Friday, September 30, 2022

Ari Lennox shows Strength in Vulnerability on her Sophmore Album

With her recent sophomore release, D.C. RnB singer Ari Lennox explores the anxieties of being single and reaching the end of her 20's whilst balancing confidence through raising her standards for relationships.

Her new project, ‘age/sex/location’ is a bold new dedicated ode to self-love and embracing joy and is undoubtedly a contender for one of the best RnB projects of the year. 

By far the most poignant thing about this album is her sense of humour. Her debut centred around jazz, a genre that is often associated with mystique and poise. Though it is an excellent record, it can oftentimes feel a little withdrawn. That is not the case here. Consider this album the lovechild of her previous works ‘BMO’, ‘New Apartment’ and even pre-debut cuts like ‘Cold Outside’. It exudes more confidence and a sense of liberation.  

A blessing and a curse, the best song on the album is the intro track 'POF'. A stellar album opener, she hops on this luscious 90s-era boom-bap beat. Reminiscent of Erykah Badu at her most hip-hop inspired, she uses a repetitive taunting flow in each of her verses to call out the audaciousness of her failed romantic pursuits. She honestly has the potential to be a promising rapper, the blows are just that impactful. Through her impactful lyricism, she critiques the pervasive masculine bravado often present within the modern dating scene. Nothing is sacred. Addressing everything from men ‘hatfishing’ to the hypocrisy of being a sex-obsessed Christian, she comes out of the gate guns blazing. 

Another comedic high point is the collaboration between her and New Orleans singer-songwriter Lucky Daye. The song is this delicate dance of Daye attempting to woo Lennox through an exchange of witty light-hearted jabs. It is this duet that subverts the hyper-romanticised imagery of a typical RnB duet. The two clearly dislike each other but you can’t help but root for them. In this scene, he has a mystery girl upstairs but as a listening experience, it makes you throw all of your morals out of the window. That is how great their chemistry is on this song. He uses humour to show his sexual prowess, she uses humour as a way to avoid emotional vulnerability. It just makes so much sense. The pair create such an intimate experience that you almost feel like you shouldn’t be listening in on it (in the best way possible). 

The wit Lennox showcases in her songwriting runs through the entire album. The opening line on 'Waste My Time' ("No dick makin' me stupid") is so funny it honestly makes the rest of the song fall a little flat in comparison. Her wit is even demonstrated in some of the production choices. The lead single ‘Pressure’ embodies this retro, clean-cut Motown aesthetic whilst adopting some of the album's raunchy lyrics and offsets the vibrancy of her vocal style. 

Speaking of raunchiness, this album marks a sexual maturity in comparison to her last record. From being used for the pleasure and benefit of others to one of sexual reclamation. That thematic shift is slight but also extremely noteworthy, demonstrated best in the songs ‘Hoodie’ and ‘Leak It.’ 

Although this album does mark Lennox maturing into accepting her singleness and wanting better for herself it doesn’t skimp out on a desire for sexual intimacy, and the vulnerability that can come with it. There is risk in seeking that sort of emotional and sexual intimacy and choosing to take that on is clearly a mark of bravery. Whilst modern RnB has received criticism in recent years for its toxic approach to modern dating and sex, Lennox draws her line in the sand. Understanding that this approach could be lonely and isolating but staying true to her convictions. She does so without completely resting on the laurels of RnB singers of old, instead carving out an approach to love and sex that is unique to her and fits within a modern context. The second single, ‘Hoodie’, with its angelic vocal layering and sensual bassline encapsulates this desire for warmth and intimacy perfectly. 

There’s this intentionality to her approach to relationships here that has not been present in her previous work. Setting boundaries on ‘Blocking You’ and placing herself in high self-regard when it comes to sex on ‘Queen Space’ with American RnB singer Summer Walker. 

The best thing about all of this: is she’s not judgemental at all. With this journey of self-love and maturity, she still displays a level of empathy with women who struggle with those experiences. The comedic elements make it so that she can laugh at herself and the men with whom she interacts. Universalising her experiences makes for a more compassionate listening experience. 

This is not to say that the album does not have any low points. Even on some of the weaker tracks like ‘Waste My Time’ or ‘Stop By’ her vocal ability is still able to inject a sense of personality where a weaker performer may not be able. Her vocal style almost sounds like a brass instrument, reflecting her roots in jazz, and it makes for beautiful musical moments. Whilst not the best song on the album, she has even managed to bring out the best feature American singer Chlöe has done since her solo debut. 
Lennox’s album demonstrates a vast knowledge of her genre that doesn’t sound fragmented or forced but is still unique to her experience. If you're looking for an RnB record bubbling with charming wit and charisma look no further. As a reference point, the more personable approach to sex and relationships displayed on this album is comparable to Jazmine Sullivan’s ‘Heaux Tales’ (an album on which she was also featured), which is nothing short of the highest praise. She was featured on that album and it is clear that the influence has rubbed off on her in the best way.  On the surface, it seems to be a well-crafted RnB record, but give it a closer listen and she might surprise you. 

‘Age/Sex/Location’ avoids the dreaded sophomore curse by her willingness to show personal growth and translate it so well artistically. As RnB gains more mainstream visibility over the coming years, we should anticipate what she does next. 

Briana Grant
Image: ‘age/sex/locations’ Official Album Cover

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