Reese LaFlare immediately corrects me.
I ask him to list his favorite anime shows and he instantly rattles off My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, and One-Punch Man, but there’s one sitting on the tip of his tongue that he can’t remember.
“Hunter Hunter,” I suggest, because it’s my favorite. He pauses.
“You mean Hunter x Hunter?” He emphasizes the X, then continues to name Robotech, Voltron, and more.
Reese, as he’s largely known, is like a museum of pop culture who just happens to be able to rap. The 31-year-old lyricist and former pro skater from Atlanta – once sponsored by Nike SB – is eight years into his rap career and yet only just released his self-titled debut album in 2018. Everything happens right on time though, according to Reese. He’s right where he needs to be.
Growing up on the halfpipe, Reese hit kickflips and ollies more than he went to school. He was really good at it, which put him in a position to meet people like Kanye West, Chris Brown, and more due to his rapidly growing connections. He started rapping in 2011 after someone bet him $200 that he couldn’t record a mixtape and actually make it sound good. Four days later, his first project, Reese Vs. the World, was born.
The success of the tape helped spur the creation of Atlanta’s Two-9 hip-hop collective when two guys, Curtis Williams and Key! (together originally going by Pilot Music) came into Reese’s skate store as fans of Reese Vs. the World. They made music together for a few years before Reese departed in 2014 when the relationship began to dissolve. Two-9 signed to Interscope; Reese released his fourth project DSNRTRAPN2 in 2015 and went on hiatus. When he returned three years later with an eponymous debut album, it was with a reinvigorated spirit.
Now, Reese is back with another new album called Final Fantasy that is, you guessed it, an homage to the award-winning video game franchise of the same name. “I would think, growing up, ‘What would I do if I was one of the characters?’” he says. He’s already aware that the game is being rebuilt from the ground up for the PlayStation 4; he plans to buy it.
At 31, Reese has a few more years than other rappers in his lane, but he doesn’t think about age when it comes to crafting his brand of music or pushing his particular aesthetic choices. “[Age] puts a label on people,” he says, and it’s easy to lose sight of the goal if “we’re too busy listening to [trolls] say what we can or can’t do on social media. Trolls are reflecting their insecurities on other creative people because their life isn’t going the way that they wanted.”
This comes into play especially in hip-hop, a lane of music currently dominated by a slew of icons well into their thirties but also where a majority of rising rappers are seldom over 25. “We’re the only genre that people tell you that we’re too old to make music if you’re 30,” he says about making a lasting imprint in the field. Jay-Z tackled the idea of maturation on “30 Something” (from his 2006 album Kingdom Come) with “Thirty's the new 20, n---a, I'm so hot still,” as if the very idea of approaching the age suggested that he would be out of touch with the culture he helped shape.
Thinking of aging as policing creativity is a danger to art everywhere. After a male executive told Bebe Rexha, who turned 30 this year, that her brand was “confusing” and that she was getting too old to portray herself in a sexy manner, she responded with a kick-ass picture of what 30 looks like (hint: it features a black thong) via the agency-claiming “Not 20 Anymore.”
Reese, similarly, abhors the idea of altering his image. “We need to break that mindset,” he says. “People put a stigma on others to do things by 29, 30, and 31, making some people give up and lose sight of their dreams. Successful people don’t see that. They keep going.”
So for Final Fantasy, Reese didn’t think too hard about trying to change up his process outside of what works for him – spontaneity. “I made music according to the mood that I was in that day. Even what I wore to the studio impacted what I made,” he says.
If Final Fantasy’s first single, “Hol’ Up,” is any indicator, Reese was gargling Red Bull in the car on the way to the studio before recording it. The roaring, bass-filled track features Reese spitting rapidly, yet in a relaxed and poised manner. In a video that he says is inspired by Limp Bizkit and Method Man’s “N 2 Gether Now,” Reese keeps the adrenaline high by slicing up bad guys with a katana, Kill Bill-style. Like Rexha’s sexy selfie, it’s the perfect middle finger to what the world expects from him. “I love Tarantino,” he says. “I want to shoot videos for all of the songs on one of my projects and I want him to make a short film with me one day.”
This confidence and boldness have helped Reese stay relevant in rap’s constantly altering landscape. He’s the same as he was 10 years ago, maybe a touch more sure of himself. He does have a message to his 21-year-old self, though: “Everything is just going to play out fine. Never change. Just keep doing it and everything is just going to be alright.”