Remember Your North Star

Yaya Bey

Remember Your North Star

“If I ever win a Grammy, I’m gonna thank him,” Queens-born vocalist, producer, and multi-disciplinary artist Yaya Bey tells Apple Music about one of the many songs on Remember Your North Star inspired by an unnamed ex-lover. He was a music industry player and that relationship, which lasted some three years, revealed many things to Bey—not just about the industry itself, but about who she is and what she values. “It was like, ‘Well, where am I going? Where am I headed and what should I remember?’ And I guess in trying to move towards love—love for self, love romantically, platonically—I’m remembering that that’s where I’m going. That’s my North Star.” While that relationship opened her eyes to some of the industry’s—and men at large’s—more sordid practices, Bey managed to keep her joy intact, delivering a robust collection of music that spans Billie Holiday-inspired jazz crooning, lovers rock reggae, and the bubbling form of South African house, amapiano. Within these spoonfuls of sugar, Bey supplies medicine aplenty, lambasting the intrinsically toxic systems that would, at one time, have her questioning her own self-worth. “To be a woman in this male-dominated industry means you get judged and valued by things that really don’t matter,” she says. “But I can’t have apprehension about what I do with my music because it’s the only place I have a voice. Being a Black woman, an up-and-coming artist, and especially in my thirties, the only place I have a voice is in my music. I can’t be silent there. I’ll just disappear.” Below, Bey takes us through some of the key tracks on Remember Your North Star, a project that casts her more visible than ever. “Intro” “So, [talk show host] Wendy Williams had said some shit about [vegan lifestyle influencer] Tabitha Brown on her show. And then Tabitha Brown retaliated in this way that insinuated Wendy Williams doesn’t know love or doesn’t have anyone to love her. And then someone on Black Twitter tweeted that even though Tabitha Brown didn’t say very much, we all knew it was an insult because we all kind of know Black women have a wound around not being loved and not knowing love. And that got me to thinking about how Black women respond to that. There’s the ‘city girl’ approach, which is like, ‘Fuck love, just provide for me financially’—and all of it is defense mechanisms—because a lot of times we’re afraid to ask for the things that we want, or we assume that we can’t get the things that we want, emotionally. I’m saying, ‘N****s going to n***a, so you might as well get paid.’ That’s just my take on not feeling secure that men will show up in a way that is supportive of my emotional needs.” “big daddy ya” “I was having this realization that most all of my problems can somehow be tied to either racism, patriarchy, or capitalism—literally everything in my life that’s going wrong. And as it pertains to patriarchy, misogyny, and all that shit, it’s always just fucking men at the root of my problems. Even when it’s a woman, it’s still some woman enacting patriarchy, enacting misogyny. What I learned about the male ego is just to laugh at it because it’s utterly ridiculous. It isn’t built on supporting the collective, uplifting the collective. It’s built on scarcity and that’s why it’s so fragile. And so, ‘big daddy ya’ is just me mocking men.” “nobody knows” “I had just signed to Ninja Tune, and they sent me to D.C. to start the album. It was one of the first songs that I wrote. I had been going back and forth with this guy for three years, and we weren’t in contact at the time. And he was bouncing back and forth between me and this other woman. I was really fucked up because I had lost my job. Like, the song starts off, ‘I ain’t paid my rent in three months’—that was very true for me. And this guy, the last time I saw him, he was rubbing it in my face that [his other woman] is a doctor and I’m unemployed. I have to work so hard under the system of capitalism to be worthy. I can’t just wake up in the morning and be worthy. I have to have all of these things to be worthy of love, to be worthy of a roof over my head. Me just being me is not enough for this world—I think it’s a song that means the most to me on the album because I was at my lowest point, but I was still fighting for myself.” “alright” “I was listening to a lot of Frankie Beverly & Maze, and what I like about Frankie Beverly & Maze is that they make music to uplift the spirit. I knew I needed live musicians because a lot of the album was made on a 404 or from sliced samples. It’s all digital. [My friend] Temi introduced me to [co-producer] Aja Grant, and it was easy. It was a jam session sort of thing. I just hummed out the melody lines and they picked it up, and then added to it and extended it.” “meet me in brooklyn” “My family is from Barbados. I always say that I’m an African American of Western Indian descent. I grew up deeply in both cultures. So, I felt like I needed to put some of that on the album because it’s part of who I am. And the album, overall, is about me dealing with and navigating misogyny externally and internally, and even internalized misogyny through my romantic dealings. And some of romance is about fun, like when you first meet someone at a party—like, the first time I ever danced with a boy was at a reggae party. So, it’s in my DNA, and culturally and socially growing up in New York, and I wanted to include that sound.” “pour up” (feat. DJ Nativesun) “My friend Chris is an amazing DJ, and he plays a lot of house and dance, and I was working on a song with another artist at a session in D.C. at this big house that had all these little studio rooms. Chris comes into the session, and he has a track. At first, I was afraid because it’s amapiano. But when I think about the music that’s coming out of Africa, that’s dancehall, that’s soca, it’s house music—and I think, once we get past the whole diaspora wars thing, all of us fighting for the scraps, we’re all Africans at the very bottom of this capitalist, imperialist food chain. Because you can’t talk about Fela without talking about James Brown without talking about [Wizkid’s] Made in Lagos—that was an Afrobeats album because it was made by an African from Nigeria, but if we take that away, that was a dancehall record. At first, I was afraid that I would experience some backlash, but when I thought about it, I’m like amapiano is house music, and I’m allowed to be a part of the conversation.” “reprise” “Sometimes relationships that you go through are a catalyst for you to get to know yourself more, or for you to really see where you’re playing yourself, where you’re doubting yourself, where you are not showing up for yourself. It’s really about how I had a lack of self-worth, and I was afraid to see myself as capable. And I had this other song where I was, like, tearing his ass a new one. But it was coming from a place that was more about bashing him than it was about uplifting me. And it isn’t really my desire to bash anyone. So, I didn’t put the song out and, instead, I wrote ‘reprise,’ which is more reflecting on how I got to where I am, and the things that I’ve seen. It gave me a space to even have compassion for him because he’s somebody with his own trauma and insecurities that are informing the way he’s moving through the world.” “rolling stoner” “I probably smoke the heaviest when I’m going through shit. Two months before the pandemic started, I was working 13-hour shifts in a homeless shelter, seeing crazy shit. I’m riddled with guilt because I’m working there, and I feel like I’m a part of the problem. Even though I’m just an art teacher there, it’s still like I shouldn’t be here because this is hella problematic. I come home, I smoke my life away, I make music, I go to sleep for two hours. I do it again. I mean, I had smoked before then, but that was my introduction to, ‘Now I’m a pothead.’” “i’m certain she’s there” “So, my parents were teenage parents. My mom, she didn’t raise me. She came from different circumstances. Her family was not as supportive. Her mom died. Her dad was just really disappointed that she had a baby so young. And my dad, on the other hand, he just had more support, more help raising me. Either people don’t ever talk about my mom at all, like she’s this thing that never happened, or they have terrible things to say about her. Which, as a child, it fucked with my own self-image, to have this mom that is a pariah, I guess. So, as I got older, I realized that some of that is misogyny. And I just wanted to address that.” “street fighter blues“ “‘Street fighter blues’ was the starting point of the album. I had someone else that I was supposed to work with, and the session was a nightmare. I ended up snatching my equipment out the wall and leaving. But then, I called my friend Nate Jarvis, who is a longtime collaborator, and once I got in the right environment, it was easy. I was listening to a lot of Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, which is what informed the vocals. And then, I went on the 404 and sampled my voice, busted out a drum pattern, and it was over with.” “mama loves her son” “A long, long time ago, I had this conversation with my friend, and she was like her mother—always kind of taught her not to trust women. And we’re taught not to trust women and not to trust ourselves because we see other women as competition for male validation. It’s not even just romantic male validation, it’s just love from men, acknowledgement from men—in the workplace, in friendships, in social settings, on social media, in relationships, in every power dynamic in marginalized groups. I needed a way to address the way that women act out misogyny.” “blessings” “I wrote ‘blessings’ when I was in D.C. It’s one of the first songs I wrote. At the time, I was not talking to the same person I’ve been talking about. We were not on speaking terms. I guess I was going through breakup blues. I felt like I wasn’t enough for that person, and I was figuring out how to be enough for myself. But at the same time, I was in D.C. A label had paid for me to go out there and make an album. I was too sad to get out of bed, but if I could just get out of this funk and realize there’s blessings around me, I could find a way to be present for them. And wherever you are, a person needs that. And life goes on, with time, you know?”

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