Ebony Riley, formerly known by her fans as “Riley Montana,” established herself as a staple in the modeling world and has dominated the runway for the past 8 years. From walking for Marc Jacobs to Oscar de La Renta, to shooting Givenchy & Balmain campaigns to spreads in Vogue Paris and Harpers Bazaar, Ebony has only continued to elevate and now it’s time for her to live her truth. While Ebony Riley is no newcomer to the spotlight, the past four years she has dedicated towards music and is finally ready to reintroduce herself to the world as the artist she was always meant be, starting with her debut EP ebony.
“Music was always on the menu,” says Riley, knowing from a young age that music and artistry is where life would eventually take her. Growing up in Detroit’s West Side, Riley was heavily influenced by her grandmother’s gospel music and her mother’s love for 90s R&B like Mary J Blige, Erykah Badu and Toni Braxton. Modeling helped Ebony step out of her comfort zone and helped pave the way for the upcoming superstar, but music was always the end goal.
In celebration of Ebony’s seven-track debut EP, ebony, Interscope & Roc Nation held a listening party at The Ned Nomad in New York City and the night was nothing short of legendary. Not only was Ebony’s music amazing, but she had the support of heavy hitters like Justin & Hailey Bieber, A$AP Ferg and Meek Mill who were all in attendance in addition to Roc Nation’s Lenny S. who closely worked with Ebony to see this project come to life. Ebony previewed her music video for “Deuce Deuce” which had the entire room going crazy followed by the most legendary after-party in history where Drake himself DJed.
ebony is a beautiful work of art that lets listeners peer into Riley’s soul. From trials and tribulations to introspection and self-reflection, ebony will have you in your feelings just as much as it will leave you feeling empowered and turnt up. The R&B songstress is a force to be reckoned with and we were lucky enough to catch up with Ebony during her listening to discuss her transition to music, her musical upbringing and the important messages behind her music like protecting black women. Check out our full interview below.
The Knockturnal: How old were you the first time you experimented with music? I know you sang in church choir and you’ve said music’s always been on the menu for you. So please tell me your earliest memories of experimenting with singing.
Ebony Riley: My earliest was around- I’d say it started at five, but when I started to actually sing it was around like seven. That was when I learned music. Like my mom used to always play a little so it just was something that kind of was instilled in me from me hearing it all the time.
The Knockturnal: Do you feel like participating in church choir helped you break out of your shell, and get comfortable being on a stage and performing?
Ebony Riley: No, actually because that was more something my grandma made me do, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it. It was more just like something that I had to do and it obviously taught me what it taught me, but no it didn’t make me break outta my shell cause I still was super insecure. I didn’t break out of my shell until I started modeling because I didn’t grow up being told I was pretty. When I say stuff like that I always try to give a disclaimer of like, I don’t want sympathy It’s more of like, I’m empowering myself even hearing my own story and it built me, you know, if I had been told I was pretty all when I was younger, I could have been nasty, who knows? So I feel like everything that happened, happened for a reason. So now I’m here today, God put me into the modeling industry originally just to get rid of those insecurities. I wasn’t happy with that because it wasn’t my passion and now I found my way back to my true passion.
The Knockturnal: Who or what motivated you to pursue a career in music and take it seriously?
Ebony Riley: Myself. I started with modeling, I was doing that for years, but like I said, I wasn’t happy and don’t get me wrong, I’m so, so grateful for the industry. Like it introduced me to so many people. I traveled the world. I’m living a life I never dreamt I would be able to live, but like I said, I wasn’t happy because I wasn’t living what I felt like God put me here for. I never thought that my vanity was my real purpose, so I was in these rooms, but I wasn’t myself. I was just being what I thought they wanted me to be this perfect whatever and it took me to realize that, that wasn’t feeding my soul, that wasn’t making me happy to be like, ‘okay, that’s not what you doing, you need to do what actually makes you happy.’
The Knockturnal: How did it feel pivoting from modeling to music? Would you say music is your first love?
Ebony Riley: Yes and it was scary because when I started modeling, I was able to finally make money and me walking away from that security was scary because I had to fully dive in. I was still there like doing little jobs, but I had to take a point where I was like, okay, now you can’t say you wanna do singing and not fully give yourself to it, so I had to take months off from modeling where I’m not making no money, so it’s like, that’s a big leap for me because I’m living in New York City, I got bills, I got family.
The Knockturnal: How does it feel being on the other side after taking that leap?
Ebony Riley: It feels amazing I’m now living my truth. I’m able to fully be myself. I’m able to speak about my experiences. I’m excited to hopefully encourage young girls that come from, you know, upbringings like mine. So, yeah I know I did the right thing. I don’t question it.
The Knockturnal: So was the name change part of reinventing yourself as an artist?
Ebony Riley: My birth name is Ebony Riley. They changed my name when I started modeling.
The Knockturnal: How did you feel about the name change when you started modeling?
Ebony Riley: Well, that goes back to the part of me feeling like I lost myself. The reason behind the change was because Ebony was too black. For me it was like I can’t be myself and I’m fresh off the boat, I’m not trying to lose no opportunities. I’m just trying to get out the hood. I’m trying to feed myself. I’m trying to keep a roof over my head. That was until I realized l’m losing myself. You not being yourself in these spaces where it’s like, I feel like I have a beautiful soul, but I was hiding that from so many people cause I was scared trying to fit this mold, but now it’s like no fuck that because it’s not giving what it’s supposed to give.
The Knockturnal: Have you always had a desire to perform on stage or be in the spotlight?
Ebony Riley: Not so much the spotlight. Like I always loved to perform. I was always at the family reunion trying to do my little routines, hip rolling .
The Knockturnal: The confidence that you built up over time while modeling do you feel like being on stage as a model lent itself to an easier transition into performing on a stage as an artist?
Ebony Riley: For sure. The modeling definitely geared me up for this it definitely got me more comfortable for this because now I know my angle, I know my lighting and I know how I wanna be seen.
The Knockturnal: Your music is a whole vibe. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Ebony Riley: The list is too long. So it starts with Mary J Blige, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Toni Braxton, Barry White. From when I was growing up, obviously like Beyonce is Beyonce. Rihanna is so swag. It’s just so many different elements that I feel like I’m inspired from different artists. Even from the newer age, Jazmine and Jazmine ain’t new, people are new to Jazmine. Jazmine is OG. She been doing this. I love her.
The Knockturnal: For your debut project, ebony where did you pull inspiration from?
Ebony Riley: The inspiration for this project is very personal. It’s like, it’s taking me back to a very specific time when I was 21. This album was actually very healing. I’m super blessed to have been able to work with people who understand me, who been through shit too, some of the same shit.
The Knockturnal: Please tell us about your debut EP, ebony and the inspiration behind the title?
Ebony Riley: It’s just really the reintroduction of myself. I am Ebony. That’s my name. That’s me. I’m finally walking in my power, walking in my truth with my head held high, happy and proud of my shit you know?
The Knockturnal: What are your top 3 standout tracks from ebony?
Ebony Riley: Top three – “Save Me,” “Open,” and “Deuce Deuce.”
The Knockturnal: Why are these standout tracks in your opinion?
Ebony Riley: I mean it’s just personal, those songs are very personal. It was healing, very healing for me. “Open” makes me feel real good and makes me feel very happy like, ooh, I’m that bitch.
The Knockturnal: one line that that stuck out to me from “Save Me” was “watched my sister get shot, nobody doing shit, when you grow up in the hood that’s the hand you get.” As you just said your music is very personal, can you share what was going on that inspired these lyrics?
Ebony Riley: I’m thinking about two people in that part. Originally I put that verse in there, thinking about my sister, she ended up getting shot and it was around the time where society was really just being called out about how black women are not protected. My sister was 24, I was 20, I was still in Detroit. Originally it was about her, but then when I actually hear it back, I think about my friend Dominique who passed away, rest in peace and she was so young. I think she died at maybe 29, 28, 2 kids, wrong place, wrong time and I just feel like black women are the most unprotected in the world. That was around the time where actually it was brought to my attention that we really are unprotected and shit happens and don’t nobody give a fuck. That really was just kind of a homage to my friend who I lost and then also just recognizing shit that I know that my own sister went through.
The Knockturnal: Can we expect more music from you later this year?
Ebony Riley: Hell yeah I’m about to work baby. I don’t wanna rush the art because this took four years but I’m working.
The Knockturnal: Who would you say is your dream collab?
Ebony Riley: My dream collab is me and J.Cole! I gotta work towards that.