In the beginning of the year, Ayra Starr announced her presence on the scene with a self-titled EP; a 5 track offering that solidified her vocal abilities and artistic sensibilities alike. It was declarative, vocally boisterous at times, and leaning on fairly comfortable sounds. 19 & Dangerous, the teen superstar’s debut project continues where the EP left off, while amping up the assuredness. It’s absolutely unrelenting in its confidence. From its lyrics to the tempered delivery of her voice, the project is very clearly the product of a young adult that feels invincible.
The star divides her project into three phases that she titled: Wild & Free, Vulnerable and Self-assured, each revealing a different facet on her full journey. The first phase is aptly high energy, opening with the empowering anthem Cast that begins with a speech on self-assuredness. The punchy introduction to the project, sees Ayra Starr rejecting any societal pressures not aligned with her purpose. With her generous use of profanity in lines like “suck on these nuts'', it’s a gutsy, yet playful middle finger to convention. Fashion Killa, the following song in this phase is just a braggadocious anthem on the star as a style icon. More traditionally sounding afro drums serve as the backbone to an equally sturdy vocal delivery. The singer/songwriter spends most of the song with her tone on the deeper end, which gorgeously accentuates the grainy texture of her voice.
Fashion Killa’s fun spirit feels as much of a party-starter as the third and last song in this phase, which is also the recently released single off of the album. Described as the commercial club track of the album, Bloody Samaritan sounds like what could be the blueprint for afro-pop. Expertly produced by London, the single is a fresh sounding amalgam of currently popular sounds in the African music scene. The standout bits of this club banger are the embellishments; details like violins in the beginning and the SA house-esque saxophone break elevate the track to a more than regular commercial offering.
The core audience for this project is clearly young women such as Ayra Starr herself- it’s evident from the nitty gritty like instagrammable lyrics (“I see you watching my story...this bad bitch bad everyday,” from Bloody Samaritan), to the range of relatable subject matter of the tracks. The latter is particularly relevant in the Vulnerable phase of the project that speaks to the motions of falling in and out of love. Beggie Beggie and Lonely are more lighthearted explorations of the artist’s emotions, the former featuring CKay, the only collaboration in the project.
But it’s in the understated Underwater that the singer/songwriter really wears her heart on her sleeve. A 180 degree turn from the initially boastful beginning of the project, Underwater paints a picture of despair. In this track, she trades in her grittier delivery for more feathery and floaty vocals, which paradoxically creates the imagery of someone falling. Whilst Ayra Starr has fared better in the higher energy tracks, this slowed down offering is a gem.
The lack of energy towards the end of the project feels underwhelming in parts, and the excitement from the first half of the project is unfortunately not sustained. What remains consistent however is the playfulness infused all over the project. Songs like Bridgertn, whose classical sound (and obviously name) is inspired by the Shonda Rhimes’ popular show Bridgerton and its renditions of pop tunes.
Albums do not have to be autobiographical, but with the afro-pop star boasting writing credits in every song in the project, and with lyrical content particularly relatable to young women like her, it’s hard to imagine that she didn’t infuse a huge chunk of herself in the project. She is multilingual, which allows her flawlessly glide from one language to another in order to properly convey her feelings through music. It’s also the hallmark of Gen Z Africanness, to straddle multiple languages and sometimes by extension, cultures. The Beninese-Nigerian afro-pop star is seen to embrace this multiplicity effortlessly in her two released projects thus far.