Ebony Riley Swaps Modeling Career for Music with No Regrets: ‘I Had to Realize My Vision’

On Ebony Riley’s first visit to the Billboard offices, the rising R&B singer-songwriter experienced a surge of emotion as the staff reacted positively to her debut EP, ebony. Tracks like “Over,” “Deuce Deuce,” and “Cry” earned praise, giving Riley reassurance that her career was off to an excellent start, especially considering she began this journey just a year ago. Before immersing herself in her music career, Riley was a model, walking runways and appearing in campaigns for renowned fashion brands such as Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta, Bottega Veneta, and more. She even secured a spot in the fashion campaign for Beyoncé’s Renaissance album in collaboration with Balmain, featured in Vogue France Magazine last April. Despite her success in the industry, modeling didn’t fulfill Riley’s needs, prompting a change.

“That was more something God chose for me,” Riley tells Billboard about her modeling career. “It wasn’t something I grew up thinking I was going to do. I just kept hearing people mention it, like my mama’s best friend, and I just took a leap.”

She adds: “But I feel like with modeling, it’s more us portraying [other people’s] dreams. As far as the stylist, the makeup artist, the photographer, and the creative director — we’re bringing their vision together. I needed something that would bring my vision to life, and that was music.”

The journey to the music industry has been long and winding for Riley, as she’s also pursuing self-love. Riley’s tears in the Billboard office were rooted in gratitude over people loving something she created. For Riley, self-love is part of her pursuit of becoming a full-fledged music artist, especially since that journey has been challenging.

“I’m still going through the ropes of making sure I’m completely loving myself,” Riley admits. “‘Cause I feel like you manifest and attract where you are. So not saying that I ain’t s–t, but I don’t feel like I put myself to a standard years before this, because of my own childhood traumas or whatever else. My unhealed child was looking for sympathy, and I’ve figured that out. Now, I’m empowering myself with my story and my vulnerability.”

Below, Billboard speaks more with Ebony Riley about chasing her music dreams, the differences between the modeling and music industries, hitting a level of vulnerability to share her pain with fans, and more. Check it out below.

With you stepping into the game with your music career, Detroit has produced yet another talent. What’s the secret?

I think it’s the pain and struggle that everybody goes through in the city. We are a bunch of strong, talented individuals, and we find an outlet through our music or whatever creative outlet that we get presented. There’s not a lot of opportunity out there, but the OGs that came before inspired us to keep it going.

What was growing up in the 313 like for you?

Detroit was booming at one point. From the car industry to the music industry, we had millionaires and billionaires all over — then they started pumping drugs into the street and threw a freeway in the middle of all the Black businesses. That negatively affected our community, and we’re still going through that struggle. My family was affected by it, and it wasn’t easy. I lost my mom when I was like nine and went through foster care. But I felt like everything I did go through built me up to be where I am today. I thank God that I don’t look like what I’ve been through, or portray it. I don’t let it overtake me.

When did music come into the picture for you?

My mom used to have her little cassette tapes playing