Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on

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The X-Factor's Chris Rene Makes a Polished and Positive Hit Out of "Young Homie"

Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on the logic that just because a lot of the music on the radio is crap doesn't mean all the music on the radio is crap.

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The hit: "Young Homie," Chris Rene, off Rene's as yet unnamed forthcoming first record since signing to Epic Records, post-X-Factor.

Current chart position: #39 on iTunes; as yet uncharted on Billboard (it was only released this past Tuesday; I'm betting it'll surface on next week's Hot 100 chart).

The team: Reverb readers may recall that last December, I was rooting for Rene to take The X-Factor crown. (He ended up placing third). One of the reasons I liked Rene so much was because his bare personality always shone through, starting from his very first audition, when he sang a rougher version of his self-penned sobriety anthem "Young Homie." (That original audition now has over 13.5 million views on YouTube). Rene's original songwriting set him in a different league than the show's champion, Melanie Amaro--as so often happens on these singing shows, Rene's "Young Homie" has made a far bigger splash than Amaro's first post-X-Factor recording, a forgettable "club version" of Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

"Young Homie" was such a hit on The X-Factor that it was the obvious choice for Rene's first single. The official version released on Tuesday has been given a good polishing by JR Rotem, who, like Rene, straddles the line between pop and hip-hop--Rotem's produced songs for Rick Ross, Bun B, Nicki Minaj, and Flo Rida, as well as huge pop smashes for Britney Spears ("Everytime"), Jason Derulo ("Whatcha Say"), and Iyaz ("Replay").

Breakdown: Sobriety songs, from Social Distortion's "Ball and Chain" to Carrie Underwood's "Wasted," are a little like break-up songs--just like songs about cheating lovers and broken hearts are going to mean something more to listeners who've had their hearts broken by cheating lovers, songs about getting clean are going to mean a little more to listeners who are also recovering addicts. That might be true in a secondhand way, in that those songs will mean more if you've been close to someone who's gone through addiction. If you watched The X-Factor and knew his backstory--he was working as a trash collector to support his two-year-old son and, at the time of his first audition, was 70 days clean after having completed a rehab program to kick his cocaine and methamphetamine addictions--then you had an emotional investment in Chris Rene. He was disarmingly positive and sunny, and his songs were all performed lovingly.

But "Young Homie"'s appeal lies beyond its X-Factor origin. I watch a lot of reality TV, and I could easily reel off a list of contestants, winners and losers, who I rooted for, became obsessed with, and then promptly forgot about once the show ended. That's become the nature of particularly these American Idol-style singing competitions. But if I'd never watched The X-Factor or heard of Chris Rene and I came across this song on the radio or on Tuesday when he performed in on Ellen, it would still have given me pause. I like the rocking chair mid-tempo beat that carries the song, the way the song combines a stately refinement through the piano melody with a relaxed hip-hop vibe. I like Rene's open, throaty vocals and his easy, on-pitch falsetto. I like the squeaky video-game synth that pipes in at the chorus. And, most importantly if we're talking about pop hits, it's irresistibly catchy.

Rene's lyrics reference Bob Marley--"Turning negatives to positives/'It's gonna be all right,' Bob Marley said"--and Marley's most popular hits about peace, love, and unity ("One Love," "Could You Be Loved," etc.) are actually good reference points for "Young Homie." "Young Homie"'s lines about brothers and sisters getting along, putting hate down and living life long, similarly shine with a melodic positivity. And Rene's delivery is spot-on--"Man this is the real thing, tell me can you feel me/Wait 'til they drop this, dancing on the ceiling"--he wrote the song, he feels it, and he believes in it. The song encompasses more than addiction and sobriety, it expands to become about rejuvenation and jubilance. It's that rare and beautiful kind of connection that should make Rene a star.

 
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