A moment that defines Jessie Reyez’s recent omnipresence came during her performance at the Made in America festival in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend. Just a few nights earlier the Canadian-Colombian folk-rap singer had turned in an electrifying performance at the VMAs, but on this day the crowd was there to cheer her on for something that happened the night before: Eminem’s surprise album “Kamikaze,” which features Reyez on two songs. “Good Guy” and “Nice Guy” were less than 24 hours old, but the crowd knew her parts and sang along.
Then again, Reyez performances are hard to resist. She’s raw and real, with freak-folk-R&B songs that have frank-as-f— lyrics and an in-your-face delivery that’s difficult to look away from. Her star has risen rapidly in the past couple of years, due to her 2017 “Kiddo” EP but more to her high-profile live performances and guest spots: Along with Eminem, she’s collaborated with Calvin Harris (and co-wrote his hit with Dua Lipa, “One Love”), Romeo Santos, and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie.
The experience shows on her new EP, “Being Human in Public,” which should establish her as a deeply revealing, imaginatively conscious, funky songstress — although she’s as forthright and forward as any male singer as well.
The music is spacious, jazzy and sinewy, and more accessible than her previous work, but with at times startlingly piercing lyrics. Reyez’s voice is an unusual combination of sweet and scratchy, with touches of Rickie Lee Jones or Macy Gray, and that sweetness can be startling with her confrontational lyrics. Her 2017 true-life story of sexual harassment in the music industry — she’s even identified the alleged subject — has been hushing audiences for years, and while songs here are less specific, the effect is the same, particularly on “F— Being Friends.”
“I got your heart in my hand and your dick in the other/ You ain’t scared to f—, but you’re scared of being lovers/ Why is that, huh?/ My p—y beat better than my heart do?”
It’s a theme that carries over to the rustic funk of “Body Count Remix,” featuring Normani and Kehlani, but it’s on “Dear Yessie” that her realities as a minority female become more universal: “Bitch, a minority, they wouldn’t let me in… If I had a dick then I might get some preference,” she sings.
“This is the realest I’ve ever been,” she concludes over one of her catchies melodies. “The realest I’ve ever been.”
“Being Human in Public” establishes Reyez as a powerful voice at a time when the world needs one.