Writing poetic and unflinching narratives about her life and the totality of Black womanhood, Yaya Bey advances an idiosyncratic form of R&B. It’s inspired above all by classic soul and informed by jazz and hip-hop, with audible roots in her Southern and Bajan heritage. The Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter and all-around artist gained notice in 2016 with The Many Alter-Egos of Trill’eta Brown. Following a couple additional projects, she has become one of the key figures behind the reactivation of the Big Dada label, releasing the EP The Things I Can’t Take with Me in 2021 and the full-length Remember Your North Star in 2022.
The daughter of Grand Daddy I.U. — a rapper/producer who started his career during hip-hop’s golden age on the revered Cold Chillin’ label — Bey was raised in Jamaica, Queens. Her bedroom doubled as her father’s recording studio, a convenience that prompted her to write her first hooks during early adolescence. At the age of 18, she moved to Washington, D.C. and immersed herself in the arts and activism, working at museums and libraries, performing in the band Gully Waters, and later volunteering in Missouri as a street medic at the Ferguson protests.
Shaped by her experiences and inspired by the writings of Audre Lorde, Bey debuted as a solo artist in 2016 with The Many Alter-Egos of Trill’eta Brown, an EP of spare and intimate recordings. A multimedia project, it was also presented with a book and digital collage. Bey took her time with issuing a briefer if no less substantive follow-up, This Too… After a process that included multiple scrapped drafts as she lived through an engagement, marriage, and divorce (to and from her then-primary musical collaborator), she issued it in 2019. Madison Tapes, released the next year, explored a richer sound without losing the spontaneity sensed in her earlier releases. Bey next allied with the Ninja Tune-distributed Big Dada and, in 2021, made her label debut with another EP, The Things I Can’t Take with Me. Bey continued to document her personal and musical evolution with the full-length Remember Your North Star. Produced almost entirely by Bey herself, the album incorporated reggae and Afro-beat within its mix of contemplative ballads, stimulating slow jams, and supple dance grooves. ~ Andy Kellman