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  • Writer's pictureMalcolm Williams

Don’t Sleep #13

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

Ari Lennox - Shea Butter Baby

We are in a moment where women R&B artists are really at the top of their game. We get album after album after album of pure femininity. The good, the bad, the joy, the pain, we are blessed to get a grand spectrum of perspectives and styles from all types of Queens in this game. When we look at Sza, HER, Ella Mai, Kehlani, Tink, Kali Uchis, Tank and the Bangas, obviously Ari, we get to see women in all their beauty.

My first encounter with Ari was on ’Revenge of the Dreamers 2’ and I remember going “Cole got one of those?!!” A voice like Ari’s to compliment the guys that were already over at Dreamville would put them in that TDE discussion in my eyes. You’re able to do a lot when you have singer of such caliber without ever having to outsource for the vocalists. We got an EP named ‘Pho’ back in 2016 then it was the waiting game. We got singles but for me that’s not enough. “What kind of artist is Ari? What kind of album would we get? Can she deliver an album that goes in the discussion of our recent favorites?”

Lets talk ‘Chicago Boy’ real quick. I‘ve been on record that the intro and outro are the most important records on an album. So when I hear the brass instruments at the top of the album I’m already satisfied. For her to float in on this track on some “I’m tryna give you this thang” type vibes I’m with it. And for her to keep that energy on ‘BMO’ is like “okay okay she ain’t playing, she‘s on her shit.”

‘Broke’ seems to be the consensus standout record. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs on the album, them doubles and ad-libs are captivating as hell and very much on point. Then for JID to come in and give us a verse of the year level verse, up there with that Andre 3000 on ‘Come Home’ verse, was absolutely phenomenal and if anyone could do that on that type of record it’s JID. When you get to breaking it down in real time it’s like completing a rubik’s cube, extremely satisfying. Ari convinced me no one can sing “ayy” better than her when I heard them on this song, this fact is unnecessary but I’m had to tell y’all anyway.

‘Shea Butter Baby’, the title-track... I almost never listen to singles but I could not avoid this one and when I heard it I couldn’t get it from under my skin. I was humming it, singing it, tapping the rhythm constantly, it became everything to me. It created an expectation that I try to avoid having for an album. Her voice is incredibly sharp and just pierces through the soul from the jump. One of the things I really love is how present and supportive J.Cole is for the entire Dreamville roster. He gave Ari a spectacular verse, when he gets in his “we sharing souls” bag he‘s different.

I promise I could go on forever about everything I love about this album and I promise I’ll get into my bag very soon. I see a lot of people comparing this album to SZA’s ‘CTRL’ and it’s cool that they are but I see them as two sides of the same coin. Both albums are damn near flawless to me. ‘CTRL’ being very vulnerable and a showcase of what insecurities and heartbreak can do to a woman. Where I feel like ‘Shea Butter Baby’ is extremely unapologetically confident and in your face. I love both albums equally because it’s these different perspectives that gives me as a man more insight of what goes through women‘s heads and I appreciate it. Ari Lennox gave us a debut album that makes it easy to say I’m a fan and I can‘t wait to see her get all the accolades and shine she deserves. The Erykah Badu comparisons aren’t too far fetched, the energy is definitely there.

I wanna thank Queen Ari for delivering such an amazing experience to us the fans. I can feel every bit of passion and care in the music. Your career is gonna be exemplary, this is just the beginning and I know it’s only up from here.

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