Oblé Reed talks mental health, protecting Black youth + more

Oblé Reed is a young artist born, raised, and based in Seattle who hopes to utilize his talent as a ticket not to move away to a bigger city, but to stay and help build where his roots have sprung. I sat down and talked with Oblé Reed at Treefort Music Fest about everything from, the writing process, to mental health and protecting Black youth. Check out our conversation.

RIZE: You’re an up-and-coming artist with a couple hits out already this year! Congratulations. How long has this been in the making? How long have you been writing and making music?

Oblé: I’ve been writing for a long time. I started with poetry. My first experience with hip hop music was actually Christian rap back when I was 13. Before that, I was only listening to contemporary Christian music and smooth jazz. That influences why my music sounds the way it does. It’s just authentic to my life. I spent the last five years really focusing on my music. I’d record stuff on my webcam that I had when I was 15. I’ve been doing this since 2019.

RIZE: The message of “BLACKKIDS” is way deeper than the upbeat melody lets on. On Instagram you said, “My whole life, I’ve wrestled with my identity and as I’ve learned more about myself, my self-respect and self-love has increased exponentially. I hope that everyone who hears this track can feel that energy and love.” Can you elaborate on the message of this song? Why do you feel this message is so necessary right now?

Oblé: As children we’re forced to grow up a lot faster, right? There are certain limitations we have so we can protect our safety. I remember conversations I had with my mom and dad, “No, you can’t wear your hood outside. You can’t bring backpacks in store. Always keep your receipt.” There are limitations I had on my life that my friends growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood didn’t have and it caused a lot of self-identity issues. What’s wrong with me that I can’t just live my life? People are gonna hate me because of what I look like? Those conversations parents are forced to have throughout every generation strips away their innocence and forces kids to grow up. The meaning of the song is really saying, “Just lie to me for another day. Let me feel like I can do anything and be anybody before I have to face the harsh reality that I’m still a Black kid.”

RIZE: I saw this meme you may have created or shared on TikTok regarding gatekeeping music. What are your thoughts on hoarding underground or undiscovered music from other potential fans?

Oblé: When people are gatekeeping artists it shows they really mess with what you’re doing and they love you enough where they want to be like, “I was on it before everybody.” But yo, please share the music. [Laughs] Tell your friends. It’s an interesting culture. I think in the underground scene of hip hop there’s a lot more of that. I’m always trying to find new artists and some people like to make it hard. I think the direction that social media is going especially with TikTok, it’s a lot easier to find artists and gatekeeping is a lot harder than it used to be but I appreciate it. I appreciate the sentiment.

RIZE: Can you tell us more about your single “Loose Change” and how it got included on Pharrell’s collaborative album?

Oblé: At the beginning of quarantine, I built a studio for myself in a treehouse in my backyard, because all the studios were closed. I taught myself how to mix and engineer. A couple months later, it was the heat of the riots in Seattle. There’s all the news and all the images, the intense images of stuff on fire, and people tearing down the city. Growing up in a mixed household, I had to deal with both sides. I have a white mom and a Black dad. My mom was trying to educate herself. Everybody else in our family is Black besides my mom. So, she’s trying to educate herself, she’s trying to find where her faults are, and grow. On the other side, I have a dad who grew up in Africa, so he didn’t even grow up here. His experience with racism and micro-aggressions is way different because when he came here, he was an adult, and he was already self-assured. I was just dealing with all of that and I was like, “Yo, I can’t have these conversations anymore.”

I wrote the song in 30 minutes, it just flowed. I recorded it and put it out within an hour. The next day, I hit my videographer, made the video, and put it out the next day. The message of it really spoke to people and so then it picked up on TikTok and got like 700,000 views and that’s actually where SoundCloud and most people found it. The mix wasn’t the best. I’m not an engineer, by any means but people were drawn to the words, and it was authentic. It showed me I could truly just be myself and people are drawn to that.

RIZE: Your single “Wherethemoneygrows” is another hit. Can you unpack the message behind this track for us? I’m especially interested in the line, “They use money just to cover up they ears out here.”

Oblé: The song speaks about my relationship with money growing up. In a middle ground, I wasn’t necessarily at the bottom but also was nowhere near the top. Growing up, I was surrounded by people who had a lot of money because of the neighborhood we lived in while also having experiences with people who didn’t. Watching the dynamic of people in the way money changes them. There’s a lot of people who will start as fighters for change, seeking to make an impact, but as soon as the bread starts coming in, something’s taken over. It’s easy for somebody who has money to neglect everything else going on because it doesn’t affect them anymore. When people have money, financial freedom allows them to be ignorant. That’s really what this song is touching on. I’m trying to find where the money grows, as well as lead my people to where the money grows. There’s a lot of gatekeepers. As I progress, I hope to continue to invest financially into the community, but also my time.

RIZE: How do you go about resisting self-censorship and allow your art the breath it needs, to create authentically?

Oblé: A lot a lot of journaling, and a lot of self-reflection and knowing, being confident in who I am. Because I was seeing that identity stuff, and not knowing who I was set me up for a lot of hard lessons to learn—especially with the Pharrell thing, I feel like I didn’t properly prepare myself for that moment, because my mental health was suffering. I do the music first and mental health later and I wasn’t in the right headspace. Now I’ve taken the time to learn myself. I took time off social media for months, just so I know who I am. I’m confident my music will reflect that because my music and my life are intertwined.

There’s a lot of people in the industry where people connect to their music because they want to be them. They got all the money. They’re famous. People are drawn to that. But I think what’s interesting about my music is that people connect with it not necessarily because they want to be me, but because they see themselves in me. I preach authenticity, and I talk about my struggles. I’m honest about the full spectrum. I have some tracks, like “Weston”, manifesting something bigger than where I am. Speaking into existence. But still, it’s real. I always say, anything musically I do is a family affair because if you connect to my music, you connect to me as a person. We might as well be family and we might decide to take this journey together.

RIZE: Why has it been important to you as a young artist in hip hop to keep your language/music free of explicit material?

Oblé: It’s interesting, because part of it is I want it to be digestible for everybody, accessible for everybody. You hear people say, “I’m not gonna listen to vulgar language, I just I don’t want to hear that.” But you never hear somebody say, “That song doesn’t swear, I’m not gonna listen.” Why would I cut myself out from a larger population of people that could connect to my music. Also, growing up with my influences, coming from Christian rap, I didn’t grow up cursing. Naturally, my instinct is to write without it because there’s nothing in my body telling me it’s got to be in there.

RIZE: Is that why you wear the numbers 222? Does it symbolize something religious or spiritual?

Oblé: Yeah. I’m all about balance and harmony and alignment. Once you find balance, you start to see yourself elevate, and you start to see yourself become more of the person you’re meant to be. My past has been very imbalanced and like I was saying, I didn’t put a lot of focus on my mental health and caring about me—putting a lot more into my career. There are so many examples of people who’ve done that, and the repercussions too. So yeah, 222.

RIZE: You are playing TMF after attending for the first-time last year! How was your experience as an attendee?

Oblé: Dope as dope. It was actually my first music festival ever, and I got the chance to play a feature on one of my artist friend’s sets So I had an opportunity to perform and get on stage a little bit and feel the energy that’s here. Everybody is here because they’re either creative or they want to support creatives. You could talk to anybody and have an amazing conversation. There are people from all over the world. I was just trying to soak it all in. I was so tired at the end. It was so sick. It was well worth it. I’m excited to be back, being able to share my art and connect with people in that way. Music I put out last year isn’t necessarily a reflection of who I am now and so now I feel like I get to introduce myself to people. I changed my name in November. Friends I met last year, know me as Moon and now I’m like, “Ah, it’s different now.” I’m excited for the experience.

RIZE: As an artist, what would you like to say to listeners who love your music? How can they best support and return the love to you?

Oblé: Just continue to share the message. Build community. Protect the youth. Love yourself. Like I said, it’s a family affair. I’m no different than anybody else. I just happen to be making music and people just happen to like it. And I want to have conversations. People can reach out, talk to me. Really just continue to share the message and be yourself, honestly.

For more of Oblé Reed follow him on TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram and go stream his music and watch his brand new video for his latest single SK[I]NCARE!

Priscilla Reyna

Priscilla Reyna is a mother and writer living in Boise, ID.