Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Yaya Bey Ten Fold Lead CREDIT Nikita Freyermuth

The evolution of Yaya Bey

22 April 2024, 10:30
Words by Blessing Borode

Photography by Nikita Freyermuth

When Nina Simone conceptualised the role of the artist as a reflection the times we are in, she set precedent for generations of orators who rattle our minds with raw and implicit images of society using rhythm, melodies, lyrics and art. From these roots sprout New York-bred artist Yaya Bey with her third project Ten Fold which paints a glowing portrait of the preceding years of her life.

Establishing a former practice as a poet, Bey has gradually mastered the ability to hold space for the cascading emotions that erupt as from leaning into the spectrum of life experiences. Over shimmering hints of '80s soul, contemporary R&B and waves of hip-hop, Ten Fold inscribes the lessons she has gathered by moving through seasons of grief, crumbling relationships, success and her desire to survive in uncertain times.


The beginning threads of the album began originally took shape back in January 2023. "At that time everything changed in ways that I was excited about and ways that I was devastated by all at the same time”, Bey reflects. She released the acclaimed project, Remember Your North Star the previous year – which made the ground fertile with opportunities that included a publishing deal and debut shows around Europe – but after a month on the road she returned home with the news of her father’s passing.

The makings of Ten Fold mirror the dualities of life after losing a loved one and the career milestones Bey was achieving at the time. “I was under a lot of pressure to maintain the success that I gained and I had to stay sane and affirm myself through the process.” Much of the album’s lyrical reflections consist of swaggering affirmations of hope, abundance, beauty and appreciation for the moments that have led to the present.

Yaya Bey spbb1 CREDIT Nikita Freyermuth 2

In the past, Bey has stepped into the arena of her creative process with a theme through which she filters her thoughts and melodies, but with Ten Fold the unpredictable moments that life hurled her way became the source of her storytelling. Accessing depths of vulnerability has always been the easy part: “There’s no need to have a guard up,” she explains. “When I go to the studio there’s not a bunch of people, it’s just me and the engineer. So I’m doing a lot of this in privacy, and then it goes out into the world.” Unlike performing live and engaging with the audience’s reaction in real-time, Bey naturally settled into a diaristic flow when recording the album, sheltering herself from the idea of outside perception.


Karriem Riggins, Jay Daniel, Exaktly, Boston Chery and Corey Fonville from jazz group Butcher Brown co-create the plush soundscapes across the tape, providing a safety net for Bey to dissect her thoughts regarding her own mortality and the urge to live beyond the survival and hustle matrix of society. "I’ve been on a fucking hamster wheel for a long time just trying to survive, trying to achieve so that I can be okay," she explains. "So much of life passes you by and you don’t get to sit with it but I want to do a little bit of that, I want to really know joy and really know peace.”

This intention oozes through the pores of each track which at times somersaults into the realms of smooth house in moments like "sir princess bad bitch". Over sustained synths and sugary piano chords, she sets the tone saying “If I never do another fuckin’ thing from today / Well Im still a fuckin’ winner cuz I did it my way.” Bey glides through her full-bodied chest voice, delivering pockets of satire in her confessional lyrical performance.

The voice of her father, Ayub Bey, is weaved into the album's DNA through voice memos such as in the opening breaths of ‘east coast mami’. Bey’s ancestral roots hover around her on the dancehall-tinged "so fantastic" featuring Grand Daddy I.U. where she expresses her will to rise above the facade of false friendships.

Meanwhile she dips into a soulful number on "iloveyoufrankiebeverly" which preserves the memories she had with the Maze frontman through her childhood. She remembers, "‘Before I Let Go’ was in every Black household cookout and any kind of life event but their whole catalogue is just music I grew up with.”

Bey garnered an early understanding of music and its capacity to heal by observing the way the women in her family would find solace in the endless discography of Mary J. Blige. “All the women around me spent so much time with her music," she tells me. "They were using it as emotional support and as a kid, that was probably the first artist that made me realise, ‘oh her music is serving a purpose’”. If you venture back in time to earlier records like The Many Alter-Egos Of Trill’eta Brown, Bey had already demonstrated her gift for alchemising her struggles into precious moments to grow through.

Ten Fold is an invitation to witness Yaya Bey exist in all her creative glory as she handcrafts a cinematic world for her stories to take form. So far she has creative-directed three visuals for the album, taking the lead in a completely different avenue of world-making. She tells me, “the visuals felt like making a whole nother album in itself because the work that went into it was insane. I have so much respect for people who execute visual ideas all the time because it really takes a lot of work.”

Yaya Bey S3 CREDIT Nikita Freyermuth

‘chasing the bus’ places us in an empty dance studio hugged by the morning sunlight as Bey tells a story of releasing unfulfilling love through her sensual movements. She arrives in full glam for another self-choreographed dance-off in ‘sir princess bad bitch’ where she borrowed inspiration from traditional house choreography. ‘Me and all my niggas’ is the third visual out so far and captures Bey dressed a razor-sharp suit delivering a solid performance of what it means to persevere through adversity. For all three visuals she collaborated with video director Chassidy David who captures Bey’s intuitive movements that were mostly guided by her imagination and the texture behind each song.

The makings of Ten Fold is the result of a personal and artistic evolution and memorialises a particular season in Bey’s life that was filled to the brim with a kaleidoscope of desires, memories and open-ended questions. At times the brightness of the production casts a rose-tinted filter over our ears yet leaves just enough room for us to truly engage with the rawness of Bey’s experiences. “I just hope the words, the affirmations resonate with people and that they know that’s where I was at that point in my life and that’s how I survived that year in my life.”

Ten Fold is released on 10 May via Big Dada

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