Houston is a place of great variety. You don’t have to have ever been to Houston to experience its multidimensional reality. A pair of headphones can place you in a candy-painted cruiser with the Yokohama tires that UGK bragged about in the ‘90’s. You could just as easily envision yourself in a club, following the direction of Destiny’s Child or Meg Thee Stallion. Of course, an auditory tour of Houston is not complete without a trip to Astroworld. The soundscape of Houston has only evolved with time, and new voices are constantly emerging. Not among the least of them is Dree Rivers, a 21-year old who’s artistic maturity paints him as a veteran. Having only released music for a year, momentum is picking up fast for Rivers considering his talents as a singer, writer, and producer.
Artists like Drake, 21 Savage, and others have done their best to capture Houston’s acoustics, but there is no substitute for authenticity. No one can truly replicate DJ Screw’s droozy production. The only artist that does this signature Houston sound any justice is DJ CandleStick, growing his catalogue of ChopNotSlop Remixes with some of the most notable artists in music. Earlier this year, DJ CandleStick co-signed Rivers with a remix to single “White Tee”, a moment that can be looked at as Rivers’s formal induction to the Houston music scene.
Rivers has accumulated quite the collection of adjectives relating to him and his music: chill, smooth, trippy, unique, emotional, confident, addictive. Not mentioned is his boldness, exemplified in his cover of Kehlani’s “Toxic”, in which he displayed his innate ability to make any track he is on his own. The union of hip-hop and R&B has become commonplace in recent years, but Rivers is proof that the blend is far from played out. Opting for simple instrumentals for the majority of his tracks, the choice enhances and empowers his moody vocals.
The intoxicating qualities of Rivers’s music are seen throughout his debut EP, New Problems Vol 1, a satisfying 12-minute listen that encapsulates all there is to know about the world Rivers is carefully crafting. At the center of this world are late nights, ego, drama, temptation, and Rivers himself. Everything moves at his pace, and the scenes his lyrics paint make every aspect of this reality enviable. Although he just started releasing music, Rivers is already looking to grow his sound by testing the limits of his voice. His latest release, “Bless Ur Heart”, sees him melodically boasting per usual but with more range than he has showcased previously. With more growth certain to come in the near future, now is the perfect time to get familiar with Dree Rivers.
Rivers has a two-pack releasing this Friday, April 30. His growth and potential are sure to make an appearance, alongside his other distinctive characteristics. The pair of songs come in the form of an EP aptly titled HEARTTHROB CAPSULE, available on all streaming platforms.
I talked with Dree about his influences in music, his creative process, Houston, finding inspiration during COVID, and his future goals as an artist. Below is the transcribed interview, which was concluded with recommendations from Dree on who to listen to next.
One of the toughest things I have to do is get something of an elevator pitch for each artist I’m talking about to try and introduce their music. I’m curious, do you have an elevator pitch that you’ve maybe rehearsed or thought about that you have for somebody that wants to get into your music?
I don’t have a cut-up or filtered out elevator pitch, but I’ll tell you a quick bio about me and what goes into thinking about my music. I was born in New York, grew up in Houston. The Houston rap scene influenced me a lot, so I started out rapping. I was in choir my whole life but I never really thought I could sing for some reason. And then when I figured out I could kind of sing I started mixing the rapping and the singing together. My music, the way I describe it is, it’s R&B but is heavily rap influenced from the subject matter to even now in the way that I record. Now, a lot of the SoundCloud rappers will punch in, do one line and then go back and do another line, and that’s kind of how I record now, too. Whatever thought comes to my mind, I’ll just say rap stuff, like braggadocious, flexing type stuff instead of rapping.
I think that’s pretty accurate for you not rehearsing it, I think you got it down. You talked about being in the choir but not really thinking you could sing. Where that stands out to me is on your latest song, “Bless Ur Heart”. You have some vocals in there that don’t come up as much on the EP. What kind of space were you in where you got comfortable using your voice, trying it out with something like that where it’s just you and the guitar?
Yeah, so I was making music before from 2015 to 2017 and then I started working with this other artist, his name is Vanni (@whosvanni). Basically we went back through my old stuff, we deleted everything and we were like, “We gotta do this differently.” My early songs like “Westside Story” and “Ice Water”…”Bless Ur Heart” was a little later but at first we were like, “Let’s just make this as simple as possible and really figure out what we’re doing with songwriting.” We actually made a song that was pretty largely produced, pretty intricate and we showed it to this songwriter who has written for Chris Brown and a bunch of other artists, and he was like, “I mean, it’s dope, but like, you could either take it up or take it down.” And we were like, “what the fuck does that even mean, like take it up or take it down?” And then we ended up really sitting down and it hit us and we were like, “we could take it up or take it down, so let’s take everything off of it.” He also said if the beat wasn’t hitting within three instruments, with like drums, keys, or other instruments plus your vocals, if it’s not rocking then your song’s not good. So like I said, we started from scratch, started with very simple chord progressions on a guitar and said let’s just make sure the songwriting is really good at the beginning. You can’t hide behind any of that. We just stripped it all down and said let’s just figure out what you can do with your voice and what we want to say. You can’t hide behind it if it’s just a guitar. I’m glad you asked that.
You saying that makes me think of this quote I heard from 6lack about recording. He was talking about his recording process and how he would record for days on end, hours and hours in the studio and talking about getting confident with his voice because it’s kind of a unique sound with his voice, he’s not a traditionally great singer. He was saying that you hear yourself so much in the music that you either like it or you learn what to change and how to adapt to it. Is that a process that you’ve had to go through of trying out different things vocally, hearing yourself over and over again and trying to critique it that way or has it been more of a linear process?
It was definitely more…I guess both. As you make music you’ll get better at it. Working with other artists, you can even hear from “Westside Story”, which was the first song we made together and put out, the way I’m singing on there is more pop influenced, harder consonants if you’re really listening, versus what I’ve moved to now where it’s more relaxed, a little raspier. A lot of that is linear in a sense of I just kind of did it, but now it’s kind of intentional at the same time. Like if I have to take a shot of tequila before I record a take or something to get the little rasp going, being like, “I like how I sound when I sound like this.” You can’t just go in and say stuff. Sometimes you have to be purposeful in how you record a certain take.
Definitely. So getting into more abstract, simple things, who would you say some of your influences as an artist are? You said you grew up in Houston, you can definitely hear that in your music, but early on when you’re starting to form yourself as an artist, who did you lean on to help shape your sound?
When I was first starting I would definitely say Bryson Tiller, because I’d rapped before and I sang a lot. I know Drake did it before, but Bryson was the first one that for me was like, “Oh, you can do both.” You don’t have to just rap or just sing. He mixed it together and did both. Even The Weeknd, his earlier stuff, it’s kind of similar where the lyrics were braggadocious and vulgar but his voice was just so beautiful that the contrast of it was so interesting to me. You can see the same thing in Brent Faiyaz. Beautiful voice, and then subject matter is a little braggadocious. I swear I know other adjectives. More vulgar, stuff like that. And then, definitely, Drake. I’ve hid from it for so long because he’s so big, but Drake has definitely had a huge influence on me. He’s probably my favorite.
I can’t blame you there. You look at Houston, you look at DJ Screw from a while ago, and you look at what’s going on right now with Megan and Travis. Obviously they have a huge impact on music and you’re right there (in Houston). Do you draw on successes of previous artists to see where your career might go or do you focus on yourself and think about your own vision? Are you trying to pattern yourself after those artists at all?
That’s a good question. Again, that’s a little bit of both because history repeats itself. But not always what’s worked in the past is going to work now. When Drake was coming up there was barely any social media versus now where even TikTok is like two years old and that’s a big part of every artist’s career. A little bit of seeing what’s worked in the past, but more so with songwriting. As far as marketing, and partly the songwriting, I saw a Drake interview, I don’t know if you’ve seen this clip but he was like, (focused on) doing exactly what he should be doing at that moment. It’s not about what should I do tomorrow or what should I have done in the past — it’s about what’s gonna work perfectly at this moment. It’s not like he was just hopping on trends but he was doing exactly what felt right in that moment and that’s why his career has been so long and he’s the greatest out right now. I sound like a fanboy now.
I 100% agree, I’m on the same thing where I tell my friends all the time I’m a Drake Stan. You can’t really critique that guy around me.
How can you hate him?
That was a great description, saying it’s a little bit of both. I can hear you keeping up with current stuff and drawing on past stuff, not emulating anyone to a point where it’s not original. Definitely can tell your personality in the music. You mentioned marketing, you mentioned TikTok and stuff like that. You look at a culture right now, especially in music, where it’s so easy to build a community of fans whether it be social media, shows, stuff like that. How are you going about building a fan base and is it more on one platform than another? Is it about in-person connection rather than online? It’s tough right now during Covid but is there one thing that you prioritize over another when it comes to building a community of fans?
I’m definitely playing the long game when it comes to marketing. I’m doing a lot of grassroots stuff, like you said in-person. A lot of stuff I’m doing is more behind the scenes like working with other artists, getting in the right circles of artists. You can look at a random example like Shawn Mendes where he was in the back of a bunch of people’s Vines and that’s how he blew up. Or maybe Travis (Scott) where he was in the right circles and everybody was like, “Who is that?” I haven’t really taken a direct approach yet where it’s like making TikTok dances and stuff like that. I’ve done a few Facebook ads and I’ve found some people through that. Definitely trying to build long term fans like how Russ talks about his fan base being so strong. Regardless of what he puts out, they’re going to support him.
With that is building an identity as an artist. I notice with a lot of people it’s difficult to align what their music sounds like with even the cover art, with their Instagram profiles, visualizers, all that kind of stuff. Yours lines up really well with how things sound and how things look, all that goes together. Is that something that you have to make a conscious effort to make those things align or is it more natural to you?
I wouldn’t say it’s hard. It’s definitely purposeful. When I was talking to (Vanni) when we first started, we wanted to create a world for the listener. It’s never about, “Here’s a good song.” When you go to see Travis Scott, you’re like, “I’m not going to a concert, I’m going to Astroworld.” So that was definitely a conscious effort on that end of creating a world. A lot of the visualizers is stuff that I just be doing, and then I’ll add a filter to it and put my song behind it. Especially when I write too. It’s literally like, “this happened yesterday.” That’s why I wouldn’t say it’s hard because I just write my life. It can take a conscious effort. That one’s both too.
You’re independent, right?
How do you feel like that’s helped your growth? Are you waiting on anyone to help you take that next step or do you feel confident in yourself staying independent?
I wanted to sign to somebody and I had some subsidiaries of Sony and labels like that, but it was all like, “we want you as a writer,” or the money was not what I needed or if I needed it at that point. So I decided to stay independent. Nothing crazy, though. Then I started talking with this one artist, Tone Stith. I was talking to him; he signed to Young Empire Music Group, which is under Rap-A-Lot, I believe. Actually, he signed to RCA now which is why I was talking to him. And he was like, “I know you’re working hard right now, just remember when you sign to a label, you can’t just put out anything you want. I know it’s hard right now, but you have an advantage right now. You can do anything you want, even though it sounds like it’s hard.” I really took that to heart. You listen to Russ and he talks about wanting to create as much leverage as possible before you sign to a label. I don’t even have management right now, I’m really just building my sound as much as possible and making sure it’s exactly what I want. If the right deal comes then it comes, if not then I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. I’m not against signing to a label. If Cactus Jack wanted to sign me and if it could help my sound like what they did with Don Tolliver, where his sound was before and then when he started working with Travis his sound was more refined. He kind of skyrocketed. If a label is actually going to benefit me musically, I’d be more inclined to sign to them instead of it being a budget thing. I’ve never had trouble building a team; I have a videographer, I have photographers and stuff like that. I produce a lot of my own stuff so all they’re offering is like, “here’s some beats, gimme 80% of what you make,” and I’m good on that.
That’s smart, I like that you’re thinking like that. Turning back to a little more of the music, I played it for a couple of my friends, played it for my family, and “White Tee” is a favorite among people I show it to. It’s one of my favorites. You look at DJ Candlestick even giving you a co-sign going with the remix.
Yeah, that was crazy.
What was it like making that song? Was it any different than any other song you made, was your approach different, did you feel this was going to be a standout?
That one, writing-wise, it was similar. It was actually made on a different beat when I first made it. I sent it to Vanni and he made a completely different beat and was like, “why don’t we take it here?” At that point I wasn’t really doing…I guess you could call that trap influenced, as far as the drums go. At that point I wasn’t really doing anything in that genre yet, so I guess it was a little different. As far as writing it was the same. And the Drake thing I did at the end, the “November 18” thing I did, that kind of just came to us. I actually had that idea on June-something. I had the idea on DJ Screw’s anniversary of his birthday or his death. That song kind of just came together on it’s own. It’s interesting you say that’s your favorite because I’ve been trying to find out what people like because I should probably pick one and run with that one. If “White Tee” is a standout, then…
That’s what I’m feeling right now. What would you say your favorite track is right now on the project?
I like “Satisfied”, I like the intro a lot, personally. I feel like that one’s kind of different than other stuff I’ve made and anything out right now. I feel like that one’s a standout.
For sure. It’s tough to pick a favorite; that’s a good thing though. Looking back a little bit, you started releasing music in 2020. We know how difficult 2020 was, especially for artists and creatives trying to get product out. Where did you find motivation and inspiration during lockdown and not being able to go out? Like you said before, your approach was like, “Oh, this happened last night or last week,” so it was easy to write about it. It was probably tougher to come across those experiences when things slowed down a little bit.
Let me think. A lot of the music I put out at first, like “Westside Story” and stuff like that, I was writing those beginning of the year right before lockdown. We shot the cover for that right before lockdown. As far as a lot of the other songs, I had a lot of experiences to draw from already. It got a little hard at some points but the fact that everything was closed, I was locked in the house. I was like, “I might as well just write as much as I can,” so I was writing like everyday, 1–2 songs a day and they just floated to the top. At some point I hit a little bit of a wall as far as inspiration goes, but I had a lot of stuff to draw from from before.
Have you had a chance to perform any of this stuff before? Did you get a chance to see a crowd of people react to the music?
No, I haven’t. I want to though, because you see the numbers and it doesn’t feel as real. But when I’m performing, I’ll be like, “these are actual people that like listening to my music.”
I heard before that your goal is to sell out Toyota Center in Houston. Looking down the road at that, and getting into hypothetical stuff now, if you could have anybody to do that show with, who would you pick? Maybe you’re bringing out somebody as a surprise, maybe you got some kind of crazy feature from him and now he’s on the stage with you. Who would that be?
Damn, that’s a good question. If I were to do that today…Drake would be the craziest, but we’re not gonna say Drake. I wanna get Young Thug on a song, 100%. I feel like Young Thug would just be crazy. I would say Travis. I’ll make it a Houston thing. We in Toyota Center, I’ll bring out Travis Scott, we’ll do a song we got.
I like it. One final question, who are your favorite artists you listen to right now that we should know about?
Bet, I can do that. Imma just keep it Houston. There’s mad Houston artists. BBY KODIE, HVN is hard and super lowkey, look up Vanni. He has a song out, it’s called “Hoopti”, it’s super hard but it’s super lowkey. They’re all from Houston.
Follow Dree on Instagram (@dreerivers), Twitter (@dreerivers), and follow him on Spotify. Listen to his latest single, “Bless Ur Heart”, and his debut EP New Problems Vol I on all platforms.
Originally published at https://kierankohorst.wixsite.com on April 29, 2021.