Though he lives in L.A., a city that’s all about illusion, Jensen Reed didn’t harbor any of his own when he transplanted himself from North Carolina nearly six years ago. He knew better than to expect overnight fame, and set out to build his music career the same way his dad, a retired Big 10 college football coach, built winning teams: with determination and hard work.
Since heading west after outgrowing Raleigh-Durham’s hip-hop scene, Reed forged several collaborative partnerships while striving diligently to hone his skills, and his new album, “The Left Coast,” is loaded with the fruits of his labors.
Combining diverse musical influences and insightful lyrics, Reed has crafted a collection that dances across genres while offering a unique look at life in the 21st century.
It continues and expands on the stylistic patterns revealed on his debut album, 2011’s “Forget About the Cameras,” a hip-hop/pop fusion of organically grown, energetic beats and smooth, smart rhymes that marked the arrival of a distinctive new voice.
Created with producer Christian James-Hand (The Mowgli’s), Reed’s longtime collaborator, “The Left Coast” includes contributions from The Mowgli’s Michael Vincze, who plays guitar throughout, and Drew Seeley (“Lovestruck: The Musical”), who co-wrote and performs on “So You Know.” The Mowgli’s also perform on the track, “Something Missing”; Reed and the band share involvement in an artists’ collaborative known as The Collective CA. Actor Johnny Pacar is also heard on the album, which evolved from Reed’s attempt to write and produce a song a month as a creative exercise.
With cinematographer Matthew Roe, Reed also has created videos for several tracks, including one for the upbeat title tune “Left Coast,” a made-for-summer groover that’s filled with iconic imagery of his adopted hometown. He directed the video himself for “Rocketship,” an emotionally potent song about losing loved ones to suicide. (In partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, he hopes to help spread the message that “there is always hope.”)
When he’s not recording or editing videos, Reed hits L.A.’s stages; he has performed at the respected It’s A School Night! event curated by KCRW’s Chris Douridas at Bardot in Hollywood, along with the Roxy, the Troubadour and other venues.
His songs also have been featured in TV series including “CSI: NY,” Showtime’s “House Of Lies,” “Friday Night Lights” and several MTV and VH1 shows, as well as the Oscar-nominated Woody Harrelson film “The Messenger” and director Mark Pellington’s “I Melt With You.” Pellington, whose music-video credentials include Pearl Jam, U2 and the Foo Fighters, took Reed to the Sundance Film Festival and also introduced him to Roe, who wound up doing videos for three tracks from “Forget About the Cameras.” The two have worked together ever since.
Reed is equally loyal to collaborator James-Hand, who encouraged him to try a bit of role-playing for the cut, “American Psycho.”
“I love dark, evil hip-hop beats,” explains Reed. “Christian pushed me to take on a character like Patrick Bateman, Christian Bale’s character in the film. He played a yuppie, clean-cut white-collar guy who’s a serial killer. So this is me adopting the character of a privileged Beverly Hills kid who is a psychopath. It’s a little like acting. It couldn’t be further away from who I am; it was a fun experience to take on the challenge.”
Reed’s music career started out, more or less, on a similar whim, when a friend in his high school Spanish class sought a duet partner for a school talent show. Reed volunteered. They covered the Beastie Boys’ “Pass the Mic.” The crowd went nuts.
“Once I hit that stage, there was no going back,” Reed says.
But Reed, who was once in a band called Plan B, has always made sure he had one. He double-majored in psychology and German with an “almost minor” in Spanish and music theory/history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and picked up real estate licenses in North Carolina and California. These days, he’s lending his talents to voiceover work in addition to music.
But he hasn’t lost his love of a good spoof; in fact, his YouTube-video parody of Katie Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl,” reconfigured as a smackdown of his beloved UNC Tarheels’ basketball rivals, Duke University’s Blue Devils, earned half a million hits. He followed it up in 2012 with a parody video of Pitbull and Ne-Yo’s “Give Me Everything Tonight” that also went viral.
“Forget About the Cameras” earned major attention as well; USA Today noted, “Jensen Reed slides through hip-hop with an unshakable rock ‘n’ roll swagger. Reed’s airtight flow fans the flame at the heart of his songs.”
He credits James-Hand with helping him earn such high praise. “Whatever I take to Christian, when we’re done working on it, it just sounds better,” Reed says.
Reed’s dad clearly taught him a thing or two about staying humble and giving props. But he’s gotta be proud of his son; with “The Left Coast,” Jensen Reed proves he knows how to create a winner, too.