The hip hop game has not been firing on all cylinders this year and with what we’ve been through it makes sense. So when Ari Lennox dropped ‘Shea Butter Baby’ it seemed like the best time to consume something from and for black culture that continues to feed us and heal us, neo-soul.
Using ‘Shea Butter Baby‘ as the anchor, the title of this project implicates that the entire body of work will leave you with the same appreciation for soul, jazz, funk, and Ari Lennox that you have for the single that rose to the top of the Creed II album. I’m putting a lot on this project, but I have faith in the frontline of Dreamville.
And, before you start, we know. It’s late.
Everyone is always complaining about how no one lets the material settle in and digest before they give it a genuine listen. So instead of allowing the music time to settle, I opted for the initial hype around the project to solve. Even though I trust the tweeted opinion of “friend in my head” (Heyyyy Scottie Beam!) on the quality of the project, I want to wait a couple of days for the project to live amongst the masses before I gave my take on a few of the songs. Finally, I took my first listen of ‘Shea Butter Baby‘ with cheap ass wine by my side and my laptop on my lap.
Track One: Chicago Boy
Come Through Instrumentation! “Chicago Boy” isn’t labeled as an ‘Intro’ exactly but this horn is getting my mind right and preparing my earbuds for this project. It has an opening solo and is communicating that this project will be extremely musical.
As soon as the beat drops I instantly knew that this song will be a favorite. It isn’t too fast, rushing me into anything. At the same time, I am recovering from the trumpet that just finished impacting my soul. If you closed your eyes for a second, you could see someone playing it.
Lennox’s voice is a genuine instrument. As she sings about a guy that she ran into at the drugstore before dropping a greasy f-bomb, I can do nothing but respect it and absorb the lyrics. It shows that this amazing voice that is a little raspy, light and airy at the same time will not be staying in a lane that a lot of neo-soul singers tread, love or even heartbreak. More Jill Scott less early Musiq Soulchild in terms of subject matter maybe?
It’s women empowerment on a different level if you get what I mean. Women f*ck. And sometimes it happens relatively quickly on the timeline. She also may or may not have insulted her subject matters’ clothing while still unabashedly wondering if he would judge her for a quick sampling of his bedroom attire. Yea, I get the feeling that this project is going to be extremely relatable and very millennial.
The skit that she has at the end of this song is epic! I hope the skits continue throughout the album. I love that she lets us know this album is about to go there… it’s going to be “disgusting”… so that means it will be real.
Track Two: BMO
I love acronyms. And I have no idea what BMO means, but I’m sure I’ll get it by the end of the track. Again this song opens up with a vibe that is not dainty. The lyrics are talking about weed off the rip, and I am here for it. I currently have none. But I’m with it.
Thirty seconds in and BMO = Break Me Off. Got it.
This song has a quicker tempo than the last one which I can appreciate. Order is essential and doubling back to the speed of “Chicago Boy”, BMO is more up-tempo and lets listeners know: you are two tracks in and you won’t be going to sleep, which is something that can plague the mind of anyone who does not typically indulge in a full neo-soul project on the regular.
YES, Another skit; you better cook your beans, Ari! I like that these skits make it seem like she is talking to her girls. It’s a little insider convo that we are privy to or maybe even a part of.
Track Three: Broke ft. J.I.D (DISCLAIMER Whenever anyone from the Spillage Village collective links with Ari Lennox on a track it should be added to your favorites immediately. You don’t even have to listen to it. Just follow the direction.)
Broke comes on and the instrument I am hearing reminds me of a banjo. I’m going with it. Lennox’s voice is more on top of the beat in this song. It is cutting through so bright and clear, showcasing her vocals.
The song is about experiencing or reflecting on love when you don’t got it, “it” being money. Which, most would say is where love lives at one of its purest forms.
J.I.D takes the song to another level lyrically and sonically.
At this point forget the beat. Lennox is already on top of it, but the way J.I.D rides this beat is sickening. He gets in his pocket after a couple of bars, just to switch up the flow and speed it up a little, to then get back into this pocket. He then ends his verse with a chuckle as if he knows he left a body. The bravado is there. He is hip-hop.
Let’s correlate a couple of things regarding this verse. (Sidebar: I’m going to start appreciating talent while it is still cultivating or present in these posts.) Understand the wordsmith that is this young man. He uses bread and cheese as metaphors for money. Then he entangles a protein with the dairy and grains: EGGS. All while employing consonance using the words fertilize, moisturize, and supervise in close proximity. AND THAT’S JUST THE BEGINNING OF THE VERSE.
I’m wondering if he went into the booth wanting to take the song over; because he did. I admire this when it comes to the collaborative efforts that this generation of Dreamville releases to the world. It’s not a competition between label mates. Lennox could’ve quickly asked him to shorten his verse because the song is on HER project and she could’ve cut it down. But she didn’t. Their chemistry in terms of how well they work together flows through the song, elevating it.
Track Six: Speak to Me
“Speak to Me” would be the perfect song for Issa to listen to on the next season of Insecure as she ponders Nate’s ghosting ways. Or the perfect song for you to listen to the next time you’re ghosted.
Although the lyrics don’t hone in on the exact definition of ghosting; the song hints at the inner turmoil of a girl when she and her partner are not meshing.
It fits as the soundtrack for a few different scenarios: whether the guy is a horrible communicator, switches up often, or physically pops in and out. The pre-chorus and the chorus are every woman’s exact thoughts when they are thinking of their situation.
- Is this a waste of everyone’s time and why am I hesitating to exit?
- Why can’t this grown adult talk to ME!
The Sammy Sosa line is a great pop culture reference.
Throughout this project, Lennox has successfully hit all of the pain points that are alive and well in the dating scene: lust, funds (or lack thereof), and the ghostin’ epidemic. But she makes everything sound so damn beautiful!
Track 7: New Apartment
This song is a celebratory jam dedicated to those who’ve reached a milestone that tastes just as good as it sounds: physical freedom. With every responsibility in the world laying on you, getting the new space that you’ve been craving also comes with the sense that you can do everything you wanted to do for however long you lived with family or had a roommate, but just had too much home training to do.
With just the right amount of funk you can proceed to act up with no shame while this song is on. Trust me, it gives you just enough to move your hips in your crib, walk around naked, and leave dishes in the sink to clean whenever you want to!
This song ends with another skit of sorts, and the voice is coming to a hilarious revelation about companionship once the “new car smell” wears off in the apartment.
Track 8: Facetime
Ari is in her bag on this one. The lyrics are cheeky, but her voice maintains it’s soulfulness. That coupled with how they layered the background vocals makes the record almost feel like an Unplugged experience.
Here she tackles the convenience of video chatting and the tease that it can be when you haven’t seen your lover all day. Discard any comparisons to past artists that you may have forming in your head regarding Ari Lennox, specifically with content, “Facetime” is a song that could only come to be in this era.
Closing almost how it started this love song, is pure and the horns (which Tidal says is a trumpet by the way) are just as prominent if not more than they were in the opening track. However, Lennox’s voice is almost competing with the horn in volume, staking a claim on the track and the project as a whole, dominating it.
Track 12: Streaming Status
‘Shea Butter Baby‘ has officially been added to my Saturday morning playlist, sandwiched between Al Greene, Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill, Badu, and Marvin Gaye. You know the one, the same one your momma used to play when she was cooking breakfast on the weekends. It would be playing extremely loud, but you were still able to decipher the sounds playing from cartoons on the television with the huge back.
It is the perfect fusion of nostalgic soul, and funk from the ’80s that made black love, black love-making, and black pain, melodic. Combined with the neo-soul and R&B of the ’90s that made black stress and black triumph rhythmic; sealed with the alternative R&B of today that makes emerging feelings surrounding black womanhood, black worth, and black sex come together beneath a thin veil of marijuana smoke, to harmonize.
Well done Ari Lennox.
Now, where are the visuals?
Off early listens to “Shea Butter Baby”. What’s y’all favorite song? Also what song should @AriLennox shoot a video to next?
— Ibrahim H. (@KingOfQueenz) May 10, 2019
Written by: Chay Rodriguez