Ebony Riley Continues To Take Leaps Of Faith Into R&B Stardom
Ebony Riley's rise to fame is one that's filled with awe-inspiring moments. From strutting down the runway for some of the most coveted fashion houses in the world to showcasing her musical prowess, Ebony Riley has shown us why she’s truly a force to be reckoned with. She's graced the catwalk for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Balmain, and Oscar de la Renta, to name a few. But as she grew as a model, Ebony discovered a newfound passion for music that was aching to be explored.
Inspired by some of the most powerful vocalists in the industry, such as Mary J. Blige and Toni Braxton, the Detroit native took a leap of faith and moved to LA to pursue music wholeheartedly. Her debut EP, ebony, released in February 2023, showcases her exceptional range as an artist where she’s poured her personal experiences into the seven-track project. Blending soulful R&B beats with deeply reflective lyrics about love and life, ebony marks the beginning for the songstress for a switch up in career path.
With ebony being met with positive critical acclaim, it's no surprise why. With her velvety, emotive vocals and poignant song writing, Ebony has created a musical masterpiece that speaks to the soul. It's a testament to her versatility and a true reflection of her undeniable talent. New Wave were able to chat with Ebony about her most recent release, her life as a model and musician as well as seeing her dedication towards staying positive and not being able to fit in any sort of box.
Words by Shenead Poroosotum
Creative Direction: Derrick Odafi
Photographer Guled Hassan
Art Director Annie Alvin
Movement Director Maycie-Anne St-Louis
Gaffer Myles Wilkinson
Gaffer's Assistant Ian Blackburn
MUA Yolanda Dohr
Hairstylist Anoushka Danielle
NW: Around when was it when you decided that you wanted to pursue music?
ER: I've always loved music; I’ve always wanted to do music. But I decided officially in 2015 to pursue it, but then it wasn’t really going how I wanted it. I wasn’t creating the way I wanted to create and then you know, time created magic. In 2019 is when I started this project and wrapped it up right before we gave it to you.
NW: You’ve mentioned that you take a lot of inspiration from 90s R&B. Who are the artists that you think moulded and shaped your sound?
ER: I don’t think anyone necessarily moulded my sound sonically because I feel like I don’t actually sound like anybody. But I definitely get inspiration from so many people for different reasons; Mary J. Blige for her rawness, Lauryn Hill for her lyricism and beautiful melodies, Toni Braxton for her tone and depth to her voice… And then from the newer age they tend to be like Rihanna for her fearlessness and you got Beyonce for her performance. So, I don't think sonically I've drawn from any of them. But I'm inspired by different things from them though.
NW: It's like you’ve built this person inside you by drawing from all of these different influences and best parts of these artists.
ER: Yeah! They've shown me that I can bear these parts of myself and that I don't have to put myself in a box. I don't have to be scared to be vulnerable and I can play with different melodies. I don't have to stay in one genre, and I can do whatever I want.
NW: Since getting into music would you get back into modelling or are you an ex-model now?
ER: I’m not going to say that I’m a model still or that I’m an ex-model… I just think that anytime you're doing something, you really want to make sure that you do it right? You should dive in, wholeheartedly. So, I definitely took time away and stepped back to give myself fully to my career. But you know, I still love the fashion world for different reasons. I've met a lot of amazing people I've created a lot of great art over the years. So, I still work with people, depending on what it is… it just depends on if it's aligned with where I'm going with my career.
NW: We understand that you relocated to Los Angeles after auditioning for America's Next Top Model. Were there any challenges that came within this, whether it be the moving process or finding an agency that like accepted black women with open arms?
ER: For the world that was 12 years ago, and with America’s Next Top Model, that was the initial thing that got me out of Detroit. That was what made me want to go. I didn't make it and I didn't get on the show, but it made me leave my home to pursue my dreams. Now, I'm back in LA and it's full circle. I also lived in New York for almost 10 years as well. But that was because there was something that just told me one day that I needed to be there. I feel like it makes more sense with what I’m doing. And it was just once again, me taking a leap of faith in what I’m doing in my career, and just going for it.
NW: It's great that you were able to see the silver lining in that. Obviously at that time, it wasn’t as common to see black models in media, so what do you think is the most important thing about having representation these days?
ER: You know, I was blessed to attend a fashion show yesterday in Paris, and I got so emotional while watching this show because this was my first time witnessing this many women that look like me in a fashion show. And I just sat there, and it was so beautiful. I was just so overwhelmed with happiness, and I felt proud sitting there, front row watching these beautiful girls storm on this stage. Representation is so important in so many ways and we need to be reminded that it's somebody else out there that's doing the things that we didn’t get to see growing up. I didn't grow up seeing girls that look like me on the TV and we had a very, very slim picking of black women that look like me to find inspiration from. I feel like representation looks just like what is happening now but there’s always room for more growth. And I feel like they’re definitely working on it in all spaces of the entertainment industry. But if we get in there, we can get represented even better and take care of the girls more. I just feel like we need representation in all spaces, not just with the models though. We need more hair stylists, makeup artists, photographers… it’s happening though.
I don't have to be scared to be vulnerable and I can play with different melodies. I don't have to stay in one genre, and I can do whatever I want.
NW: Is there anyone that you're listening to right now that you're really loving?
ER: I’ve been listening to newer R&B artists right now. One musician where I can listen to multiple songs in different projects is Jazmine Sullivan. She’s just an OG and I’m so happy to see her shine in the world. I’m so happy to see her get the recognition she deserves because she’s such a talented woman. So yeah, Jazmine Sullivan has me in a chokehold. [laughs] Oh and Tems, I love Tems. It’s between the two of them who I can just listen to back-to-back. She just makes me feel good. I don’t even know what she’s saying sometimes because I’m not listening to the lyrics but girl if you make me feel good, that’s the most important thing you get from a song.
NW: Would you say they’re the two people that you would most want to collaborate with in the future?
ER: Of course! I would love to work with either one of them. If it makes sense sonically and we can make a record.
I feel like representation looks just like what is happening now but there’s always room for more growth.
NW: One of the things that I noticed when listening to your EP ebony was that did own spin on the track ‘Love Come Down’ on your track ‘Draws’. What inspired you do a remix of this iconic 80s track?
ER: It started off from us just playing around in the studio one day because all of the other stuff was just a bit heavy. So, this was a lot more playful and fun. We did the first verse and then I had time to sit on it for a little bit and I thought ‘damn, this actually really is heat!’ and then I wrote the second verse and vibed out to it. It’s like the other side of me that I don’t really express because I’m very private with my personal life, or I try to be when it comes to relationships and my sexuality. So, this song is touching on the space that I don’t really talk about like that.
NW: Was there any particular reason why you chose ‘Deuce Deuce’ as your focus track to the EP?
ER: The feeling the feeling that it gave. And I feel like I know a lot of women who will resonate with it and just feel good. With that track, I was saying ‘that’s where I’m at’, that’s where I was at the time and passing up these boys. But at that moment, I was very much in that headspace. I might be back in that headspace next month, who knows! I just thought like, I know somebody is going to feel me on this.