Ari Lennox may not be a name you’re used to hearing yet, but one things for certain, as the First Lady of Dreamville Records, she’s bringing all soul to J Coles label. A Washington DC native, Ari Lennox’s career developed from YouTube, where she performed covers in the comfort of her own surroundings, until she signed to Dreamville in 2016. Releasing her debut EP ‘PHO’ 18 months ago, she brings the vulnerable, with her soulful collection of songs.
Inspired by the likes of Minnie Riperton, Bilal, D’Angelo and “everyone Kanye every produced for” have contributed heavily to Ari’s unique, mature and emotive sound, “I just wanted to be all of them so bad! From their tones to their energy and stage presence. So I’m channelling all of my favorites every time I open my mouth”. Ari describes herself however, as a “scattershot type of gal”, no day for Ari is the same: “I might start the day with some tea or a Dr Pepper or a healthy smoothie from Jamba Juice”, Ari explains while describing her songwriting and music making routine. “To be honest, it depends on how much I care about my health during those hours!” she laughs, “I might continue the day acting a fool on IG-live. I love goofing around with my supporters. I’ll usually end the night writing to a Grumble, Elite or Dave James beat while playing Sims 3. Conclusively love and lack thereof, is constant inspiration for my writing”.
Ari’s song ‘Backseat’ assisted by label-mate, Cozz and produced by DJ Grumble, saw Ari in a different light, singing about an unabashed, freaky type of love, which myself and Ari’s fans were so here for. ‘Backseat’ and ‘PHO’ aside, it’s Ari’s YouTube beginnings which not only helped her get signed, but ultimately fuelled her confidence with music, “Covers [YouTube] helped me express myself through the artists I admire and love”, having performed covers from the likes of Frank Ocean, Beyonce, Tweet and even Miley Cyrus, allowed Ari to experiment, but ultimately gain a following, “it was a quicker way to gain supporters. So thankful for YouTube because it also toughened me up with the mixed comments”. Reminiscing about some of her favourite covers, Ari cites Otis Readings ‘Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay’ and Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ as some of her best covers. She adds “there were some supporters who were touched by the the Coldplay cover because they were going through the passing of close loved ones. It made me feel like a positive vessel for folks to release that sadness and pain”.
Having signed to Dreamville at the end of 2015, like EarthGang, Ari only has praise for the J Cole imprint. With artist freedom being the focus, it’s been liberating in an era where artists and songs are pumped out at a factory line rate of delivery. Ari further solidifies Dreamville’s glowing rep, “Dreamville is literally heaven. It’s how all labels should be. I can’t believe how blessed I am. I get nothing but encouragement from Ib and Cole to simply follow my heart and keep being me and to stay focused”.
Music gave me a safe space to speak about my mental illness
For career-long Ari fans, they’ve been able to witness her growth under the label. Ari’s continued to use her music as a platform to speak about mental health and her experiences with anxiety, “Music gave me a safe space to speak about my mental illness. It is still a very real thing in my life but luckily I don’t have full on panic attacks…well I kind of do when flying…” Back in her early days, Ari released ‘Random Heartbreaks’ a song describing her experiences with anxiety attacks. Ari adds: “Music is my therapy and I’m so honoured that through creating “random heartbreaks” people going through it to could have some sort of relief”.
With over seven years of singing under her belt, Ari is ready for the next stage, she’s now armed with experience and words of wisdom, “Stop comparing myself to others and let God/universe do his magic. That comparing shit will drive you to the brink of insanity” she explains, when I ask her what’s the biggest thing she’d learned so far. “Also never stop creating. Write even when nothing is making sense on that paper”, she adds.
Looking back at her 16 year old self, would Ari do anything differently, what would she tell her? “love on yourself girl, rock your natural curls, nourish those curls, try different fashion styles, call your brother David and hang with him as often as possible… and to read contracts thoroughly!”
The exact details of Ari’s next project are kept tight to her chest, but as ‘Pho’ her self confessed, “sweet lil baby” is now a toddler, Ari’s debut album is on it’s way very soon, until then bask in the glories of Ari’s IG page, where she “makes a fool out of myself at least 3 times a week goofing around. I also frequently can be found giving my two cents under some shady shaderoom post…”