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Yaya Bey - Madison Tapes Music Album Reviews

On her intimate and assured new album, the Brooklyn R&B singer eagerly seeks deliverance from bad sex, bad vibes, and the pulsing anxiety of dead-end jobs.

The Brooklyn singer Yaya Bey effortlessly mingles the personal and political. On 2016’s The Many Alter-Egos of Trill’eta Brown, a largely acoustic outing inspired by the work of Audre Lorde, she contrasted protest anthems with first-person accounts of romantic torment. Embracing the tradition of neo-soul songwriters like Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, powerful women who were forthcoming about their own hangups, Bey radiated resolve, not sorrow. In Bey’s estimation, there’s no reason the revolution shouldn’t be led by people who, like the rest of us, have shitty exes.

“I’ve been spendin’ my life on a paycheck,” she sings on “i got a promotion and i still miss you” from her third album, Madison Tapes. “When does my real life start?” Her storyteller’s eye imbues ordinary scenes of home and work with an enthralling freshness. Madison Tapes seeks common ground between neo-soul and the deconstructed R&B of Mereba and Ivy Sole, the soft guitar chords of Bey’s earlier records interspersed with sampled and synthesized instrumentals. On “sorry i unfollowed you” and “april showers,” Bey surveys a relationship gone sour, asking on the latter, “Who hurt you, boo? Bad enough to hurt me, too?” Both tracks have a faint vinyl hiss and looped horn arrangements, devolving into studio chatter as the songs transition into discursive interludes.

Madison Tapes has a spontaneous, meandering energy. There’s a pinging noise lurking on most of the tracks that sounds suspiciously like a smoke detector in need of a battery change. Unseen collaborators come and go, departing with jokes and bromides. Bey maintains a cool composure, singing with a throaty purr that ascends into an airy whisper. On the late highlight “morgan views,” she volleys between somber melody and a conversational delivery, rapping, “It’s a fine time to read between the lines, my dear/It’s a fine time to have a change of mind, my dear.” (Bey’s father, it bears mentioning, is the categorically laidback Hempstead rapper Grand Daddy I.U., whose 1990 Cold Chillin’ debut Smooth Assassin remains something of a lost classic.)

On the Trill’eta Brown tape Bey spoke earnestly of revolution, flitting among characters to inhabit differing perspectives. Madison Tapes is comparably insular, its pursuit a self-derived liberation consistent with the ethos of her neo-soul forebears. That’s not to say it’s any less idealistic—Bey eagerly seeks deliverance from bad sex, bad vibes, and the pulsing anxiety of dead-end jobs. “paterson plank,” the descending chords of which evoke Vinia Mojica and Pete Rock’s 1998 duet “Mind Blowin’,” concludes with a yearning final verse that keeps it from lapsing into mere mood music, Bey singing, “Forever is a long time/To be wasting somebody’s time.” On the inspired “unseen freestyle,” her runaway rap verse mourns lost love as well as peers lost to nine-to-five drudgery.

There’s also solace to be found in the record’s convivial atmosphere, particularly “that’s pressure,” on which Bey and fellow-Brooklynite guest rapper Juu Mcfuckit bemoan an unraveling fling. Mcfuckit raps with eye-rolling insouciance (“She lyin’, she tell me she love me, I say I love you back/Shorty sent me soul-searching, couldn’t use Google Maps”) and a palpably New York attitude. While some of the spoken interludes are considerably more profound than others, they cast Bey’s malaise in a universal context that complements the more overtly political themes of her earlier projects. There are attestations to love, surrender, and abandonment: On “what truly is,” a young woman speaks with startling prescience about the power of photography to both convey and garble stories of human will. Even in heartache, Bey cuts a forceful pose.

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