when some people listen to Stetson Leon Rhodes’ Youth Soul Love, they think he’s singing about love. Don’t be fooled.

“Youth, giving back to the youth; put my heart and soul into it; God is love,” he explains. 

Throughout August and September, the up-and-coming soul artist teased listeners with three out of the nine tracks on the EP, which racked up more than 10 million plays on SoundCloud alone. The track titles offer pretty much the most straightforward summaries possible: “Secret Lover” is about that certain crush you keep to yourself; “Label Whore,’ unsurprisingly, plays on materialistic fantasies; and “High Times,” is, well, 4/20 friendly. “We chillin’,” he jokes.

Rhodes predicts experiencing the EP from start to finish will dispel any misconceptions about the YSL brand. 

“You hear the griminess in the story line,” he says. “Once you hear it, you’ll be, like, ‘He’s right, this is not a love story.’”

Rhodes is Houston bred, with his family moving around a lot, from Greenspoint to Cypress, Alief, and Clear Lake. He would listen to Earth Wind & Fire, saying music was always around him—during family get togethers and through chores. Instead of going to senior prom, he spent the evening at the Cynthia Mitchell Woods Pavilion in The Woodlands to see Kanye West during his 2008 Glow in the Dark Tour that featured N.E.R.D., Rihanna, Lupe Fiasco, Nas, and an appearance by Chris Brown. 

“It’s something I can never forget, even at the age of 17, going on 18,” he says. “I was, like, I have to be a music artist. I want to do that.”

Today, when asked what genre his music fits into, don’t expect a one or two-word simple answer. He doesn’t consider himself a rapper, even though he has studied rappers. He’s quick to not label himself as an R&B singer fearing “it’s too cliché.”

He will, however, say he’s a “conscious rapper,” and his music reflects the current landscape—culturally, economically, socially, and politically. His optimism is infectious and says that while he tries not to talk about who’s in office, it has taken a toll on him, personally. “It’s enhancing my writing ability because I love to talk about it and connect with the people,” he says. “No matter color, size or shape, man, we’re all going through it together.”

His work tries to rep his hometown, too. The video for “Flight to Houston” was shot and produced right here with the help of local photographers, videographers, producers, production studios, stylists, makeup artists, and hair stylists. 

“'Flight to Houston’ was basically, like, an anthem,” he says. “I wanted to create an anthem for Houston.”

Overall, he describes his new EP as a “cinematic approach,” with a heavy focus on the visuals. His magnetic lyrics and energetic flow paired with a creative vision for the videos is contagious. Each video can be enjoyed individually and when put together, they make a short film. 

“I really wanted to push myself for a visual aspect,” he says.

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