After three years of longing, Ari Lennox fans can breathe easy again. The vocalist released her sophomore album, age/sex/location, to discernible anticipation after teasing an 80-song tracklist handwritten on a whiteboard to her social media account in March of this year.
The album title references the popular way in which people used to communicate in online chat rooms when seeking romantic relationships. Though online dating might have become popular in the 2000s, its blueprint is a basis for the current dating apps that take up space on the phones of many. And Ari Lennox is no different.
When her label’s founder and friend, J. Cole, texted Lennox to ask what was the significance of the title, he received a deep, honest, and self-reflecting response. “This is my eat, pray, love journey. And it’s my honest goodbye to searching for love. I got it right here inside of me,” she wrote in part.
She also reflected on how she was kicked off of dating apps because users didn’t believe that it was truly her. That experience, she says, was reminiscent of how she was never truly being herself in those chat rooms of yesteryear. “I was the original catfish,” she admits on the album’s lone interlude, “A/S/L – Interlude.”
Lennox has never shied away from sharing her experiences with love and dating. Putting these vulnerabilities in the open for all to digest has made her relatable but has also come with unconstructive, and frankly unwarranted, criticisms. age/sex/location is a transformative project in that the only apology Lennox offers is to herself. Unlike her highly acclaimed 2019 debut album, Shea Butter Baby, Lennox creates space for love and intimacy on her terms. She is confident, self-affirming, and poised. Lennox won’t lose her grown and sexy reputation, however, as fans will find this album to be just as sexually charged as her previous projects.
A week before the album’s long-awaited release, Lennox released the EP, Away Message, which gave fans a snippet of what the album might reflect. Four of the five songs were less than three minutes, with the exception of Queen Space, a single featuring Summer Walker. The 12-song tracklist for age/sex/location clocks in at just over 41 minutes. Musically, the EP is an ideal prelude to the album. Not only is the title a foreshadowing of the album’s themes but the cover art draws a strong parallel as well.
age/sex/location starts with POF, a neo-soul and jazz-influenced bop with an endearing piano riff that takes center stage reminiscent of the trumpet in her debut album’s opener, Chicago Boy. For those unaware, the acronym, POF, stands for the dating app, Plenty of Fish. Listeners can only assume that this is one of those dating apps that the singer was ousted from previously. The lyrics focus on Lennox’s failed attempts at attracting the right man despite there being plenty of fish in the sea. “Will somebody explain/what’s with these lame/fish that keep swimming to me?” she questions. Longtime fans of the artist might recall the song I Been, where she expresses her struggles on the dating app, Tinder. Seemingly, nobody is immune from the struggles that come with modern-day dating.
“Hoodie” and “Mean Mug” continue the smooth and sultry neo-soul sound that’s inspired the comparisons to Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, and Jill Scott. Each of these songs could easily be included on the soundtracks for Love Jones and Brown Sugar. On “Hoodie,” Lennox starts by reprimanding her lover to wanting to be entangled in his hoodie. The pivot from hostility to desire speaks to the complications of dating and being seduced by someone despite their toxic behavior. “Mean Mug” will undoubtedly remind listeners of why Lennox is so often compared to the late Minnie Riperton. In the introduction, she teases her vocal range with a light and airy stretch of her windpipes to an obscenely high register. She makes it seem effortless. The song itself is a dreamy number made up of crisp harmonies, whimsical chimes, and a mesmerizing trumpet solo.
“Boy Bye,” a standout track with Lucky Daye, is sure to be a favorite. Its laidback, and conversational tone is not the traditional duet that is familiar to most but for fans of Jill Scott and Floetry, it will be welcoming. Their interaction is relatable and fun. The authenticity of their meeting is refreshing and unpredictable, keeping listeners both engaged and speculating about the outcome. Lyrics like, “Those lines belong in 1995/Just like them funky Nikes” and the response being, “With those wrong socks/Them toes is bustin’ out them slides,” make for a light-hearted “playing the dozens” scenario.
Production is varied, however. “Waste My Time,” “Stop By,” “Outside,” and “Queen Space” sound much like the traditional r&b sounds of recent years. “Waste My Time” could have been a bubbly track from, one of the many, hit-making r&b eras, the 2000s. Similarly, “Stop By” uses southern rap, notably from Houston, as its backdrop for Lennox to exercise her sexual agency by speaking bluntly about what it is she wants and how she wants it. The project’s breakout single, “Pressure,” produced by Elite and veteran producers Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox showed audiences early on that Lennox would continue to stand firm in being a woman who speaks candidly about her sexual desires and needs.
That agency certainly extends throughout the album, most notably in “Leak It” with Chlöe. The song borrows from the blues to create a song that, in step with its bluesy roots, is sexually unrestricted. “Blocking You,” balances the blues sound with its distant relative, gospel, to perfectly embody her message of blocking all things and people who no longer serve her by bringing her peace. “Exhaust the only peace I’ve ever known” she sings.
“Outside” and “Queen Space” reaffirm Lennox’s ambitions to live as she pleases. The former breaks from the album’s personalized-first-person narrative and serves as a women’s anthem. “Whether you bought your body/Whether you worked your body/Love your body,” she sings rhythmically over a buoyant beat. For those who catch the familiarity of the well-known Outkast influence, the track is produced by Elite and frequent Outkast collaborator, Organized Noize. “Queen Space” reunites Lennox and Summer Walker after the pair collaborated on Walker’s 2021 album Still Over It for the track “Unloyal.” The two blend seamlessly over crisp acoustic drums and poignant rim shots. The fluttering and tender notes of the piano pair tastefully with the subtle and soulful sounds of an improvising-sounding electric guitar. “There’s something I am sure of/I deserve something purer/My love is a privilege,” Lennox proclaims.
A Dreamville project through and through, the absence of Lennox’s labelmates is noticeable when reading through the tracklist. However, Dreamville producers, Elite, Ron Gilmore, Ibrahim Hamad, and J. Cole lend their talents to several tracks behind the scenes. Essentially, it’s nice to see Lennox, the only woman on the label, occupying all the spaces of the album. Though, no one would ever be mad at a J.I.D. feature!
Overall, this is a solid album where r&b reigns supreme. Amidst claims that r&b is a dying genre (far from the truth) and the many artists who perform both singing and rapping duties, Lennox stays true to the roots of the genre, exploring its many and varied sounds that are often borrowed by other genres. Thematically, she makes it clear that she is no longer settling. Sonically, the album is just as smooth as her previous projects with jazzy riffs, bouncy anthems, and Lennox’s powerful and versatile voice telling her lovers exactly what it is that she wants.
As always with Lennox, there is no autotune here. Her voice is magical and tampering with it would be an injustice to her natural talent. Fans will not be disappointed with the consistent artistry and growth displayed from start to finish. If Lennox is done with dating apps, however, one can only hope that she finds inspiration elsewhere, if only to continue releasing timeless music that will surely put her on the list as one of the greats.