Steamy, sensually smooth and intimate. Summer may not have yet arrived here in Chicago, but it sure felt like it with the way Ari Lennox heated up the House of Blues Chicago on Sunday night (June 9) for the Chicago stop of her current headlining Shea Butter Baby Tour.
Providing plenty of heat with her very stellar and intimate performance, Lennox wasn’t the only one to impress the packed and sold-out world-famous Chicago venue. As her producer/artist, Ron Gilmore Jr. opened the night with a pretty short, yet solid five song set and Mikhala Jené provided a very soulfully scene stealing opening set of her own that definitely gained plenty of new fans here in Chicago. Jené’s set the most talked about set outside of Lennox’s for how great and soulfully amazing her voice and vocals were. With her performing some of the very soulfully amazing songs from her recent Carolina Blues EP, as well as covering a few classic R&B records to see how well the crowd knew their R&B and Soul classics of yesteryear.
Donned in an all-black ensemble complete with a shimmering black and green crop tube top, matching bright red fur coat, black jeans and black strappy heels that’s a nod to Black elegance and the unapologetic celebration of black excellence she represents in most of her songs, Ari entered the stage that was filled with alluring blue, red and purple-hued lights that set the mood for the rest of the night. Letting it be known how much she loves Chicago and it changed her life before she appropriately went into the very jazzy and sensually enticing, Chicago Boy, which also happens to be the opening record of her critically-acclaimed debut album, Shea Butter Baby.
An audience filled with plenty of beautiful women and fellas as well, it was a very packed and devoted crowd that would have made you think it was a veteran artist with how they knew virtually every single line, note and key, as they sang along to virtually every song from beginning to end. Whether it be the lines of, “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.” From the aforementioned Chicago Boy or the very catchy lines of, “I’ve been low before. Yeah you know I’ve been low before,” from the very fan-favorite third track from the album, Broke.
That very unapologetically black, independent and freely liberating curl-boasting, several wig wearing and dark-skinned black woman she so proudly represents was on display in her stage setup too. As she had cheekily set up mannequins striking several different styles wigs behind her. Which she did commentary about being so beautiful and lovely, before going and swaying back and forth and popping low on the very standout single, Whipped Cream. Where Lennox was able to maintain a sensually grown and sexy, yet enticingly intimate energy throughout the set that really kept the fans and crowd involved. The think peace like conversational interludes she had in between songs drawing the live experience even more to her shea butter babies in the crowd. To make the experience that much more satisfying and masterfully magnetizing.
A good portion of Ari’s set being from her Shea Butter Baby album, which the tour is of course named after. She even threw in fan favorites from her EP, Pho, such as Backseat, Night Drive and GOAT. Even including loosies like, 40 Shades Of Choke, where Ari requested everyone to say, “I will be consensually choked tonight and I will survive” before singing the track. That shows how quirky, yet great her music can be at times too.
There wasn’t any low points from Ari throughout her show and things only steamed up even further when she ditched her red fur coat towards her performance of Broke. Further getting hotter towards the end of the show when she performed the title track, Shea Butter Baby, sans J. Cole. Teasing that was the end of her performance she would come back out again red fur coat back intact before busting it to, the very standout and upbeat catchy, B.M.O. The titillating and bedroom-rushing, up-tempo cream of the Shea Butter Baby crop, being produced by Chicago’s very own Dreamville representative Omen (who was in the building and she shouted out), sexily stripped the R&B essence of the room even barer and was by far outside of the title track, the one the sold out crowd Chicago quite appropriately sang and showed the most enthusiasm for. By far one of the most sought-after performances of the evening, the single charged up the crowd into a sensually and enthusiastically high sing-along before Ari kissed her goodbyes that had the crowd singing along well after she was done performing and starting to exit the stage.
With her performance Ari showed a grown and sexy appeal that will have everyone feeling as grown and sexy as her after seeing her perform live. Also making everyone who is in a relationship feel even more love for one another, while most others who aren’t will feel like they want to be in love at the moment. A truly great performer at only still really a young part of her career, Ari shows a promise and experience when you attend one of her shows that a lot of veteran performers are not able to do and already has her on the right course to a very promising and quite possibly legendary career. Definitely showing why she’s also the lone R&B and female act on Dreamville Records, as the, “First Lady of Dreamville.”