Photo Credit: Philip Harris
“And I’m sick with feeling like I deserved better // And you’re sick for everything you did to me, it was a setup // And I should Goodfella you, call me Karen, waking up to my Beretta // If I blow your brains out I, I can guarantee that you’ll forget her // If I blow your brains out, I could kiss it better.” This is the beautiful calamity that is the Canadian beauty Jessie Reyez. The lyrics are directly from the fierce but eerily calm intro track “Do You Love Her”, that welcomes you to her 2020 debut album Before Love Came to Kill Us. However the tumultuous battle with vulnerable love, and the ability to confidently display it, is what makes Jessie’s material so gratifyingly good! Reyez’s style is an acquired taste, and it is inevitably what separates her as an anomaly.
The soul singer-songwriter extraordinaire has the vulgarity of British rapper MIA mixed with the stubborn vocal sounds of the late Amy Winehouse with a sprinkle of vintage Rihanna, and those aren’t just musical comparisons. The fiery 28-year-old has never been shy about expressing how she really feels no matter who’s around. (Take for example 2017’s single “Gatekeeper”, a bold and blistering exposing of alleged sexual harassment by a prominent former industry producer. Sparred by instances like this, some have found her style and lyrics to often be on the verge of unhinged, even on the fence of unstable. However, this is precisely what spearheads Reyez’s raw intensity. What you see as a result is an unapologetic sentiment transforming squarely into artistic expression, which she executes almost flawlessly on her debut.
After a scathing introduction comes the flexing fun-loving sounds of “Dope”, which has enough vibrance and authenticity to convince any label tycoon that she’s the real deal. “Deaf” (Who Are You) follows suit, showing exactly who Reyez embodies: a soft but non-caring rebel. As she fires off nonchalant one- liners like: “And I’m taking everything I came for, I ain’t f*ckin’ askin’” and “I never listen, no I never listen // So I wouldn’t hear your ass anyway.” Later on, hip hop vet Eminem pops up on the outstanding collaboration track “Coffin”. Which marks the third time the pair has teamed up as they seem to share the same zainy wit. She was also featured on Em’s 2019 effort Kamikaze. It may be the most earnest you hear the Toronto native as she sings gingerly on the hook: “You make me wanna jump off the roof // ‘Cause I love you to death // Just like a fool // I’d rather a coffin hand made for two // ‘Cause I love you to death.” Flanked by the MC’s follow-up verse as he spits: “‘Cause if you jump I’m jumpin’ with you.”
Early released single “Imported” with Atlanta rapper 6lack is the only other feature on the album, as her and the crafty MC trade endearing verses about their individual graces and personal downfalls. As progression would have it, Reyez continues to hold nothing back throughout the rest of the album. She gives you her all everywhere, such as on the mystifying “Ankles”, a blatant and direct ode speaking on the ongoing players (meaning other women) involved in a relationship that ultimately ended up in heartbreak. Seething in authenticity, it must be noted that Reyez’s songwriting is extremely on point throughout the 14-tracks of this project. Her lyrics are fearless and more faithful than most. Take for instance on the well-versed “Intruders” (easily one of the best tracks on the LP) she lyrically bodies a smooth beat behind a neo-soul drum set, fondly warning potential suitors not to get too close and tread lightly if you don’t want to meet her wrath. Nonetheless, by the time you get to “Love In the Dark” things start to get a bit watered down and redundant. She hones on about the same old song, which can be true for the sobering “I Do” which not only gets a tad dramatic, but is aided by an equally unnecessary video full of unnecessary visuals. The song alone is umm well…enough.
All in all, Before Love Came to Kill Us is more than solid and a very fruitful debut effort. Although, time will tell if she’s able to produce a collection of more well-rounded content going forward. Other than the booming high-spirited sounds of “Dope” and the two minute brilliant but somewhat cocky “Roof” in which she professes what differentiates her from the norm, the genre basically strikes one chord. Understandably, this is an album that explores a relationship breakdown and the heartbreak that ensues. We can all relate, but with a personality as strong as hers, she will need to be mindful of not falling into a one-dimensional trap. If Reyez is able to further balance her deviant attitude and soft heart to a tune of musical bliss in the future, her fans will continue to gravitate. While remaining loyal to who she is as a woman and as an artist, if she can manage this feat, the impassioned and once love-struck Jessie Reyez will ultimately be talked about with the greats for a long time to come.