Music

Interview: Reggie Becton Discusses Being An Artist In Los Angeles, Rewriting The Narrative Of Masculinity, And Latest Single, “Listenin'”

Reggie Becton is an LA based R&B singer, originally from PG County, Maryland. In this interview he discusses relocating from PG County to Los Angeles, rewriting the narrative of masculinity, and his latest release, "Listenin".

“Any time I’m writing a song and I’m talking about an experience of mine, I always try to go deeper and be as honest as I can be on the song because that’s what’s going to connect with people,” says Los Angeles based R&B singer, Reggie Becton. The PG County native grew up listening to an exuberant mixture of musical influences from the likes of Keith Sweat, Lauryn Hill, 112, Prince, and Avant to name a few. Sonically, Reggie’s music is reminiscent of the late 90s and early 2000s, but with a new-school flare.

Reggie’s commitment to going deeper and being honest in his songs isn’t just something he says to make himself look good. Reggie is set on changing the narrative of masculinity and does so by offering a unique Black male perspective. This wasn’t always easy but he says, “Now I’m in a place where I literally write how I feel and I lean into that even more to not play into those stereotypes. I’m like, how can I make it more soft, how can I make it more honest, how can I make it more vulnerable?”

It may sound cliché, but trusting the process is exactly what Reggie did and what he continues to do as he reaches newfound success. In this interview he discusses relocating from PG County to Los Angeles, rewriting the narrative of masculinity, and his latest release, “Listenin'”.

I noticed that your SoundCloud bio says you’re a “Maryland native. Found My Sound in Philadelphia. Pursuing My Dream in LA.” I would love to know the significance of these three locations.

Maryland, that’s where I started at as a kid. Born and raised—well, I wasn’t born in PG—I was born in California, actually. But, I had so much time spent in Maryland. I was there since I was like one or two and I feel that’s where I developed and decided that I wanted to be a musician and try my hand at Go-Go and just all those influences—they come from there.

And then I went to school at Temple University. Philly has a rich culture of Neo-soul and R&B. In Philly I was able to dive into more of the genre, and I feel like in Philly was when I got to play and learn my voice a bit more. I had those important years as an artist, as a musician in Philly. Now I’m here in California trying to make the dream happen.

Oh, I like that full circle. How has your time been since you’ve transitioned to LA?

Career-wise it’s been great. There’s so much opportunity in LA. You can walk out the door and meet LA Reid in an Uber and the next thing you know you’re in a session with someone.

I know when I first got here it was a bit intimidating because everybody’s good in LA. Going to open mics and different things, everyone’s good. There’s so much great talent in LA that it can be intimidating to a person that’s just coming and trying find their footing. It’s like what the fuck, how am I supposed to compete with these musicians when they have all this talent? How can I even hold a hat to these people?

That took a while to get used to and was very much self-inward journey of figuring out that it’s your race and it’s you versus you, and what’s for you is for you. Once you know all those things, then you can start to appreciate and congratulate other people’s talents. But when you don’t have that foundation of self it’s easy to compare and be intimidated by so many people.

I can see how that could be super intimidating. I agree, it’s definitely a place where people seem like they got their shit together or like they know what they’re doing. You can easily be self-critical. Do you remember the moment that sparked your musical interest?

I think the earliest memory I have with music is me performing at a kindergarten graduation and it’s like one of those things where the one kid leads all the other kids—I was that kid. That’s my fondest memory of me as a performer and falling in love with music. And I think it happened again when I was in 12th grade. Got my MacBook to prepare for college and I recorded a song with some Apple headphones—very rinky-dink setup. Just trying to follow the love I had for music, I released it and I was still in high school. I released it on a Friday so I could have that two day buffer between the weekend, so if it was bad people would forget about it [laughing]. When I came to school that Monday, a lot of people enjoyed it and nobody said anything bad. So that just taught me a lot about how you’re in your head, and you care a lot about what people think about you. That was the foundation to me being like okay, I can do it. And then moving to LA was like, okay I have to do it. I moved over a thousand miles away from home.

You said you wrote that song and that was the first song that you recorded. After that, how did you establish your sound?

A lot of trial and error. I didn’t find my sound until maybe 2018. Even still, I’m still like finding my core sound in a way. 2018 was the year that it really clicked for me. This is how you should approach different things and I think the way I did that was doing a lot of research on old artists. I listened to a lot of Prince, a lot of Brandy, a lot of different artists. I try to find people that I feel sound like me or people that I feel did things vocally that I wanted to do with my own voice. And also getting a good vocal coach that showed me how to sing differently and actually sing well—there’s an art to it and a technique behind it. That’s been extremely helpful in finding my sound.

On top of that, I would say the trial and error, playing with different records, doing a lot of studying, and being critical of myself. Releasing a song and being critical of that song. Performing a show and being critical—why didn’t I do that note differently? I watch live performances every day, so that’s another thing. Really, that’s like my favorite pastime right now to study the art of performing.

A student of the game. That’s great! And it’s crazy because you answered the question before I asked. What I was going to ask you is what artists did you enjoy listening to when you were younger and has your musical taste shifted since? You named a few.

My musical taste has shifted so much. Growing up my dad was a big fan of Keith Sweat, Tina Turner, Arrested Development, and Scarface; so as a kid I listened to a lot of them. My mom was a big Gospel fan but she also liked Neo-Soul like Lauryn Hill and India Arie. My sister, she’s older than me so she listened to a lot of Brandy. So, as a kid I listened to a lot of that and also a lot of groups. I loved 112 when I was a kid, loved Jagged Edge, Avant—I was a big fan of Avant and Tank. And then when I got into adulthood I started to go back in the past and that’s when I fell in love with Marvin Gaye, Prince, and Brandy. I fell in love with them at the age of sixteen or seventeen.

I think now, it progresses. I listen to Bruce Springsteen and to bands from the 70s. Bon Jovi is one of my favorite bands. So, trying to develop more sound that I’m not used to that’ll expand my palate as a musician.

It sounds like you had a good mixture though, based on what your father, your mother, and your sister were listening to. That influenced what you were listening to. Labels and genres aside, how would you describe your sound and what makes it you?

I think my songwriting makes it me. I think the way I attack songs and how I write about love from a male experience is something special that many people aren’t doing. I feel like the vulnerability and honesty in my music is something that’s refreshing to a lot of listeners because we haven’t heard a male singer do that as often as I do, I would say.

And sound-wise, I think my sound is special because I think it has this essence of the past without sounding like the past. And I think that it’s different because of the raspiness in my voice that I use a lot. My tone and also the way that I’ve started to arrange my vocals is something that is refreshing as well and a bit different than how most male singers sing today, or how songs sound today.

Focusing on your writing, what inspires the content of your lyrics?

With my lyrics, I always try to break down this condition of masculinity that society has raised us to be, especially Black men—to not confront our emotions, feel like it’s cool, feel like it makes us less of a man, or feel less than to be honest or to be emotional, to be sad, to be lonely.

Any time I’m writing a song and I’m talking about an experience of mine, I always try to go deeper and be as honest as I can be on the song because that’s what’s going to connect with people. I remember my early projects like Brightness, I was like no I don’t want to say that because it sounds too soft or I don’t want to say that because of how people are going to take it and look at me. Whereas, now I’m in a place where I literally write how I feel and I lean into that even more to not play into those stereotypes. I’m like how can I make it more soft, how can I make it more honest, how can I make it more vulnerable?

How did you go from not really wanting to step into that vulnerable space to just finally owning it?

A lot of self-discovery and at the same time a lot of reading books on different things about masculinity, like We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity by Bell Hooks. That’s something I read that really helped me realize how much went into this conditioning of masculinity that most men exhibit today and how patriarchy is not good for anybody in society. I think that also just seeing how my dad raised me in a sense. When I grew up it wasn’t like, you can’t do this because you’re a man. It wasn’t that, but there was definitely some of that there. So it’d be like, why you crying so much? Things like that. It wasn’t the most toxic environment where it was you getting beat for crying, but those mindsets were still at play. So now I’m thinking about how I want to raise my child and my son and then I look at artists like Prince and Marvin Gaye who were feelers when it came to gender and masculinity. To me, those are true definitions of a man because a man is concrete. A man is rooted in who they are and confident in all aspects. And a man is honest.

So, all these other sides of masculinity that a lot of people don’t want to get into or the stereotypical things. I think that’s great. Definitely keep pushing that, it’s needed. LA is a place where many come to live out their dreams—as you spoke to—which comes with challenges. What have been some of your most challenging moments as an independent artist here in LA?

Finances and resources have been a big challenge. When I first moved here, I was staying in a one bedroom Air Bnb—one room, literally. No kitchen, no personal bathroom, it was like community living. There were three of us in that one room on top of there being twelve other people in this building.

So just trying to find my footing in LA and things like that. And also just trying to find my village and my tribe of people who will help me out and help me bring this thing to the next level. That’s been super gratifying! And I think independent artists in LA—another hard thing is trying to navigate the industry and meeting all these different people. Some people are real and 100% who they say they are, and then you have those few bad apples that will ruin the industry and put a bad taste forever in your mouth. So, trying to navigate the world, and trying not to become tarnished or jaded from the different experiences you have with people here.

And whenever you came to LA were you solely by yourself? You didn’t have any connections?

Me and my friend from college moved here together, so that was one person I had to lean on if I needed to, but we were both out here with no money, no family, no major friends. For the most part it was very hard to make friends because everything is so superficial and everything is about what you do out here and trying to make it. It’s hard to find people who are genuine and real individuals.

I hear that a lot from people that have been out here for a while. That’s a reoccurring theme. It’s only right that we highlight the positives as well. What are some of your proudest moments in your career thus far?

The most recent one is—there’s a remix out to this song I have with Ye Ali called “Right Time” and Tank is on the remix. I’m a big fan of Tank. I was heavily inspired by him as a kid. I remember listening to him all the time, so the fact that I’m on a song that he’s on as well—big accomplishment!

Also, I think performing at the Troubadour in LA. My first show out here was at the Troubadour. I was opening for Daley who is a UK soul singer. That was cool because it was a sold-out show and it was a great introduction to what I hope will be happening in the next few years. Although this pandemic is in the way, but one day hopefully we’ll get there.

Also, I think that just knowing that my music is reaching new people every day. I remember praying for some of the things I have now, so those are super proud moments where you can look at a goal list from 2018 and see 90% of it checked off.

That’s pretty inspiring because I keep seeing a reoccurring theme of basically, “trust the journey” and you’ve had to do that up until now, so you might be seeing some of those things that you hoped for in 2018 come to fruition a couple years later with just being consistent.

Yeah, it’s crazy. You get into your head—yeah, I’m about to make my goal sheet for the year and this is my checklist and I’m about to make all these goals come true in a year. And you do like a good third of that.

For this next part I wanted to discuss the—this is more of like an open discussion—the first thing that I have is the importance of establishing connections, so within music industry, brand partnerships, and establishing a team. What’s your take on that?

I think that is uber important from first-hand experience I know that having connections—and it sucks a bit that it’s like this, but it’s also with anything there’s politics. You can be in education working at a school and there’s politics. Politics is normally intentions. Everybody has intentions. Everybody has an end goal that they want to get to, so I understand how connections come into play with different things. Do I like it? No, but I probably would like it if I had more connections. It sucks when you’re the person without the connections. I’ve been afforded some of those opportunities where I meet someone and they connect me with somebody and I get that door opened for me. It’s uber important to make sure that you’re doing good business because music aside, when you’re a joy to work with and you’re an all-around good person, people are more likely to think about you when an opportunity comes about.

I think also a good team goes a long way. Like I say all the time, I would be nothing without my management team, without my production team, without video producers, directors, and all these people that help make this one thing happen. It’s easy to get caught up because you’re the image and you’re the face of it, but to me it’s like a company. You have all these people working to help get this company off the ground. I always tell people don’t focus on getting a good team, focus on making good music. People who want to take that music higher will come around and it’ll be a natural progression and then you won’t get people who you feel like are just doing you a service because they’re your friend or doing you a favor because they know you. You’ll get people who truly love your music and truly believe in your artistry.

That’s a really important point and to add on—I would love your take on the importance of creating an image or brand. I feel like you have a pretty solid look and feel to who you are.

Yeah, it’s weird because I used to hate when people would be like, what makes you different? Who are you? How do you stand out? I just feel like those are dumb questions. You know, and I get and I understand those questions, but I feel like they’re dumb questions because me being me makes me different. You being you makes you different. I think that a lot of industry people try to force different and people become this character of themselves because they feel like they have to do that.

I think that part of my brand was—anytime somebody told me that I was just like, that’s dumb shit. Part of it was that I just didn’t like hearing it. You have to give artists time to grow and find out who they are. I think part of me was find out who I am and letting my brand develop on its own. So like, the orange beanie. I remember buying that orange beanie and it had nothing to do with music. I was going home and I like the color orange because Marvin Gaye used to wear orange, so that was there, but I was literally was just buying it as a fucking fashion statement. One day I did a cover with it on and that video blew up. So the next time I did a cover I was like the orange beanie is something that people will grow familiar with, let me just wear it again. So then it became this thing. When I did my first show in LA and I got off the stage a lot of my friends were like, that’s how you know Reggie means business is when he’s wearing that orange beanie. I didn’t go out and try to create this image. It was a natural progression. When people ask me—my favorite color isn’t even orange. It’s a part of the brand and I’m fine with it. Something I think about finding a brand is making sure it’s natural and don’t try to force anything and just think that it comes overnight. It’s not like you wake up one day like I know my brand, this is it.

Even when it comes to my style of music and my message in my music, that took a while to get to. That took some thinking and having conversations about—you know, and listening back to the music that got released, I tried to find that singular thing that was present in every song and once I found it, then it was like this is perfect. Take it slow and make sure that it comes to you. Don’t go searching for it.

I think you hit on some important points. Pretty much letting it happen and I feel like there will always be that growth as well. So, things might change along the way, but as long as it’s authentic then you should be good. Are there areas that you want to explore or grow in when it comes to music—even outside of music?

Yeah, like right now I’m learning guitar so I hope that one day I can be strutting on stage. I want to get into production more and get to a point where I can make my own beats. I want to get into writing for others. That’s something I did when I first got here—sitting in studio sessions, but after a while when I didn’t see any real progression I was like, I’ll focus on being an artist. I tell my manager all the time that later down the line I want a chicken sandwich show where I can travel the world eating chicken sandwiches. I’m a real big chicken sandwich fan.

That’s so specific! [laughing] Whoa!

I literally eat chicken sandwiches like four days out of seven days of the week.

So, how did you rate the Popeye’s chicken sandwich or did you even try it?

I did try it. I think the Popeye’s chicken sandwich is a great contender to the Chick-fil-A sandwich. But I think what you have to go through to get the Popeye’s chicken sandwich takes it down. And also, it’s not as clean of a chicken sandwich as the Chick-fil-A sandwich, so they just need to work on the recipe a little bit and take some of that grease out of it and all that starch and we’ll be good [laughing].

You broke it down to the presentation and what you have to go through to get it! [laughing] Now I want to shift into your latest single, “Listenin.'”

“Listenin'” was a song that I stumbled across. It was a song that—this whole year has been a year of scheduling releases then scheduling new releases, taking this down, taking that down—all that has been happening all year for me.

I was supposed to work on a song with one of my friends named Ryahn. She was like, do you have any beats. And I was like, sure. I played her the beat and she loved it. I was like alright let’s do it, we can work on this song. I had an idea in my head, but I just couldn’t really write to it, but her liking it made me be like okay, let me think. Basically, I wrote the first verse in one night after getting off the phone with her. I sent it to her and she was like yo, this is so fucking fire. So then I sent it to my management and they were like this is crazy, so I was like, let me keep working on it. I did the whole song in probably like two and a half hours tops—wrote the whole song and recorded it.

She didn’t send me a verse back or anything, which I was excited about because I had finished the whole song and was like fuck, if she comes with a verse I’ll have to remove one of my verses and I like both of my verses, so hopefully she just takes her time and then we’re good. And basically, she took her time and by then we uploaded the song and she was like damn, but we did a remix for her. So, we still get her verse in, but I just stumbled across that song. I thank her every day! I’m like without you pushing me and loving that beat so much—I wouldn’t have done it.

This song is me finally starting to set into this root, or this foundation, of I’m okay with being the man who’s going to put his feelings and vulnerability—put his manhood on the line if means that it can help another man. It’s me finally setting in and singing about hurt and “all I want to do is get high with you.” Even how the verses are written—it’s from a male mindset so men will feel like they can sing along to this and it’s cool. “I don’t know if I should be falling. I’m just a young nigga with so many options.” If I hear that I’m like I can still keep my playa’ card, but at the same time I’m still showing my emotions saying it’s you I want. It’s even called “Listenin'” because it’s a song where we followed our instincts. We listened to it, we loved it, we said let’s put it out. Normally, I’m so much more in my head—is this good enough? Let me listen to this ten times. What’s wrong with this?

Now I want to get into the music video. So, if you could give some insight on the creative direction, the behind-the-scenes aspect, and whatever else you would like to share.

Yeah, so the music video was rough. It was a grueling—we probably planned it for about a month. And then the weekend before I was on vacation in Arizona and when we got back it just felt like everything had gone to shit and nothing was done. Finally, we got to the place—so you see the couches in the video, those all came from the lobby of the production studio we shot the video in. We didn’t have any furniture. All we had was the wall being built and fabric for the walls. We didn’t know how we were going to put furniture in the room and they just so happened to have these two couches that were the same. Shoutout to The Rattle, that’s the production place we used in LA. They were so kind and gracious to let us use their furniture and stuff.

The inspiration for the video: “The Boy Is Mine”—seeing that split screen style video was very special, and then “Say My Name” with the rooms and colors. A lot of 90s R&B, even the monochromatic look definitely came from that early 2000s and 90s style with the visuals we used to see. We really wanted to do something that showed the dichotomy of how men and women go through love and how sometimes the scale tips. At one time the male is all about the girl and she’s doing her thing and then that can change. Trying to find this healthy balance to where we both meet at the same time and we’re actually listening. That juxtaposition was very important to show and develop in this video.

It was great to do because it was literally like a production crew of six to seven of us on a daily basis. It took us five days. We used three days to build the set and then we actually used two shooting days. There was a heat wave during the weekend we shot it in LA, so it was literally hot in that orange sweatsuit and beanie. It was a really grueling process, but shoutout to everyone who was a part of it. It took a lot out of us.

It’s interesting to know what goes on behind the scenes to create such a dope work of art. Y’all went through a lot!

I always say I don’t know how actors do it. Music videos may be my least favorite thing about being an artist. They come out so fucking cool, but literally you’re doing three days of work for three minutes and it’s like, what the fuck?

Well I enjoyed the video. The visual is very, very solid. I like the warmth of it. It looked really good. Y’all did a great job. It was worth it! What should we be on the lookout from you coming up?

I just released a song with Grammy-winner, Grace Webber called “Ghost”. It’s out right now and it’s been added to a couple editorial playlists on Spotify so it’s been dope to see that growth happen. Then, I have a—starting last year we did a concert in my hometown PG, Maryland or Washington, DC whatever you want to call it—and we did a home show there, but this year we weren’t able to go back due to Covid, so we did a digital one. That’s going to come in December, which is really cool. And then, it’s actually not even out, it’s an exclusive but we’re going to drop an EP in December. Some exciting things to finish the year out with!

Stay connected with Reggie via Instagram.

Watch the official video for “Listenin'”:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: