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Why R.Lum.R’s Genre-Bending R&B Belongs in Your Playlist Pronto

Emerging star Reggie Lamar Williams has a way with soaring falsettos and staccato synths

Riddhi Chakraborty Jul 12, 2017
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R.Lum.R’s upcoming debut EP ‘Afterimage’ covers heartbreak, ambition and desperation. Photo: Tyler Babin

A conversation with Reggie Lamar Williams is best described as comfortable. Williams, who goes by the stage name R.Lum.R, is affable and funny, and the discussion feels completely natural, whether we’re talking about bands we love or our younger days as wannabe scene kids. He speaks with a familiarity associated to old friends and good memories, and it makes sense that his music has a similar effect. His most famous track, 2016’s “Frustrated,” is reminiscent of artists like Frank Ocean, Daley and Flume, but is original in its delivery and lyricism. Williams’ style pulls in fans of the aforementioned musicians with just enough of the familiar while simultaneously bringing in a taste of something new. The 27-year-old musician seems to have mastered something plenty of artists struggle with: balance.

Originally from Bradenton, Florida, Williams started singing in churches when he was a kid, before taking up classical guitar in high school. “There was a lot of serendipity involved in my musical upbringing,” he says over the phone from Nashville, where he is currently based. “My grandmother had a church and I was nine when they realized I was always singing and making noise and stuff so they just put me in it. For some reason, as a kid I hated it, but I look back and it was really a formative experience.”

That wasn’t the only moment of serendipity in Williams’ career – how he embarked on the path to becoming an R&B musician was down to similar good fortune. He reveals that he was supposed to write a few tracks for other artists on a record label, but when he sent them in, producers were interested in making music with him instead. This led to the birth of R.Lum.R and Williams’ powerful, hard-hitting sound, made up of echoing percussion, staccato synths and soaring falsettos—basically the bones of his upcoming debut EP Afterimage which comes out August 11th via PRMD Music. “It’s pieces of me. The Afterimage idea is that… these are all different facets of me, extensions of who I am and this is the stuff that got me here,” says Williams.

Williams is usually prepared with a song when he enters the recording studio, but with Afterimage, he decided to leave more to chance. “A lot of these tunes didn’t have as much premeditation, and that was another very new thing for me,” he says. “I think it’s cool because this is exactly how angry or hurt I was when I wrote [a certain track]. Every tune on this thing except for ‘Frustrated’ was started in the studio itself. It keeps it really present for me when I’m doing it live. I feel like they’re still real to me.”

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Afterimage’s lyricism certainly feels raw and covers heartbreak, anger, ambition and desperation. “I feel like I’ve kind of been in purgatory sometimes emotionally,” says Williams. “So on this EP I can cover a lot of different grounds, flex a lot of muscle I haven’t had the room to in other projects.” But he adds that it all boils down to one primary message he wants to convey.  “I think the most important thing in the world right now is empathy,” he says. “So many issues that we face and the hatred and pointless stuff that happen come from not understanding that another person probably feels the same way as you.”

Williams believes that one of the greatest things about music is how it can help a fan survive the darkest days of their lives simply with the assurance that they’re not alone. Artists like Coheed and Cambria, Ray LaMontagne, Fleet Foxes and Staind in particular had a massive impact on him while he was growing up. The late grunge pioneer Chris Cornell and his band Audioslave are also part of the list. “That song ‘Be Yourself’ particularly was a big deal to me,” says Williams. “When kids were like pushing me around and getting in my face… I just remember those lyrics ‘be yourself, that’s all you can do’ being a mantra for me.”

Given that he’s making waves in alternative R&B (“Frustrated” alone has racked up over 15 million plays on Spotify so far) Williams’ love for grunge, nu metal and rock comes as a surprise to most. When he was young he was only allowed to listen to gospel and jazz and blues, but middle school had other plans for him. “My friend showed me this band Linkin Park and that kind of changed things.” Bands like Muse, Limp Bizkit and Staind led Williams on a journey into prog rock, electronica, metal and whole a lot more. “King Crimson was a big deal for me; Dream Theater I really liked,” he recalls. “This was all around when we had Limewire and Napster and we started having access to everything.”

RLUMR_credit Nolan Knight

“R.Lum.R is kind of a diverse, interesting ‘you never know what’s going to come next’ and that’s part of the appeal,” says Williams. Photo: Nolan Knight

Williams’ expansive taste in music is a secret weapon and fundamental to the darker threads of electronica and R&B present on Afterimage. “I really would like to put a stamp on it early on that R.Lum.R is kind of a diverse, interesting ‘you never know what’s going to come next’ and that’s part of the appeal,” Williams says.

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Today, several fans write to Williams on social media about finding solace in his music. “It’s a huge honor that people feel that way,” he says, recalling an instance when a girl wrote to him about how much his music helped her through college. “There’s a playlist on my Spotify page called ‘Last Year in College’ and if I didn’t have those bands I would not have made it. So it’s interesting in the sense that the circle kind of completes itself.”  Fans put their trust in artists to make their day or lives better, which Williams believes is all part of the duty of being a musician. “I don’t want to seem flippant when I say this, but it’s kind of like damn, I’m just a servant of this music and this message,” he says. “It’s not about me; it’s about this thing that exists that’s just bigger than you. You have to put your heart and soul into it and be ready to be responsible for it. This isn’t a joke to people.”

Now with platforms like VEVO DSCVR (which has launched the likes of Sam Smith, James Bay and Alessia Cara) backing him, international tour dates and several campaigns ready to go, Williams cannot wait to reach out to more fans who want to see him live and meet him. “We’re going to fucking South Korea, and they asked us to come!” Williams says. He thinks that the most fascinating thing about a world tour is the fact that people across the world connect to his music, regardless of what language it’s in. “It’s really empowering, overall when you always thought you’re too brown, you’re too poor, you’re too dumb, you’re too whatever to do this,” says Williams. “But here I am… I’m doing it.”

Click here to check out the digital edition of Rolling Stone India. 

Watch R.Lum.R’s video for “Love Less” below:

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