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Yaya Bey drops a hazy hip hop inflected summertime soul banger long player with substance

Yaya Bey drops a hazy hip hop inflected summertime soul banger long player with substance

Yaya Bey is a Queens-bred, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/storyteller/poet/producer/multimedia artist of West Indian descent whose newest record Remember Your North Star (Big Dada) is a manifesto of sorts but rendered in the most unassuming, intimate, least-manifesto-like voice imaginable. 

Structured as a series of 18 musical miniatures stitched together into a musical suite—individual tracks clock in on average at at about two-ish minutes but range from 16 seconds to nearly four-and-a-half minutes—the album comes across as a collage of spectral mood pieces, like channel-flipping inside the mind of its narrator, resulting in a psychological portrait where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Musically, Remember Your North Star is notable for its artfully stripped-down, lo-fi production style that draws upon a woozy mélange of post-soul, neo-jazz, Jamaican rocksteady (check out “Meet Me In Brooklyn”), South African amapiano (check out "Pour Up" below featuring DJ Nativesun), progressive hip hip, and modern R&B—the latter of which could stand for either “rhythm and blues” or “riddim and blunted” with more than a couple lyrical references to the chronic heard throughout—all feeding into a dizzy, mellow ambience that doesn’t entirely mask a persistent underlying tension underlined by the album's constantly morphing and mutating loops, beats and flows (“I can do this cool shit here all day / switchin’ up flows here all day”) like the ground underfoot is never entirely stable.

This episodic quality reflects a recurring lyrical theme of “just trying to get over/get by/get off” one day at a time (recent statistics show 64% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck so if you can’t relate consider yourself lucky) with Ms. Bey seeking solace, significance, fulfillment, even joy (“Oh baby pay attention to the bassline / yea baby there’s a party at my waistline”) when not simply trying to survive if not thrive under an oppressive capitalist shitstem of hand-to-mouth subsistence (“I done worked my whole life and still ain’t rich”) and a sexual politics dictated by male ego and misogyny (“you lay your hat on the next bitch’s shoulder / then hit my line like baby come over”).

And it stands to reason that even in 2022 America (or make that especially in 2022 America) these themes can’t help but be rendered through the looking glass of race and gender. As explained by Yaya Bey herself: “I saw a tweet that said, ‘Black women have never seen healthy love or have been loved in a healthy way.’ That’s a deep wound for us. Then I started to think about our responses to that as Black women. So this album is kind of my thesis. Even though we need to be all these different types of women, ultimately we do want love: love of self and love from our community. The album is a reminder of that goal.”

So drop the needle on the record and if you do you’ll likely be entirely sucked in by the time “Intro” is over—a title that’s more than just a rhetorical flourish seeing as it deftly sets the tone for the entire LP in 76 seconds flat—where over a moody isolated Fender Rhodes (sounds like it anyway!) Ms. Bey declares you better “keep your head up…cuz the rent’s still due baby / I’m livin’ out the life that I choose baby” going on to drop a couple more multisyllabic rhymes (“groove wavey,” “shoes baby”) that perfectly illustrate how the album combines surface-level straight talk with underlying complexity, a track that seamlessly segues its organ line into an identical guitar line underlying the subsequent 29-second miniature “Libation” about the societal erasure yet enduring divinity of Black Girls and you’ve got the beginnings of a hazy hip hop inflected summertime soul banger long player with substance. (Jason Lee)  

Published: June 23, 2022 |

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