Jessie Reyez is hyper-aware.

She has every reason to bask in all recently-earned success that's taken her to places she's never been to collaborate with artists she never thought possible. But the Toronto artist doesn't want to let her guard down. Not yet. She's come too far to ease off and not take this thing all the way. Especially since people once told her it wouldn't be possible.

The road to success is paved with passion and oftentimes assholes trying to exploit those dreams. And for a young woman delivering vulnerable art in an aggressive music industry, that may come with its own type of predatory intentions. But while the theory of coercing sex for access isn't new, Jessie Reyez has put her own personal story on detailed display on her acclaimed new Kiddo EP and the Gatekeeper short film to accompany it. "You almost made me quit music," she explained to the anonymous producer that tried to take advantage of a budding young talent. "Fuck you."

While resilient through one roadblock however, Jessie has all eyes ahead, ready for what's next. Although it looks like great things, with a Calvin Harris feature and Governors Ball slot already secured, she's not taking any chances.


Congrats on the project and all the acclaim. Since it's been such a long time coming and it's finally here, how are you feeling?

I'm happy. Although, it doesn't get lost on me that everything can change in a second. So, I'm happy but I don't chill. I'm never comfortable, even though good things are happening.

Right now, you're being supported for a lot of things. But it's your realness that's really gotten a lot of people's attention. Why do you think realness is so rare?

I'm honoured that people respect that and resonate with it. I feel like truth just resonates in general and that might be why it catches on a little easier especially nowadays when everything is just filtered out in layers like makeup or sugar-coated. It hits a little harder when it's more rugged and raw without any edit.

And you were brave enough to cover everything from mental illness to sexual harassment on your incredible Kiddo EP. You've been open about your need to express these darker topics. When and how did you start using your creativity to express what you couldn't say?

I started writing when I was a young kid but I don't think that I really experienced any true heartache until halfway through my teens. That's when I was depressed and I was in my own little head. And I was listening to Amy [Winehouse], because when I listened to her, it felt like having somebody who understood what I was going through. And I had loved ones around me that told me, 'Don't worry, it'll pass.' But it's different when you have someone mirroring what you're going through. It's just a different type of understanding.

I've read media outlets compare you to her now as a modern-day reference. How does that feel?

I feel like it's crazy when people do that because I have so much respect for her. And I feel like she's so skilled. Her vocal control, her pitch, her writing, her everything is so incredible. I feel honoured but I also feel like I'm not worthy when people compare me to that.

But beyond your writing, your voice is so raw and intense one minute and soft and honest in others. What's been your process of exploring the power you have with it?

It's just that, it's been a process because I've had to work to get better all the time. Anytime I work with other producers or singers, or better musicians than I am, I get better. But I practice a lot and scale it a lot. Honestly, I've just been blessed to work with great people because I feel like it rubs off. Every time you meet someone new as a creator, there's always something that you can learn from everybody that you meet.

We touched a little bit on darkness, now let's go to the light. With all this success, what's been the must fulfilling part of all of it so far?

The horizons are a long way away from the things that I want to accomplish but the greatest thing so far is the people hitting me up saying that "I'm going through my own shit and just hearing your stuff makes it a little easier." Because that's what I had when I listened to greater artists when I was little. I just appreciate that a lot. Especially with 'Gatekeeper', just knowing people resonate with that is incredible. It's fulfilling and validating to know that you've touched another human being. It's crazy, because I never thought about it in that greater aspect. I thought about expressing what I needed out. It's so beautiful. Now, I stay conscious of wanting to pay it forward - all the help I was given by people that didn't have to give it to me.

It's great to hear. And I know that in a city like Toronto where there are so many artists breaking out on the global scene, there are still so few female narratives making it in comparison to our guys. So what does it feel like to be holding down your unique perspective on the world stage?

It's crazy. I feel lucky. I feel hella lucky. I just don't want to stop working. I don't want to stop hustling. I don't want to feel like I accomplished anything because it's dangerous. But there are also some incredible female artists that are coming out of the city and fucking doing it. Alessia Cara, she's inspiring and her whole message is beautiful. Other artists that are still working towards it that I fuck with are Savannah Re - I really fuck with her music too and her as a person. I feel honoured to be one of the few women and hopefully, the ratio with the success stories of men and girls will even and grow with time.

Yes and it's inspiring especially considering your name has been floating around the city for years as you grinded your way to this place. What moment do you consider your breakthrough where things really changed for you and started to take off?

The Remix Project. Near the end of graduation when I started to work with King Louie. He made a hell of a difference. Then King Louie showed my shit to Chance the Rapper and he was fucking with it. Ever since then, it was just this snowball that never stopped.

It's great that you found great people who championed you, especially after watching your short film 'Gatekeeper' all about sexual harassment and the predatory bullshit that a lot of women deal with. In the letter and the film, you were talking about how you nearly quit music because of other people. What made you keep going?

It was just the drive. My folks came from Columbia so it's not that we came from money or anything like that. My dad has been a hustler his whole life. That kind of drive, you can't really put that to bed. Thank god.

How did they react to that part of the journey and the story?

Oh man, it was heartbreaking watching my mom watch it, because she bawled. But I had to warn them prior to exposing them to that. I sat them down and I was like, this is years after. It's five years after it happened. I never talked to them about it, because they worry enough about it already. I didn't want to add to it. But it was going to be out, so I needed to let them know. They still worry. I just do my best to reassure them that it won't happen. I'm sure of myself in that regard and I don't feel like I can be manipulated in that way. If God keeps helping me, I don't think it will happen. But they are happy that I'm doing what I love. They're happy that I'm passionate and that they don't see my drive diminishing as we go forward. And they're actually with me right now. I brought them with me to London. It's their first time in Europe.

Oh my god, that must be a crazy feeling to know that your art took them there.

It's fucking nuts. I'm stoked. In the airport, my mom kept saying 'I can't believe we're going to Europe.' When we were packing she was like 'I can't believe we're going to Europe.' We get to the airport and she's like 'I can't believe we're getting on a plane to go to Europe.' She was in disbelief until we got here.

I'm so happy that you got to have that experience with them. And it's just the beginning. I know Kiddo was years in the making, so what else can we anticipate from you in the near future to keep this momentum going?

I have a couple features coming out. I've got a spot on that Calvin Harris project that's coming out on June 30, which I'm excited for. It's so insane. There are a few other features that are coming out too as surprises a little later. We're releasing another video for Kiddo and then I go on my tour - my first large North American tour - and Governor's Ball.

Jessie is performing at the Miranda, Ace Hotel in London tonight.