Ari Lennox’s desire for a ‘New Apartment’ almost kept her from signing to J. Cole’s Dreamville label. The Shea Butter Baby singer stopped by ESSENCE’s Yes, Girl podcast, just days before she headed out on Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You Too tour, where she revealed that she almost skipped out on the meeting that launched her career.
“Yeah, I felt like no. I’m not doing this. I’m not getting on this plane. I was scared of planes and then also just got this job. It was $10 an hour. To me, that was way more important than meeting J. Cole,” said the singer-songwriter of the initial request.
“Because I really wanted an apartment really bad,” she explained to hosts Cori Murray and Charli Penn. “I wanted to be not an F up. You know what I’m saying? And I always was getting fired and quitting jobs, so I was not going to ruin Public Storage, and I was excited about Public Storage because I knew eventually I could be one of those property manager people that had their own apartment on site. So I had these big dreams for Public Storage.”
J. Cole requested a meeting with Lennox after others in his creative circle tipped him to her music. “I just was working at Public Storage and I guess he heard my music because it was just circling around like the Dreamville camp,” said Lennox.
“I was focused. So, I didn’t have time for J. Cole coming into my life. Just giving me dreams that it could be all BS. I’ve been tried by so many people in the industry and it was all BS. I’ve been scammed a lot, you know what I’m saying? So I was just like, whatever.”
Dreamville didn’t lose their focus on Lennox during this time. The label followed up again and again. “They were like, ‘We really think you should just do it.'”
Her reluctance to meet with the rap phenom was the result of several false starts in her singing career including contracts that restricted her progress.
“You just want fame so bad. You want success so bad. You just believe anybody who conjures up a pretty contract and they’re telling you all these sweet nothings I guess. Yeah, the first contract I signed, that was the first time I realized, Oh man, never mind, I don’t want to do this anymore, but it was too late. I realized it was a bad thing because I wanted to try out for American Idol and all these different things couldn’t do that because I was in this contract.”
Another time a lack of transparency stunted her success. “I should’ve known something was wrong because I’m creating with this man and he would never give me copies of my MP3s,” she said about a former collaborator.
“There was a producer that came into my life that quote unquote saved me from this original label that I signed to. They said if I wanted to get out of this label, it’d be $50,000. The producer couldn’t pay that. So his plan was to get me signed to another label, if I signed to him and that label will pay not only this producer, but this old label that I was with. So I believed him because he worked with a lot of stars and had a beautiful hits with these stars.”
But the person who was supposed to save Lennox eventually left her behind with no explanation. “After a while he just stopped talking to me. He’d be rude, very controlling and just weird stuff. Eventually I was just like, ‘You know what, whatever.’”
Without access to the contacts he had promised her or a new deal she moved on. Ultimately despite Lennox’s poor experiences she took Dreamville’s advice and invested a bit more time into her dreams by meeting with Cole. “Yeah, he just asked to fly me out to L.A. and I did. I just got super drunk and I got on a plane and it was so much fun and I created ‘Facetime’ there, that was the first song we made together.”
Shortly after connecting with the label head the Washington, DC area native was unsure if she made the right choice. “Two months went by, I was like, ‘Man, of course, I quit Public Storage for nothing. Nothing’s going to come out of this.’ But Cole did finally say, ‘Yeah, we’re thinking about signing you or whatever.’ Real casual. I was like, ‘Oh snap.'”
With a legitimate force behind her she was able to shed her other obligations. “So I had to tell that man I was signed to, I was like, ‘We’re not doing this no more.’ Yeah, in order to get out of that, we had to pay him $50,000.”
It was money well spent, Shea Butter Baby cracked the top ten on the R&B charts. The album’s success also gave the artist the opportunity to perform at her “favorite award show ever,” Black Girls Rock!
The long route worked just as well.Share :