R.Lum.R swears he didn’t put Jimmy Kimmel up to it.
When the Bradenton-raised singer-songwriter played Kimmel’s late-night show in August, the host surprised him with an unusually personal introduction.
"Jimmy had also worked at a radio station in Tampa for a number of years, and he was like, ‘Oh, I love Bradenton! My cousin went to IMG!’?" R.Lum.R, a.k.a. Reggie Williams, said in a recent phone interview. "I literally didn’t hear it until he did it. I was in the shot, and if you watch the video again, he holds up my album cover, and he says, ‘Shout out to Bradenton!’ And you can see me throw up my hands, and I’m like, Yooooo!"
It’s been that kind of year for Williams, 27, the latest Florida-bred artist to hit the big time. Now based in Nashville, R.Lum.R — pronounced "R. Lamar," as in Williams’ first initial and middle name — is a rising star in the trendy genre of indie-alternative R&B. Dubbed an artist to watch by Rolling Stone and NPR, he’s also a streaming sensation on services like Spotify, and his fall tour sold out shows in major markets.
On Friday at Crowbar, R.Lum.R, 27, will play his first quasi-hometown gig since this success. He’s so excited about coming back home that he’s getting custom T-shirts printed up for the occasion.
"I wanted to do a thing that was kind of special for Florida, because that’s where I came up and that’s where I was raised," he said. "It makes sense to share that success with the place that you came from."
Born in Bradenton and educated at Manatee School of the Arts — and after that, briefly, Florida State — he grew up a punk kid with "emo-boy dreams" whose first show was Coheed and Cambria at Jannus Landing. He gigged around Bradenton and Sarasota, but didn’t have a car. So he hitched rides and hopped on tours around the state.
"It was easy for me just to take me, my acoustic, a backpack full of merch, some clothes, and hop in somebody’s SUV, and I’m their opening act for the tour," he said. "That was when I started to come through and play Ybor and places like Backbooth in Orlando."
His songwriting attracted the ear of producers and executives who recruited him to pitch songs to pop stars like Jason Derulo. More importantly, he decided to move to Nashville — an unlikely destination for an genre-twisting R&B singer, but one he thought made more sense than Miami, Atlanta or Los Angeles. It turned out to have a better hip-hop scene than he realized, but more importantly, the industry gatekeepers he met seemed to really dig his sound.
"This is a 10-year town — at least, that’s what I was told when I got there," he said. "I heard that, and I was like, ‘Nah, no way, I’m not doing that.’ It was unexpected to have Frustrated do what it’s done — and for me to be able to sell out shows in a place that considers me a local artist, even though I haven’t been here two years."
Frustrated is R.Lum.R’s breakthrough single from his After Image EP; it’s racked up 27 million Spotify streams and is the song that got him on Kimmel. The song mixes alternative soul, indie rock and R&B in a way that’s extremely en vogue — just look at Childish Gambino, Khalid and SZA, who last week racked up major Grammy nominations.
"It is a huge point of excitement for me," he said. "Just being frank, people that I get compared to, I’m seeing the nominations, and I’m starting to see people on Twitter be like, ‘Wow, this guy got nominated … this guy got nominated … but R.Lum.R is super slept-on, still.’?"
He might not be for long. He’s planning bigger tours in 2018, including some major festival gigs, and aims to drop a proper debut album in the not-too-distant future. For the first time, total strangers seem to get the vibe he’s all about, and he’s eager to keep bringing more in.
"It’s awesome that people are starting to recognize that this is really something," he said. "As much as I love the feel of being a local band, we have aspirations that are higher than that, and it only takes people starting to recognize that that’s a thing — Oh, you’re in this arena now — for it to start materializing."
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.