The R&B singer opens up about the influences for her new album, YESSIE.
In Elite Daily’s series Early Influences, musicians reflect on the songs and albums that left a lasting impression on them in their formative teen years. Here, Colombian Canadian singer Jessie Reyez shares the artists who inspired her distinctive sound and latest record, YESSIE.
When Jessie Reyez thinks of her childhood, swaying to old-school R&B, salsa, cumbia, and reggae is a core memory. Born and raised in Toronto to a Colombian immigrant family, Reyez’s childhood home was a love letter to Latinx culture. She grew up exclusively speaking Spanish with her parents, playing guitar at home and in her church choir.
These early experiences shaped the perspective of her sophomore album, YESSIE. The record, which dropped on Sept. 16, is her most vulnerable and flows like a touching confessional letter to herself and her Colombian heritage.
Take her vibrant opening track, “Mood.” In the rap-centric number, she sampled Colombian band Los Diablitos’ “Los Caminos de la Vida,” a ‘90s guitar-driven track still popular in Latin America.
“I’m a fan of going backward, which I think is a beautiful thing because you don’t have enough hours in your life to even take in all the music that’s being made,” Reyez tells Elite Daily. “[Old school music] makes me feel more connected, especially when I listen to old cumbia and it makes my blood dance. It just feels right.”
Reyez initially burst onto the scene in 2016 with her hit “Figures,” which later featured on her 2017 debut EP, Kiddo. She’s also tapped into her songwriting bag. In 2018, she helped pen two of the year’s biggest hits for Calvin Harris: “One Kiss” featuring Dua Lipa and “Promises” featuring Sam Smith. A few years later, the R&B crooner released her debut album, BEFORE LOVE CAME TO KILL US, in 2020.
If Reyez’s YESSIE era makes one thing clear, it’s that the singer is feeling grounded and more in tune with herself. “[This album] is more so sentimentally, emotionally a vibe that I feel like I’ve been able to pull out that I haven’t pulled out from before,” Reyez says.
Below, Reyez tells Elite Daily what artists inspired her emotive storytelling, who her first celebrity crush was, and what fans can expect from her upcoming YESSIE tour.
When it came time for Reyez to find her own performance style, she didn’t just look toward Vives. She also studied the holy grail of performers: Beyoncé. “I started breaking down runs like Beyoncé,” she says. Runs are rapidly tracking up or down a vocal scale, and nobody does them like the Houston queen. “Beyoncé’s amazing. And her runs are f*cking anti-gravity,” Reyez says.
The impetus for her School of Bey studies was some much-needed advice from music manager Tyse Saffuri, who spoke to Reyez after a failed audition when she was 17. “Hey, I actually think you have potential,” she recalls him saying.
It was an important encounter as Saffuri would later give Reyez singing lessons and encouragement to work on her vocal tone. Those lessons certainly paid off. On tracks like “ONLY ONE” off YESSIE, Reyez’s voice can seamlessly shift from a raspy, baby-like whisper to a high-pitched ring.
Sure, Vives and Beyoncé influenced Reyez’s performance style, but a childhood crush is a whole different type of icon. For Reyez, there was no one like Nelly. “I had this big poster with his f*cking headband and his bandana,” Reyez says.
Years later, she almost met Nelly while in Los Angeles to work with music producers The Runners. They asked if she wanted to join an upcoming studio session with Nelly.
“I looked at them and I was like, ‘Yo, I can’t.’ I was like, ‘Y’all don’t understand.’ The little girl in me just froze because I love him,” Reyez says. “I don’t want to go into a session and freeze like a dumb*ss. I’m a grown woman. So I said I couldn’t make it, but shout out Nelly.”
Reyez has always had a knack for emotive storytelling. From her unflinching lyrics to her raspy vocal tone, she pours her heart into her music. That gritty delivery traces back to her appreciation for Tupac, whose music she was introduced to through her cousin Andrew.
Reyez admires how Tupac transformed hardcore records into moving spoken word. “The way that his vocals just cuts through for the poetry involved in his sh*t. All that,” she says of her favorite aspects of Tupac’s music.
She also had a soft spot for Dr. Dre, though she wasn’t always aware of what he rapped about. “I was definitely singing sh*t I had no idea. Singing things that you don’t even know the meaning of,” she says. “This is wild that I was 10 screaming this sh*t at top of my lungs.”
Her cousin Andrew also introduced her to Dr. Dre, and she couldn’t be more thankful. “There’s just certain swag and certain pockets that I was lucky enough to be exposed to early,” she says.
Both Dr. Dre and Tupac’s musical influence can be heard throughout Reyez’s catalogue, especially the YESSIE track “MOOD.” Over echoing low piano keys, she slickly raps about everything from her enemies to her personal growth.
Reyez is taking all of these influences with her as she sets out on tour this fall. Starting Oct. 13, she’ll play 29 shows across North America and Canada, including stops in Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto, her hometown.
The brutal swing of the pandemic paired with her own journey toward healing has changed Reyez’s appreciation for touring. “I just feel lighter and I feel like I have more bandwidth to be able to actually live, as opposed to ruminate, or as opposed to survive,” she says. “I’m excited. It feels like I got glasses, like I was just living life blurry but I finally got some glasses.”
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