Meet Chicago’s Ezkiel, Cloudy Lonely Boy R&B Inspired by Nine Inch Nails

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Né: Ezkiel Reynaga
Raíces: Mexican-American from Chicago, IL
Sounds like: A Spanish-speaking Justin Timberlake with a Bryson Tiller attitude.
You should listen to Ezkiel because.…His thoughtful, moody tunes work as the soundtrack to both your drive around town and your late-night rendezvous.

Ezkiel‘s moody R&B tracks share obvious influences with the more emo proclivities of Justin Timberlake and Drake, but Trent Reznor’s brand of eerie intensity was of particular importance to the Chicago vocalist’s musical education. “I listen to a lot of Nine Inch Nails,” he says. Pairing those gritty sonic sensibilities with lyrics that flow like movie dialogue is the recipe for his tunes. “Conversations and movies are really big for me,” he says of his inspiration when putting pen to paper. “There’s usually one-liners in there, good advice, and I try to expand on [that].”

The 23-year-old Windy City native, born to immigrants from Jalisco, was exposed to music at a young age. After his parents divorced, he grew up primarily with his mom and around his grandfather and three siblings. “My grandpa plays Spanish guitar and my mom played a lot of music in the house,” he says. “It was therapeutic for me. I picked up guitar in fifth grade and taught myself. I kinda just wrote songs without being asked.”

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That passion continued throughout his formative years, but at first he took a more “practical” route. He enrolled at Columbia College Chicago, a small liberal arts school where he studied the music business and entertainment law. But just being tied to the industry wasn’t enough. “Maybe three years into it, being an artist and making music started to consume me. It was taking away from the schoolwork, [so] I decided about a year ago to really pursue it.”

“I listen to a lot of Nine Inch Nails.”

Holed up in the Lacuna Artist Lofts, he began work with engineer and producer Jack Flash. “I had two songs written. I pretty much came with the ingredients and was like, ‘help me make a cake,’” he says. “Me and Jack got more comfortable and spent more time in the studio realizing how we meshed together and the dynamic we had. [There were] a lot of late nights, a lot of being up till 6 in the morning, a lot of weed smoke, a lot of conversations and bouncing ideas off each other.”

They began trickling the songs out slowly about six months ago, starting with “Captive,” and followed by “Drugz.” Ezkiel’s latest, “Focus,” hit streaming services last month. Collectively, the songs share a cohesive moodiness that matches the smoke-filled, late-night environment in which they were crafted. “I’ve always gravitated sonically to darker tones,” says Ezkiel. “I spend a lot of time alone, driving in the car and listening to music. That kind of music has always resonated with me.” Lyrically speaking, the songs allude to romantic entanglements that frequently involve a high level of vulnerability. That emotional honesty is expected in today’s lonely boy R&B world, but it still offers a strong counterpoint to the Chris Browns and other R&B braggarts who are most concerned with partying and bedding models over deeper connections.

Up next is a short film to accompany the songs and a debut show on August 16. Though he’s familiar with being on stage (he’s supported EDM act Antics at several performances in the past), this will be his first foray into letting the public hear his solo material, and he’s not taking it lightly.

“I’ve been watching the way JT performs,” he says of his stage inspiration. “I like the way he remixes his own music. I also have visuals that I’ve worked on that I want to play.”

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With more songs set to come out through the end of summer and early fall, Ezkiel isn’t necessarily in a hurry to put together a formal album or EP. Right now, he’s soaking up as much of the creative process as he can, while hoping to collaborate with new players. He name drops James Fauntleroy, Ryan Tedder, and Drake’s go-to producer Noah “40” Shebib – visionaries behind some of the best pop songs of the past decade – as people he’d like to work with someday, once again demonstrating his admiration for the skill of songwriting.

“I used to give myself such a hard time, because I felt like I didn’t have enough knowledge that went into making an album,” he says. “I had to make sense of it. I’m still learning and growing. Along the way, I’ve met people that are helping me and I’m gaining knowledge from about a whole body of work and what it takes.”

Ezkiel has shared an acoustic take on his first single, “Captive,” premiering exclusively here on Remezcla via Apple Music. Watch below: