Artist Spotlight: The Re-Ignition of Real RnB from Ari Lennox

2019: A year of new faces, new sounds and new developments in music. 

We saw the spectacular emergence of interesting artists like Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X, Summer Walker and more, but who should stand out most within the annoyingly long list of new artists? The new face of rhythm and blues: Ari Lennox. 

Courtney Salter, known professionally as Ari Lennox, is an East Coast soul singer that I first discovered singing background in J. Cole’s track “Change” back in 2017. Her angelic vocals took over the track and reminded me of a lush pillow. I thought, “if velvet had a sound, it would be her specialty.”

I found myself wondering who is this blessing from above, sent by Vandross, Houston, Franklin and the Gods of Soul? From there, I did my research and dove into her beautifully brief discography.

Her music is infused with everything that makes my heart beat. The aspect of music that invigorates my love for this genre and takes me back to when music was nothing but sheer artistry. 

Lennox made 2019 her year with the release of her debut album Shea Butter Baby, all while she was busy touring, making appearances, serving face and body, and chasing the bag. She also hosted some hilarious Instagram lives.

To me, her debut was phenomenal; a true masterpiece. Yet the record peaked at #67 on the Billboard Top 200. Why was that? I, justifiably, assumed it was because the human race has lost what it means to have good taste in music, but it wasn’t that. It was because no one was making real R&B anymore.

Ari Lennox stepped out of the “generic-multi-infused-trite R&B” that countless artists have been releasing and made Shea Butter Baby: a pure soul record. Most artists today have lost that sense of homage, but she hasn’t. Instead, Lennox uses the uniqueness of previous soul legends and her own modern artistic ability to create a sound that finally pushes the genre in a new direction – a direction she is currently leading. Her beauty, her songwriting, and her voice makes her ingenuity as an upcoming artist deserve to be highlighted.

If you have not hopped on the Lennox bandwagon, I suggest you do so now. Here’s the perfect start to enter into the luscious world of Ms. Lennox, the artist who will dominate the genre in 2020. This list features some pensive tracks that make you feel like you are looking in a harsh mirror, make you realize that you are that bitch, make you ready to knock some boots and maybe make you cry. Overall, it will give you a real taste of Lennox’s breathtaking music. 

Whipped Cream: This track makes me think of what it would feel like to sit on a magic carpet flying above the shore of an ocean at sunset, reflecting on what I did to get there. Too descriptive? Well, wait until Lennox starts singing and reads herself to us like an open book. She brings the mood down even more (in a good way, of course) when she lists all the unhealthy habits we all go through. The nightmarish cycle of trying to forget someone can seem like an endless stream of bad choices, but she understands it so well and glides us through using her own struggles and an example. It feels as though the track says, “I will move on… eventually.” 

 

No One: Loneliness – what a feeling. A necessary, vulnerable and sometimes unexpected feeling. To Lennox, it’s much less a feeling and more her reality. The “soulless responses” she receives not only brings her down, it also brings her to new realizations. This track is an ode to self-love, a sort of sad one, but an eye-opening one as well. This 3-minute track reminded me of Beyonce’s “Me, Myself and I,” but with more depth. I’m afraid I can’t do this track justice, therefore I recommend that you lay down on your bed, turn off the lights, light some incense and play it. You’ll understand Lennox – and maybe even yourself – a little better. 

 

I Been: Lennox really flexed on this track. She showed everybody her amazing range as a vocalist and did even more self-reflecting, all executed in an effortless manner. This track brought her closer to what it means to move on. It’s no longer unhealthy habits, bored sex, whipped cream, etc., it’s more her saying, “look at me and look at how I’m doing now. It’s not the best, but it’s better.” Sometimes it’s hard to recognize progress like that, but it feels so good when you get closer. On the music side, the percussion and piano hit you like a smooth freight train, but the obvious highlights are the lyrics. 

 

New Apartment: Alright, it’s time to pick it up. This track right here will make you feel so damn good. The nostalgically lush feel will make it seem like saying “pop my wuu-haa in the sky” is the smoothest line of all time. The soulful atmosphere this track brings will be the best christening your new crib needs. It’s a track about being an adult, getting a place of your own and seriously making it your own. Lennox rides this beat in an impeccable manner and will definitely make you dance. Also, don’t forget, your furniture is not going to have sex with you, nor teach you how to Dougie!

 

Backwood: Don’t ever forget to thank the herb – which is there for you when it seems like there is nothing or no one else. This is what this track is about, but when the track’s background vocals meet the beat, a relaxing sound is created. An R&B feel-good track about some kush is something you didn’t know you needed, but damn, doesn’t it feel so good to have it? 

 

BMO: This is that nasty, feel-good, babymaker you didn’t know you and whoever you are with need. This is more hip-hop, no doubt, but her soulful voice lets you know what this song is about. Sex. In fact, I’m dancing right now listening to the track as I write this sentence. This a badass track, and the music video – an experience to say the least. This track feels like a Candyland of rhythm laced with passion, flirtatious lyrics, and a chorus that’ll be stuck in your head all week. Who knew sex could sound so playful and hardcore in less than 3 minutes?

 

Up Late: Is it getting hot in here? No, it’s just Ari Lennox giving us another majestic-ass track about sex. I mean the horns, piano and those little tinkling sounds you can hear in the distance make this track a clear standout in her discography. She encapsulates what a quick and good time sounds and feels like. Its smooth cloak warms your ears and takes you back to a time where the person you didn’t need was the one you wanted. Light some more incense, focus on her obscure pronunciation, and fall into the velvety atmosphere she puts under you.  

 

40 Shades of Choke: Now this smokey ass track–WHEW! I thought I couldn’t relate to her more. She disses love and praises what feeling nice really looks and feels like. The jumpy, but smooth instrumental guides her voice like… well, like a magic carpet. Lennox knows how to make sex feel like something distant, but intimate in a surreal light. She turns a relatable fetish into a deeper and more provocative act worthy of providing some real pleasure. “I just want your hands around my throat,” may sound like a creepy thing to say, but she allows that sentence to glide off her tongue like a line that Shakespeare could never top.

 

La La La La: This track is nothing but sheer beauty. The acoustic and smooth wavy vocals lay your mind and soul in a velvet red pillow and puts you into a soothing daze. Until she wakes you up with gentle percussion pats and what the song is really about: “Caught in your skin, is where I’m stuck in.” The percussion hits you once, but the lyrics are a blow to your chest. Unrequited love is real hurt, a high that you never want to come down from, but damn, Ari really encapsulates it with so much honesty and a masterful cloak of music that allows you to feel like you never have before.

 

Bound: The tambourine, the far-away chords, the quick build-up, the gently heavy voice, everything from this track (the oldest of her music available to stream) is real music. She was about 23 when this track was released. A track with a world of depth, a mountain of emotions, and a clear testament to her musical genius. Don’t sleep on her, especially this six-year-old hit. 

 

And if reading about her isn’t enough, check out a playlist of this list here: 

 

Ivan Vicente Manriquez (he/him/his)

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