On a stopgap EP between album projects, the Brooklyn R&B musician sloughs off emotional baggage from a soured relationship.
Yaya Bey’s flow is poised and unhurried, a subdued technique she uses to analyze subjects both personal and political. On 2016’s The Many Alter-Egos of Trill’etta Brown and last year’s Madison Tapes, the Brooklyn multidisciplinary artist celebrated Black women and pushed for systemic revolution in guitar-laced R&B and neo-soul. Her new EP, The Things I Can’t Take With Me, is a soothing interlude meant to fill the gap between albums; it doubles as her first release under the recently revived hip-hop label Big Dada. Brooding and assured in equal measure, Bey sloughs off emotional baggage from a soured relationship.
Bey co-produced the six-song set with Madison Tapes collaborator o’captaiin. Together, they forge The Things I Can’t Take With Me with similar crackling surface noise and acoustic accompaniment. The spare approach suits Bey’s intimate lyrics, which dissect the ways that dealing with a shitty ex opened up revelations about her own past. “Surely surely I’m my mama’s child/’Cause surely surely I’m out here running wild,” she sings on the autobiographical “the root of a thing.” The song glows with plucked electric guitar and reverb, like she’s sharing confessions over a warm fire pit. Later, the wistful keys and trilling backing vocals on “we’ll skate soon” foreground some of her most cutting lines. “If it’s me or her/If you don’t feel you/We can’t do that shit for you,” she insists in singsong, finding common ground with the other woman before she follows it up with an exhale: “Damn.”
Bey mostly reaches for a sparse yet silky palette of moods. The two-part “industry love / a protection spell” is a carefully calibrated diorama for her free-flowing range, opening with a shuffling R&B beat and guitar chords as she cuts her ex down to size. “All that big dick and won’t bet on yourself/Your moral compass collapsed on itself,” she sings sweetly, having found a sense of self-assurance that gives way to the strummed, downtempo second half. “a protection spell” captures a mantra-like vision of moving on. “No weapon formed against me/Not even you, baby,” she sings, voice curling around the words “weapon” and “you.” The subtle emphasis links the subjects together in a pointed, honeyed harmony.
The Things I Can’t Take With Me may be slight, but Bey doesn’t need long to make a memorable impact. Where Madison Tapes hopscotched between improvisatory sounds and clips of recorded conversations, the songs here largely swirl together as a way for her to focus on lyrics about personal growth. On the fuzzy “september 13th,” Bey’s close-mic’d vocals lay out her intentions: “When I get out this hole that you dug for me/I’ma have a brand-new shiny new love for me.” Bey is disposing of those who no longer serve her, offering up soulful, empathetic music as an outlet for others to follow suit.