meet reese, the skater shredding atlanta’s rap game one bar at a time
Turn up the volume for 'Cameo,' the latest single from the Atlanta-based thrasher who can bust a rhyme and a rail with equal ease.
Photography Eric Chakeen
In less than ten years, Gosha Rubchinskiy has changed the face of contemporary fashion by turning a new lens on post Soviet skate culture and its youth on the edge. Though Rubchinskiy's designs are born of his native Moscow, his new codes of cool — including the word "Paccbet" (Russian for "sunrise") refashioned in Thrasher Magazine's flaming logo — resonate far beyond the former Eastern bloc. When Atlanta-based rapper Reese Williams arrives at our shoot, he's sporting a shirt spangled with one of Rubchinskiy's most recognizable motifs, his own name in Cyrillic. Yet it's unlike any version I've seen before: the logo is carefully rendered in permanent marker. "My girlfriend made it for me!" Reese enthuses.
Reese's homemade Gosha was the perfect first impression; it embodies his appreciation for DIY punk aesthetics, fashion's new guard, and skate culture — as well as his desire to do things a little differently.Though Reese has already toured with Wiz Khalifa and hopped into the booth with fellow ATLiens Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, and OG Maco, he's only been rapping for about five years. He's been skating, however, for almost two decades. These days, the lines between his forms of expression are consistently blurred: Reese's dexterous rhymes benefit from the bold individualism so intrinsic to skating. Striving to push musical boundaries keeps his love for the sport's vibrant culture fresh.
Growing up, Reese bounced between Southern states before settling in Atlanta. Many of his early years were spent in Pensacola, Florida, after his dad's engineering job relocated his family from Alabama. It's where Reese first stepped on a skateboard, when he met pro ripper Sierra Fellers shredding in the parking lot outside his local church. "One day, I asked to see his board and started rolling around the parking lot," says Reese, recalling his first set-up: "a Shorty's Chad Muska model." But like many eight-year-olds, he didn't know much about sizes, and chose a super-wide deck based on the color he liked best. "Sierra saw me struggling to put all of my energy into kickflips, and gave me one of the smaller shop boards he'd been riding on. I was tre flippin' over shit on the first day," he laughs.
Reese retains a near-encyclopedic knowledge of pros and their video parts from all his favorite skate films. "I'd watch videos all day, straight Rainman. I blew through like three Photosynthesis cassettes," he says. "I'd watch to learn a trick and go outside until I got it — rewinding that tape until I couldn't rewind it no more." Though he found encouragement from skaters like Fellers early on, his classmates and neighbors in Northern Florida were nowhere near as supportive. "Pensacola is a beach, but it's country as hell," Reese explains. "Being a skateboarder back then, you'd experience racism. 'You think you white? Why you doing that?' Kids were rough. I used to ask my mom why kids of my own color just didn't fuck with me, beat me up."
During these years, Reese often used his interest in fashion as a way to deflect attention from his love for skating. "I'd wear all the fly shit to class, then when I got home it all came off. I'd throw on a Shorty's sweatshirt, some Walmart Dickies and head outside." He recalls rolling up to eighth grade in Prada sneakers and a "Daffy Duck silver denim Iceberg fit with his bill on the back," an ensemble he's now trying to find on eBay. It must feel a little ironic that the luxury labels he rocked to divert his classmates' torture are now feeding off the skate lifestyle that made him a target? He shrugs. "It's great when fashion houses that are influenced by skating put the kids [that are] really involved with the culture into their work. But when they don't, it's pretty lame," Reese says. "Gosha does a good job of keeping it correct, though."
Late-90s skate videos including Shorty's' Fulfill the Dream and Toy Machine's Jump off a Building didn't just shape Reese's style, their soundtracks exposed him to diverse sounds. Over time, his taste broadened from Korn and Dude Ranch-era Blink 182 to Master P and Mystikal. Southern rap icon Juvenile's 1998 opus 400 Degreez persists as an influence on Reese's own bass-inflected bounce, though his creative process seems a bit more intuitive than the former Hot Boys member's acidic lyrical blows. "If you turn on a beat and I immediately have a phrase or a hook for something, that's the one — I just hop in and freestyle. I one line, ad-lib, and game over. If I have to sit there and listen to it over and over, it ain't' goin," Reese explains. He cites melody as his point of entry to most projects, and will often use Voice Notes to craft his vocals' core, even if the words haven't come yet. Instinctual freestyling remains important to his rhymes; "There are moments you just can't replicate on second takes. When you're doing that type of stuff, even your mistakes are beautiful mistakes."
Those beautiful mistakes have wabi-sabi'd some seriously heavy hitting tracks, each boasting a stepped-up energy and shifting, yet distinctly Southern flow. This dynamic elasticity is likely due to Atlanta's new wave, a digital youth-fueled movement that bears no allegiance to any one of the regional rap conventions that came before it, rather unites these elements into something far more electrifying. "Cameo," the single Reese released today, blends the glitchy autotune affect most synonymous with ATL's reigning king — Future —with cinematic piano lilts courtesy of Richie Souf, the 21-year-old Atlanta architect who's leant imaginative cuts to Makonnen and Future himself.
It's not the first time Reese has teamed up with a producer who's worked among the game's upper echelons. The inimitable Metro Boomin crafted one of his earliest singles, "PSA," "while he was sitting on my couch." Much like skating simultaneously fosters individualism and creates community, Reese's music is born of boundary pushing collaborations with his friends. "Everybody that I've watched come up from Atlanta, they're all friends. Artists from all over the world comes to here to make music now; all the studios are here and the energy is different. People like to be around good energy."
If there's one thing we can expect from his next release — the forthcoming Reese vs The World 3 — it's some seriously good energy. He shouts out neighbors Playboi Carti, Lil Yachty, and Sonny Digital, as well as Toronto's Partynextdoor and Texas' Post Malone as possible features on the upcoming record, and hopes something will come of his two-week stint in Australia, where a few of his pals in hardcore outfit Trash Talk live. He teamed up with the band last year for a track on Jump off a Building, his EP produced entirely by huge hit factory 808 Mafia. "I just try to push boundaries in music and art direction -- try things that people won't do, like throwing a punk band on a trap beat. I want to step it up each time," says Reese.
Until its release, Reese is pushing to expand another aspect of Atlanta's culture, its fledgling skate scene. "Some of the skaters down there are drinking Coors Light out of a rebel flag koozie — we just really wanted to switch that up. We started putting out our own skate videos to show people around the world how kids are really doing it in Atlanta." But no matter the form of creative expression, he says, "Never let anybody tell you that you can't do something. Do that shit! You've only got one life and you've gotta make it count."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Eric Chakeen