Ari Lennox’s ‘Shea Butter Baby’ is the Intimate Album We Need
In “Shea Butter Baby,” Ari Lennox flourishes into an artist that is deeply personal and relatable. She embraces her emotions and spills her sadness on the record. Before, Ms. Lennox marketed herself as “the singer” from Dreamville, continuously trying to prove her singing ability on her mixtape, “PHO.” Considering that Dreamville is made up of rappers, it’s easy to see why she did this: to create her own lane among her peers.
“PHO” established Ari as an artist to watch in different ways: her musical sensibility, her soulful voice, and in the way her voice rode different flows. She showed that she could undertake any type of R&B beat, and even showed that she was capable of spitting a few bars if she wanted to.
Now, on “Shea Butter Baby,” Ari showcases her growth as an artist and an individual. She’s fed up and bares it all on wax, spilling all post-breakup feelings, which is a vulnerable subject for any artist to explore. Her ability to share an intimate moment with her fans is the testament to her growth. It affirms that “Shea Butter Baby” is a beautiful triumph as Ari sheds old skin; the record amends Ms. Lennox’s songwriting skill, singing ability, and ability to get personal. Here, she is growing into herself as an artist.
“Shea Butter Baby” is sprinkled with gems and “I Been” is definitely one of them. Ari takes her vocals to new heights, not only by coming in strong but by also keeping that powerful momentum throughout the whole song. Ari sings about trying to forget about an ex and mentions conversations that occurred in the relationship, even bringing up the subject of emotional abuse during the outro.
A sweet, sentimental song that caters to a generation that was brought up seeing love become slowly blighted by the superficial. A common thing I hear from people my age is that true romance is dead or at least on its last legs, with the rise of dating apps, people have a casual outlook on love. But in “Static,” Ari sings about finding someone perfect for her without things like appearance or clout meaning much to her. She compares her beloved to an old radio of a lesser quality but expresses that she prefers it over something more “high definition” any day. The instrumental is just as charming as the lyrics, with a melancholy trumpet in the background adding the nostalgic jazz elements on an upbeat R&B song.
Released as the first single to the album, “Whipped Cream” marks the first time Ari gets intimate with her audience. She reveals her insecurities, her envious-nature and how it leads to the downfall of her relationship. “How I’m agin’, degradin’ when I give it like this / I’ve been cryin’ at night, holdin’ bullet tight / Hopin’ I meet someone different, but it’s true that I don’t.” The beat is simple; a thumpy bass guides the listener through Ari’s confessions as she weeps. The heartbreaking lyrics contrasting against raw production is what makes it strikingly beautiful. The listener is forced to listen to her heartbreak. “Whipped Cream” is a testament to Ms. Lennox’s emotional prowess. This track will help you face reality after an intense crying session.
“BMO” is Ari Lennox’s “Rude Boy” moment, not only is she audacious with her sensuality, but also with the production itself. Unlike the other laid-back R&B songs on “Shea Butter Baby,” “BMO” is funky and a just bit dirty. The production heightens the song’s sexiness, it’s almost as if the beat is tip-toeing over Ari’s rap-like melodies. “BMO” samples Galt MacDermot’s “Space”— which uses a creepy guitar riff, synth and bass to guide the listener through Ari Lennox’s fantasy. Ari tells her partner how she wants it, “Break me off / And gitchi gitchi yaya, when the lights is out / I’m summertime crushin’, put that game on pause / And do it how I like it, baby, nice and slow,” she sings in her provocative style, demanding her partner to please her. Ari wants to make sure that you know how to break her off.
You know that feeling of freedom once you’re out of a relationship? When you don’t have to seek approval from anybody? When you can be yourself? Well, Ari Lennox is familiar with that feeling too, especially in her song “New Apartment.” The song exposes the best part of being single, the freedom of not meeting anyone’s expectations. When you’re free to do whatever you please. The production is smooth, allowing for Ari’s slick voice to glide over the laidback instrumentation. The best moments of this song comes from how relatable it is, “I just got a new apartment / I’m gon’ leave the floor wet / Walk around this bitch naked / And nobody can tell me shit.” A new apartment represents the liberty that comes along with being single. We are all comfortable with the feeling of being free in our home. With that in mind, Ari reminds us that our best moments come from home.