Yaya Bey – Ten Fold

The excellent 'Ten Fold' finds the New York musician unmoored by grief but not defeated...

Yaya Bey is a master at singing of and through strife. On the Brooklynite’s pandemic album ‘Madison Tapes’, Bey confronted exes, estrangement and idleness through remedial self-talk. In her ensuing releases Bey resisted mainstream modes of expression; her work is a site of self-derived resistance, more rigorously realised on the foundational ‘Remember Your North Star’. Nine months after that release Bey shared six-track reprise, ‘exodus the north star’, gesturing at some redemption – a sunlit amnesty from the relational and societal misogynoir Bey had mined in her life’s work as not just an singer, but a poet, art curator, mixed-media artist, and a founder of a mutual aid organisation. These myriad disciplines inform the retro-conscious feel of her new album, ‘Ten Fold’, where Bey communicates to fellow sapped hearts in a language that’s both familiar and earthy.

‘Ten Fold’, out on Big Dada, returns Bey to the mire of malfunctioning adulthood. It is as interior as it is fraught with existential concern; coloured by the death knell of past selves, relationships and systemic degradation. Bey documents grief in its acutest phase early on (namely the loss of her father, Ayub Bey, Grand Daddy IU of New York rap collective the Juice Crew), and explores how the apparition of loss intersects with labour. On opener ‘crying through my teeth’, Bey meditates on feeling rudderless, echoing the inner plea “weighs heavy on me” against the extremities of her vocal range. The organ-laced mid-tempo bleeds into the foggy miasma of ‘the evidence’, the mellower strains in production here handled by drumming virtuoso Corey Fanville, of jazz group Butcher Brown.

Bey never languishes in the darker recesses of her mind for too long. ‘Ten Fold’ finds Bey in a creatively fertile space, wading, feeling and moving through the tendrils of her pain – her aphoristic storytelling counterbalanced by a luminous production cohort that includes Karriem Riggins, Jay Daniel, Exaktly and Boston Chery. Bey extols solidarity through the rawness of her experience, whilst leaning into the communion that comes with experiencing and creating music in the presence of others. On the jocund piano suite ‘iloveyoufrankiebeverly, Bey namechecks the Maze funk legend, whose enduring anthems have soundtracked the eternal cookout; a place for black Americans to rejoice in fellowship, to elevate and preserve the legacy of their ancestors.

‘Ten Fold’ is a sleek encapsulation of that interpersonal triumph. ‘eric adams in the club’ is the cheap dancing-through-the-apocalypse thrill, taking aim at amoral politicians and hoarding landlords, the mordant line “cause the world might be on fire, so dance this shit is dire” rings out in an airy paean to the east coast Eden. On the bluesy interlude, ‘me and all my n*****s’, Bey reminds her troupe of survivors their fortitude is divinely-ordained. ‘slow dancing in the kitchen’, a nebulous but irresistible take on ska, is a daybreak display of warm Sunday intimacy, whilst ‘sir princess bad bitch’, the album’s silky house moment, luxuriates in the mystery and freedom of genderqueer expression.

On ‘Ten Fold’, Bey resists the overt commercial moment her arc as an artist might warrant at this point in her career. Instead the collection maintains the ambling, unprocessed feel of ‘Remember Your North Star’, Bey’s journey of self-discovery scaffolded by blithe sonic choices. These songs aren’t pretentiously long or even particularly ornate, but it doesn’t need to be. ‘Ten Fold’ continues the documentation of Yaya Bey as a fallible figure, a work-in-progress. Bey muses on the passage of time; the stickiness and elusiveness of the present moment, and the promise that the sun will set on an uncertain future. Bey channels the destabilising loss of her father and its attendant grief into something transcendent yet eminently relatable. ‘Ten Fold’, like the best journeying album, takes you along for the ride whilst serenading your anguish.

8/10

Words: Shahzaib Hussain

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