Courtney Shanade Salter, professionally known as, Ari Lennox, is a singer and songwriter from Washington, D.C. Lennox began her career by releasing some independent music across the internet with her debut mixtape, Five Finger Discount back in 2012 and followed that mixtape with her debut EP, Ariography in 2013. While I am not familiar with any of those works, you can make the assumption that her music fit in the lo-fi, R&B, and soul categories as J. Cole would go on to discover Lennox and bring her on to his Dreamville Records music label in 2015. She would make her Dreamville debut as a feature on the label’s first compilation album, Revenge of the Dreamers II later that year. Lennox broke into the mainstream and got her name on the map as a guest for the track “Changes” on J. Cole’s 2016 project, 4 Your Eyez Only and was the opening act for Cole’s 2017 tour. Her first solo work under the label, Pho was the first sign that we could be getting another great female R&B artist but nothing could have prepared for us for the eloquence of her debut album, Shea Butter Baby.
Prior to the release of Shea Butter Baby, this project was getting massive buildup as Lennox dropped a single with J. Cole with the same name as the album. This track would be featured in the 2018 boxing film, Creed II. As the R&B and Soul genres continue to make a comeback in terms of quality and the number of listeners that are giving these works a chance, Ari Lennox has now been added into the likes of Daniel Caesar, H.E.R., and The Internet for the top talents of the soul world. Shea Butter Baby does a phenomenal job of balancing a mainstream, radio-friendly sound with high-quality instrumentals that are authentic and not made digitally. The track “BMO” exudes the best of these instrumentals with an upbeat melody without taking away the vocals of Lennox. The mixing on this project is near-perfection as neither the instrumentals nor the vocals drown out each other. It is a great balance to give the listener an immersive auditory experience. Lennox’s personality is not one-dimensional, which is one of the issues I have with our generation’s R&B artists. They try to evoke sadness with a moody vibe, gut-wrenching lyrics and an overall depressing vibe, but that is not what Lennox does here. The overall theme of this project is to embrace and treat the imperfections of life as if they are perfect. While you can have a cathartic moment on this project and it may make you reminisce on some rough relationships, the goal is to empower yourself and make a positive twist with the obstacles you get put through.
Ari Lennox is setting the bar extremely high for current R&B artists, which could come back and be detrimental because it is only instinct and habit that we will compare future projects to Shea Butter Baby. This is definitely an album you cannot miss if you are a fan of R&B music.
Richest Tracks: Chicago Boy, BMO, Up Late, Shea Butter Baby, Speak to Me, New Apartment, Facetime, I Been, Whipped Cream
Worst Tracks: Broke, Pop