From D.C. To The World: The Rise Of Ari Lennox
Courtesy of Dreamville Records – Cover of Pollstar
“Ari is very special and a rarity in our business, what you see onstage is truly who Ari is.” The words Robert Gibbs, Ari Lennox
Ari Lennox’s voice is timeless. If one didn’t know she was born in Washington D.C., in 1991, one wouldn’t be surprised to hear her on a Whitney Houston or even an Ella Fitzgerald production. Her sound transports the essence of classic soul music to the modern age.
On Lennox’s “Shea Butter Baby” U.S. headlining tour, which just wrapped after selling out 500- to 1,200-capacity venues across the country, every person in the room seemed to know every lyric to her songs.
The tour kicked off at Phoenix’s Crescent Ballroom on May 12, selling out 550 tickets and grossing $10,600, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports. “All the fans knew my songs word for word which was so beautiful and an exciting way to kickstart my very first headline tour. What was shocking was how fast they learned the music because we had just dropped the album a week prior on May 7,” Lennox recalls.
“We ended up moving up across the tour in a majority of the markets based on how quickly the tour sold out and the overwhelming demand that was there,” Robert Gibbs, one of Lennox’s agents at ICM Partners, tells Pollstar. “We played two Bowery Ballrooms in New York, both selling out in minutes. She blew out the 9:30 Club on the onsale, which was a hometown show for her. Atlanta, L.A., Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, you name it, she blew out. She is no question 2,000 to 3,000 tickets at this stage in major markets, and we are still building.”
The 9:30 Club performance sold out 1,200 tickets and grossed $30,000, according to Pollstar Boxoffice reports.
Lennox has come a long way since supporting J. Cole on tour in 2017. At that time, she had just released her debut Pho EP on Cole’s Dreamville Records, which some already consider a classic. She’s now three months removed from releasing her debut album Shea Butter Baby and is preparing to hit the road opening for Lizzo this fall. “We all feel this is a great package in opening Ari’s music up to a different audience as we continue to build,” Gibbs says. “There is no doubt that audience will embrace the undeniable star that Ari is.”
Lennox tells Pollstar she’ll be using the break until fall “to work on new music and just spend time with my dog Galactus and my nephew. I’m working on preparing to tour with Lizzo and my U.K. tour in December, but in the meantime I’m just spending time with my family and making new music.”
The U.K. dates are part of her first headline run through Europe and include two concerts at London’s 1,500-cap Electric Ballroom Dec. 17-18, one of which has already sold out.
“Performing live is everything to me,” Lennox says. “It’s where I connect the most with my fans, it’s where I give my all and it’s where I’m the most free. I’m also free in the studio, but the two are so important together. What I give in the studio is what I always strive to equally give on stage. And it’s different singing in a room alone to hundreds or sometimes thousands of people.”
According to her other agent at ICM, Ari Bernstein, Lennox is “a global superstar and there are so many markets where her touring potential is extremely high.” While she has yet to tour and perform in Africa, South America and Asia, the goal is to play those markets in the near future. “Ari fell in love with Nigeria while spending some personal time there and she would love to perform for her fans there,” Bernstein says.
One of the first tours Gibbs and Bernstein did with Lennox was supporting PartyNextDoor’s “Summer’s Over” tour. “It kicked off Nov. 8, 2016, in Miami at The Fillmore. Ari commanded that stage in front of 2,000-plus. Being such a new artist, you could see she was a star in the making and she continued to grow and get better the more she touched the stage, touring in support of Pho. Late last year, she supported 6lack, so she has had a fair share of supporting in front of different audiences.”
Lennox’s manager Justin LaMotte discovered her in 2012, while attending Howard University. He was producing an open mic series across the street from campus at the 150-cap G2 Lounge at the time. “We had a live band and we allowed anyone to come in, sign up and sing,” he recalls. One night, Lennox took the mic. “She blew the entire crowd away with her performance and the next day I messaged her on Facebook to begin our working relationship.”
Lennox’s voice and confidence that made LaMotte want to work with her. “She’s also a very thoughtful and genuine person which is rare to come across these days,” he says.
That chimes with what Gibbs says about Lennox: “Ari is very special and a rarity in our business. What you see, what you hear in her music, onstage and on her IG Live (LOL), is truly who Ari is. There is no curtain that she hides behind. She shares herself, her feelings and her thoughts with the world. It’s evident with how fans and her peers have embraced her just being Ari.”
Gibbs always maintained that “what makes a star is 50% ability to consistently create a great body of work, and 50% being the real person/artist that is not afraid to be vulnerable, whether it’s in conversation or through art. Ari Lennox embodies that 1000%.”
Her message to the people out there: “Stay true to yourself and don’t be afraid to take chances.”
LaMotte is “very happy” with the reception of Shea Butter Baby. “It’s been out for two months and some change, and we’ve sold a little over 100,000 album equivalent units,” he says. “We still have a lot of work to do, but this is a great start.”
That work includes finding different ways to put her in front of new audiences. According to Bernstein, festivals can be a great way of achieving that. “It is important for artists to perform at traditional concerts as they are playing for their fans and giving them the experience, the artist created for them. Festivals give an artist the opportunity to not only perform in front of those who are already fans, but also the opportunity to convert a new audience into becoming fans,” he says.
Talking to Lennox, it becomes clear that she just wants to perform, no matter the venue. “I love performing everywhere,” she says. “I don’t have that one dream location.”