. My brother wrote the music to the song, and we later recorded the version you all know to this day. It’s still my most popular song, with half a million streams. We won the Apollo Theater’s amateur music competition — which is supposed to be for performing covers — with our original song. That was a huge thing for me personally, because it showed me I could do this. We started getting booked for gigs, and we were like, “We need more songs.” To extend the show, we wrote more records. From there, I released my first album, “Reelease,” in 2012. We had no industry connections and there was no streaming at that time. We were actually able to make money from hard-copy CDs.
Tell me more about your new album, “Time Flies,” coming out this summer.
It’s definitely a feel-good project. Amidst all the turmoil and challenges I was going through, I wanted to communicate in a fun way. There’s one record called “Nah Baby,” which I think will be the lead single; the first line is, “If I had words, I’d start off by saying f–k you,” but the beat has N.E.R.D., Janelle Monáe energy. It’s got you dancing. I’m talking big shit, but we’re dancing and having a good time about it. We intentionally gave the album that really funky side (the collaborative records produced by Reggie Volume and earth2yourbrain) and tapped into the more nostalgic sound you’ll recognize from previous works with my brother, who brings in the go-go aspect.
Who else worked with you on the album?
Everyone who has touched the album is from the DMV. From the mixing to the masters to the video shooting to the features (Pinky KillaCorn, Noochie and Visto) — all from the DMV. I think those who know will definitely be able to hear the nuances of the production and I truly value that, because it really assisted in keeping the authenticity of my sound while also elevating it. I’d also like to acknowledge artist and producer Aleem Bilal (AB), who inspired the title track “Time Flies” and has been a mentor and true friend over the last eight years or so.
While you were making the album, you were also rebuilding your mental health. What was that like? Did your personal experiences influence its sound?
I was hospitalized for different periods voluntarily, and I would be out of the hospital and do a shoot or record while working on myself. I’m really proud of the project and the work put in, both in the studio and the personal work that’s responsible for 100 percent of the lyrics. I think folks from the area will be proud, too. And, honestly, beyond just that: those who’ve struggled and are even currently navigating some of the spaces I address. It’s for all of us.
Now that you’re on the other side of that period, how has it affected your sense of self?
I’m a triple minority: I’m Black, I’m female, I’m queer. I’ve had a hard time identifying positively with all three of those things in the past. The LGBTQ community is very important to me — because I can relate to it, but it’s also beyond that. What was the purpose of what I learned in life, in my vulnerability and transparency? It’s to help the next person, to help my community, to share the tools people can use to free themselves.
What about your relationships?
I’m team, “Two whole individuals come together and build a life together.” You have to learn to be by yourself. And it’s okay. Nobody’s 100 percent healed. It’s important to be forgiving when you’re in a space to do that. But don’t go around trying to fix someone who doesn’t hold themselves accountable.
How do you think someone can learn to do that — to stop struggling to be “chosen” by a partner?
It starts with valuing yourself — when you do that, you know the boundaries you need to set, you know how to honor yourself and can tell when someone else is not honoring you. It’s a maturity thing. But as irritated or hurt as I’ve felt about past experiences, it’s shaped me into who I am today.
As we step into Pride Month, what does Pride mean to you personally?
The Pride for me is in my story. It’s the fact that I’m still standing and I’m not only still here, but I’m thriving, creating and back in touch with myself. I needed help. I needed the tools to get better. I was living day by day, second by second. The Pride is in the struggle — the lessons I learned.
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