Yebba releases her debut record five years after she became a Youtube sensation, and ‘Dawn’ exceeds every expectation.
Listen: Dawn – Yebba
Yebba did it all backwards. She achieved what artists write into their dream journals and pin on their vision boards before releasing an album. A viral video, a Grammy win, and a coveted collaboration were tucked under her belt in only a few years. I’m sad to say the glamour ends there. These accomplishments disappear into the rubble of tragedy: her mom’s suicide. Dawn is named after Yebba’s mother. The record chronicles the last five years of Yebba’s life. But this is not a grief album. This record is purely Yebba, and in that way it is untouchable.
It’s clear that Yebba is a world class vocalist, though her power lies in her gift of communication. Excessive runs and improvisations are a musical pet peeve of mine, but Yebba never overdoes it because she never loses sight of her artistic intention. She pours her soul into each word, each run, each belt.
Take “October Sky,” for instance. She blends her alto whisper with a soprano serenade that pays tribute to childhood memories and adulthood grief. She desperately sings in the folk song, “But I’m missing my mama so I stand on the street and get high.” A side of Yebba we haven’t heard before emerges on the R&B/rap track, “Louie Bag.” The song deals with the industry hounds that pressured Yebba after her mother’s death. She tells us, “Fuck the interviews to enterprise, I’d rather look into my mother’s eyes.”
Watch: “Louie Bag” – Yebba ft. Smino
We switch subject matter with the nostalgic plea that is “Distance.” The song is vocally flawless and arranged to perfection; the gentle melody settles into jazzy chords and melody. Every song is so different, but the masterful production promises clarity each step of the way. Regardless of the situation or subject, Yebba sings with someone specific in mind. This level of communication is something singers and artists strive towards, but Yebba just seems to (for lack of a more academic term) have it. The record is clean, well put together. Every song is wonderfully different, but they share one thing: they’re undeniably and distinctly Yebba.
I want to end with the album’s opener. I am a strict observer of order and album sequencing, but “How Many Years” is my exception to the rule. As she tells us in her NPR Tiny Desk Concert, “This is probably, I think, the only song lyrically that I feel fully encompasses my experience with grief… like the holding onto my mom, embodying what was lost and then kind of returning to my own perspective.” Her perspective is a special one. Her voice shimmers as she sings, “These are the moments that I’m with you. Under the pressure I’ll see it through.” Yebba faces grief head-on, with steady hands and a heavy heart. She promises to “live out the wonder way past the borderline.” As she shows us with this record, Yebba pays no attention to “borderlines.” Dawn is the product of time and a feat of strength.
📸 © Ricky Alvarez