Denver hip-hop artist Chy Reco, born Steven L. Nichols II, has been a father since he was seventeen. Now, at 31 years old, it’s his family that inspires him to keep pursuing his music.
“I don’t want [my kids] to see their father not doing anything with his life,” he says. “That’s my biggest push. That’s my energy.”
Reco has been busy in recent years: He’s released two albums since 2017, including this year’s Kingdom of Hearts. He’s playing out regularly — he’ll be at the Fifth Annual Mile High Celebrity Basketball Game at Manual High School on Saturday, July 13 — and building his name in the local scene, all while continuing to write at home.
His kids are taking notice. His five-year-old son often wakes up in the middle of the night and finds Reco with his headphones on, scribbling new lyrics on a notepad. The boy likes to join his father, sometimes freestyling as Reco writes.
“He tries to emulate everything I do,” he says.
When Reco was a kid, he wanted nothing to do with the way the adults in his life were living. His parents weren’t around, and he was raised by his grandmother; some of his siblings were locked up in jail. At fifteen, tired of his family, he emancipated himself legally and struck out on his own.
That experience shaped his approach to fatherhood.
“I don’t want [my kids] to feel like no one is there. It takes a toll on you for years and years,” he says. “Everyone around you is talking about Mommy and Daddy, but you can’t talk about Mommy and Daddy, because they aren’t there. For me, it was a lesson. The hardest lessons in life are the best ones to learn.”
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Around the time he left home, Reco started rapping. He had written poetry for most of his life and even produced beats in elementary school, but at first those were two distinct art forms for him. Eventually, a friend pointed out that his longer poems were a lot like raps, and that if he used the beats he was producing to undergird the poetry, he could start writing songs. And so he did.
Music became a tool for healing from his traumatic childhood and for learning to have a positive outlook on life. He says it saved him from much of the strife his incarcerated siblings faced.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and we have to be mentally strong to survive,” Reco says. “That’s why I make the type of music I make. I talk about being positive, because you don’t have to be where you come from.”
Just before he turned 26, the rapper — who was still going by his birth name — learned that his older brother had been murdered.
“I buried my brother [Michael Reco] on my 26th birthday,” he says. “We buried my brother, went back to the church and sang me a happy birthday.”
In memory of his brother, Reco adopted the name Chy Reco. Having done that, he believes his brother’s energies are alive with every song he records, every shirt he sells and every performance he puts out there.
“I was going to step forward and do my music, but [my brother’s death] caused me to draw back into a reclusive stage and reinvent myself and the message I wanted to put out,” he says. “I went through a really bad depression spell.”
Ultimately, he didn’t want the negativity to drive his life, and he didn’t want his kids to see him lose his passion, either.
“It’s really the energy you choose,” he says about keeping a positive outlook. “Some people are fueled by the dark energy to do dark shit, but dark energy for me translates into good shit.”
He embodies that positive spirit in his music, but also as an ambassador for Peak Dispensary, the local clothing store Culture Street and the fashion line Originate.
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“I wanted to bring more awareness to the local scene with businesses that are up-and-coming, because believe it or not, my music is also a small business that is growing, so we have something in common,” he says.
With six children and full custody of three, Reco wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of his music or business goals if it weren’t for the support of his family.
“This is all built off love and strength, and my kids seeing me doing something positive,” he says. “My kids connect to my music because it makes them feel like they are a part of my growth.”
Chy Reco, Mile High Celebrity Basketball Game, 2 p.m. Saturday, July 13, Manual High School, 1700 East 28th Avenue, facebook.com/events/459840621425091.