A sensually smooth and soulful masterpiece that’s really beautiful, honest, innocent and refreshing. That’s simply how Dreamville Records singer and songwriter Ari Lennox’s highly-anticipated debut album, Shea Butter Baby, can be described in the most simplest terms.
Dipped in the rich sounds of the classic soulful R&B that’s very reminiscent of the early 2000’s. With the likes of Erykah Budu, India.Arie and early Alicia Keys, Lennox provides an honest coming-of-age piece that’s both refreshing and fills a void that’s long been missing in the Neo-Soul genre.
The First Lady of Dreamville isn’t afraid to unapologetically be herself and get as freaky as she wants. Whether it be on opening track, Chicago Boy, where over the melodic and jazzy production from Dreamville in-house producers Elite and Ron Gilmore, Lennox tells the story of a no-strings attached rendezvous with a boy from a CVS in Chicago. Opening with the gentle sounds of a soft trumpet that’s complemented by an unassuming bassline, it let’s her raw and smooth vocals really shine. As she sings the very inviting and sensual lyrics, “Said listen, baby. I know that I’m speedin’ up this vibe. Is you gon’ judge me. If I fuck you ‘fore I catch this flight? No freakin’ worries. I just want to get you comfortable. I need you now. But I don’t wanna get your feelings broke.” At the end of the record, Lennox letting the listener know, “If you’re part of my job, label, go right now ’cause it’s about to get disgusting. It’s about to get so fvckin’ freaky.” Truly setting the tone for the rest of the album, if you really can’t handle sensually freaky and honest lyrics like that, then it truly is time for you to stop listening.
Things getting even more freaky on the Omen, Elite and Gilmore-produced, BMO. Where BMO stands for, Break Me Off, and Lennox asks directly for what she wants and her sexual desires being met for those who know what the slang term means. Singing such freaky and open lyrics as, “My knees, get weak. When you, touch me. Body, use it. Sex game, stupid.” Lennox lets it be known that things can get intimate and freaky at anytime of day too on her very sensually enticing third single, Up Late. A very intimate ballad where she crushes on her man and sings sensually enticing lyrics about what she will do with him when she’s up in the late night with him. The beautifully sensual horns from Masego on the production providing the perfect backdrop for Lennox’s beautifully sensually smooth and enticing angelic voice and lyrics on the record, which will definitely be a theme for plenty of lovers late night rendezvous in the bedroom.
Production is yet another thing that really takes the album to the next level too. Whether it be the production from Dreamville in-house producers, J. Cole, Elite, Omen, Gilmore and Christo, who handle most of the production throughout the album. Outside producers such as Masego, SHROOM, Craig Brockman and Jaylen Rojas also providing very stellar production and most of it being live instrumentation that compliments Lennox’s very honest raw lyrics and angelic smooth vocals so well. The title track, Shea Butter Baby, with the drums and anticlimactic silky smooth production from Elite and SHROOM, providing the perfect backdrop for both Ari’s angelic silky smooth vocals about her sexual desires and Cole’s risqué lyrics in response to what he would do in such a situation to please those desires. Resulting in what’s easily among the top collaborations and great records of all-time.
At its core, Shea Butter Baby, is an album that really invokes everything Lennox has gone through in her own life so far. Whether it be unapologetically independent, sexually free and celebrating her own self and womanhood in a way that many Black women are doing more so with this generation, and in a way where they just do it and don’t wait for anybody else’s permission to do so. It also let’s Lennox invoke all her honest and authentic innocence of all her fears, passions, desires and intentions through the well-placed skits and interludes before and/or at the end of tracks, which we can almost all relate to.
Whether it be being, “Broke” and the struggles one goes through when being, broke, as she sings about on the J.I.D featured standout or all the self-dependency and success having a new apartment brings as Lennox sings about on the very honest and symbolical silky super smooth, New Apartment. The latter being a record I could really see somebody like Rick Ross or Fabolous jump on a remix of it. While a record like, Speak to Me, is one of those records that makes you feel like you’re actually falling in love as you listen to it.
Just when you think Lennox would hold up or take it down a notch as we reach the last quarter of the album. She seems to get even better with each new record. Whether it be the very beautifully guitar-driven Jaylen Rojas-produced, Pop, which really takes you places out of this world with how her voice and the guitar so seamlessly flow so heavenly together or the drums and horns driven Gilmore-produced smooth and funky, I Been. Where she’s really able to show off her angelic smooth soothing vocals. So seamlessly seguing into what’s easily not only one of the best records on the whole album, but possibly one of the smoothest and emotionally personally honest records I ever heard in the very standout single, Whipped Cream. A record that really shows off her soothingly smooth vocals and finds the singer daydreaming about a past lover, as she goes through the struggles of everyday life and something we can all really relate to with how most relationships are in today’s modern times. Which is probably why I love and have played it so much. While the Elite and Gilmore-produced, Static, is such the perfectly beautiful record to close out such a masterpiece album. With it also being so perfectly arranged, produced and sang so beautifully by Lennox, Elite and Gilmore. The powerful and complex, yet minimal lyrics really helping it hit home.
As a whole Shea Butter Baby is one of those truly classic masterpiece albums where it seems to get better with each new record and each time you listen to it. You can always play it all the way through and possibly have new favorite records each time you do. It’s by far not only the best R&B/Soul album I’ve heard so far this year, but the best album I’ve heard across all of music so far this year and possibly even among the best I’ve heard in the past several years. This is an album that definitely deserves several Grammy nominations and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see receive several later in the year when they’re announced. That said I also guarantee it will make several end of the year top not only R&B album of the year lists, but top album of the year lists across all music.