Rapper Larry Reed, who plays under the name Larry Legend, grew up in Denver singing in church and school choirs. But music was just another hobby for Reed: His first love was sports, and he spent most of his time playing baseball and football and running track. A couple of years ago, he earned a football scholarship to Black Hills State University in South Dakota. He began school in August 2015, but by December he’d returned to Denver, and his life has been a roller coaster of creativity and personal turmoil ever since.
“I played football my whole life,” Reed says. “Once that ended and my brothers were playing basketball, [I was] home by myself — my brothers are practicing, my parents are upstairs, and I need something to do. I mean, video games are there — that’s fine. But I don’t want to do that, so I went on YouTube, started listening to music, writing things down and started from there.”
The now-21-year-old began uploading songs to SoundCloud — first as a singer and producer, not as a rapper. After family and friends told him they liked what he was doing, he felt confident enough to create and upload more material. The more he produced, the more he felt stifled by his emotional range as a singer. He decided to try his hand at rapping, but the transition between the two forms of expression proved difficult.
“When I was singing, it was easy to find a slow beat,” Reed says. “Find a beat and start singing to it…. Then, when it got to rapping, I still had singing in my head. Like ‘Oh, I want to sing that note.’ But no, no, it’s rap — you can’t do that.”
On his first rap song, “Unstoppable,” released in 2016, he freestyled over a beat he had produced. He notes that since he knew the beat from start to finish, it made it easier for him to focus on the words.
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“I could somewhat tell my story, but [singing didn’t] seem to really get the point across,” Reed explains. “People tend to judge by appearance and what the artist could possibly talk about. When I wrote my first singing song, I was actually frustrated and kind of depressed, and I felt like no one really felt exactly how I [felt]. With rap, you can feel both expressions in the song.”
This year has been a particularly tough one for Reed. As he tells it, “I’ve been arrested. I’ve had plenty of court dates, an ankle monitor. I’ve had car problems. It seemed like it was just back to back to back. Every chance I got, I wrote something about what it was like and [made] a song for it.”
Reed was arrested in March on an intimidation charge he says was related to harassment and domestic violence, and held in a Weld County jail for five days. That experience shaped his first EP, From Boy to Legend, which he released in August 2017. Song ideas came to him during his time in jail, like fan favorite “Just Like Me.” The arrest inspired him to work to improve himself and his music, he says.
“It actually changed me, because I did have a bad attitude, and I let all of the little things bother me and easily get me upset,” Reed says. “But after everything I went through, I realized life is too short to allow the little things to bother me — and that I need to control my emotions to keep me in a better place in life.”
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As a rapper, he says he wants to tell stories, and writing about his hardships gives him a natural form of release.
“I used to sing about the things I was going through or how I felt,” Reed says, “so writing about my problems is really easy for me. You know what you’ve been through, so you [write] it like poetry and turn it into a song. Everything I write about is my life. I don’t write about anything crazy — that doesn’t make sense to me. It’s always about my life, in a way.”
Reed says his struggles are learning opportunities, and his songs hold no punches when it comes to him talking about his experiences: “Ankle monitor off for about three months, I’m not going back,” he raps in the song “Change.” With his new EP in hand, he’s upbeat about the future.
“Everything I went through is what made me who I am today,” Reed says. “I never had a life involved around gangs, drugs or anything negative like that, but the little things I went through are positive in a way, because it encouraged me to bounce back.”
Listen to Larry Legend on Soundcloud.