On this tightly curated EP, the insightful R&B singer revises the elements intrinsic to her work, providing new meditations on Blackness, womanhood, and love.
Last year’s grief compounded by the ever present horrors of systemic racial violence seemingly turned everyone into a sage of their own experience. And so what of artists who were preternaturally revealing and insightful, before the world split wide open? Artists like Mereba, whose previous work has intentionally leaned towards transformation and vulnerability: Her sleeper hit “Black Truck” could have been a foreshadowing of all the havoc and the personal and communal revelations that people shared and prayed over in 2020. On AZEB, her latest EP, she’s back with soulful, well-paced verses that soften the existential and painfully direct inquiries she makes of her listeners.
“World feels like a war/Tell me what living’s for/Baby it’s gotta be love,” are the first lines off the EP’s quiet but persistent single, “Rider.” With a video starring Black lovers and friends traveling across arid plains, windswept and reckless, the song lunges for the healing power of intimacy. Even when a community is faced with violence, love for ourselves and our own has kept us, if not alive, then tender and open to the possibilities of rebirth. On “Rider,” Mereba delivers a striking rendition of the fine balance that Black people daily juggle; as we fight to assert and remember that we matter, we are also falling in love and lust, dealing with the dramas of fickle hearts and losing ourselves in the sensuality of those who make us feel safe and cared for. If anything, AZEB’s overarching theme is that with the world at war, love will have to matter so much more for most of us to come out alive.
On “Beretta,” over strumming guitar and lightly layered vocal riffs, the Alabama-born singer, who was raised across the U.S. and in Ethiopia, sings of a love that moves mountains solely in its reciprocity. “Baby boy let’s stick up the world for this cheddar/I’m the getaway and you’re the Beretta/We are renegades/The blood of the brave in our DNA,” with a well-timed emphasis punctuating the last word with ellipsis, and then an exclamation point—continuous and absolute. Like Kendrick Lamar’s “DNA,” Mereba posits that courage and survival are part of the Black lineage, while simultaneously beckoning to the ride-or-die bond of Jazmine Sullivan’s “#HoodLove”; she’s loyal to her person as they move through the world, carrying just the necessities they need to live and be loved. On “Beretta,” Mereba also returns to the jagged pain of “Rider,” but this time with a promise, singing, “I would win a war for this one/’Cause it’s love.” In the subtle ways she ties her songs to each other, Mereba shows herself to be a storyteller, approaching her work as a singular, but expanding range of thoughts, voices and movements.
The standout track has to be “Aye,” a finger-snapping, slightly bouncing side to side, face curled up in satisfaction type of groove. If you know, you know—there’s nothing more exhilarating and gratifying than having your people lift you up with a rousing round of ayeees while you win at whatever it is you’ve set your mind to achieve. Whether yelled or even whispered, the word transmits acknowledgement and echoes with pride and support. “Aye” starts off like an anthem for the mildly buzzed and perpetually chill before breaking off into reminders that speak of peace, but warn of retaliation if that peace is disturbed. “Aye, aye, it’s a war like every day/Keep my gold up in my safe/They won’t bring me to my knees/Got me fucked up/Got my bucks up/With my Chucks on/And my blunt tucked.” It’s a melodic distillation of soul pioneer Erykah Badu’s salient tweet from years past. Mereba will always choose peace, but will take notice if you step to her sideways and without respect: “I’m nonviolent, it’s a crime if you get close to my safe though/Slow ya pace.” OK?
In a year when everyone became a sage, Mereba learned to holster her defenses alongside her incense. Her brooding rhythms are now paired with caustic, pointed wit and an even more open heart, carving space for serenity, release, and warmth. “Gold” and “My Moon” are Mereba as longtime fans have known her; she’s a romantic, looking to the stars for answers and honeyed enough to ease the fury that surfaces on tracks like “Another Kin” and “News Comes.” The former is a haunting elegy where Mereba turns notes into wails that tear through the suffocation of despair. The latter is an anthem for the forward-looking liberation work done far from voyeuristic eyes, which is constant, yet often thankless: “Still, we fight when the screen’s closed,” she sings. “Still, we fight ’til the light’s on.”
As a tightly curated body of work, AZEB is a masterful lesson in editing. It’s never about the number of tracks, but the foundation anchoring the stories, experiences, and characters woven together to form a cohesive and clear outlook on the state of the world. It reveals her growth as an artist, while illuminating an artistic practice rooted in a sparse evocative lyricism. To listen to her work is to look forward to the creations that will come as she continues to reform, rewrite, and revise her art. As articulated by writer Kiese Laymon, revision is “a dynamic practice of revisitation, premised on ethically reimagining the ingredients, scope, and primary audience of one’s initial vision.” On AZEB, Mereba has taken the same ingredients that are intrinsic to her work—Blackness, womanhood, the diaspora, love—and rendered a new offering. Lucky for us, she graciously allowed listeners to be privy to the labor it takes to begin again.