Yaya Bey

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)  

   

Yaya Bey releases The Things I Can't Take With Me

Queens-bred and Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/storyteller/poet/producer/multimedia artist and record cover artist Yaya Bey is a one-woman art-generating army whose EP The Things I Can’t Take With Me (released in April on Big Dada Recordings) is comprised of six songs of resilience, defiance, and solidarity with “Black women just like me” that addresses the relatable theme of “all this shit I gotta let go of, just the things I can’t take with me” quoting directly from Ms. Bey’s Bandcamp page—the things to be left behind ranging from childhood trauma to addictive-but-ultimately-unhealthy relationships to music industry fuckery. But most of all the record seems to be about gathering the strength to persevere and flourish.

This latter emphasis comes across not only in the lyrics but also in the sonic textures and warm enveloping production full of gently jazzy guitars and baselines and horn loops and funky drums played with a light touch, plus all sorts of no doubt lovingly assembled sonic details like the layers of mouth percussion and luminous self-harmonizing heard on “We’ll Skate Soon” or the snatches of studio chatter/laughter and the warm surface noise of vinyl records heard on other tracks. The EP’s advance single and mini-manifesto “Fxck It Then” is a perfect example of all of the above employed in support of its opening declaration: “Fxck being good now I’m a bad bitch / Fxck staying down now I’m a savage / I ain’t average.”

And in the unlikely event you should question Yaya Bey’s “bad bitch” credentials consider the album that launched her recording career and the circumstances around it, quoting again from the Bandcamp page: 

Yaya Bey’s 2016 debut, The Many Alter-Egos of Trill’eta Brown, was an ambitious project that included a dreamy, largely acoustic mixtape, book, and digital collage inspired by her front-line activism as a street medic in Ferguson. “You spend two years of your life protesting and getting assaulted and arrested—you got a lot of shit to say after that,” Bey said.

And if should you need some more Yaya you can check out the 2020 quarantine-recorded follow-up LP Madison Tapes, and we also recommend this recent in-depth interview and DJ set she performed, broadcast live on The Duane Train radio program which goes out weekly on WFMU a/k/a "The Freeform Station of the Nation”--a station based out of Jersey City, a/k/a "Chilltown"--hosted by legendary DJ/selector Duane Harriott who assembles some the grooviest mixes of vintage and brand new soul, funk, disco, electro, and hip hop anywhere that I’ve heard. And then finally, or perhaps first of all, you're also advised to check out Yaya Bey performing live (yes, that's right live!) tonight alongside some friends at a Juneteenth celebration being held at Brooklyn’s Sultan Room (the livestream will still be available for a couple days after the show) with guests including Boston Chery and Run P. (Jason Lee)