Ari Lennox proudly holds her own as the only female on J. Cole Dreamville’s imprint. Getting the Cole cosign is one thing, but being able to hang around a family of talented, authentic, genuine individuals is a true blessing. Beyond her vocals, the Washington D.C. native offers an unapologetic attitude of being a strong female in today’s society. Read more...
Like many, Ari got her start doing covers on YouTube, only her records of choice embodied all things soul. The singer-songwriter uses music as a form of therapy, and even describes it as her “first and favorite drug.” In 2016, she released her critically-acclaimed PHO EP, home to standout single “Backseat” featuring labelmate Cozz.
For those who don’t know, who is Ari Lennox?
I’m just a little wild chocolate baby, who sings her heart out. I sing soul and R&B, and I’m signed to Dreamville.
How would you describe your sound?
Definitely soulful, vulgar, sweet, innocent, and vulnerable.
You’re from Washington DC. How does that play into your life and your career?
Definitely the soul. I grew up listening to a lot of Marvin Gaye, specifically the I Want You album. He’s from DC. Between that and go-go Backyard, I feel like that definitely inspires my soul and the drums in my music.
How important is it to come to LA as an up and coming artist?
It’s super important, because my homeboy Elite is here. We’ve been creating back to back — MeLo-X, Masego, Kojo. A lot of amazing artist are here, so I had to come out here and finish this album. I might be leaving LA, I’m still trying to figure it out.
You released your Pho EP at the end of last year. What do you want fans to get from your story?
I’m just not afraid of telling people what really goes down sexually. We really have to express ourselves better. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, or don’t be afraid to turn depressing situations into a profitable opportunity.
Talk about your journey with Dreamville, and your relationship with J Cole.
Cole is like big brother. He’s fire. He just kind of guides me when it comes to what I should be doing. He’s challenging me to write even stronger and better, even to enhance my production and things like that. Even intellectually too, with different things about my outlook on life. He’s cool, Dreamville is a beautiful blessing.
What’s the dynamic like being the only female in the group?
It’s a lot of pressure being the only female. It’s cool though. They treat me like a ni**a, so it is what it is. [laughs]
Do they know you’ve been feeling pressured?
Maybe they don’t know I feel pressure, but I know they know I be going through it. [laughs] I mean, there’s some girl pains that sometimes they don’t understand. But it’s all love. They get used to it.
What’s the best memory of touring with J Cole who sells out every show?
One time I got way too high — I was almost terrified of going on stage. But I did it. The whole time, I was praying to God Cole didn’t notice I was high as hell. [laughs] I was so almost ready to freak out!
Was it just weed or what was it?
It was weed, but too much of it! Jason, my pianist, ruins me. [laughs] But it was one of the best performances, it was in Atlanta.
J. Cole’s manager recently tweeted, “Real shit it’s very few singer that sound just as good live as they do on record and that’s why Ari gon be such a problem out here.”
Awwwww! Omg, Ib?
You didn’t see it?
No! Yo, Ib better stop. That is my bro man. He is so sweet. I don’t know why he cares for me so much. I see a most of the tweets, but not that one.
Speaking of, how important would you say social media is for your career?
I get on IG Live a lot. I’m really close to my friends and supporters on IG Live. Sometimes, I’ll test out music to see if they like it or not. So I would say IG and social media is important. I can gauge what they like and what they’re going through, what I should be writing about, things like that.
You and Omen put out a record called “Phone Home” inspired by Badu. Talk about what it’s like being on the same bill as her today.
Oh my god, Erykah. It’s a dream to be on the bill with her. She’s inspiration, she’s the queen, she’s big sis! I pray one day we can meet and hang, and I can tell her how much I adore Baduizm and Mama’s Gun. She’s queen, forever.
What is your take on the music industry?
The music industry is shady as hell! It’s cut throat. It has a way of humbling you and enlightening you at the same time. Strengthening you. It’s a bittersweet atmosphere.
What did you do with your first check?
I’m going to be real, I went to the mall and spent it on mad food, candy, and just freaking PacSun and Urban Outfitters probably.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
If I wasn’t doing music, I think I’d be a stripper. Nah, not a stripper. [laughs] I would be a veterinarian.
What’s your favorite animal?
My favorite animal is a dog. I love all dogs, but my dream dog is an Akita. They’re just fat faced, beautiful, kind of have a shorter snout than a German Shepherd, but they kind of look like wolves. They have furrier fur, and they’re beautiful.
Do you have a dog?
I wish! I’m too busy. I don’t have anyone who can help me.
Favorite song to perform in a set?
Probably “Backseat.” It’s just a bounce to the shit. It gets everybody moving, so I fuck with “Backseat.”
What’s the best encounter you’ve had with a fan?
This beautiful sweet guy in San Francisco — it was Valentine’s Day and I was getting no love action in real life. But I had to perform at this show, I was opening up for DRAM. This beautiful man gave me a heart with a bear attached to it, and was just telling me how I’m his Valentine. It might’ve been intense for someone else, but I was just like, it was some type of action on Valentines Day. [laughs]
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
Right now, I’m going to say D’Angelo, and Hiatus Kaiyote.
I can’t pick, so it’ll have to be D’Angelo, Bilal, or Tweet.
What advice do you have for an inspiring Ari Lennox?
Keep writing. Keep performing. Keep dropping stuff on SoundCloud, or platforms where a lot of people are listening to music. Drop that shit. Focus on your original music, that’s the most important.
Album. It’s coming. Actually, it’s a single and a music video. Be on the lookout for my single “Whipped Cream.”