In a bedroom in Nashville, Tennessee, lined with Fleet Foxes and Cowboy Bebop posters sits a sleepy Reggie Williams. A musician from Bradenton, Florida, trained in classical guitar at Florida State University, Williams now goes by the name R.LUM.R and has racked up more than 16 million views for his R&B single “Frustrated.”
Although his earliest endeavors in music started as a kid singing in the local church choir, Williams learned how to play guitar in high school and, thanks to advice from his teacher, decided to pursue a career in classical guitar in college.
However, the hectic lifestyle of academia began to wear Williams down and he soon dropped out and joined his manager in Orlando, where Williams began to experiment. He played in a number of short-lived bands such as the four-member Reggie Williams and the Sugar Cubes, the progressive-rock band Electric Speedbump, and Forgetful Elephant, an acoustic act reminiscent of the melancholy folk tunes of M. Ward.
“Why limit yourself? There’s tons of different ways you can express yourself,” Williams says. “Why not try them if you have the resources and the know-how?”
As much as Williams wanted to be a great classical composer, his musical experience was more in line with the likes of Anita Baker, Frankie Beverly and Erykah Badu. Williams’ mother only allowed him and his siblings to listen to R&B, so the genre fit Williams like a glove.
“It wasn’t like a decision [to make R&B],” Williams says. “This was a thing I am really obsessed with, something I’m really involved in right now and most people are reacting very strongly.”
With the transition into R&B, there also came a name change. No longer would he grace the stage as Reggie Williams, but as R.LUM.R (pronounced R-Lamar). The moniker is a combination of his first name, Reggie, and his middle name, Lamar. And while the name itself may catch some people off guard because of its peculiar presentation, there’s a method to the madness.
“LUM is part of Lamar and represents the parts of myself I’d always hidden, and the present time,” Williams told The Music Ninja. “The last ‘r’ is the future and the person I can be, coexisting with the person I’ve always been. Lamar ends with an ‘r,’ and Reggie starts with an ‘r,’ so it’s like bringing the ideas of the past and the present together, but in the future.”
After getting together with J. Cruz, a member of the Florida production team Ethnikids, Williams and Cruz composed three R.LUM.R singles, all released in 2015: “Show Me,” “Be Honest” and “Nothing New.”
“Show Me,” a hearty and electric ballad balanced well between creamy vocals and heavy baselines, was the first to be picked up by Spotify’s New Artist playlist and created a new fanbase for the up-and-coming Williams.
“It’s the intensity between two people,” Williams told The Music Ninja of his collaboration with Cruz. “That first moment where your whole body feels it, and consequences don’t matter, you just know you need to engage because you’re caught up.”
However, it was in Orlando, with his lease ending and his production team moving to Nashville, that Williams composed “Frustrated.” The track wallows in deep baselines and a patient pace, using William’s confident falsetto as a backbone. While the lyrics reflect Williams’ uncertainty about his life and career, he delivers the song as a eulogy to a rocky relationship.
Since 2016, “Frustrated” has been climbing music charts around the world, with more than 16 million streams on Spotify. Rolling Stone has named the 27-year-old as one of the “10 New Artists You Need To Know,” NPR chose him as “An Artist To Watch at SXSW,” and he was the face of Spotify’s “Alt R&B” playlist for six months.
On Aug. 11, Williams plans to release Afterimage, an EP he hopes listeners can learn from.
“The goal with the EP is to give people the songs that I have been playing on tour,” Williams says. “I just want to show people what I’m capable of.”
However, he believes the strongest point in his music in general is empathy.
“I think music and reading, for me, are the strongest tools for empathy. You get put into somebody else’s head and life, you know,” he says. “I tweeted two nights ago that ‘I like art that I can superimpose myself onto’ and that wraps it up.”
Williams has yet to travel to Colorado and says he’s excited to arrive among the skyscraping Rockies, an environment wholly different than that of his hometown of Bradenton, Florida.
“Florida is very, very flat. The highest elevation in Florida, I kid you not, is 60 feet above sea level, and that is the dump,” Williams says. “The trash pile in Florida is the highest and it’s so shameful.”