How Zyah Belle Channeled Her Spirituality — And Pam Grier — For New Album ‘Yam Grier’

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Kia Turner

Kia Turner is a contract journalist and music historian from…

Woman with Locs wearing army fatigue outfit

Zyah Belle Backstage at S.O.B. in NYC | Images by Dervon Dixon

Okayplayer spoke to rising Bay Space artist Zyah Belle about spirituality, the significance of neighborhood, and her latest album Yam Grier.

Woman standing against the wall posing

Zyah Belle backstage at S.O.B. in NYC | Images by Dervon Dixon

Sounds of Brazil, higher often called S.O.B.’s, has lengthy turn into an establishment the place stars are made since its inception in 1982. From Drake and Cardi B to Jill Scott and Justin Timberlake, it continues to be an area for rising expertise, as was the case for Zyah Belle, the second performer of the night time between Shawn and Remey Williams for a latest October present. Belle, who simply completed up her spot as a gap act on Alex Isley’s tour and is presently on the highway with Shawn and Williams, didn’t take lengthy to win over the gang. The Bay Space-based singer turned hardened New Yorkers into on the spot supporters, her onstage presence simply as commanding because it was fearless — a testomony to her roots within the church choir earlier than having her first actual style as a soloist within the lead position of Dorothy for her highschool’s rendition of The Wiz.

Nevertheless, Belle wasn’t at all times like this, with the singer revealing that she had anxiousness about singing solo. However her want to tackle that position triumphed over her worry, with the artist beginning to carry out solo exhibits whereas nonetheless in highschool.

“We did six exhibits, offered out each single night time, and as soon as it acquired to the purpose the place we had faculty reps coming each single night time, I used to be like, ‘Wow, I can actually do that,’” Belle stated. “I began to really feel extra inspired about my voice. I simply couldn’t shake it.” 

Belle grew to become regionally recognized due to singles like “Forbidden Fruit” (2014) and initiatives like 2016’s New Ranges and 2019’s IX. However it was 2021’s Who’s Listening Anyway that will garner large consideration, and expose her to a broader viewers. Though her music falls below R&B, Belle stated her music doesn’t simply slot in an “R&B/Neo-Soul” field. As a substitute, she creates her music with the next ethos in thoughts — “I simply do what I would like” — which couldn’t be clearer than together with her latest launch, Yam Grier.

Impressed by associates throughout a dialog about self-love, Yam Grier is Belle’s equal to Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce: a persona that would emote her vitality. Yam Grier can also be a transparent nod to the legendary Pam Grier, pulling from her iconic portrayals of characters “Coffy” and “Cunning Brown,” as sonically (and aesthetically) demonstrated on the album’s ‘70s-inspired opener, “Prepared or Not.” Along with her shut group of collaborators together with musicians/songwriters Tempest and Aj Claire, producer Gerald Keys, and a faithful group, Belle’s Yam Grier is her most bold, eclectic, targeted, and polished mission but. A correct introduction for a girl who is able to be formally launched to the world.

“I at all times say earlier than I launch my music, it’s a private expertise for me. It’s my reward and worship,” she stated. “I made a decision to share it with different individuals however it’s for me first. I’m intimate with my music.” 

In our dialog with Zyah Belle, we spoke about spirituality, the significance of her tribe, and the making of “Yam Grier” — the persona and album.  

Okayplayer: May you converse just a little extra concerning the creation of “Yam Grier” the persona?

Zyah Belle: I used to be provided that title at a time once I was simply speaking my shit about loving my physique. I stated one thing about yams and my pal was like, “Yam Grier.” Through the pandemic and barely earlier than, I began coming into my very own as a lady. Into my bodily physique, into my non secular reference to myself, and my confidence. Yam Grier felt like a persona the place I might emote that vitality. A girl who’s affirmed in herself. Perhaps not at all times assured, however I do know deep down once I’m not feeling like that woman, I wanted one thing to present that. Additionally, the ladies that raised me and the energy of the ladies that raised me. I began to undergo a interval of self-actualization previously two years. That’s what Yam Grier represents to me.

What’s your inventive course of like? How did that play a job within the creation of this album?

I’m such a jukebox. I’m at all times fascinated by totally different cadences in my thoughts, at all times referencing chord progressions or numerous songs. If I’m writing on my own, I’m in a position to simply freestyle one thing if the beat conjures up. I take advantage of what I discovered within the church in my writing. I let no matter is in me lead me. Usually, it comes out as a freestyle, whether or not it’s full lyrics or mumbling. I’ll write a high line after which add the lyrics to it. 

An enormous factor I take pleasure in is connecting my creativity by way of my music because it’s translated visually, lyrically, musically, and many others. For “Not The One” specifically, we have been like, “This beat makes us really feel like Rihanna, Anti — so very unhealthy bitch period.” As a result of I’m so theatrical, I see scenes in my thoughts as nicely. The story of Yam Grier is a few girl coming into her personal. Being non-judgmental of what they appear and sound like. Attending to a spot of getting comfy that all the pieces for her is on the proper time. That’s one thing that I didn’t really feel with Who’s Listening Anyway. I used to be annoyed and coming to know divine timing. It’s numerous honesty. A number of songs about poisonous phases and getting out of that, and it’s a little bit of all the pieces in a single. A few of the matters I contact on within the album, I’m not even going by way of proper now. If I might wrap my life up in a single from observe one to trace 12, that will be it.

woman singing to crowd with her arm out wearing army fatigue pants

Zyah Belle acting at S.O.B. | Images by Dervon Dixon

What are some standout songs from the album that finest describe the sensation of it?

“Holding On/Goofy,” “Non secular Bathtub,” and “Closure.” “Holding On/Goofy” is listed as two totally different songs, however it’s really one complete tune break up. The transitions production-wise are insane. It’s one among my favourite songs that I’ve written, and I take pleasure in the truth that I freestyled just about that complete first verse. “Non secular Bathtub” is important as a result of it’s some extent within the album the place I wash away previous issues, and it’s one thing that I do in my very own non secular apply. I like that I used to be in a position to create a tune about that. “Closure” — shoutout to Jane Hancock, she killed that tune. Myself, Aj Claire, and Jane barred the fuck out of that tune. That was a type of songs the place I used to be actually happy with myself. It’s basic. 

How essential is your tribe? Extra particularly, the ladies in your private {and professional} life? 

The voicemail [on “Sugawater,” a previously-released single] from my aunt, she despatched to me once I first moved to LA and I acquired my first placement alternative with Snoop, and I stored it. It actually meant one thing to be affirmed in that method. That’s what these girls have at all times represented in my life. I noticed her just lately and he or she was like, “Ooh, my child is so well-spoken and so well mannered,” and I’m like, “I get it from y’all.” They taught me poise and magnificence. My mother is one among my vogue icons. I do my child hair, nails, and designs from my mother. I draw a lot inspiration from them. They’ve been representatives of what it means to be transformative girls. My mother went by way of so many phases, she simply by no means stops turning into her finest self. I at all times seemed as much as that. That’s an enormous basis for Yam Grier. 

Quite a lot of my collaborations are with that core group: Aj Claire, J Wild, Tempest, and Shelley. It’s been numerous wonderful connections and people who find themselves stunning the hell out of me like, “I like your music!” I’ve simply been having fun with these collaborative moments. It’s not usually you discover individuals on this trade that y’all can join with exterior of being artists and actually lean on one another, particularly as girls within the trade. My complete group is full of people who find themselves actually my associates. It’s actually no-new associates. You want that to remind you and encourage you.

You converse quite a bit about spirituality in your music and incorporate it sonically and visually. How does it maintain you grounded? 

One lesson that has been large for me is celebrating each second. As a result of the bittersweet factor concerning the trade is that it places you on this hamster wheel, that you just at all times need to attempt for extra. Reminding myself the place I come from, that’s so essential. It’s what sustains me. Once you’re empathetic and acutely aware sufficient, this trade can eat you alive. There are individuals which can be purposeful about their reward, however there are individuals who really feel exploited or wanna exploit you. It’s a must to keep prayed up. I’m so glad that I’m grounded in my very own spirituality and my group. 

My spirituality is on the coronary heart of who I’m as an artist. I gentle my candles and sit out water for my ancestors. It’s a declaration. It helps me perceive past the work that I do and the expertise I possess. It’s reworked me as a lady and as an artist. I can’t assist however put that in my music as nicely.


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