The songwriter-to-artist journey is one that some of the greats of our time have taken. Frank Ocean had his Lonny Breaux days. Charli XCX served her time with the pen. Even Ye was Roc-A-Fella’s most reliable beatsmith for a few years running.
reggie, however, is doing the whole thing backwards. If the world hasn’t already caught onto his soul-tinted rhymes quite yet, the Houston artist has a plan in place to introduce himself with what he envisions as a double-sided debut album full of ambition. Then, he’ll disappear into the songwriting abyss. Forever.
“It’s hard to get your way in this industry as a writer. It’s just like real life,” reggie explains. “You do four years of college then you go do a job and they tell you, ‘We need a n***a with experience.’ They’re not trying to work with new people. When I put out music, I get all these people who [suddenly reach out]. I feel like once I put out this tape with the songs it has on it, that’s when people will start to really, really wake up… I’m trying to disappear, my boy. Cut this hair off and be gone, I swear to God.”
reggie—full name Reginald Helms Jr.— introduced himself with a pandemic output of five singles: “Ain’t Gon Stop Me,” “Southside Fade,” “I Don’t Wanna Feel No More,” “Traffic” and “Avalanche.” So far, his loosies have secured comparisons to some of the greats like 3 Stacks and D’Angelo, but now he’s working on material that’ll make you question any comparison you’ve ever tried to make. He’s played the new stuff for his sister, too, and she genuinely doesn’t like it. But to him, that works. It means he’s moving into uncharted territory.
“Music I made before, my mama can like it, my daddy can like it,” he says. “But n***as who really be breaking barriers, their mama don’t understand none of it. I could be wrong, though. Maybe she’s just really not feelin’ it because it’s really bad. But we gon’ see. And that’s the exciting part. And if not, I got other songs. I’ll be like, ‘Just kidding, that’s not actually the album.’”
The album isn’t coming out until after reggie wraps the recording process. That should happen by June, so until then, he’s locked in the studio up in New York. As he starts to build a fresh creative circle outside of his existing ones in Los Angeles and Houston, he links with us over Zoom to explain his plan for the year and break down his plot to go full-blown Houdini once it works out.
What’s the atmosphere like on the east coast?
I built a little system for myself in Cali, as far as friends. Strictly no industry types. I feel like in New York, I don’t have that just yet. So it’s really just all working, but that’s cool. I still do want to develop that same little system here. It’s just way better to have people you can bounce stuff off. So to try and get that, that’s what I’ve been on.
Your material has been out for a couple years now. Where’s your favorite place you’ve heard a reggie song so far?
Lowkey, probably in Bel Air. I really liked how they used that. That’s my favorite so far because they really chopped the song up, they didn’t just play a song. I also caught “AIN’T GON STOP ME” on a Subway ad on Instagram. And it seemed so fake. I followed the page. It was really on Subway. We still talking to them about that, but that’s probably the weirdest. Like what?! That was random as hell.
Also on socials, Kenny Beats replied to that whole next-superstar-in-rap thread with your name. Would you consider yourself a budding superstar?
I’m just chillin’, man. It’s cool that he thinks that, but y’all ain’t even heard no music yet for me to even be able to say that.
You posted a picture to Twitter of some real superstars on 36 different issues of Jet Magazine. On the covers were the Jacksons, the ‘90s Chicago Bulls. Do you take inspiration from reading old magazines?
I’m just weird so I’ll be collecting all that shit. I remember seeing these at my parents’ crib when I was a kid. So I got all excited. I got hella records, I still collect CDs like crazy, any forms of music, and then I just got into magazines right now. I’ve been collecting weird, weird stuff but if anything, I’m just taking inspiration from music. I’ll be real honest with you. I don’t even be reading them. They look good. But I saw them on eBay for cheap. I never sat down and read them.
What’s the rarest record in your collection?
I got an original Stevie Wonder record. I got a lot. It’s not really hard to find, it just takes time. But the Stevie Wonder one, I got the original pamphlet and they just don’t be making pamphlets [any more], so that means a lot to me.
Whenever I do a project, I’ll for sure try to bring back the pamphlet and really try to bring it back in a different format, other than just DSPs. I made this “Southside Fade” journal. It just felt real crazy to hold something tangible in my hand, and not just be listening to it. So I feel like if I make something music-wise, people want to be able to hold and be able to see.
You’re big on older music obviously. Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson. You mention Stevie. A lot of old-school soul and gospel, too. How important is it to make those influences come through in all that you do?
I’m not going to lie. If anything, it’s important for me to not be cool on a track. On my songs, I wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s not a lot of people doing that right now. If anything, I’ll take that because I feel like back in the day, n***as was putting real feelings into this shit. That’s why people used to really feel it.
It’d be dangerous to drive to some music because you fuck around and get to closing your eyes, the song is so good. They ain’t doing that with some of today’s music, which I still love. That’s what I took from the old music, not being too cool. Putting your guard down. And I don’t do that in real life, so it’s way easier to do that in the music, which kind of throws people off.
I heard you’ve started singing lessons?
I’ve had some people teach me how to warm up but man, [lessons] ain’t never really excited me. But now that I’m really about to start putting music out, stop being weird, and do shows, I gotta really tighten up and go crazy with the vocals. One thing I ain’t going to do is embarrass myself. If I hit a bad note, I’ll walk off stage. I know myself, so I’m about to go crazy so that shit don’t happen.
Is there a specific moment you can point to, where you just decided to put more trust in yourself and your music taste, when creating?
I would say right now. This moment is the most confident I’ve ever been in dropping music I like. In the real world, I don’t rap. I don’t rap no more. If I turn on the beat, first thing I’m going to do is probably sing. N***s be like, ‘Damn this is a rapping beat.’ No, I’m gonna sing. I’m at the point where I’m about to drop this shit and it’s different. It ain’t “Southside Fade,” for sure not “AIN’T GON STOP ME.” It ain’t nothing else. It’s just me.
You’ve said in the past that Houston made you but the energy in California saved you. What’s the biggest lesson you learned growing up in Houston?
You just have to really go hard for yourself. You can’t wait around for no opportunity because they don’t come around that often. The biggest lesson I learned in Houston is to be ready. Because when your time comes, your time is gon’ come. If you are not ready, time is going to keep moving.
What is it about Houston that inspires the way it does?
It’s really just the way I move. I stand on my business, regardless of what’s going on. When I’m in these rooms, in LA, in New York, I definitely bring that business side about me. Houston definitely taught me that for sure. When I was in LA, I was just trying my best to be as free as I possibly could be. I find that that’s what LA taught me. That’s why I said that it saved me because it really taught me to be free. But mix that with that business side…
And you’ve been executive producing for Maxo Kream, too. How fun is it to work behind the scenes and get that type of experience?
I love it. Not gonna lie. I put out music and then kind of chilled. I was working with my manager just writing songs, writing songs, writing songs. To be honest, I strictly wanted to be a writer. It took me damn near a little over 10 years to drop a song. I was cooking that whole time, nonstop. But behind the scenes is really where I feel like I thrive. I’m about to play this in-front-of-the-sceen role until I can comfortably stay behind the scenes. Because that’s what I really, really, really like to do and want to do: Produce and write for people.
Who do you look to as the producers or writers who’ve guided you to where you are today or inspired you?
I always say James Brown, just because he was the most sampled. I want to be sampled like that. As far as writing goes: Prince. I got a whole bunch of weird writing people that I look up to. James Fauntleroy, that’s a current one. He’s really on some other shit.
I know you’ve got some directing under your belt, too. I watched the “TRAFFIC” video.
The day before, I shot a whole-nother video for “TRAFFIC.” At a parking lot, I had slabs, it was people out. But then I went to sleep, everybody went to the club, I went to bed. I was thinking, “Damn that video sucked.” We woke up in the morning and the dude who operates the camera had a flight. His girlfriend, it was about to be her first time being in America, they both from Russia. He had a flight at 4 pm, so we shot the whole “TRAFFIC” video that day.
Do you find yourself redoing projects like that often?
Hell yeah. “Southside Fade,” we redid that. As far as editing goes, when I get into the editing room, I get really crazy. Like, we figure out what the video is in the room right there, so it always changes. But I’m focusing on the music, and that’s it right now. I’ve been very hands on, and that’s all I can do, I’m not signed, none of that. I’m so hands on, I can’t help it. So I’m still gonna have to be in that room, we gonna grind that shit out together. But I’d rather work off of somebody else who is really in that world, and I only do music.
What’s been the biggest boundary you feel you’ve broken in the last two years?
[Thinking that you have] to really sign to a label in order to function and move through the industry. The labels have radio, booking, all that. There’s some good business models out there right now. But I for sure really want to get it to where people are valuing the artist again like how they do any other artform. I don’t know what it is with music, but people just be getting [played].
I want to be in a bigger system than just me where I can plug in and work with a label, but on some real-deal partnership shit. At the same time man, fuck all that. If I can plug into every avenue that they plug into, then that’s not the dream anymore. The dream is to just keep going. I have no boundaries with this shit, I can’t lie to you. I just be expressing myself and taking life as it goes. Making sure I’m a good steward of what God has blessed me with. That’s why I stand on business. You ain’t about to play with me, it ain’t really my talent to play with. I ain’t create this.
So what’s your vision for this project?
I’m about to be 100% honest. Even with genres, I’m about to really express myself and not just what I think will necessarily work.
Does this project feel like a lifetime in the making?
For sure. Because this is the hardest one for me to even put out. The ones that come after this? Done, ready to go. Throw some interludes and transitions on them, all the songs are there. But this one, I’ve scrapped it, I’ve redone this project at least 20 times. But I feel very confident in what the hell I have now. It’s looking like it’s going to be two-sided. I can’t even hold back no music no more. I gotta get out a certain amount of songs. After I drop, I’m gonna drop again.
Do you think it’ll take some time for fans to catch on?
There is one song on each side, that I ain’t never seen somebody not lose they mind like that. I feel like that shit is so crazy, that the tape will get accepted. People will start to understand. I ain’t never heard nothing like it, whereas “Southside Fade,” that’s D’Angelo. “I Don’t Wanna Feel No More,” any sad kid. “AIN’T GON STOP ME,” Chance the Rapper, whoever the fuck. These songs, it’s not a lot of people you can compare to this. It’s one accesible song on each side, and the rest is like, ‘Oh what the fuck?’
In years to come, people will [start to get it]. I don’t feel like it’s very digestible for the first time and I don’t give a fuck. That’s what it is. But I’m tired of being scared. I’m going to be the guinea pig, I’m going to see if that shit works, being straight yourself. Or I’m going to see if you really gotta plan and be calculated.
What do you hope this upcoming output says about you as an artist?
I’m human. Every single song, it’s not on-the-head. Like “I Don’t Wanna Feel No More” is on-the-head, like ‘This guy is depressed.’ The ones I’m about to come out with, they feel way better. I just want people to know they’re not alone. I just want people to feel me on the writing side. I don’t care if this doesn’t get the world’s recognition. Hopefully it does, hopefully I can tour off this, hopefully I can do all that stuff. I really just wanna be free as hell and I want people to feel that. Either way, it’s gonna pay off, because you free and that’s just what you have to give.