When Ari Lennox entered NPR Headquarters to perform at the Tiny Desk, we soon learned she was a little under the weather. Draped in a long, leopard-print coat, she greeted the band and approached the desk. I asked her if she was in any shape to sing, and she assured me she was. "Oh, I'm fine and I'm ready!" With that, she slipped off her coat, took her place behind the desk and began her warm up.
Earlier this Spring, Lennox staked her claim not only on J. Cole's Dreamville imprint as the sole female artist but also in the upper echelon of R&B with her debut album, Shea Butter Baby. Her nuanced but explicit — and sometimes lyrically graphic — approach to seemingly surface-level emotions and situations immediately struck a chord with fans, while slowly moving to the top of my favorite-albums list for 2019.
From the opening riffs of "Speak to Me," her rich tone and vibrato drew the audience in, making the room feel small. The bonus in Ari Lennox's set is the glimpse you get of her bashful charm, which bought her much more leeway than a lot of us in the room expected. From the introduction of "Pop" to her NSFW call-and-response, to the song "New Apartment," her personality beamed almost as bright as her voice. The D.C. native told NPR's Michel Martin that's she's always been slept-on. Those days may be in her rear view mirror after the year she's having.
- "Speak To Me"
- "New Apartment"
- "Shea Butter Baby"
Ari Lennox: vocals; Chris Worthy: keys; CJ Trusclair: drums; Taylor Gamble: guitar; Jerome Lawrence: bass; Stanley Banks Jr: percussion; Dave James: vocals
Producers: Abby O'Neill, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Maia Stern, Niki Walker, CJ Riculan; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey; VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann; Photo: Ben De La Cruz/NPR