Hailing from New York City, Steven Raekwon Reynolds has been making music as S. Raekwon since back in the Spring of 2018, when he put a series of demos together in his dingy studio apartment. From there Steven made the decision to not self-release, instead deciding to shop around for a label to match his ambition, which came to fruition in 2020 when he teamed up with the Saddle Creek Document Series for the release of his debut single, Parts Towards Whole. As the Coronavirus pandemic struck, Steven set about working on his debut album, writing and recording both in New York and at his girlfriend’s parents home in Edwardsville, Illinois. The result is Where I Am At Now, a sparkling ten-track record, released last week via the Father/Daughter label.
S. Raekwon’s sound is fantastically eclectic, at least in part due to his somewhat unusual route to making music, he grew up in working-class Buffalo not knowing his father and with a mother who loved musical theatre and playing the piano. Finding no DIY scene to speak of, or like-minded young people to share his creativity with, Steven’s musical vision was crafted in isolation, as he puts it, “forged by the noises in my head”. The record opens with Darling, a track that sounds like the middle ground of Peter Gabriel and Sufjan Stevens, with gentle processed vocals and glacial synths. The track is helped by being lyrically gorgeous, a devoted pledge to a partner that he’ll be there no matter what, “if it all falls away, I’ll still be held in your shape”. It’s so good that he finds time to reprise it later in the record as a Perfume Genius-like piano ballad, it’s a testament to the songwriting that its message might sound even better the second time around. Mixed into the records deeply personal moments are reminders that for a biracial man in modern America, the personal is always political. This is never laid out more clearly than on the fabulous T.D.T.K.A. The track is a reflection on Steven’s recent reconnection with his father’s side of the family and his attempts to, “understand the blackness in me and where it comes from”. These feelings were brought into sharp focus by the worldwide protests that followed the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as he recalls, “I found myself confronting race and oppression in America while simultaneously questioning my own blackness”, a feeling reflected in the lyric, “if we are all the same, how come some of us got to pray to stay alive?” In many ways this record feels like an artist getting in touch with who they are, discovering their sound and their voice. Throughout the record, you can feel the coherence rising as he filters an array of influences into a sound entirely his own, a spacious, glorious record that’s simply a delight to spend some time within, and one you won’t want to let pass you by.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is S. Raekwon?
I’m Steven Raekwon Reynolds and I’m a singer/songwriter and producer from Buffalo, NY. I’m currently based in New York City and I make and release music under the name S. Raekwon.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
My first show as S. Raekwon was at this DIY indie arcade gallery in Brooklyn called Wonderville. It was in the summer of 2019. The music I was making at the time was more deconstructed and ambient leaning than what I’m currently doing. My setup for the show was a four track cassette recorder for playing back tape loops, a sampler, a mixer and a piano. I sang too. What I remember most was that during my set you could hear the background music from all of the video games. A choir of bloops and beeps.
I played to maybe 10 friends. I ended the show with a drone built from a sample of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “Storm”. I think people were confused! Haha. But it was really fun. We all played video games after the set.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
From a young age, music was really the only art form I consistently gravitated towards. I’d attribute a lot of that to my mom, who is very musical. For most of my life it was just us two, so her being into music and piano and theatre was a big influence.
But mostly, music has just always made sense to me. For as long as I can remember it’s been the primary way in which I’m able to understand the world around me. Making music feels less like something I want to do and more like something I have to do in order to keep moving forward.
FTR: What can people expect from the S. Raekwon live show?
Ya no drones or tape loops this time around! When I go on tour later this year it will be as a duo – with me on guitar, piano and vocals and my good friend Mario on Drums. When I do shows solo it’s usually me with a guitar or piano, sometimes accompanied by a drum machine or sampler playing rhythm tracks. I like that set up at the moment.
I see the live show as an opportunity to re-imagine my recorded songs. Some of this is out of necessity. I really lean into the “studio as an instrument” approach when producing. My songs can have 100+ tracks on them. So it’s a balance of recontextualizing the parts for the live show while still staying true to the original songs. I find that process to be a lot of fun. Almost like making a new record.
FTR: What’s next for S. Raekwon?
My debut album is out now on Father/Daughter Records. Then I’m going on tour with Tasha and Mini Trees in December. We’re playing in 13 cities across the East Coast and Midwest. It’s my first tour, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also playing a show with Barrie next February in Brooklyn. And hopefully some more shows next year as well.
They Listen To…
Dijon – Many Times
Hovvdy – True Love
Mustafa – Ali
Nick Hakim – Qadir
D’Angelo – The Root