Coming off a strong run of EPs, singles and collaborations, Jessie Reyez’s long-awaited debut record Before Love Came To Kill Us finally arrives Friday, cementing her name in the modern R&B pantheon of Beyoncé, Kali Uchis, Rihanna, SZA and The Weeknd. “The whole premise of building this album was to make something that made people think about their mortality,” Reyez states ahead of the release. Mortality isn’t a typical subject for the R&B genre. Still, Reyez does it justice weaving together a bricolage of pensive, melancholic balladry, upbeat trap-pop hits, and lovelorn, diaristic vignettes.
In Before Love Came To Kill Us, Reyez confronts the focal themes of heartbreak and romantic strife unambiguously and with no filter – crooning with a refreshing tone of honesty. Love is a purifying elixir just as much as a burdening vice. On Ankles, she asserts her ex-lover will never find someone who will “measure up” to her standards, atop ratcheting hi-hats and a soulful, vocal-laced instrumental bed.
Ankles aptly segues into the rich, beguiling Imported, assisted by Atlanta-based rapper 6lack. “You, you’re in love with somebody else,” the two artists cathartically sing in unison. But in Reyez’s perception, heartbreak might be inevitable – or even desired. “But you might OD if you get too much of me,” she wittily flutters.
Throughout the course of 14 tracks, Reyez sublimely traverses across genres, emotional tones and sonic textures, demonstrating tremendous range. Reyez’s vocals are both honeyed and sorrowful. She performs La Memoria entirely in Spanish with zestful grace, paying homage to her Colombian roots. In stark contrast, Deaf finds Ms. Reyez furiously rapping in an embittered, raspy cadence, scorning her ex-lover with cold-blooded sarcasm: “I ain’t a killa, I’ll let you breathe.” In the back-end of the record, Dope transports us to a midnight Colombian dance-club scene, in which Reyez vocalizes hedonistic chants of carpe diem: “Life is short so I hope you’re long.”
Reyez’s melodramatic delivery and poetic sardonicism bleed through these compositions, at times, feeling like she’s paraphrasing lines from a Shakespearean sonnet. Hard-hitting lines such as “World War III justified in bed,” “Maybe Buddha’s got it right, we reincarnate every time,” and “Kiss me, I’m the monster that you made,” sit with the audience hours after listening. Moments like these build searing dramatism in the album, climaxing by the fourth track Coffin, wherein Eminem swings by as the archetypal bad guy accelerating through a window-shattering (literally), acrimonious verse: “I don’t get you, it’s as if you’re drowning / I stick my hand out, but you fool me.”
Before Love Came To Kill Us coheres so well because Reyez displays impressive, unwavering command over her voice and her aesthetic; the album is soul-baring, bittersweet and honestly expressive – and one that catapults Reyez to the summit of Canada’s thriving R&B scene.
Editor’s note: (March 27, 2020) An earlier version of this article misidentified the author’s name.