Ten Fold

Losing someone close to you can feel like a rupture in time. How can the sun continue to rise? How can the world keep moving? The disorientation of being fundamentally altered in grief motivates Yaya Bey’s transcendent new album, Ten Fold. “My nigga left the world and the world ain’t stop,” she quietly raps on “yvette’s cooking show.” The Queens-raised artist recorded the album in the year following the death of her father, Ayub Bey—the emcee and producer Grand Daddy I.U., who was a member of the pioneering hip-hop collective Juice Crew and a towering figure in Bey’s life. Funeral costs compelled her to keep working and over the course of a year, she made music without any firm plans. The results, whittled down to 16 tracks, are snapshots of an artist moving through loss as she navigates financial and emotional precarity and the vicissitudes of romance. It’s a finely detailed portrait of grief that also celebrates the fullness of life.

The ripples of Yaya Bey’s day-to-day are small, but in her delicate hands, they are strikingly resonant. Ten Fold rarely dwells on the past, choosing instead to mark the passage of time by cataloging the feelings that sprouted along the way—sadness, defiance, joy, frustration, pride, love. Masterful sequencing and economical writing (most songs are under three minutes) allow Bey to be as nimble as ever. After announcing the grief that “weighs heavy” on her, she briskly wipes her tears to celebrate her blooming potential on the pocket-disco song “chrysanthemums.” She finds “fly shit” at the thrift store on “east coast mami” to project the confidence needed to make power moves. Relationships fizzle and grow; rent remains too damn high. Collectively, the album sounds like a Black woman just trying to get by.

In keeping with her 2022 breakout album, Remember Your North Star, Bey pulls from the warmer colors of a Black musical palette—Soulquarians-style neo-soul, upbeat funk, house, and boom bap. The production, assisted by Corey Fonville of the genre-melding jazz-hop band Butcher Brown, feels cozy and self-soothing. She taps into familiarity, yet resists complacency. The album opens with the simmering melancholy of “crying through my teeth,” which like its spiritual ancestor “Didn’t Cha Know,” carries a world of feeling in the simplest of phrases. Where songs like “nobody knows” on North Star described vivid characters and scenes, Ten Fold’s stories are abstract, unfolding like an extended inner monologue. The spare house beat of “sir princess bad bitch” is demo-like, and its circular refrain (“The beautiful thing about me/Is every little beautiful thing/Is on its way to me”) sounds like the kind of made-up song you sing to keep yourself afloat. Directing the affirmations inward allows Bey to skillfully sidestep platitudes: feelings arise spontaneously and inconstantly from all across the emotional spectrum. Even the songs explicitly about other people feel insular, like the blooming romance of “slow dancing in the kitchen.” The sunny reggae cut has the gossamer quality of a daydream or a gaze directed toward a lover.

Self-love is a prominent lyrical theme, but its greatest manifestation is how Bey handles her voice. In her idiosyncratic tone, there are glimmers of the open-throated soul-jazz of Anita Baker, yet what sets her apart from her peers and foremothers in R&B is her quieter, more intimate approach. What she lacks in vocal pageantry, she makes up for in her stylistic range—singing, rapping, scatting, and humming. On the modern blues of “the evidence,” she reaches for the lowest notes of her range to scrape up the courage to “hold on,” communicating the enormous effort with just a gravelly hum. On the lighter love songs, like the wah-wah funk of “all around los angeles,” high notes abound, soft as cotton candy.

Her father Ayub’s voice is laced throughout the album, appearing via voice notes and samples. But it’s only in the final minutes, on “yvette’s cooking show,” that she addresses him directly. Over a simple piano loop, she speaks to her father in present tense, wishing him absolution and catching him up on the latest year of her life. She finally shines a light on the father-shaped hole at the center of the album, the one she’s been sketching around with all the quotidian details. Suddenly, everything we’ve heard prior has a different ring to it. Still, this revelation doesn’t feel like avoidance: It illuminates the transitory nature of grief, how it can come and go like everything else. Embracing that impermanence, which Ten Fold shows really means embracing all of life, points a way out of the pain. By the time she reaches the last song, “let go,” the question is no longer if the pain can be let go, but when. The question remains unanswered: Only time will tell.

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Yaya Bey: Ten Fold