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Pittsburgh Teen 'Rises Up' In Song For WYEP's Reimagination Program

(SOUNDBITE OF SPARE LIGHTS SONG, "FLY TOO HIGH")

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

"Reimagination 7" - it's the latest album in Pittsburgh public radio station WYEP's ongoing project, putting teen musicians together with professionals. Here's a sampling.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY TOO HIGH")

SPARE LIGHTS: (Singing) I try my best. Still, I sometimes lose.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL FIND YOU")

STEELE MELLINGER: (Singing) I'll find you. I'll find you. I promise I will find you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUNNING")

SKYLAR BURKETT: (Singing) Tried too hard, waited too long.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FEEL FREE")

DUTCH JORDAN: (Singing) I feel fine.

FADEL: Greg Joseph is one of "Reimagination 7's" executive producers. He says WYEP has been doing this since 2014 and that there is some self-interest in the project on the part of Pittsburgh's music scene.

GREG JOSEPH: This was a good way to sort of start a farm team of young musicians and help them get the experience that, you know, 99% of the other young musicians in town are not getting by offering a studio experience, workshops to talk about booking and songwriting and also provide them with shows, which we didn't have this year due to COVID.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RISE UP")

NA'CHELLE SIMONE: (Rapping) See, Dani (ph) told me, sing, but I've been only making flows up. I've been really quiet. Think it's time I finally spoke up. Tired of writing about the same things, so I slowed up. But I brushed all the dirt up off my shoulders, then I rose up.

FADEL: "Rise Up" is a song by 18-year-old Na'Chelle Simone from the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Joseph asked producer Danielle Walker, known as INEZ, to work with her.

DANIELLE WALKER: For me as a Black woman from Homewood, Na'Chelle is also a young Black woman from Homewood. So I was like, you know what? I honestly - I love working with her. And so I was like, of course. Too, just for me being a musician and artist in the local music scene myself, wanting to help Na'Chelle see the things that we see, the things that we deal with in the music scene, helping her get that experience, so that was just, like, another incentive.

FADEL: Songwriter Na'Chelle Simone.

SIMONE: I just wanted to express through my song, like, anything that anyone's going through, there's always a way out of it. You're never in a box. You're never in a binding. You're never in a corner. There's a way out of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RISE UP")

SIMONE: (Rapping) I'm fighting all this pain, and I'm just trying to get these demons out. Every day's another struggle, make me want to scream and shout.

WALKER: Back at the end of February, we decided to start working on the song. Actually, we only had one session physically in the studio. And I told Na'Chelle, too - I said, I don't want you to go into this just creating a typical R&B or a rap record. I wanted to create something that would have that mass appeal but also really told your truth and your story in your way. So - and I walk into the control room, and she's like, I already have so many ideas.

Around this time, Na'Chelle was - she was an essential worker, so I was worried. I live with an immunocompromised person, but I wanted her to be safe, as well. So we kind of waited a little bit and were able to finally get together to recut her vocals over the top of everything. And the song really just took shape.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RISE UP")

SIMONE: (Singing) But nothing ever seems to go your way. Just keep your head up when the sky turns gray.

She worked me to death with the layering of the harmonies. But once we perfected it, I was definitely thankful that she put that much work into me and had that much faith in my musical ability 'cause I never had any experience layering my songs to that extent or, like, you know, putting so much into it. And she taught me song format and the correct way to figure out harmonies and things like that. And I really enjoyed it because I learned a lot from her.

WALKER: Honestly, you have to write your truth out, and people deserve to hear it. So the fact that she was willing to be so vulnerable, considering the background, history that I know about her, she taught me how to be fearless, honestly.

SIMONE: Well, I was going through a tough time with my mother. We weren't getting along. I was still in high school, so I was stressing about my grades and things like that and graduation with the COVID stuff. And I was very stressed out about not being able to walk across the stage. And there were some other family problems going on. I was just really stressed at the time.

When my mom heard the song - she actually just heard it a few days before my birthday. She was, like, in the backseat of my car, like, about to cry because she heard the pain and, like, everything behind my voice. She really liked it, and she was proud of me. We just talked about how we were glad to get our relationship back on track and be able to celebrate this time together.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RISE UP")

SIMONE: (Singing) Just keep your head up when the sky turns gray.

FADEL: That's Na'Chelle Simone. Her song is on public radio station WYEP's latest album in its Reimagination Series. It's called "Rise Up." We also heard from producers INEZ and Greg Joseph.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RISE UP")

SIMONE: (Singing) Are you in the clouds, and it's gray? I'm all right (ph). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.