Ari Lennox is an artist that embodies the testament of how perseverance through what society tries to tell you that success looks like can produce your greatest work. Despite mainstream standards in the music industry, the 28-year-old puts everything that truly makes her Ari at the forefront of her artistry. Natural hair, song lyrics based off real life experiences and most importantly her sending the message that she makes neo soul music.
The outro of “Chicago Boy”, her debut album’s opener produced by Elite, dives us into our 44 minute musical vent session for women especially Black.
“Alright, all the n*ggas in here, leave, please, on the count of three because I need to talk to my b*tches.”
Ari is that funny, blunt homegirl where you’re not worried about her spilling your tea that you may find embarrassing to share with anyone else. You both can be honest without any shame or regrets. Her debut album, Shea Butter Baby, transports us to this open, welcoming space filled with vent sessions through a tracklist of 12 songs. Vulnerability is the heart of soul music and Ari leaves it all bare.
Shea Butter Baby only has features from her fellow Dreamville family, J.Cole and J.I.D, leaving the spotlight directly on her for her true introduction to listeners.
In an interview with DJ Booth, Ari made it crystal clear who her album is for.
“First and foremost, this project is for Black women. I feel like we are not represented the way we should be worldwide, but specifically in America, I feel like they sleep on us. They sleep on us in our natural form, with our natural hair, and our natural noses. The natural Black woman, or even if you’re natural under your weave, this is for you.
Or, even if you’re aspiring to be natural. This is for the Black woman because we just don’t get enough love and I want little girls to look at me and I want them to say: “I’m proud of my Blackness. I’m proud of my skin. God made no mistakes when he created us. Overall, this album is for the woman. Women owning their power, owning who they are, owning their sexual power. It’s for women.”
Z’s Top 3 Tracks
To my surprise, “New Apartment” is a track that Ari had to fight for to get on Shea Butter Baby because Cole didn’t like it. This speaks volumes to the idea of your best work can come through past doubters. From the production alone, thanks to the talented DJ Grumble and Elite, the track has the feeling of signing a new lease and encompassing yourself into the joy of your seemingly wide space and its endless possibilities.
Overall, the track is about newfound independence and the initial exhilaration that comes along with it. The “Get The F Out” freestyle towards the end is truly the cherry on the top of the greatness that is this song because you can’t help but to feel it. Very Martin Lawrence-esque.
“Whipped Cream” found its match of being one of her best singles. And, it still blows my mind how her live performance at Blue Note with Masego sounds even better than the studio version. “Up Late” may be where Ari shines the most vocally on the album. Her, Masego and Kojo were the perfect trio to create this modern sensually soulful record. The bridge of the track leaves me in awe every time with its raw emotion.
I have an inkling that “BMO” will be the album’s next single. It’s a fun, upbeat soul record for the summer. The sample of Galt MacDermot’s “Space” which both Busta Rhymes (“Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check”) and Faith Evan’s (“I Just Can’t”) sampled, takes it to another level. Dreamville’s Omen went crazy on the production and fun fact: the original beat was scrapped after his laptop was destroyed, so the album version is the remake.
People on social media have been vocal about how Andre 3000 should hop on the remix and I can’t think of anything more perfect. Cole, make it happen!
Through her tweets, Ari expressed the importance of artists to not wait for others to create.
That sense of urgency to execute her own vision for the album is what created songs like “New Apartment” where the lyrics are crazily relatable and genius which connects you even more to her beyond just as an artist.
The quality of lyrics is critical and Ari hit the jackpot by finding a balance between having a pen game of high caliber while unwinding from the perfectionist mindset by being raw and real with lyrics like, “A Dollar Tree wine glass is in the air/André will get me there”.
Whether it be subconsciously or consciously, listeners can sense when an artist is being truthful on a record and that candor is what they gravitate towards. I, for one, don’t always want to do a loop-a-round of trying to figure out what an artist is saying between the lines which is why Ari’s bluntness is one of her best attributes.
Along with her vocals and songwriting, I admire, respect and love that she gave a shoutout to each producer and musician that was apart of the project. This should become the norm of the people behind the scenes getting their recognition that’s more than well-deserved.
I’ve seen complaints that the album should’ve been longer, but I think that the tracklist is perfect. Artists try to squeeze too much onto one album which ends up just feeling like song fillers. Ari and her team put in dedication to cutting her songs down into creating an album that can be called a classic.
What are your favorite songs on Shea Butter Baby? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!