J. Cole has quietly amassed a hell of a roster over at Dreamville. One of his current artists, Ari Lennox (who in May released her debut album, Shea Butter Baby—seriously, how fuckin’ awesome of a title is that?)—is really starting to make noise, as she should be. Lennox, who is a singer/songwriter from Washington, D.C., has one of those super distinctive voices that stands out as soon as you hear it. I feel about her voice the same way I felt about SZA the first time I heard her sing. Lennox is also a good performer; I heard her perform while I was standing in line to get into the Roots Picnic earlier this month and saw the tail end of her set once I got in. I was very pleased with what I saw, plus she cusses a lot. Count. Me. In.
Her current singles, “Shea Butter Baby (with J. Cole),” “Whipped Cream” (I LOVE this record) and “Up Late” can be heard on various stations, both terrestrial and online. And they’re all good records, but the song of hers that I first remember hearing that I kept on repeat was from her 2016 EP, Pho. The song, “Night Drive” is a sample-driven banger (it has some kick-drum knock for the whip) about a little night drive with her boo. But like most good songwriters, Lennox turned a simple concept into a work of art with the right phrasing. Hell, the fact that she keeps shouting out Highway 85 makes me wonder where she was when she wrote it or what memory inspired it. Rolling with Herbie Hancock on the radio. That’s fun songwriting.
Of all of her music, “Night Drive” is the song I’ve played more than any by a country mile, but I enjoy all of her music to date. And I’m glad she’s been receiving praise and largely positive reviews for Shea Butter Baby, as it’s well deserved and I hope it takes her to wherever she’s trying to go professionally. For now, check her out. I guarantee the cool kid you know is listening to her.
Shouts out to the shea butter babies out there.