Once upon a time, there was a boy named Christopher Gallant. He lived in a pretty little town in a sweet little house tucked into a cozy, little tree-dotted cul-de-sac. He rode his bike and played the cello and bagged groceries at the local market, just like a normal boy.

But Christopher Gallant wasn’t just any normal boy.

To the outside world, he was “super quiet, super chill” Christopher. In his room in the house in the cul-de-sac, however, he was a different version of that boy. A bolder version. A version that belted R. Kelly ballads. A version that had “cheesy NBC moments.” Scooting his desk next to the window, he set up his computer and its microphone. And when he looked out that little window onto his little leaf-strewn neighborhood, he didn’t see quiet little Christopher, who rode his bike and played the cello and bagged groceries like a normal boy.

He saw Gallant, one of the most electrifying, eclectic R&B artists of this decade.

“The songs were some of the most horrible things I’ve ever recorded,” the almost 26-year old singer and songwriter says today, laughing. “But it gave me something. The most basic way to describe it is ‘fun.’ It activated a part of my brain that I didn’t feel like I got enough use out of.”

That’s not much of a concern these days. Ever since self-releasing his debut EP Zebra in 2014, Gallant has had little time to slack. Quickly scooped up by Mind of a Genius Records, he threw down a full house with the fist-pounding statement single “Weight in Gold, which was promptly crowned the “Hottest Record in the World” by Zane Lowe. Over the next year he performed with Sir Elton John and Seal, was named best-in-show at Coachella by Billboard, and collaborated with John Legend, Dua Lipa, and Sufjan Stevens. When he dropped his first studio album—the sleek, spine-arching Ology—in April 2016, he was heaped with critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.

Still, his journey from sittin’-up-in-his-room to sitting beside Rihanna wasn’t as idyllic as those days from his childhood.

“I moved out when I was 17 to go to NYU. That whole spirit of adventure and going out and taking on the real world? I was down for it,” he says. “But when the fantastical adventure melts away and you find yourself in the thick of reality, there are two ways to go: I had to make a decision about whether I was gonna pretend and play the part, or I was gonna try to find somewhere I could be productive and be myself and live the way I felt fitting for the adult version of the kid who was making music in his parents’ house.”

Like every fairy tale hero worth his salt, Christopher had to walk through the fire to become Gallant.