Jessie Reyez's unique take on contemporary R&B is accented with pop and hip-hop influences, reinforced by a vocal style that merges the passionate with the stylishly theatrical. The singer and songwriter achieved fame with the cathartic breakup ballad "Figures" (2016), a multi-platinum hit in her native Canada that also led to a Juno Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year. Since the arrival of that single, Reyez has released the EPs Kiddo (2017) and the Juno-winning Being Human in Public (2018), as well as her first full-length, Before Love Came to Kill Us (2020), amid numerous singles and high-profile collaborations with the likes of Calvin Harris, Eminem, and Sam Smith.
Reyez was born in Toronto, Canada on June 12, 1991 to Colombian parents. She learned to play guitar as a child from her father, who had mastered the instrument. Before she became serious about music, she was a committed dance student, and studied hip-hop dance from junior high into high school. However, after a traumatic breakup with her first serious boyfriend when she was 17, she poured her heartache into her music when her sympathetic music teacher allowed her to spend most of her school days at the piano. By the time she graduated, Reyez was writing songs that expressed her emotions, playing in Toronto clubs, and busking on the streets.
Her life took a left turn when her family members were granted visas to live and work in America after years of waiting; she relocated to Miami with her folks, but after landing a job as a bartender, she found that the city's party-friendly atmosphere was sapping her creativity, and when a music video she made began receiving notice online, she left Florida to return to Toronto. After resettling in Canada, Reyez became involved with the Remix Project, an educational program for low-income students that helps young adults learn about music and the arts. Through the Remix Project, Reyez was introduced to Chicago-based hip-hop artist King Louie; he liked her work and asked her to collaborate with him on a song.
The track they created together, "Living in the Sky," generated plentiful buzz after it appeared in 2014, and soon Reyez was being asked to share her songwriting and vocal talents with such notables as Chance the Rapper, Diplo, Skrillex, and R&B legend Babyface. Still focused on building an audience for her own work, she scored her first charting single in 2016 with "Figures," which in Canada reached number 58, was certified multi-platinum in her home country and gold in the U.S. The following April, she released Kiddo, an EP that reached number 23 on Billboard's R&B/hip-hop chart. That same year, she appeared on Calvin Harris' "Hard to Love" from his Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1.
In 2018, Reyez won a Juno Award for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, later joining Black Atlass on "Sacrifice," which appeared on the Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack, and Daniel Caesar for the single "Figures, A Reprise." Eminem later recruited her for a pair of contributions to his album Kamikaze ("Nice Guy" and "Good Guy"), and she appeared on "Promises," a collaborative single by Calvin Harris and Sam Smith. Being Human in Public arrived that autumn, highlighted by "Imported" (featuring either 6LACK or JRM on different versions), which peaked at number 14 on BIllboard's R&B Songs chart, and "Body Count," a collaboration with Normani and Kehlani. The EP won a Juno Award for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year and was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Urban Contemporary Album. Another slew of singles preceded the March 2020 release of Before Love Came to Kill Us, Reyez's first proper album. ~ Mark Deming & Andy Kellman