A lot of people who read Sunset have asked me where I’ve been; it’s been a long time since I’ve published an article. To start, I’ve been working at my day job. I’m not sure if people know that Sunset was never my full-time job. Earlier in my career, I just used to have more time to spend on it. For years, I would go to work, go home, and sit down to work on Sunset for several hours. Every day. Weekends were mostly full of listening and writing.
But after moving to San Francisco from North Carolina, this evening time started slipping away from me. The culture out here in San Francisco is very different. Work hours are longer, social calendars are more demanding, and weekends spent inside typing away on a computer are much more guilt inducing. There were a few years when I really resented that fact about my life in San Francisco. But I’ve grown into it. Two years ago, I found a job that I really care about (if you care to know, I work on the media partnerships team at Pinterest…a fancy way of saying I sell ads. And yes, somehow I care about that…), and I am devoted to advancing my career.
So what brings me back today, over two years later? Well, to begin with, I’ve still been here behind the scenes. I still contribute to the monthly playlists that Jordan puts together, help find new writers for the site, and, well, I still pay the bills. Yes, I do see the tweets and Facebook message from folks asking if I still accept submissions. I apologize for not responding to all of them; it’s just a shortage of time. But I still choose my own path of music discovery (often through my writers’ picks, honestly) and I often happen across a gem. I’ll almost always post them here. That happened for me recently, and that’s why I’m back here writing today.
I first heard of Jessie Reyez a few months ago as I was watching Pigeons & Planes coverage from SXSW. I’m pretty sure I was watching their Instagram story; funny to think that’s one of my ways of discovering music today. When I started this thing, I was using MySpace to discover most of the artists I wrote about. That’s a great reminder of how long this site has been around for (almost a decade!).
As I was watching the footage of Jessie for the first time, I saw this uniquely beautiful young artist with a stunning voice, a natural gentle strum of her guitar, and beneath those things, a distinct sense of anger, authenticity and emotion in her delivery that I couldn’t forget. I was hooked almost immediately.
I got the opportunity to see Jessie live in San Francisco this past Thursday night at Rickshaw Stop. For context, Rickshaw Stop is one of the smaller venues in San Francisco, but it packed a pretty good punch on Thursday night for the sold out show. First, let me just say that I was again reminded of my age when I saw the crowd lined up at the door. This happens at most concerts I go to, but as I stood there in the line to get into the venue in my work clothes with my laptop and all, I felt myself longing for my younger days when I could devote more of my time to my passion for music. This feeling crept into my thoughts again as I realized it was after 10pm and still no sign of Jessie. When is a girl to sleep?? Alas, I digress.
When she did come out on stage, I saw just what I hoped to see. A young artist with a hell of a lot of swagger who truly seemed excited to be up on that stage. She started the show with a hat covering most of her face while she sang “Fuck It,” and as the show went on, we saw a few different variations of her look. Hat went away, hair went up, hair came back down, sweatshirt came off – all matched the mood of the music. But through it all, we heard and saw Jessie telling her story of where she came from. She brought the attitude — and then some — that hooked me that day I stumbled across her as I was perusing Instagram. The common “fucks” she throws into her lyrics were delivered like a threat; Jessie was here to tell her story with a vengeance.
She played every song off of her debut EP Kiddo for us and even shared some unreleased music; let me just say, we can all expect to be seeing a lot more of Jessie in the future. In the middle of her set she sat down to perform a few covers, reminding the crowd that before she released Kiddo, she was largely known for her covers. I of course got excited when she started playing a cover of “Cocoa Butter Kisses” by Chance the Rapper.
I got some shit the next day at work from a coworker who saw that I posted a video of the cover on Instagram. I got an earful for being another Chance fan girl. First off, not sure my coworker knows of my long-time appreciation for Chance, but that aside, I’m not sure he understood the real reason why I was so excited to see this cover. To me, it represented the coming together of two young artists I’ve gotten to witness achieving their dreams.
I’ve watched Chance develop into an incredibly successful young artist over the past 5+ years; the joy and indebtedness he’s expressed throughout the journey has been incredibly motivating. I saw that same joy permeate Jessie on stage on Thursday night. While her raw emotions and anger were palpable in her songs, she finished every song with a big smile on her face and a real sense of gratitude for the crowd. She reminded us that this has been her dream since she was three years old. Choosing to cover a Chance song was, in my mind, a hat tip by Jessie to another young artist she’s connected with who’s proven that you can beat the odds and independently develop your own unique brand of music without the support of a major label.
Near the end of the show, Jessie had just finished singing “Figures,” and she turned to us to say “it is so fucking cool to look out and see all of you singing my lyrics.” One might argue this was the obvious next step for Jessie. She’s on a fast track to fame. After all, she just performed on the BET Awards and was featured on Calvin Harris’s latest album. But she stands out to me — as Chance did — for her ability to maintain humble and grateful throughout what’s capable of being a very ego-boosting experience.
Listen to Kiddo and you’ll hear a track on the 7-track collection that only features her parents’ voices. Peruse through her Instagram account and you’ll see that she took her parents to the BET awards with her. She sings about her Colombian roots, she thanks her fans continually, and above it all, she seems most grateful for her parents’ love and support. That’s something you don’t hear every day, and perhaps I’m overanalyzing, but it makes the whole thing feel extra special to me.
So THAT is what brought me back to writing today. I started this blog nine years ago because I found in myself an appreciation for really good music. But as I’ve been discovering and writing about artists over the years, I’ve felt particularly moved by a few of them. And by moments like this one, where I recognize that I’m standing in a crowd looking up at an artist showing genuine gratitude to be living out her dreams. I experienced this with Chance years ago, and it happened again with Jessie on Thursday night. In those rare moments, I know that I’ll never experience the same scenario with that artist again. The next time I’ll have the opportunity to see Jessie perform live, the stage will be bigger, the lines will be longer, the crowd will be fuller.
But I’ll never forget her smile on stage, her appreciation of the crowd, and her presence at the merch table after the show, where she met and thanked each of her fans for helping her get to where she is now: a young artist on the brink of a successful career that she’s dreamed of pursuing since she was just three years old. It’s a really special experience that I would highly recommend seeking out.