Ari Lennox is glamorous for his first live performance in front of a crowd in over a year. Her makeup is perfect, her acrylic nails travel long enough to extend her reach a few inches, and her deep blue dress and wavy hair lends body.
But don’t be confused. She will always keep it real.
“I’m taking those fucking shoes off,” she announces to the crowd two songs in her set. “Because I don’t fall and break coochie.” Like Patti LaBelle, Fantasia, and other black female artists who came before her, Ari’s barefoot performance draws directly from the soul of the music.
Ari is in his element. Fans and followers alike know her to always keep her real. She lets her whims fly free, as she asks her viewers if she needs to cut more lace as she puts on a new wig on Instagram Live or make a lustful song inspired by Pokémon.
On June 15, the Washington, DC artist took the stage for her first in-person performance since the start of the pandemic. The show was part of Crown Royal’s Generosity Hours series, in which the brand pledged to donate $ 100,000 to help hotel workers in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood as the city is recovering from the effects of COVID-19.
“I’ll say it’s very therapeutic, because that’s what makes me happy – singing,” she told HuffPost of her post-show performance. “And it’s been hard singing just for the cameras and not for people, so seeing people smile and jam with me, it’s so real and surreal.”
All eyes have been on the artist recently as she went through quite a transition last year. Fans have noticed her brilliance through her health journey, her style and her new music, which has been featured widely with other artists lately, most notably with Queen Naija for “Set Him Up” and “On It” by Jazmine Sullivan. Ari is on his adult shit.
“I feel like I have tapped into self-esteem and love to do things that make me happy. Growing up, I always wanted to be that girl in school who dressed well every day. But sometimes I was too depressed to do that, or things like that, ”she said. She recalled meeting on U Street in DC with someone she described as “a clairvoyant” who encouraged her to wear more dresses and gowns. She said it was something that followed her, especially when preparing for live shows.
“It’s just exciting to be 30 and really harness that sensuality,” she said. “I’ve always been sexy, but I’ve always wanted to be glamorous more often.”
Ari, who celebrated her birthday in March, said that while 30 years have been full of assertiveness and self-esteem, there have also been weak spots. Her 19-year-old cousin, Houston R&B singer Jaelyn “JaeRene” Chapman, died in a car crash caused by a drunk driver in April. Ari dedicated his show that night to Chapman. She said her death reshaped her outlook on life.
As she healed and faced many changes over the past year and a half, Ari leaned more into her truth. Sometimes her truth is revealed through her music, other times it shows up on her refreshing Instagram Live feeds. She’s decided to choose her battles wisely and focus on the things that bring her joy, including raising those who are like her.
She often makes a point of celebrating dark features – especially the nose, lips and hair – on her shows and on social media – which are often deemed unwanted.
“It’s sad how much society can make us feel like less than. It’s so sad, she said. “Because it’s like, why is one type of look more celebrated than another?” I don’t know why it’s so bad. I do not know. I don’t know what scares the people of Blackness.
Thanks to her 2019 debut album, “Shea Butter Baby”, she was able to set aside space for this kind of celebration. The album takes the listener through 12 tracks that echo black women’s experiences, relationships and situations in moving into a new apartment.
“I wasn’t chasing anything less than who I am,” she said of the making of the album. “I wanted to create a space where black women feel seen, heard or where they can just be free and safe – and overcome their trauma and things like that. So yeah that’s why I really want to take my time with the second album because I don’t just want to produce weak ass, soulless shit.
Although she hasn’t announced a date for her next album, she plans to continue to stay true to herself and her sound. She said she felt the pressure to make “today’s” music, referring to the trend.
“I want to stay genuine with myself. I want to keep neo-soul alive in my albums. I want to be as proud of my music as I’m sure D’Angelo was proud of his music and Erykah Badu and Tweet. They never folded. Already. I just still want neo-soul at heart, ”she said. “I don’t want to run away from this, run away from what inspired me to create this. So yeah, that’s what I want to be able to say, like, “She’s a real black girl who never folded.”
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