By Jordan Yeager
We could all learn something from Jessie Reyez. She holds her roots close, whether that’s the city she was born in (Toronto), the suburb she was raised in (Brampton) or her closest friends (among them, her parents, siblings, nieces and nephews). Reyez speaks quickly, but her timbre is relaxed and reflective; she knows herself, and she’s not afraid for others to know her, too. Take one listen to her raw and soulful take on R&B and this becomes even more evident. Her vulnerable and sincere lyrics pull no punches; in fact, the Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter describes herself as brutally honest.
That honesty first caught people’s attention with the release of “Gatekeeper,” a track she wrote after producer Noel “Detail” Fisher tried to coerce her into sexual acts in exchange for fame. Reyez turned that dehumanizing, objectifying experience on its head and, in the years since, has collaborated with Daniel Caesar, Normani and Calvin Harris, among many others. While she admits that sometimes her brutal honesty might get her into trouble, she’s self-aware enough to know that what she values above all else is holding herself accountable.
“Not to throw a pity party or anything, but I’ve dealt with a lot of people in life who have been dishonest with me,” says Reyez. “It’s scarred me to the point where I just don’t want to be a hypocrite, and I don’t want to treat people the way I’ve been treated in the past that’s left me so bruised. Maybe that’s why I’m honest, sometimes brutally honest, sometimes crude, because I just don’t want to put someone else through the suffering that I’ve been through. And it shows up in my life, and it shows up in my relationships, and it shows up in my music by default.
“Of course it’s gotten me into trouble, but I feel like the trouble that it gets me into is at least present,” she continues. “It’s something that I can go through right then and there, as opposed to having a lie that might get worse over time and accumulate, because that’s usually what lies do. I think the truth always comes out no matter what, so you can either deal with it then if you fuck it up, or you can deal with it in a few years on top of paying interest karma.”
Much of her mindset – which might come off as blunt, but is rooted in empathy and compassion – can be attributed to her parents. Reyez describes her mom as “patient” and her dad as “resilient,” and she learns from them every day when she sees how they react in any given situation.
“I’m lucky to have the guidance of my mom. My mom is the one that will tell me that sometimes I have to be a little more delicate. Not everyone is expecting that bluntness, so I just have to be a little bit more delicate to make sure that I’m not being mean and just being honest. They’re sometimes synonymous, which is funny: mean and honest.”
Some artists define success as a wall full of accolades and a bank account full of zeroes. Reyez wouldn’t disagree – like anyone putting in the time to master their craft, she wants recognition for her hard work. But success has a deeper meaning for her than platinum plaques and shelves of trophies.
“There’s three things I want before I feel like I can properly rest,” says Reyez. “I want to buy my dad a farm, and I want to found an orphanage and name it after my mom. My dad’s always been very close to nature and animals. He grew up in a rough household – he lost his mom and grew up with his single dad. But he had a homie in Colombia who had a farm, and a lot of his childhood memories were at that farm. He just loves it, so it would be dope to get him his own. And my mom started off as a preschool teacher. If you were to see my mom with kids… you know how there’s, like, horse whisperers? She’s a kid whisperer. When I was growing up, our downstairs was a daycare and we lived upstairs. Even if there were seven kids and screaming babies, my mom would stay calm and peaceful. I feel like there are not a lot of people in the world who can actually do that. There are teachers that shouldn’t be teachers because they lack that patience, they lack that ability. But she has that innately.”
The third thing she wants, understandably, is recognition – “Grammys and plaques and everything on my wall to solidify that I mastered music.”
Reyez is so close with her family that she brings her parents on tour. One time, her dad even went crowd surfing. But they weren’t always the best of friends. Like many of us, Reyez distanced herself from her family in her teenage years. But after going through a breakup that left her battling depression, she noticed that her family were the ones waiting for her on the other side.
“I think that’s the first time I realized, for me, blood is thicker,” she says. “A lot of people say ‘Don’t let this industry change you.’ I see why it would be easy for someone to change, and I feel like keeping the people who know me best around me is the best mirror that I could have. They keep me grounded and authentic. They remind me of who I am and why I started.”
Recently, Reyez has learned how to turn inward and keep herself grounded, too. Whether it’s through practicing meditation or eating her greens, self-care is an increasingly important element of her day-to-day routine.
“This is going to sound real funny, but I just this year started being conscious of what self-love is,” says Reyez. “Awareness of mental health and physical health and how they’re intertwined. It took me a long time to even realize that, and I was so focused on work and life and moving, but you can’t let yourself get overwhelmed. You can’t let yourself lose that peace, because the second that’s gone, if I’m the engine that’s moving this whole operation, then what happens? I have to look out for myself to make sure that I’m looking out for everyone else.
“I’m happy that I’m working on my discipline, and it’s permeating in different areas of my life. It’s permeating in how I move from meeting to music, and it’s permeating in what I eat and how I treat myself. I’m proud of making that a priority this year, and I’m going to make sure that it stays a priority in my life.”
Saturday, July 27
Squamish Constellation Festival
Tix: $65-$80 single day, $199-$425 weekend pass: constellationfest.ca