Jessie Reyez Is Poised to Be One of the Year's Breakout Stars
Jessie Reyez worked as a bartender just a few years ago, but she’s since gone from singing at open-mic nights to earning a spot on the Coachella lineup and recording collaborations with Normani, Tainy, Eminem, and Kehlani. She’s no overnight celebrity, though — her diligence got her to this exact moment. “I work f***ing hard,” the 28-year-old says. “I don’t really have time for anything [else].” Presently, she’s gearing up to release her debut full-length album, Before Love Came to Kill Us, on March 27. She’s also on her way to becoming known as one of the best singer-songwriters of the new decade.
“It’s always been and always will be from my heart to my mouth to my pen,” explains the Toronto native. “I just write about my life.” Throughout her musical journey, she’s been fortunate to have both parents by her side, but her creative career route has always made them nervous. “They were very worried in the beginning,” she says. “My parents are still worried!” It wasn’t until six years ago, when one of her songs was placed in a Toronto-based kids’ show, that they finally came around. “It was $250, this little check,” Reyez recalls. “I couldn’t believe it. I showed my mom and dad they were like, ‘OK, maybe you could do this!'”
Though she feels mostly confident in embracing her Canadian Latina roots, she admits that at times she doesn’t feel Colombian enough. “If I’m in a Spanish interview and I forget a word, I’m like, “I gotta make sure I’m stepping up my vocabulary.” Understanding that it’s completely normal to feel this way as a bicultural Latina, she still likes to remind herself who she is when it does occur. “I love poutine, I love all the Canadian s***, and I also love empanadas and to salsa dance,” she says. “You know who you are, so being somebody else is irrelevant because you’re enough for yourself.”
Reyez stayed true to that mindset while working on Before Love Came to Kill Us. “I was going through a heartbreak, she explains. “It’s going to have a lot of truth — also blood, sweat and tears.” She describes the album as being about the relationship between love and death. “The day you meet the love of your life is the day you meet your worst enemy,” says Reyez. “They’re going to cheat on you, or you guys make it and then somebody has to die first — that’s the sad side of love. But the positive side of death is that if we keep mortality in the back of our heads every day, we’re more motivated to live the best version of ourselves today.”
It’s heavy stuff, but Reyez keeps it grounded by incorporating her Colombian culture into her music and using Spanglish in her lyrics. “That’s not something that I have to think about because it’s just who I am,” she says. “It’s just in my blood. Latinos have this really beautiful ability to be able to work so closely with intense metaphors in Spanish … I can express the lyrics in a really visceral way.”
And as her star has risen, so has her budget. “Now we have the money to be able to hire an orchestra and do it the bigger way that we always wanted to do it, to elevate the music.” Even with a larger team, though, the music is still 100 percent a reflection of Reyez’s truth. “Making music is something selfish,” she says. “It’s like breathing — you don’t breathe for somebody else, you breathe for you.”