Published May 23, 2019On the intro to her debut, Ari Lennox issues a theatrical warning: "Are you ready? 'Cause it's about to get disgusting. It's about to get so fuckin' freaky."
It never quite does, though. In fact, lyrically, Shea Butter Baby remains largely superficial, playing as though Lennox is reciting entries from a teenager's diary. In its brighter moments, the album is a charming coming-of-age tale that is endearing in its relatable simplicity ("New Apartment," "Speak to Me"). But at times, Shea Butter Baby crosses the line from refreshingly uncomplicated to uninspired and tedious ("Chicago Boy," "BMO," "Pop").
Creative production and Lennox's voice, which brims with beauty and character throughout the album, are admirable distractions from the holes in the songwriting, however. "I Been" is Lennox at her strongest; here she stews in the fury of love gone sour, peppering her words with strategic squeaks and a weary croak that would make any soul legend proud. And "Static," the album's triumphant closer, fires on all cylinders: producers Elite and Ron Gilmore provide a warm, lively backdrop for Lennox's rousing performance. It's a hearty and sincere track that dismantles any preceding flaws.
Despite its wrinkles, Shea Butter Baby is a strong start for Lennox. What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in heart. (Dreamville Records/Interscope)