Yaya Bey : Ten Fold

Yaya Bey Ten Fold review

In a Bandcamp Daily interview, New York R&B vocalist Yaya Bey said some shit that cracked me up—but they’re not jokes. “Black people are like America’s commercial,” she said. “We came here as a commodity and remain a commodity, and we are hyperproductive as a coping mechanism. We were brought here to build the machine, but they steal everything we make to market the machine. And yet we are the first people that it will eat” Yet in a challenging year for the artist, Bey is still geeked about peers breaking through, making “dope ass music,” and friends Black Rave Culture maneuvering their way into the field of techno, where you got to pull it from a history book to remind Dieter, all those Berlin pale club cats and some daft Americans too: Black people made techno. “So it’s like, ‘Y’all made this techno shit, but we’re gonna take it. And then once we take it, years and years are gonna go by, and we’re never gonna talk about the fact that we took it. … There’s a perpetual sense of grief because we keep making things and then losing them. That’s what it means to be Black in America, is to have that perpetual grief.”

For years, Yaya Bey has been telling the truth. With that very same blunt speak, Ten Fold, full of tales, emotions, vibes, and voice notes, plays out like an R&B album operating by punk rock rules: Just glorious in its skeletal dispensing. Famed emcee KRS-One, the teacher, always produced classic boom-bap culture-defining hip-hop records that sounded like demos. Sparse and minimal, feeling somewhat unfinished but providing that spaciousness and latitude for proper absorption: Bey is providing that same favor to us. Possibly herself too, in the form of processing. 

Bey spoke previously on other releases about they’re pulling strength from the hard lessons. We should have anticipated that same tact would be used in dealing with the loss of a loved one. Lessons learned from marriage, divorce, protesting in Ferguson, weed peddling, and making visual art fueled prior EPs. So we should not be surprised, but expecting, that the passing of her father, Ayub Bey, landmark emcee and producer Grand Daddy I.U. of the Queensbridge collective hip-hop outfit Juice Crew, would be embedded in the fabric of her most complete recording to date.

Bey is one of my favorite recent R&B artists cause she works Black music on that sliding, all-encompassing scale: bouncing from singing, rapping, working some house vibes, jazzy textures, and reggae grit. Flaunting that Caribbean flair, it’s Barbados lineage coming to the surface on both “slow dancing in the kitchen” and “so fantastic” with her father’s voice at the intro and outro. But make no mistake, she’s BK all day and so is this record with a slew of producers other artists would crack their Bitcoin bank for. From Karreim Riggins to Corey Fonville of the Richmond funk-jazz collective Butcher Brown, both producers elevate the “neo-soul” tag to an ever-evolving pastiche of whatever you want to call modern soul music by Black folks:

It’s hitting. As George Clinton, yes that one, told me years ago over a landline, “funk is anything it needs to be in order to save my life.” It’s funny how that line, that quote, hits differently now that 82-year-old George is sober. But that exact sentiment feels like what is happening here.

Bey has only one song that goes for three minutes and change—the rest fall well under that, giving us unfettered moments, some stages of grief, for 16 joints in 39 minutes, which operates thousands of miles outside that tinny Spotify commerce. Both “chrysanthemums,” the third song in, and “Iloveyoufrankiebeverly” toward the end of the release, groove along with some humble, simple, real funky and somewhat somber vibes. 

The melancholy about her dad’s passing permeates the record and, for that matter, the business of no matter what happens in life, tragedy or not, the world keeps on spinning. That’s reason enough for anybody with a pulse or an Instagram account to drop a tear and sing the blues too. But whew, those weird chord changes get released with her confessional “carl thomas sliding down the wall” when she lets us know “I got a soft side.” Ten Fold is a career best, steadfast hitting you in your heart with the stuff that could break it.

Label: Big Dada

Year: 2024

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