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Staying Grounded with Ari Lennox

In celebration of the release of her new single ‘Pressure’, we chat to the Dreamville signed artist on clean slates, label family and her Aries connection with fellow singer Jazmine Sullivan.

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Up to this point, Ari Lennox’s list of accolades may have you believing that a big ego sprouts from the fertile ground that is her career. In 2016, she became the first female artist to be signed to J.Cole’s Dreamville roster, she’s collaborated with artists like Missy Elliot, Doja Cat, and Jazmine Sullivan, played at H.E.R’s Light’s On festival, toured with 6lack and has been nominated for various Grammys. Despite this, and reaching a level of fame that most only dream of, she’s one of those rare artists that has stayed grounded and warm throughout the process. 

It’s a trait that she says stems from a place of being grateful, being the underdog, and also staying true to herself, perhaps, it’s also from the years of her early 20’s working odd-jobs to make ends meet (From Pizza Hut to Uber). What it’s led to is an attitude of no gimmicks or compromises within her music. The stories are her own; blunt and true. Her close collaboration with J.Cole on her last big release, 2019’s Shea Butter Baby, uncovered the fact. Though they had differences at points during its creation, ultimately she made it clear that it was an album for women, and in doing so, explored the relatable and subtle nuances of saying a final goodbye to an ex. 

Her latest single ‘Pressure’ follows sonically in the same vein, and according to Lennox, is a sassy and deliberate single celebrating the love of sex, a topic she says “the world loves hearing about”. Acting as almost a clean slate after the disruption of the pandemic, it’s a track that she wants girls to listen to and just “feel good”. 

In celebration, we sat down over zoom to chat with Lennox on new direction, family in Dreamville, and her ‘Aries connection” with fellow artist Jazmine Sullivan.

With your 2019 release Shea Butter Baby, you said that it was written for black women, while exploring the small nuances of life. Does ‘Pressure’ follow in the same vein as that last release?
I mean, as a Black woman, I’m always gonna just keep black women in mind, and my people in mind, but the music is definitely for everyone. I want every girl to listen to the music and just feel good, feel really good. And ‘Pressure’ was definitely deliberate. I wanted women to just understand that whoever comes into their life is to respect them, is to apply pressure, to be consistent, just show genuinely that you’re really into this person and don’t waste our time. So ‘Pressure’ is really just a confident, sassy, flirty anthem. Just don’t waste my precious time.

The music video had a very 60’s/70’s girl group aesthetic. Was that what you were trying to achieve or what was the thought process behind that video?
Thank you! Shout out to Chandler the director, she’s amazing. I imagined it to always be let’s have all of the woman from every decade be an inspiration in this video, and I think the woman of the 60’s apply pressure. They looked so gorgeous, their outfits, the hair and specifically, Diana Ross and The Supremes and Tammi Terrell, and Donna Summer, so many women, TLC, as we keep going up in the eras. I just wanted to show how women have been applying pressure. Cher as well, big inspiration as well.

So this question might not be relevant, but I saw on your Twitter and Instagram that you’d kind of wiped all of your past social media posts. Was ‘Pressure’ a fresh start for you, were you wiping the slate clean?
Yeah, ‘Pressure’ is definitely the start of cleaning the slate, cause I didn’t want what recently happened — something happened where I posted a picture of a friend of mine and of us. It was a picture, we weren’t even romantic or anything, there was nothing romantic about it and people kind of turned it into something that it wasn’t, and I’d never been so turned off by the backlash of that, I think I just had it with the internet. And I was like let me just delete everything really quick and like start over, so I’ve just been off the internet and it’s just been beautiful. If I wake up depressed or sad it’s just like, “Well that’s what’s happening today”, versus me opening the app and seeing a million things that can contribute to depression, it’s nice not to have that as a trigger sometimes. And not just trolls, it’s just whatever could possibly go wrong in the world, I’m seeing it because with these social media platforms this direct access to the news, it’s a combination really, not just trolls.

It’s been 6 years now since you’ve been signed to Dreamville, you’re aside an amazing line-up of rappers/ artists/ producers. What do you think are the most important things you’ve learned since you’ve been signed there?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned was to stay focused on my lane, just focus on what I’m doing as a singer. Write. Just stay productive versus not versus just being outside and having a good time. Just focusing on my own shit. I see Cole has created his own world where he’s just focused on him and his private life and his family and his friends, his music and he just seems so at peace. I’ve always admired that about him and so that’s what I’ve been learning, just to focus on me.

It seems like a highly collaborative label, almost family-like, everyone collaborating on eachothers tracks. Is that what the dynamic is like there?
Oh my goodness, absolutely. If any of us hit each other up about getting on a record, we’re there for eachother and it’s fun. We want to be there for eachother, we’re fans of each other, so yeah.

You probably don’t want to say who your favourite artist to work with off the label is but do you think there’s someone there that you really enjoy working with or that shares your vision?
Wow, I mean, honestly I really love working with Cozz. Here’s the thing, like, I created ‘Backseat’ and then he comes in, he puts a verse on it and it literally matched so beautifully. It was just so spot on to me and I just loved that about him, how diligent he was and on point topic-wise and I was like “Dang, just brilliant”. Probably between Cozz and Omen. Everyone is just so fun and carefree to work with, but Cozz really stood out to me with that verse on ‘Backseat’, just forever impressed by him.

I can imagine it would be hard to choose because there are so many amazing artists signed there.
Oh, it is, and they’re all my brothers, I love them all. Cozz, when you’re asking me this, Cozz just stood out to me on that record, it was just wonderful.

Is that also one of your favourite singles that you’ve released?
Oh ‘Backseat’ is definitely fun. I love singing it, and it’s crazy, I was very scared to sing it at first. But when I toured with Cole a lot it kind of strengthened my voice so I was able to be more confident singing that record, and it’s just one of my favourite songs, it’s sassy and it’s brilliant, and I’m just talking about sex in the back of a car. I think it’s so cool.

Another artist that I know you love, and that loves you, is Jazmine Sullivan, I actually listened to an interview where she called you her ‘Aries Sister’…
She did? I am honoured. I love her, I love her so much.

…What do you think it is specifically that connects you two; music-wise or personality-wise?
Wow, just being Aries probably. I mean just, I don’t know, kind of being the underdog a little bit, like you know, which is a beautiful thing, it’s a beautiful thing, it’s a humbling thing, but I don’t know, I feel like we kind of have that in common. Then also, she may not realize this about me, but I know Jazmine she had to do different things, and so did I, to get a certain type of – I don’t know – something about our newer swag is kind of like what’s getting people more interested. I feel like when I started, when I did ‘Backseat’, when I did like ‘Cold Outside’, I think people stopped looking at me as just a neo-soul sweet girl and it just became like neo-soul-sweet-ratchet-sexy girl, and I feel like it’s kind of all happening that way with Jazmine as well, because Jazmine has been a legend, she’s been a soulful timeless legend, where he music will forever be timeless, and one of the best singers hands down to ever grace this world, but I think life, the way the world is, they love hearing about sex and Imma just be real, I feel like people were probably really excited to hear her tell stories of people’s sex lives.

So last question, but I’ve seen comments from fans where they say your music makes you feel like family when they listen. I feel like sometimes when people reach a certain level of fame they can lose themselves a bit, but you’ve always seemed to stay warm and grounded. What do you think the key to that is?
Wow, thank you! I think the key to staying genuine is just recognizing that you’re here by luck, you’re here by the grace of God, you’re blessed, like I’ve been blessed. I could be gone tomorrow, I could be shot in the throat tomorrow, like all kinds of things, that’s really aggressive, but anything could happen where it could be taken away and so it’s just about being grateful, relaxed, you know, because yeah, this is a blessing. So I think that’s really what it is, and also I just recognize life is just so short and so unpredictable, it’s like why would I spend these important moments being anything other than myself, so it’s really that, along those lines.

Follow Ari Lennox here for more and stream her new single ‘Pressure’ here.