Yebba Is The Real Deal

Francesco Carrozzini

Yebba Is The Real Deal

Francesco Carrozzini

You could be forgiven for assuming Yebba is British. The singer born Abbey Smith — her stage name is Abbey backwards — is working in a hip-hop-adjacent retro soul realm that, in the 21st century, has been dominated by English singers like Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and Adele. One listen to “Boomerang,” the most decidedly Winehouse-esque throwback on Yebba’s debut album Dawn, is enough to clue you in to Back To Black producer Mark Ronson’s involvement. But no, Yebba is not from the UK. She’s from Arkansas. And the music industry is doing its damndest to ensure she’s known all over the world.

What began with viral videos on Instagram and YouTube videos half a decade ago, when Yebba was still spending her summers off from college at her family’s farm, has led to an astonishing number of big-name collaborations. Two years ago Ronson, who produced all of Dawn, featured Yebba on three tracks from his breakup opus Late Night Feelings. That same summer, Ed Sheeran made her one of the least recognizable names on his star-studded No.6 Collaboration Project. She has guested on tracks by A Tribe Called Quest, Sam Smith, Chance The Rapper, Robert Glasper, and more. She won a Grammy by covering the Bee Gees with PJ Morton. Most recently, last week Drake handed over an entire track to Yebba on Certified Lover Boy, the most popular album of 2021 so far, even titling it “Yebba’s Heartbreak.”

It’s not just that influential figures are welcoming her onto their albums, though. Yebba’s own LP features Questlove on drums for most tracks, plus some of his frequent collaborators like keyboardist James Poyser and bassist Pino Palladino — all of whom played on D’Angelo’s Voodoo, one of Yebba’s main reference points for Dawn‘s sonic palette. A$AP Rocky raps on “Far Away.” Kaytranada and Hudson Mohawke helped out on “Love Came Down.” Smokey Hormel plays acoustic guitar on four songs. There are a lot of famous and influential people involved with (and invested in) this album.

They have good reason to throw their weight behind Yebba. It’s not just that the 26-year-old sings Dawn‘s songs with fiery emotive power and the kind of subtle smoky texture you can’t fake. She also wrote or cowrote them all, flexing a well-honed sense of mood, melody, and poetic lyricism, all of which help the album to mostly transcend the innate boredom that can accompany this kind of prestige-populist aesthetic. Whether fluttering over the soft, brassy ’70s soul of “Distance,” rasping like Erykah Badu to Smino’s André 3000 on “Louie Bag,” or soaring across “October Sky” (the album’s closest thing to an Adele power ballad), she comes across as a rare talent. She also apparently has very particular ideas about how her music should sound. As Ronson recently told the New York Times, “You’re never going to get a sound or color or tone past Yebba that she doesn’t like. She put her trust in me, but only in the name of realizing her vision.”

That vision often evokes scenes lit by sunrises and sunsets, with gorgeous production that blends traces of soul, jazz, R&B, and folk. But the album is not just called Dawn because it sounds like the sky looks at the edges of the night, or even because it marks the beginning of Yebba’s discography. It’s named after her late mother, who died by suicide just weeks after a pivotal New York gig that multiplied industry interest in the young singer. The album begins with Yebba still processing her grief, wondering, “How many years will it take for these tears to dry?” But Dawn is not really an album about her mother — in that NYT profile, she recalls reacting with horror when an executive from a prospective label told another artist, “Her mom just died by suicide, but it’s all good because she’ll be able to write really good songs out of it.”

Instead, most of the songs match their classic sounds with the most classic of themes: falling in and out of love. “Boomerang” is a scathing breakup track delivered with confident sass: “What you’ve done to me, I swear to you/ It’s gonna come back like a boomerang.” The more painful side of a breakup emerges on “All I Ever Wanted,” with its immaculate layers of ’60s-style vocals and lines that cut to the heart: “Now I know we both got our obligations/ But all I ever wanted was you.” On the other side of the spectrum are the tender “Stand,” on which a shimmering Yebba assures her partner, “You are the light of my world/ No need to try so hard,” and “Love Came Down,” an exultant disco track that brings to mind a British diva of a slightly different sort, Jessie Ware. “I was so lost and low/ Nowhere to be found/ Until you came around,” Yebba sings. She sounds ready to take over the world.

Republic Records

CHART WATCH

Drake’s Certified Lover Boy debuts at #1 on the Billboard 200 this week with the biggest first-week total of 2021. Perhaps more impressively, the album has almost completely overtaken the top 10 of the Hot 100 singles chart. We’ll get to the singles momentarily, but first, the album stats.

According to Billboard, CLB earned 613,000 equivalent album units, the most since Taylor Swift’s folklore debuted with 846,000 in August of 2020. Drake might’ve padded his total more if his album’s physical release was available; as it stands the CD drops in October, and his 613k total includes 46,000 in digital sales. Certified Lover Boy is Drake’s 10th #1 album. Its 714.83 million on-demand track streams are the second biggest weekly total ever, bested only by Drake’s own Scorpion three years ago.

Kanye West’s Donda — which debuted at #1 last week when this column was off for Labor Day, claiming what was then the biggest first-week total of 2021 with 309,000 units — falls to #2 this week with 141,000 units. Next up is a #3 debut for Iron Maiden’s Senjutsu with 64,000 units and 61,000 in sales. It’s the legendary metal band’s highest-charting album ever, as well as the bestselling album of the week. After Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, Morgan Wallen, Billie Eilish, and the Kid Laroi comes a #9 debut for Imagine Dragons’ Mercury – Act 1 with 31,000 units and 17,000 in sales. Rod Wave rounds out the top 10.

As for Drake’s unprecedented Hot 100 feat, here’s the whole post my colleague Tom Breihan just wrote about it:

One week in 1964, the Beatles held all of the top five spots on the Billboard Hot 100. In the 57 years after that, no artist ever achieved the same feat. For a while, people assumed it would be simply impossible for anyone to do what the Beatles did that week. But that was before Billboard started using streaming to figure out the Hot 100. These days, a big artist can release a big album, and every song can appear on the Billboard chart. A week and a half ago, Drake, the biggest artist, released his new album Certified Lover Boy. Today, Billboard reports that Drake has become the second artist ever to hold the entire top 5. In fact, Drake has nine of this week’s top 10 singles. Nobody has ever done that before.

The #1 song in America this week is Drake’s Future/Young Thug collab “Way 2 Sexy,” the only track on Certified Lover Boy to get a music video. This is actually Future’s first time on a #1 hit, and it’s Thug’s third. (He previously appeared on Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and Travis Scott’s “Franchise.”) According to Billboard, “Way 2 Sexy” had the second-best single week of 2021, with only the first week of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” doing better. “Way 2 Sexy” is also Drake’s ninth #1 hit, and his seventh as lead artist.

The other Drake songs in this week’s top 10 include “Girls Want Girls” with Lil Baby at #2, “Fair Trade” with Travis Scott at #3, and “Champagne Poetry,” which samples a cover of the Beatles’ “Michelle,” at #4. In fact, the only non-Drake single in this week’s top 10 is last week’s #1, Tha Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay,” all the way down at #6. Drake’s Certified Lover Boy also debuts at #1 on the album charts, but you could’ve guessed that.

A few more factoids: “Way 2 Sexy” is Drake’s fifth song to debut at #1, tying Ariana Grande for the record. He now has 54 top-10 hits total, extending his own record. He extends his record for the most overall Hot 100 hits to 140. Jay-Z’s appearance with Drake brings him to 22 career top-10 hits. The rest of Drake’s collaborators have these new totals: Travis Scott (10); Lil Baby (eight); 21 Savage (five); Giveon, Lil Durk (two each); and Project Pat (one; after two prior Hot 100 entries in 2001 and 2008).

POP FIVE

Chlöe – “Have Mercy”
Who needs a proper Lemonade follow-up from Beyoncé when her protege is out here flossing like this?

Ed Sheeran – “Shivers”
I didn’t think I would ever say this but: I miss the old Ed Sheeran?

Sigrid – “Burning Bridges”
Love the gigantic melodies, the gargantuan arrangement, the overall immersive hugeness of this.

Troye Sivan – “Angel Baby”
Not my favorite vibe from Troye. I prefer when his music sounds ’80s-influenced, not like a song that was actually released in the ’80s. That chord progression on the chorus is pretty cheesy too.

Ann Marie – “Favorite Love Song”
How confusing is this? Ann Marie is an R&B singer from Chicago — not to be confused with Anne-Marie, the pop singer from England. Anyway, “Favorite Love Song” is lovely.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Britney Spears is engaged. [Instagram]
  • HIV organization leaders say they met with DaBaby who “was genuinely engaged” and apologized for his “inaccurate and hurtful comments” about people living with HIV. [GLAAD]
  • Cardi B and Offset welcomed their second child. [Instagram]
  • Lana Del Rey explained why she is deactivating her social media accounts. [Instagram]
  • FINNEAS paid tribute to the Friends fountain dance in his “The 90s” video. [YouTube]
  • The founder of the Pussycat Dolls has sued Nicole Scherzinger for threatening to drop out of reunion tour unless she gets a bigger share and creative control. [THR]
  • Jack Antonoff is the new Artist-in-Residence at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute Of Recorded Music. [NYU]
  • Twenty One Pilots covered My Chemical Romance at Summerfest. [YouTube]
  • Perhaps Twenty One Pilots will cover MCR again when they play a concert in Roblox on 9/17. [Twitter]
  • Avril Lavigne’s new Geico commercial debuted during the VMAs. [Twitter]
  • Lil Nas X won Video Of The Year for “Montero” at the VMAs. [ET]
  • Camila Cabello covered Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u” in the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge. [YouTube]
  • Charlie Puth released a song in partnership with electronics brand LG. [YouTube]
  • Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi make brief appearances in the trailer for Netflix’s star-studded comedy Don’t Look Down. [YouTube]
  • Rihanna dropped her lawsuit against her father for misusing her name. [BBC]
  • BTS chatted with Coldplay’s Chris Martin on YouTube’s Released. [YouTube]
  • Martin says Coldplay have a new song called “Weirdo” that’s part of a new musical they’re involved with. [Twitter]
  • Pete Davidson explains that time Machine Gun Kelly tried to pick him up during SNL goodnights, but forgot he had a bruised coccyx, so they fell off the stage. [YouTube]
  • Eric Church and Chris Stapleton lead the CMA Awards nominations. [People]
  • Here’s the trailer for Demi Lovato’s new Peacock series about UFO encounters. [YouTube]
  • Nicki Minaj revealed she was asked to be on Doja Cat’s “Get Into It (Yuh),” but it didn’t work out. [Twitter]
  • J Balvin performed “In Da Getto” on Fallon. [YouTube]

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