"I have so much to achieve, so many goals..."

Jessie Reyez is a vitrine of extremes. Soft-spoken and dewy-eyed, she juxtaposes raw candour with girl-next-door appeal, bellicose punchlines with heart-wrenching sincerity. She doesn’t tread a middle-ground, instead she embodies the haphazard seesaw effect of adolescent life, where every day feels as if you’ve been stabbed in the heart. “I am extreme,” she admits. “My highs are very high and my lows are very low, and it’s pretty close to hell. I’m a Gemini, so it’s inherent in my personality.”

With stellar performances at the BET Awards (“I was so scared I was going to hiccup, or stumble,”) and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and contributions on Calvin Harris’ ‘Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1’ LP (lead vocals on ‘Hard To Love’ and backing on ‘Faking It’), Jessie is riding the hype train and it’s all because of her seven-track ‘Kiddo’ EP. Released in April, the rip-roaring arsenal of diary-like meditations sees Reyez as audacious and vocally omnipresent. She flits effortlessly between acoustic cuts, like the lovelorn ‘Figures,’ and icy, industrial melodrama heard on ‘Shutter Island.’ “I like to be as cinematic as possible,” she says of her vivid writing style, “I want to elicit an image in the listener’s mind and give them that escapism.”

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Everyone I worked with on this project was a mastermind.

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Toronto initiative The Remix Project, which encourages creative enterprise among at-risk youth, shaped Reyez’s D.I.Y approach to song craft. Under the mentorship of dvsn’s Daniel Daley she learned the importance of graft, community and selective networking. “Some people just don’t have the resources to grind the authentic way. I’ve tried every fucking avenue,” she says. “At the beginning I was aiming everywhere, sending demos to everyone, but I was able to hone everything with the right help. Everyone I worked with on this project was a mastermind. It’s a symphony; if you take out one component it would not be the same.”

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It’s Jessie’s own, deeply personal experiences that separate her from the pack. This is best reflected in ‘Gatekeeper’, an uncomfortable but indispensable retelling of the exploitation and sexism she suffered at the hands of an industry figure, who remains anonymous because she didn’t want to give them power.

The track, and accompanying short film, see Jessie reclaim her autonomy, and was released primarily as no more than a reflection of her own reality. “We never had a blueprint and we never set out to make something super impactful or heroic. Dropping something like this would be for my benefit,” she admits. “But also for the benefit of anyone who had been through it.”

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I have to ground myself, I have so much to achieve, so many goals...

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By dismantling any notion that exploitation in the music industry is a thing of the past, Reyez gives a voice to a faceless periphery of women who have been backed into a corner, manipulated by power players grossly misusing their industry clout. “Once we saw the reactions to the songs, and even when we were playing the songs back to industry people, especially women, you could tell that you’d hit a wound,” she says. “And there were men who were physically uncomfortable.”

The hype is vindicated because Jessie is playing the long game, her reality reflected in songs that drip with verve and vitality. “Artistic integrity always comes first,” she states, as our conversation draws to its conclusion. “As soon as you try to conform to numbers and statistics, it’s a slippery slope. At the same time, I have to ground myself, I have so much to achieve, so many goals; I’m just getting started.”

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Words: Shahzaib Hussain

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