Welcome to “New Music with Nick.” In this column, I will be reviewing some of the most notable new album releases across various genres, focusing on hip-hop, R&B and pop music. Join me in exploring the ever-shifting landscape of the streaming era.
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Ari Lennox: “age/sex/location” (September 9, 2022)
One of the better R&B singers in the modern era, Dreamville Records’ Ari Lennox finally returned in September with her much-anticipated sophomore album. A soulful, nostalgic voice and a historically fantastic ear for quality production have propelled Ari to be one of the standout artists from the Dreamville crew and of her genre. With this album, her nearly decade-long career finally created the opportunity for a well-deserved mainstream R&B release.
The rollout for the album succeeded in setting up the aesthetic and theme of what was to come, despite the strange timeline over which it occurred.
The lead single to the album, “Pressure,” was released almost exactly a year before the project’s release date. For better or worse, this song ended up being the highlight of the album. With drastically more versatility, energy and entertainment provided than nearly every other song on the tracklist, the lead single absolutely delivered, providing a fantastic hit record to build momentum.
Unfortunately, that momentum was mostly lost over the huge gap between the first single and the second single (and thus the eventual release of the album). In the many months between, there was virtually nothing that arrived musically.
After an 11-month hiatus, we received “Hoodie.” To be completely honest, I’m still confused as to why this song was positioned as a focus track to build promo for the album. That’s not to say it was a bad song; it just was absolutely not single material.
Sonically, the extremely mellow and minimalistic track plays as a B-Side, and not even the strongest B-Side at that. Nothing about it was bold, innovative or captivating for me. The hook ended up getting stuck in my ear a bit, but it’s far from a memorable song in terms of quality. After my first listen, I was worried that the album would largely continue with minimalistic production and a more generic style and sound for its content and delivery.
The last formal part of the album’s rollout was “Away Message,” a five-track EP that arrived a little over week before the album’s release. The only song that made the album from this collection was “Queen Space,” featuring Summer Walker, leaving the rest of the tracks to simply hold fans over before the anticipated forthcoming release. As a whole, it wasn’t the strongest project.
However, one standout song on the EP ended up becoming the foundation from which I viewed the final album. “Bitter” might just be the best song Ari Lennox has ever made, which says a lot. I would even go as far as saying it’s one of the best R&B songs that I’ve heard in years.
With J. Cole and Elite on production, the song incorporates soulful nostalgia with a beautiful sample and instrumental that couldn’t be a more perfect fit for Ari’s style and emotion. The vocals are potent, the structure is marvelous, the emotion is raw and the cohesion of all of the sounds present is truly a work of art. It’s a perfect blend of old and new, building off of nostalgia wonderfully with a modern twist that’s unforgettable.
“Bitter” set the expectation for what I wanted to hear and experience with the album. I was very confused as to why this song didn’t make the album, but I wanted for her to aim for a similar style and sound with the album and, broadly, her artistry.
I hate to judge an album based on my favorite song from a promotional EP of songs that didn’t make the album (and I’ve never found myself doing this before), but I just couldn’t help myself.
Overall, the album was a disappointment. That doesn’t mean I think it was a bad album — it was fine. It was passable. From a mediocre R&B singer, I would have been happy with the result. But Ari Lennox is not a mediocre artist. She is a true star and an incredible artist whose (rightfully earned) reputation set my expectations much higher than the ultimate result.
Being one of the premier artists for Dreamville, she is so close to fantastic resources that can help to create an amazing album. With in-house production available from Elite and J. Cole and potential collaborations with artists like Earthgang, J.I.D, Bas and Lute, Lennox has nearly every resource at her disposal. I genuinely enjoyed all of the features that were present, but more versatility and frequency in the guest appearances would’ve helped to give the album more life.
The production, lyrics, dynamics and overall versatility of the album did not keep me captivated and did not blow me away in the way that an Ari Lennox album could and should. It was smooth background R&B music that was cohesive. Nothing was particularly disappointing on an individual song level. And although it was cohesive, I think it was unfortunately that way due to a lack of innovation and variety in the sound.
Ultimately, “age/sex/location” really isn’t a bad album. I just wanted more because I know that Ari is capable of so much more as an artist. I want her to play into her strengths and be bolder with her music to establish herself as the generational figure in R&B that she should be.
Favorite Songs: “Pressure,” “Boy Bye,” “POF,” “Leak It”
Album Score: 68/100
Check out my Spotify playlist and like it to follow along with some of some of my favorite songs of 2022 as the year progresses!
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.