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On “Roof,” the ninth song from her new album Before Love Came To Kill Us, Canadian singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez sums up her career evolution and her current position in one succinct line. “I could drive a Benz, but I’m still in my old-ass Honda,” she smirks. “Cocky’s in a coma, but I got my commas.”
That’s the album in a nutshell: Reyez has grown up but she’s also held her center. Her growth is as evident as her powerful sense of self-assured identity. It’s an identity she worked to establish on her developmental EPs, Kiddo and Being Human In Public, and it emerges fully formed on Before Love Came To Kill Us.
Possessed with an off-kilter voice and a wicked sense of humor, Reyez litters her lyrics with sly pop-culture references and emotional gut-punches, a legacy of her come-up alongside rappers like King Louie and multiple collaborations with Eminem. But she also knows her way around a straight-up pop bop, giving Before Love an impressive array of tools with which to work.
From singing in Spanish on “La Memoria” (Reyez is Colombian-Canadian and lived in Florida, busking on the beach before moving back to Toronto and pursuing music full-time) to referencing Goodfellas on the album’s intro “Do You Love Her,” Jessie utilizes every tool at her disposal to demonstrate her growth as an artist. While she does so, though, she doesn’t get lost in the eclecticism of the project, using the diverse styles to display different facets of her own strong personality.
The centeredness allows her to remain the focus, even when guest stars 6lack and Eminem contribute verses. Her duet with the former on “Imported” allows her to flex her hip-hop songwriting chops alongside one of the genre’s most solid dual-talent artists, while on “Coffin,” Jessie’s half of the song is miles better than Em’s out-of-place, off-key crooning. Through each track, Reyez’s voice slides between more alien pop and cool, velvet R&B, further demonstrating her versatility.
That versatility is doubly highlighted by the variety in the production. The uptempo “Dope” is a dance-pop party starter, offsetting the ballad-laden back-end of the album, which gives Reyez the chance to explore infatuation (on the pulsating “I Do”), heartbreak (the sweeping “Love In The Dark”), and a friends-with-benefits situation turned sour (the aggressive “Kill Us,” which lends the album its title). Reyez sings with charm and panache, modulating her unusual voice to suit the needs of each track, from moody and dark to carefree and tongue-in-cheek.
With that level of self-assuredness and nerve, Reyez is able to navigate seemingly disparate soundscapes and experiment to her heart’s content, secure in the knowledge that she won’t be swallowed up by an overwhelming new sound or stumble over an unfamiliar one. Before Love Came To Kill Us is a rock-solid statement of self-determination that shows flashes of promise that Reyez will be able to adapt to whatever sounds become the vogue, but also remain distinctive, with a sound all her own. The Canadian songwriter comes into her own as an artist, proving she can ride the wave and still sound like herself.
Before Love Came To Kill Us is out now via FMLY and Island. Get it here.