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Yaya Bey Came Here to Live

The New York-based R&B singer is done with hustle culture.

by Leslie Ken Chu

Yaya Bey usually begins writing an album with a theme in mind. Sometimes, however, it’s all the more powerful to simply record life as it happens. “My dad passed away,” the R&B musician tells RANGE from her home in New York City. “And at the same time, I was really busy with a lot of shows and stuff. In the past two years, I ran myself into the ground.”

In 2020, Bey released her breakthrough album, Madison Tapes. Two years later, she followed it up with Remember Your North Star. Both albums propelled her career forward, solidifying herself as a soulful storytelling force with jazz and reggae leanings.

Bey often addresses social issues in her music, among them Black womanhood, the housing crisis, and inflation. But her latest LP, Ten Fold, is a multi-faceted self-portrait. It looks inward at the emotions that come with being in love and feeling underestimated. It expresses her genderfluidity and processes her grief. 

Ten Fold is also celebratory, paying tribute to her father, Grand Daddy I.U. of hip hop collective Juice Crew. “That’s how I got introduced to music,” says Bey, who’s been writing music since she was nine years old. “That’s probably why it comes easily to me. It’s in my DNA. It’s how I was raised.”

The more brightly the spotlight shines on Bey, the more she struggles to establish a healthy work-life balance. Since Remember Your North Star, she’s wanted to spend more time taking care of herself. Though her father died in 2022, she still hasn’t taken bereavement leave. “If I don’t work, I don’t eat,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“I don’t want to be my work,” Bey declares. “I want time to really be present. The way the world is set up now we’re all just so busy trying to stay alive that we don’t get to savour the fact that we are alive.”

As Bey makes clear on the gliding Ten Fold cut “Sir Princess Bad Bitch,” she’s done with hustle culture. “If I never do another fucking thing from today / Well I’m still the fucking winner ‘cause I did it my way,” she sings. “I would love to go further. I think that I will go further,” she says confidently. “But it’s okay if this is as far as I go because I didn’t come here to be Yaya Bey. I came here to live. I have the option to be Yaya Bey, but my life is so much bigger than that. God willing, if I live to be 75, there’s so many other things that could be between now and then, and all of them would be valuable.”



When it comes to keeping her priorities straight, it helps that Bey has lived past lives as a poet, street medic, founder of a mutual aid organization, mixed media artist, and museum curator. “Maintaining a life outside of being a musician and being part of a community keeps me humble,” she says. “I know not to take the notoriety of musicianship too seriously. Not to say the shit I do isn’t important, but there’s way more important shit that I can be doing and should be doing. It’s an honour to be in a community with other people. I need other people.”

As much as Ten Fold reflects Bey’s life, it also makes room for fantasy. The funky, wobbling “All Around Los Angeles,” for example, takes inspiration from her frequent work trips to L.A. During these trips, she and her partner would rent a Mercedes Benz on Turo, an app offering cheap rates on cars. “We’d stay for a week, and it’d be like $100. And it was like the drop top Mercedes too. We were living this imaginary life, so it’s like this imaginary braggadocious song. Sometimes work trips are like little vacations. There’s all the stress of working, but you’re in this new city doing this role playing in a way. It makes you feel like a whole different person.” 

Whatever Yaya Bey aspires to, Benz or no Benz, she has much more life to live, and we’re all here for it.