Words by Brandon Taylor. Pictures by Rubin Danny.
The music industry has been rocked by the Coronavirus pandemic, but I guess someone didn’t inform Dreamville’s Ari Lennox about the trickle-down effects, because The Shea Butter Baby showed out in Sydney last week to a sell-out crowd at Max Watts.
I showed up to the venue and I was shocked. I’ve been to Max Watts numerous times, but I’ve never seen so many fans waiting outside the door before. The queue for tickets stretched all the way into the road. It was refreshing to see so many shades of beauty in the line as well. To see so much melanin in one place at once was refreshing.
The show jumped off with Tanerelle opening up for Ari, and she did her thing. I wasn’t acquainted with her before the show, but she impressed me with her style and presence. Tanerelle built the crowd’s energy up well, but Ari came to harvest that sh*it.
She entered through the right side of the stage sporting an orange dress and topped off her entrance with the song ‘Whipped Cream.’ I was blown away like a hot pie on a window seal, but I tried to detach myself from her aura to take in the detail.
She kept the setup simple with a digital backdrop with her name scribble in calligraphy, 2 band members, and a DJ which was perfect for her. She’s an amazing vocalist and she doesn’t need theatrics to put on a good show. Honestly, I was so glad she didn’t bring through a whole crew because her voice is so pure that anything more might have distorted her natural sound.
She played hits such as ‘Facetime’ ‘Pop’ ‘New Apartment’ ‘Up Late’ ‘Shea butter’ and ‘BMO’.
She signed vinyls for fans and reciprocated their energy. At one point she acknowledged it saying “Sydney ya’ll are lit as fuck! Oh my goodness I’m loving this energy right now!”.
After seeing her set I had to keep it real with myself. Ari’s name has to be in conversation with some of the top R&B songstresses out right now. Despite her shallow catalogue depth, she’s already got a strong. She literally had a parking lot full of fans waiting to see her perform during a global pandemic with an economy tittering on the verge of a recession.
What impressed me most was a when she cut beat and let the crowd sing acapella, and they sang in key and didn’t miss a fucking word. If they recreated the The Sound Of Music with black folk, I’d have to imagine this is how it might look.
The set was enjoyable yet brief because of her shallow catalogue. My only critique I have is something she doesn’t really have to much control over, BUT WE NEED MORE MUSIC.
When we mention R&B songstress, the successful and consistent incumbents like Rihanna, Jhené Aiko, Janelle Monáe, and Kehlani always ring off, but it’s the newer acts such that give the genre a bright future.
Look at the young talents of Ari Lennox, H.E.R., Summer Walker, Ella Mai, Mahlaia, SZA, Jorja Smith, Sabrina Claudio, and Ravyn Lenae. There’s a competitive R&B landscape because they all have either star potential, or have already created timeless classics.
Of course, these women give guys like me great croons to cuddle whatever women I’m seeing, but I think it’s a true testament to the A&R development done by the people working at their respective labels.
Ari’s been active in music since 2013, but only recently dropped her debut project Shea Butter Baby in 2019. Within that time, she developed her sound, gained confidence, and went through enough experiences to give her music substance.
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