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As 'Young Homie' launches Chris Rene to stardom, he's still thinking about his life in Santa Cruz
Posted: 04/05/2012

On April 20, Santa Cruz's Chris Rene will mark an important personal anniversary. It was on that date last year when Rene, then a struggling young man who worked collecting garbage, entered into a drug-rehab program at Janus of Santa Cruz, a respected Eastside drug and alcohol treatment center.

It is only a coincidence, and an obvious irony, that Rene entered into the program on a date -- popularly known as 4/20 -- that has become a counter-culture celebration of cannabis.

While others may celebrating with a toke or two, Rene plans to be at home with his family, marking the moment he got clean.

"That was the day I decided I'm going to change my life," he said.

In the year since that moment, Rene, 29, has lived a pop-culture fairy tale that most Santa Cruzans now know all too well. Two months after he took the first steps on the road to being clean and sober, he stepped on stage to sing his own song "Young Homie" as an audition for a new Fox show called "The X Factor." The video of that audition has been viewed a staggering 14.5 million times on YouTube to date.

L.A. Reid, one of the most successful music producers in the business and a judge on the first season of "The X Factor," told Rene at his audition that he was going to vote to have him put on the show, but with one caveat.

"I'm going to give you a yes," Reid said, "but man, you got to stay straight. When I call you, I don't want to talk to your sister. You better pick up the phone, so I can hear your voice and know that you're OK."

Rene made it all the way to the "X Factor" finale in December, ultimately finishing third. But Reid, who had mentored Rene throughout the show's run, was good as his word. After the show wrapped, he signed Rene to Epic Records and 2012 is the year when Rene begins the more traditional part of his burgeoning career.

"Young Homie" has now been released as a single, and Rene's first album is due in the summer.

"This album's going to be crazy," said Rene in a phone interview from the road earlier this week. "I'm actually writing a song right now on the road here in Chicago. There's going to be a lot of songs here, all new material. And it's going to be very diverse."

Rene is now on a radio tour, traveling from one radio station to the next, talking about "Young Homie" and performing the song in an "unplugged" acoustic setting. There will be no formal concerts, he said, until the album's release, some time this summer.

"It's been non-stop," he said of his life since "X Factor." It's like that song -- every day I'm hustlin', hustlin', hustlin'."

"Young Homie," an anthem of hope and resilience, debuted last week at No. 40 on Billboard's Pop Songs chart. The song was written about four years ago, Rene said, from the point of view of an older man talking to his younger self.

In February, Rene and a video crew shot the video to "Young Homie" in various locations around Santa Cruz. And the video works as a kind of tour of Santa Cruz from the beaches and bluffs to the railroad tracks and downtown streets.

Rene said he leaned on his buddy Phil "Infamous" Atkinson in planning the video and setting out the locations. As a result, the finished video featured many of the friends with whom Rene grew up. "It was real natural," said Rene of the video shoot, which finds him, among other places, walking the aisles of Streetlight Records and standing on the bluff overlooking the Beach Boardwalk. "We didn't really plan too much for stuff to happen. We just went to locations and went with the flow, and tried to capture the natural vibe of Santa Cruz."

At the time, Rene posted on his Facebook page about the upcoming shoot and drew a crowd to a local skateboard park where Rene spent a lot of his time as a teen.

Also, a prominent part of the video was Janus of Santa Cruz, the treatment center that Rene, the father of two young boys, credits with turning his life around.

"Janus is a great place," he said. "It helped me look at my life and look at what I was doing to my family and my sons. It's a place you go to open your eyes, if you're ready."

In the months since "The X Factor," Rene said he has talked to many new found fans who are struggling with addiction. "I talk to other recovering alcoholics and addicts all the time and we help each other every day. I always wanted to do something really good to be part of the bigger good and this is just the ultimate. It's what I was born to do."

Rene has spent very little time in Santa Cruz in the last three months. But, he said, he plans to be in town on April 20; he's "going to go to a [recovery] meeting and hang out with friends and family."

With "Young Homie" rising in the charts and a new album set for a summer release, Rene is working to live up to the stunning praise that L.A. Reid offered him just minutes after hearing his perform for the first time: "I've worked with some of the greatest hip-hop artists, from Jay-Z to Kanye West and all of my boys would be proud of me today to tell you that you are the truth."

Even while bracing for stardom, Rene insists he's thinking about what waits for him in Santa Cruz. "After I finish the album, I'll spend as much time there as I can because my kids are there, and they need their dad. And I have to be there for them. As an artist, you have to make sacrifices and go long lengths without them for the purpose of stability. But there's nothing more that I love to do than just hang out with my kids and be a father. That's the main reason I got clean in the first place, so I could have my kids back in my life."

Young Homie

Words and music by Chris Rene

Open up my mind with these spoken words

Let this music heal like an overture

And she's the only one, one, one

Yeah, yeah, and so I roll with her

Ooh, that's how it's supposed to be

Livin' life with loved ones close to me

Shh, ahh, this is the remedy

And I got the recipe, I don't need no Hennessy

Yeah, it's been nine months now

Haven't had a drink and I'm starting to see clear now

I'm puttin' all my fears down

I can hear the cheers now

Seeing peace signs when I look around


Hey, young homie what you trippin' on

Looking at life, like how did I get it wrong

Life's too short, gotta live it long

To my brothers and sisters when will we get along

Hey, young homie what you trippin' on

Looking at life, like how did I get it wrong

Life's too short, gotta live it long

To my brothers and sisters when will we get along

Open up your eyes, look around

Homie can you see how it's going down

Brothers locked up, sisters knocked up

If you wanna build your love up

Put your hate down

Ooh, that's the only way to live

T-T-Turnin' negatives to positives

It's gonna be alright Bob Marley said

What the dumb s**t

Keep it movin' that's what time it is


Give peace to the war in the streets

Give peace to the evil of the creeps, yeah, uh

I just ride with my hand to the sky

Live life like I'm never gon' die, never gon' die, yeah

See we be fighting and fussing over nothing

So much destruction, looking at puppets

Combusting like nothing

Now listen, it takes an education

To change your reputation

From bad to good to getting better

Now your elevating

They be singing, family hanging

Everybody's chillin'

Not gonna stop this, livin' on the feeling

Man this is the real thing

Tell me can you feel me

Wait till they drop this dancing on the ceiling