In January, the outspoken American R&B singer-songwriter Ari Lennox tweeted that she’d never do another interview after being quizzed disrespectfully about her sex life by a smirking male radio DJ. Lennox’s lyrics about good sex with untrustworthy, broke or otherwise unmoored men feel so unmediated and authentic that some people confuse the Ari in the songs with the real person – born Courtney Shanade Salter in Washington DC in 1991 – who sings them.
It’s still depressingly common, it seems, for women – especially black women – who write honestly about relationships, Tinder traumas and “regretful mornings” to be reduced to sexually voracious caricatures. That demeans Lennox and her work, which drifts unhurriedly across the past four musical decades, infusing neo-soul and progressive R&B with a hip-hop attitude. The intoxicating Shea Butter Baby is her signature song, but recent drops Pressure and Queen Space, a duet with Summer Walker about the power of self-worth, are equally strong.
Before signing to J Cole’s Dreamville label, Lennox spent years working in retail, driving Ubers and posting covers online, even on her dating profile. Like Cole, her songs display a lively sense of humour, a sharp eye for a strong image and an ear for an intriguing beat. Despite the tiresome sexism, she has vowed to “continue to sing about dick when I want”. New album age/sex/location is another enlightening tour around her quirky mind.
age/sex/location is out now on Dreamville/Interscope