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Yaya Bey Channelled Grief to Make Her Self-Affirming New Album

“Every version of myself is going to have its own truth. And that’s enough,” says the New York artist with the release of ‘Ten Fold’

Yaya Bey

Nikita Freyermuth

“Tenfold is when you lose things, and then you get it back, tenfold.” 

In the music of Yaya Bey, life’s constant tug-of-war takes centre stage.

Her stunning R&B sound strikes a balance between being incredibly laid-back yet assertive, filled with catchy, dance-floor friendly hooks and emotive spoken word.

Two years after her standout album, Remember Your North Star, and music has become both refuge and grind for Bey, now making a living as a full-time musician. 

“If I didn’t have to pay bills, I wouldn’t work so hard to be honest,” Bey admits, reflecting on her prior years teaching art in New York’s homeless shelter system. 

But every battle has been worth it. Bey’s latest album, Ten Fold, is a dazzling and diverse collection that further solidifies her position as one of R&B’s most promising rising stars (as does her Tiny Desk debut last month).

Across sixteen tracks, she seamlessly blends her signature smooth neo-soul with elements of jazz, dancehall, hip hop, afrobeat, and breezy reggae. Rooted in the pain of losing her father, Ten Fold explores life’s emotional turbulence with unfiltered honesty. Moments of lightness and humour punctuate the album, driven by Bey’s razor-sharp lyricism (“I got all this money but I’m still fucking broke,” she declares on the soulful opening track) and thought-provoking social commentary.

Before its release, Bey shared on Instagram: “I made this album in the midst of great loss.When life required me to redefine myself for myself. The only way I could do that was to live. To lean on everything I am and be present in every moment. The joy, the grief, the rage and curiosity the adventure of it all. I allowed life to be exactly what it is… complicated and nuanced. I surrendered. This music is a recording of the year I lost the things I thought I could not live without and the proof that I did indeed survive… and thrive.” 

“I usually go into albums with a theme but my life was transforming in such radical ways that I just channelled that all into the music ” she tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ. “When I sit down to write songs, it’s like a therapy session. Sometimes you don’t go in wanting to talk about specific things but things just come up. I’m letting it flow out of me, and whatever comes out, comes out.” 

She emphasises that her music is a testament to a life fully lived. “Making music is self-soothing; it’s second nature for me. But it’s the pushing beyond the music-making that takes the strength for me. It takes strength to get out of bed everyday when your life is turned upside down. By the time I’ve made the music, I’ve begun to process the difficult emotions. 

“Like, that’s everybody, you know… that’s the human process, artists are only artists because they’re humans and processing difficult emotions every day. I’m just documenting mine in a way that people can relate to, I guess” she reflects. 

Credit: Nikita Freyermuth

Growing up as the daughter of Ayub Bey, also known as Grand Daddy I.U., a prominent member of the hip-hop group Juice Crew, Bey spent her youth crafting beats and writing hooks. Her dad, known for hits like “Something New” from the album Smooth Assassin, passed away in December 2022 at just 54.

In Ten Fold, Bey ensures her father’s presence is felt by integrating his wisdom on love and confidence into the tracks. You’ll catch scattered audio clips throughout the album, like as the introduction of “East Coast Mami”, serving her with reminders from her father to “present yourself to the world like you’ve been somewhere.”

But his influence runs deeper than that.“He’s my dad. He’s just present in everything. He shows up in my work and who I am, you know, my sense of humour, my morals and principles, in some of my swagger and confidence. He shows up everywhere in my life because he raised me, he taught me everything, he moulded me,” Bey says. 

This sentiment of self-evolution shines through in Ten Fold, especially in the swaggering lead track “sir princess bad bitch”, where she boldly proclaims “no other thing but the thing I am.”

“I’ve had times in my life where I relied on daily affirmations. It’s not something I do everyday now, but  sometimes certain music serves the purpose for me,” she explains. “You know, when I listen to other people’s music as a fan, the lyrics feel like affirmations. Like, with a lot of Frankie Beverly & Maze songs, they’re just repetitive affirmations. So I thought, why not incorporate that into the album. Because I need it.”

As acclaim for Ten Fold mounts, highlighted by its inclusion on Pitchfork‘s list of 8 New Albums You Should Listen to Now and a four-star review by The Guardian, Bey remains grounded. She hopes listeners discover their own truths in her music.

“I make music, and I hope people like the album, and I kind of leave it at that. It’s not that I don’t care what people get from it because that’s not true. I guess I just feel like it’s not my business,” she reflects. “Once it’s out in the world, it’s not mine anymore. Each of us holds our own truths about music, and that’s what makes it beautiful.” 

Bey’s take on personal truth shows that identity can change, and accepting yourself is key. As she puts it, “Every version of myself is gonna have its own truth. And that’s enough.”

Yaya Bey’s Ten Fold is out now via Big Dada.