Jessie Reyez has so much to say, and hearing her say it is so much fun.
Here’s the Toronto singer on “Saint Nobody,” the opening track from her imminent Being Human In Public EP, which doubles as an origin story-cum-statement of purpose: “I think about dying every day/ I’ve been told that that’s a little strange/ Well, I guess I’ve always been a little strange/ Another reason why I work like a motherfucker.” Here she is on “Apple Juice,” the next song: “Broken home baby, I can never hate ya/ Even though you drain the soul out of my eyes/ Even though you had me crying every night/ I see you’re trying/ I’m grateful ’cause I see you’re trying.” This, from “Fuck Being Friends,” is the stuff of fire emojis: “I got your heart in my hand and your dick in the other/ You ain’t scared to fuck, but you scared of being lovers.” So is this, from “Hey Yessie,” on which Reyez tries her hand at some full-fledged rapping and absolutely goes off: “I’m the people’s champ/ Obama/ And you won’t understand/ Melania/ Impermeable, unbothered/ Sick, allergic to the con artist.”
Those are some of the more evocative lyrics I’ve encountered this year. But again, it’s not just what Reyez says. It’s how she says it and the context in which each word flies off her tongue. Her voice sounds like the fiery taste in your throat after shooting whiskey or devouring a spicy dinner. It’s piercing. It snaps like an elastic waistband, and she deploys it just as flexibly over a wide range of sounds, riding the nearly invisible lines between genres in a way that feels entirely her own. She’s one of those personalities too big to contain, except she seems to know exactly when to rein herself in and when to let loose — a superhero who is gaining control of her powers.
Please forgive the hyperbole. Actually, Jessie Reyez would never say such a thing — “I’m trying to die a legend, so I study legacies,” she sing-raps on “Dear Yessie,” before adding, “But these Ws don’t come without some penalties.” Thus, neither will I apologize for my enthusiasm. The woman is a true original. I’m excited to hear her coming into her own.
Reyez is 27 — old enough to know better, still too young to care, as a very different artist once said. She sounds like someone who’s put in the work to figure out who she is and how to express it. Like Toronto’s most famous R&B singer, the Weeknd, she is a child of immigrants; both her parents hail from Colombia, a heritage she broadcasts proudly in her lyrics and song titles including “Colombian King & Queen.” But Reyez’s music couldn’t be much more different from Abel Tesfaye’s shadowy arthouse cool and creeping nihilistic dread. Instead, she offers boundless enthusiasm, streetwise toughness, and — in cooperation with favored producer Tim Suby — a vibrant panorama of sound that subtly morphs while letting her unmistakable voice do the heavy lifting.
Reyez has been kicking around the edges of the mainstream for a little over two years now. Her first big break was “Figures,” an Amy Winehouse-reminiscent soul ballad that became a minor Canadian hit in 2016. Then came Kiddo, the 2017 debut EP that proved she had too much range to be reduced to Winehouse comparisons. On the smooth and uncluttered intro “Fuck It,” her vocals fluttered and surged through lines like, “I crashed your Corvette, but I think it was fair/ Player, this is your cross to bear/ Fuck it, you’re lucky I didn’t roll it/ You’re lucky I didn’t blow your brains out.” The noisier yet still measured “Shutter Island” was another ideal canvas for her raspy acrobatics. After admitting, “You say that I’m too crazy/ I guess you were right,” she launched into a bracing wail: “My straightjacket’s custom made, though!”
Since then she’s released a smattering of singles and collabs, including her own surprisingly subdued showcase on Calvin Harris’ posse-cut collection Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 and a show-stealing double feature on “Nice Guy” and “Good Guy” from Eminem’s recent Kamikaze. But Being Human In Public, out Friday (though she’s already released six of its seven tracks), ought to be her coming-out party for those who, like me, didn’t give Kiddo its due attention. This latest EP is a document of a fascinating persona given space to show off many sides of herself — the striver, the shit-talker, the feminist, the hopeless romantic who (mostly) doesn’t suffer fools — in the context of expertly crafted songs.
Reyez does so much within these seven tracks. She trills and whispers and shouts and spirals across the triumphal hip-hop production “Saint Nobody,” showing off the scope of her skill set in a way that matches the song’s autobiographical ambitions. She delivers a similar tour de force on “Apple Juice,” a retro slow dance updated for the present with 808s and a lush string arrangement. She conjures Coco vibes on the all-Spanish guitar ballad “Sola.” She crackles with electricity on the colorfully bouncy “Fuck Being Friends” and the hard-hitting mini-epic “Dear Yessie,” veering between rapping and singing like a driver burning across lanes with no regard for the speed limit. She convincingly coos sweet nothings at duet partner JRM on the warm, comfortable “Imported.” And on her “Body Count” remix, she welcomes Kehlani and Normani to celebrate their personal agency with a reggae-inflected bop. Their rallying cry? “I dodge dick on the daily!”
An easy way to dismiss Reyez is to call her an industry plant. She’s signed to Toronto’s FMLY Records, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group. She’s been getting a big corporate push for the past couple years, with song premieres on Zane Lowe’s radio show and all that. Perhaps such high-level maneuvering is also how that big Eminem spotlight came to pass. Maybe she wouldn’t have your attention at this moment without help from powerful people.
Well, Reyez is a powerhouse in her own right, and whatever help she’s getting, she deserves it. The major-label system is teeming with artists churning out generic bullshit, lunging at whatever trend is popping that week, sacrificing their identity in the hopes of scoring a hit. Reyez has avoided that trap and cultivated a contagious sense of self. Sorting through mediocre track after mediocre track is wearisome, so when a voice like hers comes bursting through the speakers backed by such richly conceived music, it’s a real sunshine-through-clouds moment. Such a convergence of talent and personality is rare. Reward it with your attention, and you’ll end up rewarding yourself in the process.
A Star Is Born beats Trench in this week’s battle for America’s #1 album. Per Billboard, Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s soundtrack album enters the Billboard 200 at #1 with 231,000 equivalent album units and 162,000 in traditional album sales, good for Gaga’s fifth chart-topper (the most among women this decade) and Cooper’s first. It’s the biggest week for a soundtrack since Fifty Shades Of Grey entered at #2 with 258,000 units in February 2015. It’s the second A Star Is Born soundtrack to hit #1 following Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson’s 1976 offering.
That puts Twenty One Pilots’ Trench at #2 with 175,000 units and 135,000 in sales. Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V is at #3, and then comes the #4 debut of Lil Baby and Gunna’s Drip Harder with 130,000 units, 121,000 of them via streaming. It’s Lil Baby’s second top 10 album and Gunna’s first. Almost completely inverting that streaming-sales dynamic is Eric Church’s Desperate Man, in at #5 with 116,000 units and 103,000 in sales. You know it’s a good week for the music industry when an album debuts at #5 with numbers that would often be good enough for #1.
Debuting at #6 with 73,000 units/72,000 sales is former Journey singer Steve Perry’s first solo album in 24 years, Traces. The week’s final top 10 debut belongs to the Christian band For King & Country, whose Burn The Ships put up 62,000 units/57,000 sales to become their first top 10 release. Rounding out the top 10 are longstanding blockbusters by Drake, Travis Scott, and Post Malone.
Over on the Hot 100, Maroon 5 and Cardi B’s “Girls Like You” is one top for a fourth straight week, which, according to Billboard, pushes Cardi past Iggy Azalea for the most weeks career at #1 by a female rapper (with eight via “Bodak Yellow,” “I Like It,” and this song, compared to Azalea’s seven with “Fancy”). At #2 and #3 respectively are Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams” and Post Malone’s “Better Now.”
Vaulting from #25 up to a new #4 peak is Lil Baby and Gunna’s “Drip Too Hard” — again, the second top 10 appearance for Lil Baby (following his #6-peaking “Yes Indeed” with Drake this year) and the first for Gunna. Also making a big leap is Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born anthem “Shallow,” up from #28 to a new #5 high point. It’s Gaga’s 15th top 10 hit and Cooper’s first. After Travis Scott (and Drake)’s “Sicko Mode” at #6 comes 5 Seconds Of Summer’s “Youngblood” at #7, a new high water mark.
One more top 10 newcomer: Marshmello and Bastille’s “Happier” hops to #8, becoming the second top 10 hit for Bastille following 2014’s #5-peaking “Pompeii” and the first top 10 for Marshmello, whose Anne-Marie collab “Friends” topped out at #11 this year. Cardi, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin’s “I Like It” and 6ix9ine, Nicki Minaj, and Murda Beatz’s “Fefe” round out the top 10.
Zayn – “Fingers”
I still don’t understand why Zayn isn’t working with Mike Will Made-It or whoever on his own personal FutureSex/LoveSounds, but if he wants to keep trying to make grown-and-sexy soft rock… OK? You do you?
Zara Larsson – “Ruin My Life”
“I want you to ruin my life/ I want you to fuck up my life.” This is love in 2018!
Little Mix – “Woman Like Me” (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
From the Nicki Minaj feature on down, this feels like Ariana Grande’s “Side To Side” redux, but with a far less creative lyrical conceit.
Billie Eilish – “When The Party’s Over”
A post-Imogen Heap, post-Bon Iver, post-Lorde piano ballad I can appreciate. You could have actually convinced me this was by modern music’s other prodigious Billie, which Eilish should consider a compliment.
MØ – “Blur”
Sounds more like Gorillaz to me, but I dig it.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson broke up. [TMZ]
- Lady Gaga is engaged. [People]
- A man charged with stalking Lana Del Rey in Orlando was sentenced to one year in prison. [WESH]
- Selena Gomez reportedly entered a mental health treatment facility. [Bustle]
- Kehlani announced she’s pregnant with a baby girl. [Pitchfork]
- Eminem rapped “Venom” on top of the Empire State Building for Kimmel’s Brooklyn shows. [YouTube]
- Fran Drescher wants Cardi B to play her daughter in a reboot of The Nanny. [People]
- Channing Tatum is dating British pop singer Jessie J of “Bang Bang” fame. [Elite Daily]
- Kesha wrote an essay for Teen Vogue about common sense gun laws. [Teen Vogue]
- 21 Savage went on CNN to speak about his financial literacy campaign. [Twitter]
- Shawn Mendes and teddy<3 covered "Under Pressure." [Shawn Mendes]
- Khalid’s new Suncity EP is out tonight. [Instagram]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME: A STAR CONTINUES TO BE BORN EDITION
Me diving head first into the A Star is Born discourse: pic.twitter.com/OagJYnzToI
— A Scare is Born 🎃 (@salmattos) October 15, 2018
i just needed to get this one out there pic.twitter.com/FuzWslAwPc
— Count Markula (@tole_cover) September 30, 2018
damn, stagecoach gonna be lit pic.twitter.com/I8QOd3Qb9l
— dan chamberlain (@amfmpm) October 16, 2018