is glammed up for her first live performance in front of a crowd in over a year; her makeup is flawless, her acrylic nails are long enough to extend her reach a few inches, and both her deep blue dress and wavy hair
are full of body
But don't worry, she'll keep it real.
“I'm taking these muthafucking shoes off,” she declares to the audience two songs into her set, “because I ain't falling down and busting coochie.” Like Patti LaBelle, Fantasia, and other Black women
artists before her, Ari's barefoot performance taps directly into the soul of the music
Ari is in her element; her fans
and followers know she always keeps it real, and she lets her quirks fly free, whether she's asking her Instagram
Live viewers if she needs to cut more lace as she puts on a new wig or making a lustful, Pokemon-inspired song.
On June 15, the Washington
, D.C.-based artist gave her first in-person performance since the outbreak began, as part of Crown Royal's Generosity Hours series, in which the brand pledged to donate $100,000 to help hospitality workers in New York City
's Washington Heights neighborhood recover from the effects of COVID-19
“I'll say it's very therapeutic, because this is what makes me happy — singing,” she said after the show, “and it's been hard singing for only cameras and not people
, so to see people smiling and jamming with me, it just feels so real and surreal.”
Fans have noticed her glow-up through her health
journey, style, and new music, which has largely been features with other artists recently, including with Queen Naija for "Set Him Up" and Jazmine Sullivan's "On It." Ari's on her grown shit.
“I feel like I’ve tapped into self-love and like doing things that make me happy. Growing up, I always wanted to be that girl at school who dressed nice every day, but I was too depressed to do so, or things like that,” she said. She recalled an encounter on D.C.’s U Street with a person she described as “a clairvoyant” who encouraged her to wear more dresses and gowns.
“It’s just been exciting turning 30 and really tapping into that sexiness,” she says, adding, “I’ve always been sexy, but I just wanted to be glamorous more often.”
Ari, who turned 30 in March, said that while her 30th year has been full of affirmation and self-love, there have also been low points. Her 19-year-old cousin, Houston
R&B singer Jaelyn “JaeRene” Chapman, died in a car accident
caused by a drunk driver in April
, and Ari dedicated her show that night to Chapman.
Ari has been leaning into her truth more over the last year and a half, sometimes through her music, sometimes through her refreshingly candid Instagram Live streams. She's decided to pick her battles wisely and focus on things that bring her joy, such as uplifting those who look like her.
During her shows and on social media
, she frequently celebrates Black features — particularly noses, lips, and hair — that are often regarded as unattractive.
“It’s sad how society can make us feel less than, it’s just so fucking sad,” she said. “Because it’s just like, why is only one type of look celebrated more than another? I just don’t know why it’s such a big deal
. I don’t know. I don’t know what it is that scares people away from Blackness.”
Every shade, nose shape, body type, hair texture, where we come from, how we sound, how we rise, how we create and conquer—we are brilliant and resilient jewels on this earth. — Ari Lennox (@AriLennox) June 15, 2021
She has been able to hold space
for that kind of celebration through her 2019 debut album, "Shea Butter Baby," which takes the listener through 12 tracks that echo the experiences of Black women, ranging from relationships and situationships to moving
into a new apartment.
“I wasn’t chasing anything less than who I am,” she said of the album, “but I did want to create a space where Black women feel seen, heard, or where they can just be free and safe in it — and work through their traumas and things like that.” “That’s why I want to really take my time with the second album because I don’t want to just produce some weak ass, soulless shit,” she added.
Though she hasn't set a release date for her new album, she intends to stay true to herself and her sound, citing pressure to create music that is "of today," referring to what's popular.
“I want to stay authentic to myself. I want to keep neo-soul alive in my albums. I want to be as proud of my music as I'm sure D'Angelo was of his music and Erykah Badu and Tweet. They never folded. Ever. I want to just always neo-soul to the core,” she said.