Jessie Reyez has a voice to make the music industry shake. Gutsy, powerful and impossible to predict, it snakes through songs such as Figures, Gatekeeper and recent single Cotton Candy like a python with an empty belly. Now signed to Polydor, the Toronto-based singer has been around the music business for a long time, and goes into 2018 hotly-tipped. “I’m happy people like the stuff I’m making, hopefully they don’t turn on me!” she tells Music Week with a laugh. “I hope 2018 will be super-significant, I hope to make more music and connect with more people.”
The connection Reyez is building binds her and her growing fanbase like superglue: her songs are honest and raw, her social media presence open and real. “The people that make my career possible are on there,” she says. “So it allows me to have direct conversations with the people I owe a lot to, about life, struggles... Everything.” Last April’s debut EP Kiddo contained Gatekeeper, a gloomy, bassy song detailing an encounter from the singer’s early attempts to gain a foothold in the industry (“We are the gatekeepers/Spread your legs, open up/You could be famous”).
An accompanying 13-minute film was equally uncompromising, and Reyez began to emerge as an important new voice. She has often spoken of how her sex and Colombian heritage have impacted her career. “It has its up and downs, but everything I’ve been able to experience is a blessing - whether good or bad - because even the bad has been a lesson,” she says. “One of the beautiful positives is to see and experience so much support amongst young female musicians. The idea of ‘sisterhood’ was very prevalent in 2017 and I think it shows.”
Reyez, whose grainy work mixes hip-hop, pop, soul, R&B and more, says the creative side of the business is in a “beautiful, colourful place, with so many influences and genres mixing,” too. Coupled with her lyrical candour (“I’m a reflection of my life, so I’m going to talk about my reality”) this unregimented approach to genre makes Reyez a compelling new artist. Her journey so far stretches from Toronto arts education scheme The Remix Project - which led to work with King Louie and Chance The Rapper - to Swedish writing camps and collaborations with Calvin Harris (Hard To Love). “I hear a chord progression or a beat and if something resonates then I open myself and just start humming what I feel,” she says of her creative process. “I’ve learned to stay focused and stay humble, because shit can change in a day.”
Reyez acknowledges 2018 is going well (“Well, I’m not dead…”) and is targeting only positive change in the future. “I want to die a legend and acquire several Grammys,” she concludes. The industry will be shaking for some time yet…