Stephanie Smittle’s recent round-up of the year in Arkansas-connected music releases thus far is a must-read, but it arrived just a few days too soon to include what’s sure to be the biggest release by an Arkie this year: the major label debut album out this Friday from West Memphis native Yebba, “Dawn.”
Yebba, aka Abbey Smith (Yebba, or Abbey spelled backward, is a longtime nickname), graduated from Marion High School and attended Belmont University in Nashville. In late 2016, she stole the spotlight from Chance the Rapper on his “Saturday Night Live” performance of “Same Drugs” and went viral after her manager uploaded to YouTube a live performance of her original song “My Mind.” Soon after that big moment, her mother died of suicide.
She went home to West Memphis, where she struggled with her feelings. “A lot of people around me encouraged me to ‘let it go’ — like, what the [expletive] does that mean?” she said. “All I have, as an artist, is a whole bunch of time to reflect.”
After “sitting at home in Arkansas, like a robot,” Yebba returned to New York, where she thought a lot about the next step of her nascent career. She sang for A Tribe Called Quest. She went to London to meet with potential labels. But nothing was appealing. More troubling was the realization that her mother’s death was perceived as potential content, in some rooms. At a Grammys event, she said one label head introduced her to another artist by saying, “Her mom just died by suicide, but it’s all good because she’ll be able to write really good songs out of it.”
In 2018, she met producer Mark Ronson, perhaps most famous for “Uptown Funk” and producing Amy Winehouse, and recorded three songs for his 2019 album “Late Night Feelings.”
From a Billboard profile on Yebba:
“I think she’s one of the greatest vocalists I’ve ever recorded; certainly one of the greatest vocalists, songwriters and musicians of her generation,” says Ronson, who compares her frankness to that of Amy Winehouse. “I’ve never played anybody a Yebba tune that hasn’t instantly taken it to heart — and that could be anybody from Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age to a hardcore old-school R&B fan to Joni Mitchell fans.”
From there, she scored all sorts of guest spots: with PJ Morton on a song that won the pair a Grammy, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, British rapper Stormzy and contemporary jazz great Robert Glasper. She’s not only featured on the new Drake album “Certified Lover Boy,” her song is called “Yebba’s Heartbreak” and doesn’t even feature Drake.
Ronson produced “Dawn,” recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York and featuring Questlove on drums and guest spots from A$AP Rocky and Smino. Spotify has a helpful collection of her singles and guest spots.
Here are a couple of her first music videos.
This one includes what looks to be home videos interspersed with normal cool music video stuff.