by Neema Griffin

Ari Lennox is a R&B singer from Washington, DC. She started to gain recognition in 2016, and gained a lot of popularity recently with her album Shea Butter Baby in 2019. Her sound is unique and complex which is what draws in new listeners. In this paper, I will share Ari Lennox’s story up until this point, and why her popularity and success continues to increase. I will explore what lead her to creating music and who her influences are.   

She an artist who is breaking barriers and applying pressure in the music industry.

Artist History

Ari Lennox, born Courtney Shanade Salter, was born on March 26, 1991, in Northern Virginia. She grew up in the Washington DC area.  She wasn’t always destined for stardom. She worked tons of jobs in her 20’s including Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, Commander Salamander, Planet Fitness, Whole Foods, and Wendy’s. She was driving Uber, her longest job from 24-26 years old, right before she got signed to Dreamville Label in 2015.

Her influences for her music and style include Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, Tweet, SWV, 702, En Vogue, Anita Baker, Oleta Adams, Billy Ocean, D’Angelo, Bilal, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Omarion, Ciara, Ashanti, Petey Pablo, Kanye West, Common, Jazmine Sullivan, Chrisette Michele, and Floetry.  

Lennox’s grandmother was one of the first people to recognize her talent, but even with that encouragement, she’s always grown up feeling like an underdog.

“I always wanted to solo at the church and they didn’t ever give it to me. But eventually they did and I froze. But then I killed it,” she explains. “I just feel like that kind of just followed me all throughout my life. I’ve always kind of been slept on a bit.”

Professional Career

Early Career

Ari Lennox began uploading her music on the internet in 2009. She released her debut mixtape, Five Finger Discount, and debut EP, Ariography, in 2013. In 2014, she independently released the single “Bound”. On July 21, 2015, she was featured on Omen’s album Elephant Eyes on the track “Sweat it Out”. Later that year, her music was circulating around the Dreamville team, as J. Cole wanted her to work with him on some references for Rihanna.

On December 8, it was announced that she was signed to Dreamville Records.

She is the first female artist to be signed the J. Cole’s Dreamville Records.

Her Career Today

Today, Ari Lennox is still pretty early in her professional career, but she has made many advancements. She explains her journey to stardom as being slow but she is finally getting the recognition that she deserves. 

Released in May 2019, Shea Butter Baby reached number 104 on the Billboard 200. Around the same time, “Shea Butter Baby” itself registered on the Adult R&B Songs chart. A companion album, Shea Butter Baby (Remix EP), arrived in March 2020.

(She has a similar sound too...)

Erykah Badu


Jazmine Sullivan

Who she has worked with so far...
(Just to Name a Few)


Queen Naija

Summer Walker

"People will appreciate who you are when you're naturally being who you are."
-Ari Lennox

Awards She was Nominated For

Best R&B/Soul Female Artist

Album/ Mixtape of the Year

Best Collaboration Performance


May 7, 2019

Shea Butter Baby

Dreamville/ Interscope


Ari Lennox describes her own voice as “vulnerable but soulful; imperfect but pretty.” Referencing her artistry she explains, “Sometimes women are put in this box where we’re only supposed to talk about certain things, I want to be braver and riskier. I think people want to hear that kind of honesty and frankness.” and with each song that she releases, she proves to be doing so.

More Works by the Author


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