Album Review: Being Human in Public

The New People’s Champ, Jessie Reyez, is the latest voice of a generation

Carlo Javier, Contributor

There’s something different about Jessie Reyez. It’s not that she’s already come close to the apex of the Canadian music landscape with a Polaris Music Prize longlist in 2017. Or that she followed the prestigious nomination by winning the Juno Award for Breakthrough Artist in 2018. It’s not even that both accolades were built on the momentum of her magnetic, seven-track debut album, Kiddo. 

What separates the Canadian singer-songwriter is in fact, far from the prestige and mystique that many of her contemporaries are often enveloped by. Reyez, as she once again exquisitely illustrates in her aptly-titled latest album, Being Human In Public, is really just one of us. 

This type of humanness is perfectly illustrated in opening track, “Saint Nobody”. The power-packed ballad leads with a macabre yet not uncommon thought: “I think about dying everyday / I’ve been told that that’s a little strange / but I guess I’ve always been a little strange.” The track, which serves as a never-give-up rallying cry, doubles as an ode to the oft-harsh realities that many immigrants face, with Reyez delivering some heartfelt words about her parents. 

In tracks “F*** Being Friends” and “Dear Yessie”, Reyez exhibits a level of range and bravado that’s reminiscent of the great Rihanna. She raps with a ferocity that would put your favourite trappers to shame, and sings with so much vindication that it’s almost cinematic. 

Like <i>Kiddo<i>, <i>Being Human In Public<i> is a concise seven-track release. And just as “Figures” was two years ago, “Sola” is an undoubted masterclass. Sung entirely in Spanish and accompanied only by a single acoustic guitar, “Sola” has Reyez at her absolute best. She juxtaposes her raspy, whisper-like voice with flickering moments of tenderness, almost treating the track as a microcosm of the album’s most eminent theme: vulnerability. 

Two days before her Vancouver show on Oct. 16, Reyez posted an invitation across her social media platforms: “I’ll be at DUFFIN’s Donuts at 4:30 pm today. Come through. I wanna eat some fried chicken and meet some of my Vancouver peoples.” 

The message is entirely representative of Reyez and the very nature of Being Human In Public. There is an openness here – a deliberate lack of desire to shield oneself with the boundaries of celebrity and stardom. Being Human In Public is deeply personal yet it so easily represents the voice of many. To say that the album “speaks to you” would be a tragic understatement – it is a manifesto of women, of the other, of the lover, the loved and unloved, of the immigrant and of course, the human.

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