Rileyy Lanez leaves her heart on wax for all to hear. The Bronx-based 19-year-old singer-songwriter writes deep odes to love and heartbreak, with an emphasis on guarding your energies and trying to solve the hardest question love has to offer: Why did you treat me like this?
Rileyy’s debut EP, Beautiful Mistakes, is a highly emotive affair. On “I’m Leaving,” Rileyy’s voice sounds seasoned; her music wonderfully lived in. There’s not a moment during Beautiful Mistakes where we have to wonder about Rileyy’s honesty. “All I want is to be happy,” she wails on “I’m Leaving.” Instantly, our hearts ache. It’s the simplicity of the line that makes it such a hit to the chest—the desperation of it, how heartbreak is the great equalizer.
“Speaking from a relationship perspective: I’ve seen friends of mine in relationships with people who were treating them terribly,” Rileyy Lanez tells me over the phone. We’re discussing the title of her EP and the nature of beautiful mistakes themselves. “It was so bad; my friends recall being with the person a mistake. But, when they learned to love themselves and [learned] the situation they were in was not healthy whatsoever, I’ve seen them grow into beautiful [people]. Now, they won’t take nobody’s shit. They’re prepared for their next relationship; they’re stronger than they started. I call that a beautiful mistake.”
There’s a natural swagger to Rileyy’s speaking voice, how she jumps into each question with excitement and real sincerity. Her passion for music had been a fixture in her life, with her realizing she had a voice around age nine. Support from her family—and some help honing her writing skills from her mother and sister—pushed her to follow her dreams. Though she feels a palpable fear of failure, Rileyy is all smiles even as we discuss her inspirations for speaking on heartbreak.
“That’s the main thing a lot of people in my generation [are] going through,” Rileyy admits. “It’s hard to find real love. It’s sad to say, but it’s true. It’s a lot of heartbreak, and depression, and sadness. So I wanna speak on that topic and help people, and show people ways to grow and become a better person.”
With that, Rileyy assures me her music is for everyone: “All genders, all ages. Everybody! You could be 90-something, you could play my music. Five years old, you can listen to my music.” If you’re looking for a New York R&B act to fall in love with and grow with, look no further.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did you realize you could sing?
Rileyy Lanez: I always knew how to sing, since I was young. Around age nine, ever since I found out I had a voice, I started pursuing it.
What drove you to give your music career a real shot?
Family… Growing up, everyone told me: “You have a voice, don’t take it for granted. You should pursue something in [the] music industry.” I just took everybody’s word. I’m glad I did it. This is my dream.
What did you have to sacrifice for your dreams?
I did have to sacrifice my social life. I keep my circle small now. Sometimes people be wanting handouts [laughs]. I don’t hang out with my friends much, but this is a work in progress. It’s my future; it’s my career; I’ll put any type of work into this.
I love the title of the EP, Beautiful Mistakes. To you, what is a beautiful mistake?
Speaking from a relationship perspective: I’ve seen friends of mine in relationships with people who were treating them terribly. It was so bad; my friends recall being with the person a mistake. But, when they learned to love themselves and [learned] the situation they were in was not healthy whatsoever, I’ve seen them grow into beautiful [people]. Now, they won’t take nobody’s shit. They’re prepared for their next relationship; they’re stronger than they started. I call that a beautiful mistake.
You can’t grow without pain.
Yes! I agree with that.
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You’re so vulnerable on the EP, but you don’t ever lose your swagger. How do you balance the vulnerability with the stunting?
I’m from New York, so the swagger’s always gonna be there. That’s a New York thing. The pain… I don’t know how to balance it; it just comes about. Whatever I’m feeling, I’m gonna write about it.
Is vulnerability the key to strength?
Yes! If you’re able to become one with your feelings in any situation, that’s a lot of strength. Some people hide away [their] emotions, and they never speak on them. [Speaking] on your emotions and how you’re feeling, that’s strong.
On “Left 4 Me,” you sing about giving everything to someone and having nothing left for yourself. How do you make sure you guard your energy?
I go off the vibe someone gives me. If you give me 50, I’mma give you 50. But, if you’re giving me 25, I’m only giving you 25. If I see somebody giving me the cold shoulder, I’ll fall back. But if I see you’re putting your all into something, I’ll put my all in.
With “I’m Leaving,” both your voice and pen are so seasoned. Where does your love for writing come from?
What’s funny [is], when I was younger, my writing was not great at all. But my mom and sister are actually writers. When I decided to pursue singing, my mom thought it would be nice for me to be able to write songs. My sister and my mother were the ones who helped me with my writing skills.
You write about heartbreak with such intense desperation and emotion. Why does that theme inspire you?
That’s the main thing a lot of people in my generation [are] going through. This generation… It’s hard to find real love. It’s sad to say, but it’s true. It’s a lot of heartbreak, and depression, and sadness. So I wanna speak on that topic and help people and show people ways to grow and become a better person.
Beautiful Mistakes isn’t all sadness, though. “Foul Play” is nicely uptempo and fun. How important is it for you to inject lightness into your music?
You said it! I just show people you can have a good time, too. Of course, you’re gonna have those days where you’re gonna feel less than. There’s always another side to that. We’re still young. Have fun, live life. There’s a lot of things we haven’t experienced yet. So I wanted to show [the] two sides of people.
You sound so confident, but is there anything you’re afraid of?
Yes! Failing. But that’s everybody. A lot of people are scared of failing, but if you put your mind to it and you’re determined, you’ll be okay. You’re gonna get through it. I’mma be fine.
When’s the last time you felt stuck with the music, and how did you get out of that?
It was a lot of times where I just felt like music wasn’t for me. There’s always that thought, but if this is what you wanna do, and this is it, go for it. Put your mind to it; [there] shouldn’t be nothing to stop you from [following] your dreams.
Finally, who do you make music for?
Everybody! All genders, all ages. You could be 90-something, you could play my music. Five years old, you can listen to my music. Everybody.