The trend of female R&B artists holding down the throne of male dominated Hip-Hop labels can extend back to 1994 when Faith Evans became the first woman signed to Bad Boy Records. Or, let’s look at 2002 when Ashanti’s debut album began her chart topping reign over Murder Inc Records. A number one Billboard album and three chart entries in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time, to be exact.
Fast forward to 2017, after four years of being signed to Top Dawg Entertainment and multiple album delays, SZA’s Ctrl is marked as one of the label’s most successful albums to date.
With his label 10 Summers Records, DJ Mustard took Ella Mai under his wing. After only a two year partnership, Mai’s career took off with two platinum singles and an album that debuted at number five on the US Billboard 200.
Female R&B artists are once again reaching a mainstream audience and receiving their flowers, but many deserving ladies are still unrightfully missing from the spotlight. For now, let’s address the underrated killer vocalist that is Dreamville’s First Lady, Ari Lennox.
After graduating high school, Ari went through the period of life that many face of the daunting question: What do I do with my life now? She went through many job phases from Uber to considering to sign up for the military. While searching for the next step to take, in 2013 she posted a YouTube cover of Beyoncé‘s “Drunk in Love”. Ari flipped the track on its head by soulfully stripping it down and sung the lyrics on the instrumental of Ginuwine’s “In Those Jeans”.
The cover blew up which led to more covers and her releasing music on SoundCloud. Co-founder of Dreamville Records discovered her and had her instantly fly from her hometown of D.C to L.A for a session with J.Cole. Fear of not only planes, but also of the uncertainty of which direction the opportunity could go almost stopped Ari from going. But, her leap of faith guided her to her destined path of life that she had been searching for. She became signed to Dreamville shortly after their meeting and her and the team have been inseparable.
Since becoming the label’s First Lady, she released her EP Pho in 2016. It received countless reviews filled with praise over Ari’s vocals and the project’s flawless composition. The EP was Ari’s introductory mark in the industry as an artist that sees no limits to the type of music she wants to create. She told Billboard,
“Sometimes women are put in this box where we’re only supposed to talk about certain things. I want to be braver and riskier. I think people want to hear that kind of honesty and frankness."
With her debut album, Shea Butter Baby, quickly approaching its proper time to shake up the R&B game, its first single “Whipped Cream” is without debate one of the best tracks of 2018.
Ron Gilmore and Elite’s smooth production makes it quite addicting, but it’s the eerily relatable lyrics that makes it so special. Her clear-cut emotion navigates the track and you feel like sitting down along with her eating whipped cream contemplating your own life. And, its 70s influence gives it a timeless feeling with each play.
She has continued to be consistent with her record drops this year with four loose tracks (“40 Shades of Choke”, “Pedigree”, “No One” and “Grampa”) and her Mike Will Made It produced collaboration with Cole, “Shea Butter Baby”.
Ari’s powerful raspy yet sweet voice draws you in as a listener, but what really gravitates one to be a fan of her artistry is her “firecracker” demeanor, that you instantly know she truly loves making music, along with her laidback style. Natural haired city girl from around the way. Her explosive warm inviting energy makes her feel like your homegirl that you love to see keep winning.
After battling with her mental health and briefly wanting to quit music, Ari bounced back and hasn’t let up yet with her fire releases. 2019 is shaping to be her year of claiming all that she deserves with her talent, consistency and determination for the world to hear her soul that’s filled with love, pain and honesty.