Forever, Ya Girl, the debut LP from lyricist/producer/vocalist KeiyaA, is a love letter to blackness. It is organic and relaxed, based in experience and desire, but it also reflects meticulous research. “Recorded in New York City, NY and Chicago, IL from 2017-2020,” states a note on the back cover, highlighting the years of work wrapped up in these 16 songs across 43 all-encompassing minutes.

These years of work are not KeiyaA’s alone. The album foregrounds the voices of a multitude of black artists, such as Jayne Cortez, Ntozake Shange and Nina Simone, through snippets of interviews, performances and readings. For example, an excerpt from Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf is the foundation of “I Want My Things!”. We hear words from the sample (“I want my arm with the hot iron scar/ I want my leg with the flea bite,” it begins), as well as KeiyaA repeating each line (simultaneously in fullness and whisper), the sound of shushing, an electronic tittering and a kind of sung, arching sigh in the background. Listeners get an impression of solidarity on shared ground, communicated for the purpose of upliftment. This is art as correspondence, which reveals a set of intriguing interactions among moments in history.

The songs on Forever, Ya Girl affirm the creativity of black women as multivocal and plenteous. “Change the Story (Interlude),” just 21 seconds in length, includes the recorded statement, “The moment we put value on us/ The moment we say, “We’re enough/ We’re enough, we’re valuable”/ That’s when we change the story.” The track, positions revolutionary transformation as imperative, and we hear this through the album’s aesthetic: the adjustment of tempo from one moment to the next, as vocals speed up and rise in pitch or slow down and deepen; the shift from KeiyaA’s voice to sample and back; and that voice itself, speaking, yearning, singing. These transformations intertwine, forming an audio palimpsest where each trace becomes visible as part of its overall phasing.

The point is not perfection but raw authenticity, which includes unrealized inclinations, battles with self and negativity towards the bullshit. In other words, the kinds of affirmation here aren’t about pie-in-the-sky sentiment. “I’m riddled with demons, it’s time to release them once and for all/ I’m wrestling with burdens I never deserved, yet I’m responsible,” she sings on “F.W.U.” As on much of the record, she performs the line breezily over an avant-jazz beat with stuttering rhythms made from swiftly punctuated loops. There are decades of frustration built into these distortions and abbreviations: paths incomplete or unfairly closed and lives taken unjustly by the mechanisms of white supremacy (like that of writer Henry Dumas, whose 1968 murder at the hands of New York City Transit Police is a topic of Jayne Cortez’s “For the Poets,” sampled on Prince cover “Do Yourself a Favor”). “Get your boot up off my neck/ So we can both progress,” she demands on “Way Eye,” and listeners should take special care to actually heed this call.

The musical and lyrical content on Forever, Ya Girl align it with two overlapping movements in contemporary music: the lo-fi fogginess of MIKE (a key collaborator and coproducer of four of the LP’s tracks), Medhane (thanked, like MIKE, in the acknowledgment section), Maxo, Earl Sweatshirt, Pink Siifu and others, and an emphasis on empowerment and education in work by creators like Noname, Jamila Woods and Blood Orange. But more important than the names of recognizable black artists are the everyday realities of black people, which KeiyaA uses relatively simple tools to express: a sampler, a laptop, her voice. Hers is an astounding achievement in process-driven neo-soul, available as an implement for both building an Afrocentric future and reawakening the unsilenceable presence of blackness in all time.

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