Santa Cruz’s own Chris Rene unveils debut album
Speaking over the phone from Los Angeles on Friday, Sept. 20, Chris Rene was proud to announce that he had been sober for “17 months and one day.” It’s a huge accomplishment for the garbage collector-turned-musician, who was battling a drug and alcohol addiction less than two years ago. “It feels good to be clear-minded and to be there for my son and my family,” he says. “It feels good to be present.”
But that’s not the only thing Rene’s celebrating these days.
The local 29-year-old singer/songwriter, who brought America to its knees on the first season of Fox TV’s The X Factor, just released his debut hip-hop/R&B album, I’m Right Here, on Oct. 2, and he’s already thinking about his next one.
“To complete [the album] was what I was waiting for,” says Rene. “I can’t wait to hear what people think about it—it’s exciting!”
The album, which features seven dance-ready tracks, including his chart-topping hit “Young Homie” and the newly popular “Trouble,” is a culmination of his hard work to overcome addiction and refine his craft, the latter of which was accomplished with the help of L.A. Reid, who mentored Rene on The X Factor. Reid is also the head of Epic Records, which signed Rene in Jan. 2012.
Several hundred Santa Cruzans were given a sneak peek of I’m Right Here on Aug. 25, when Rene performed for a packed house at The Catalyst. “It was insane,” he says. “It sold out—there were so many Renelians there.”
The ability to fill the legendary venue with fans has been a lifelong goal for Rene. “I dreamed about it,” he says. “And I knew if I worked hard, it’d be possible.”
His emotional journey is the basis for the album, which showcases his rap skills and his ability to hit high notes with aplomb. “It feels so good to sing and rap on it,” he says. “A lot of other artists rap, and then they have to bring in someone else to sing—but I can do both.” Each song is a reflection on love, his time in rehab, family, his philosophy on life, and his optimism for the future.
Standout tracks include album-opener “Chains” and “Gonna Be OK.” The first, is evidence that Rene has stayed true to his “Love Life” mantra, as he inspires listeners to live in the moment and promote positive change: “See, we all could be happy people if we stop feedin’ our own egos/and live our lives right where we are instead of where we want to be.” Similarly, “Gonna Be OK” is an infectious, beat-heavy song on which Rene raps about overcoming adversity.
But it’s “Tidal Wave”—a particularly poignant bonus track available exclusively on iTunes—which has Rene most excited. “There were so many inspirations [for the song],” he says. “My recovery, being free and being able to create, my son …” Ironically, “Tidal Wave” is the only low-tempo song on the album, reminiscent of his acoustic performance of his original song “Where Do We Go From Here?” on The X Factor.
The song may be slow, though, Rene’s life has been anything but since he took third in the singing competition.
“It’s been awesome,” he says. “[Epic Records has] been sending me to New York, Chicago, West Palm Beach … ever since the day after The X Factor, I haven’t stopped working. I know so much more now—[in terms of] business, musically, personally, and spiritually.”
In the last few months when he wasn’t doing radio and TV interviews, Rene says he was recording in Los Angeles. The speedy production process is a far cry from his days of crafting music in Santa Cruz—“Before, it was just me at a friend’s house or on a laptop,” he admits—but it has afforded him the opportunity to get a jump start on his follow-up album. “I’m always doing something,” he says. “I’m on a mission to get myself and my music out there.”
And with a tour in the works, Rene has a lot more to look forward to. He says he couldn’t do it without the support of his hometown fans.
“I want to thank everyone in Santa Cruz that didn’t give up on me and believed in me and have always supported me,” he says. “A big ‘Love Life’ salute to all of them.”
I’m Right Here is available for purchase from Oct. 2. Photo: Epic Records