Album Cover via Amaarae/Instagram
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The air quality notice from the city doesn’t come, but it’s implied by the soft orange glow blanketing Philadelphia this evening. Slick with sweat, I’m listening to Amaarae’s Fountain Baby, which slots perfectly into a hot summer night without A/C or any real relief from the fires of climate change. It’s another day of bustle and awe as people post apocalyptic photos of Center City that make it into the day’s paper. It’s hard to shake how bad things have gotten outside, inside, everywhere. The world is, well, it is! Even when you’ve reached your limit on the news, you still have to read the news.
When Fountain Baby dropped, I was a few hours late to my 6 a.m. listening, instead sitting in a therapy appointment to go over what my provider calls, “cognitive distortions born from hypervigilance.” Whatever they’re called, they suck. I see things in the seams of the floor—I hear things, maybe. Anyway, she was asking me what I have to look forward to and I told her I have some music to listen to. I also told her I’ve been appreciating my body more and even danced at a wedding a few weeks back. To this end, she smiled. We scheduled for another two weeks. I turned on Amaarae.
Fountain Baby is a sexy record. It bubbles with the pulsing energy of two warm bodies impatiently making first contact. It’s also a crisp record, tinted royal blue in its meticulous arrangements. It sounds like the sultry glug of Lamarca hitting the black-based champagne flutes from the flea market: opulence, decadence, and a good deal. Beyond being a sizzling piece of music, Fountain Baby makes me want to dance, which as we’ve established is so rare that when I danced at the aforementioned wedding reception, the bride and groom’s Thank You card made note of it twice. And when you can get your body moving—or maybe this is just me—you can really forget things like the potential that your house is sinking into a slowly appearing gash in the ground. You forget everything and focus on the pops of percussion, on the heat of a moment.
For her part, Amaarae is the Ghanaian-American artist of the moment. A real it girl. Since the late 2010s, she’s grinded out a pop-inflected sound that’s only gotten more grand as the years have drawn on. Raised between the states and Accra, Ghana, Amaarae’s path into the industry is dotted by selling mixtapes to classmates and learning the ropes as an engineer, to viral breakout moments in “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY” and the RIAA Platinum Kali Uchis and Moliy remix, a feature on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, TikTok fame, an NPR Tiny Desk (first Ghanaian lead artist at the Desk), and now the wide-reaching and acclaimed Fountain Baby, her sophomore album.
It’s not that her 2020 debut record The Angel You Don’t Know didn’t ring off—it was a strong pop effort with captivating features and showcased Amaarae’s ear for ingenuity. It is, rather, that Fountain Baby is genius. It is a personification of pure indulgence. The dynamic percussive elements, the crisp touches in the mix, the seductive writing—my goodness, the writing!—it all speaks to the way Amaarae pooled an incredible list of influences from Britney Spears to Stevie Nicks to captivate audiences with her spectral take on popular music. And beyond the production, the tempo of which demands out-of-body experiences, it’s her voice. It’s the way Amaarae’s tone on Fountain Baby is more assured, disarms and undresses you despite being so light, “like ASMR” as it’s been described online.
“I like my coffee with some head in the morning… I like b*tches that think they’re important,” she sings on “Disguise,” the single hottest song of 2023. Here, when Amaarae hits the heights of her register, I am certain a flutter of angels turn their noses up, but peer towards her with jealous eyes. The singer, who refers to herself as “fluid” scatters references to sexual partners across Fountain Baby, along with the usual suspects of fine wine and big money, all wrapped in a spiritual, silk shawl. When you’re lazing about on the couch with a lukewarm beer, wishing you were perhaps on a sandy beach with the aforementioned bubbly, Amaarae’s voice swoops in on “Come Home to God” and lifts you into the very heavens those pesky angels were gatekeeping.
Fountain Baby is sinuous, but it’s also got great humor attached. “Co-Star,” named for the popular astrology app, is one of the funniest songs I’ve heard this year: “Them Libra b*tches horrible.” I played this one for a dear friend during a standard night of making couscous and beet salad and drinking honey-forward champagne from the state store, and her eyes lit up with amusement. “There’s no way you’re Virgo,” feels to me like a prime insult for my sign as well—we are very uptight and easy to spot. The song is a funny sidebar from a woman who knows her audience well. And it somehow does not detract from the richness of a song like “Sociopathic Dance Queen,” which features key lines “Purple like the colors of the moon / Left you in my garden in the nude… F*ck my body cold.”
I may have few riches to speak of, but Amaarae makes me feel as though the greatest luxuries in life are at my fingertips, flowing out of my speakers in that sumptuous way her voice waterfalls down the mountain of a steely music industry. Her writings are blistering darts, sparkling descriptions of the most carnal impulses a woman can have. She has pierced through my cold and impatient exterior with a pack of songs so thoughtfully and sensually crafted, I can’t help but feel renewed. This is the function of good music in the end. Beyond all the flash and pomp of a big label budget or the grit of the underground, behind it being a callout to your morality or how “up” you are on a scene, good music is about chipping away at the hardening done unto us by life’s mundane traumas.