Amaarae’s new release Fountain Baby explores the full spectrum of desire. The world she builds through the record is that of a woman who takes pleasure and playfulness very seriously, whilst being aware that overindulgence comes at a cost. Fountain Baby is erotic, bitter, cocky, and divine all at once. She wants and wants some more, but not without recognising that it's the excess that could be her undoing.
Fountain Baby is an instrument-heavy project; the orchestral opening track All My Love, with distant echo-like background vocals gives us an insight into just how much space instruments take up in the album. It’s a string forward assemblage, coupled with an assortment of drums and horns pulled from West African, South Asian as well as Japanese sounds. Amaarae’s voice drips, lifts and circles around the production. Her wispy and sweet vocals envelope as much as they penetrate, they don’t try to out-intimidate or compete, instead there’s synergy. Both adorn each other to create a sound as sexy and extravagant as the wealth she sings and raps about.
In one of the rare playful moments, Co-star is a fun sonic bit on astrology. “Tease me like a Taurus, them Libra bitches horrible,” she teases in a song guaranteed to catch the attention of the astro lovers. Right before is the sex-anthem that is Angels in Tibet. “I want to fuck a puddle/ Give that kitty a cuddle…Fuck me slow and subtle,” sung so breathily it almost sounds like a groan before she resumes back to her honey dipped soprano. Amaarae creates a full body sensory experience to cultivate sensuality in her music. From the inflections in her vocals, to the imagery of water throughout the album, particularly in the album title and cover, as well as in the song title, Aquamarine Luvs Ecstasy. The focus on seduction and sensuality is reminiscent of some of Amaarae’s inspirations Missy Elliot and Janet Jackson, in the way it is not only an encompassing experience, but one that can be openly demanded.
In Princess Going Digital and Disguise she puts the tension between money and love on display. In the former she knows that all the material wealth she has accumulated won’t buy her the love she needs: “I got everything I can ask for/ I got all the cars, the clothes, the hoes,” but “I’m trying to find love/…Baby, hold me down I got feelings for you now/…Take me out the streets.” It’s a straightforward plea to be loved sincerely. The latter song is more complex. The singer recognises that her wealth means that her love interests’ feelings might not be genuine; “I know you don’t love me,” but also can’t help but be attracted to lovers who like the finer things; “I like bitches that think they’re important.” She wisens up for a split second, “I gotta get out of your way, I gotta give you the space,” before going right back to claiming to, “fuck you and give you away, now I just wanted to play.” In Disguise money is the ultimate cushion to an ego bruised by the insincerity of her love interest, “I got all of this money/ You think I’m feeling a way,” she assures us (and herself).
Amaraae has been clear about wanting to push the boundaries of what we consider to be Afro-pop. Whilst her previous album, THE ANGEL YOU DON’T KNOW was a polished mirror to the state of Afro pop at the time of its drop, Fountain Baby a little less so. Of course, it is a continuation of the expansive journey that the genre has been on, but it is also an album that tries to rebel what the current offering would have us imagine Afro pop to be. We hear this through the rhythmic distortions in the Kyu Steed, KZ Didit and Cadenza produced Co-star, and the mid genre switch in Sex, Violence, Suicide to full on rock. And then also in the Clipse Wamp Wamp sample in Counterfeit before the commanding drum break, as well as in Sociopathic Dance Queen, the most obvious nod to mainstream pop in the album. The Bronx born, Accra and Atlanta raised artist lets her creative ambitions meander much more in this record. And she does so with the self assurance of someone with no worry about a sophomore slump.
This is fitting as meekness has had no space in Amaarae’s music. She thrives off of supreme confidence as seen in previously released tracks like SAD GIRLS LUV MONEY with the opener, “I feel like there’s nothing in my way.” In Fountain Baby this invincibility is rooted in divinity. Fountain Baby knows that wealth does not always make for a sturdy interiority. In God however, she feels unstoppable. From the iconography (the cross adorning her neck on the album cover as well as “Repent! Fountain Baby is Coming Soon” as seen on Reckless and Sweet promo), and song titles and lyrics that allude to piety, “I needed a cleanse, anointing, my mind, my spirit…glory to God of mercies.” The final track, Come home to God, named after a lyric we first hear in Angel in Tibet, godliness is not just the source, it is her. She talks about her girl dancing on the pole before returning to her, “come home to God,” she tells her before adding, “shawty say she love me like she love the Lord,” over a guitar moment. To love her is to love God, and is to love her again.
Amaarae positions herself at the very centre of this Fountain Baby universe. And in the few times when it feels like she is yielding power, it is to love interests who are also women. She builds a musical world where women are openly lustful, driven by only their own motivations and have egos the size of mansions. In a time where contemporary media offering still struggles to move away from judging women on likeability or goodness, the album seems too far up itself to care about this criteria.
Fountain Baby is not a cautionary tale, nor is it a self-indictment. Amaarae is young, sexy and rich, and acts exactly like it. Whether she is hurt from indulging lovers who aren’t good for her, enjoying the luxuries she’s accumulated, or wisening up to “a thousand and one reasons not to get involved,” for her, the only wrong way to respond to desire is to retreat from it. The album ends just as it begins, with desire at the forefront, “and she want it, want it,” sang over and over again like a mantra to live by.