“Serendipitous” is a word that resonates with Reggie Williams (aka R&B singer R.LUM.R). It was serendipity that caused him to go to an arts high school instead of pursuing football, and that, at that school, he was required to take an instrument as a freshman. “I took classical guitar, and when I showed some acumen,” he says, “my teacher said, ‘You need to buy a guitar, so you can practice more.’” It was also serendipity that, years later, he submitted work to a songwriting camp and got an unexpected response. “I figured the feedback was gonna be, ‘Maybe you‘ll write something for Jason Derulo,’” he says. “But instead, they encouraged me to do my own music. I guess if there‘s a synopsis word for my journey, ‘serendipitous’ would be the one,” he says, before quickly adding, “I know that sounds pretentious.”
Williams’ parents divorced when he was 5, which kicked off his rebellious years. “I was very angry and aggro,” he says. “Apparently in second grade, I hurt this kid and they put me in mandatory therapy. At the time, I was being bused to a different school for a gifted program, which meant they would bus me right from therapy to advanced-placement classes. It was like, ‘Hey, something’s wrong with you, but also, you have a lot of potential.’ I guess I grew up a little bit strange, but a lot of things make you not fit into the boxes and categories that are prescribed for you. I think it all made me a better person as an adult, because it made me more empathetic.” Still, even his wild years weren’t that wild. “I just wanted to play with my Yu-Gi-Oh cards and be left alone,” he laughs.
WIlliams grew up in Bradenton, Florida, where his parents played nearly nothing but soul, jazz, and R&B at home—over the phone, he does a brief, impressive rendition of the chorus from Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” as proof. After taking those fated guitar lessons, Williams went through hard-rock and prog-rock phases before ending up in the same place many guitar-playing singers eventually do: writing confessional love songs. “I had some lil’ vocal chops, and some songs about a girl that didn’t like me or whatever,” he says. A friend convinced him to perform, and at 16, he did just that for the first time. But it wasn’t the most comfortable transition. “Even though the audience was only like six girls, I was too afraid to look at them,” he says. “I had to wear a hat, and keep my head down.” Luckily, he pressed on. “I kept performing because I think I sensed early on that it was something that was bigger than me.”
Now, as R.LUM.R—a creatively spelled mashup of his first initial and middle name, Lamar—the Nashville-based singer-songwriter is the subject of countless next-best-thing lists, despite the fact that he hasn’t yet released a debut full-length album. (BØRNS is also an admirer, and the feeling is mutual: ”I’ve never actually gotten to speak to him in person,” says Williams, “but I have a lot of respect for him. He’s way out there, and I’m a big fan.”) When asked about his recent fascinations, Williams speaks eloquently, and at lightning speed, on everything from Japan’s suicide rate, to American regional dialects, to the video game The Last of Us. But his primary interest, of course, is in expanding his music’s reach. “When I was younger, I thought that being a performer full-time was reserved for the John Mayers and George Bensons of the world—these specially adorned chosen few,” he says. “I didn’t know that if you work really hard and if you’re lucky, you can start to break through. As long as I can make a living and continue doing this in a way that I believe is honest, and still challenging for me. And If I get to play like a main stage—or even a big stage—at Glastonbury, I can retire the next day. I’m good.”