Ari Lennox Delivers Powerful Performance

The line to enter the Cat in the Cream wrapped around the hallways of Hales Annex before R&B artist Ari Lennox’s show Saturday, Sept. 8.

“Over 100 people were in line by 7:30,” manager and College senior Hanne Williams-Baron said. “At 330 people, we reached full capacity.”

The sold out house was quite an impressive turnout for an artist not particlarly well known to the Oberlin community.

Lennox launched her music career in 2012 and released her first EP Ariography in 2013. She signed to J. Cole’s record label Dreamville in 2015, and gained major traction with the release of her 2016 EP, PHO. While she has yet to present a full-length album, she has already garnered a national following, speaking to the music industry’s shift away from the traditional album release format.

The quality of Lennox’s work speaks for itself. Her music is a raw and emotive excavation of her experiences. While in line for the show, College senior Ti Ames explained the significance of her music in today’s industry.

“She’s amazing when it comes to just being free, about her feelings about sex, culture, and religion,” Ames said. “She’s just talking about what she wants, which a lot of Black female artists really don’t get the chance to do. So, the fact that she’s young, Black, and a woman and can do all these things the way she wants to do it — with no one telling her what to do — honestly, that’s what makes her one of my favorite artists.”

The ’Sco typically books R&B acts, while the Cat in the Cream’s coffee shop atmosphere makes it the ideal location for folk, acoustic, and jazz performances. On Saturday night, though, the Cat’s floor was cleared of tables and chairs, transforming the space into the perfect venue for Lennox’s genre-bending style.

Lennox opened the show with her new single “Whipped Cream,” a story of old love. She was backed by Raphael Zomora on keys and Komari Bailey on the turntable. Most of the crowd learned the songs as they were performed. Everyone was quick to respond when Lennox nailed her high notes, which became the heart of her performance.

“Do you got the PHO?” Lennox asked the crowd partway through the show, a query that was met with murmurs of confusion — confirmation that the audience was hearing Lennox’s music for the first time. This didn’t faze Lennox. She explained that PHO was the title of her EP before continuing with songs from that release.

Lennox joined in with the excited laughter from the students at the front, and created an environment of playful camaraderie during the faster songs. Even during slower songs like “La La La La,” Lennox kept the energy alive with her impressive vocal range as she traversed the stage. In a post-show interview, she said that “La La La La” and “Night Drive” were some of her favorite songs to perform.

“I feel like I can really show people what I can do, but it’s so much work,” she said. “It takes a lot of energy out of me so it’s like bitter-sweet. I love it.”

Lennox also experimented with some pre-recorded, unreleased material, disappearing offstage while she presented the new tracks — likely a mixture of humility and nerves. While most artists prefer to perform new material live, it appeared that Lennox wanted to observe reactions to the pieces. A free college show is the perfect low-stakes environment to try out some new material.

The new songs showcased Lennox’s solidified signature style, balancing a flowing melody over a slow, steady beat filled with a spacious reverb. The music centered around themes of love, loneliness, and passion, which recur regularly in her work.

Lennox delivered a captivating performance that showcased her unique style. She engaged the audience with relatable themes, and kept the energy high throughout the show with her fluid dancing. Based on this Oberlin debut, she is sure to develop an even stronger following among the student population. Students can look forward to the release of her upcoming EP, and enjoy the new music video for “Whipped Cream” in the meantime.