Earlier this year, Ebri Yahloe performed on the WOSU local music series “Broad & High,” delivering a stirring version of “Never Die” on which the rapper adopted an unhurried, conversational tone, her delivery ensuring each word hit with its full emotional impact.
“I hope you always laugh/I hope you learn to let it go if it’s part of your past,” she raps. “I hope you hug the tightest, hold your head the highest/In a room full of sun, I hope you shine the brightest.”
“I had to show up and show out and be exactly who I know that I can be,” said Yahloe, who grew up watching rappers such as Li’l Bow Wow and Li’l Romeo appear on public television programs like “Broad & High,” and who entered into her performance with an awareness of that larger, unseen audience. “I knew there could be someone watching – maybe someone like me, maybe a kid – who might need to hear this, and who might be helped by these words I’m about to say. And I started talking to myself, like, ‘You know, Ebri, you’ve got to go into another place, and you have to home in on exactly what you were feeling and who you were at the moment of this song’s creation. But then you also have to balance her with the new, evolved Ebri Yahloe you are now. You have to find a good balance, and then you have to stand on it.’”
Yahloe traced her recent upturn to the aftermath of a breakup she experienced early in the pandemic, which led the rapper to sit down and make a list of all of the things she felt she had not been receiving from her romantic partners. “And then I said, ‘Okay, now give these things to yourself,” said Yahloe, who headlines the second night of 934 Fest in Milo-Grogan, taking the stage at 9:45 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9. (Find a full schedule of participating artists and musicians here.)
The results of this newly uncovered self-love informed a trio of tracks released by Yahloe in 2022, most explicitly “Almondz.”
“I found someone to make my night shine like day,” she raps on the song, on which the musician holds up a mirror and finally embraces the person she sees looking back.
“‘Almondz’ was almost a letter to myself,” said Yahloe, who added that the sentiments in the song were aspirational at the time she put them to paper, and that she held off on releasing the track to streaming services until the lessons took root. “And now I’ve experienced giving those things to myself, and I can say those things comfortably ... and not have it be a lie.”
And yet, Yahloe has never struggled with being able to see the good in others. Witness “Blk Ppl,” released in the aftermath of the resurgent Black lives matter movement that swept through the country in the wake of Minneapolis police murdering George Floyd, a song on which the rapper extols the beauty, strength and promise she witnesses on the daily within the Black community – qualities she long had difficulty acknowledging within herself.
“Oh, it was extremely hard to see it [in myself],” Yahloe said. “If you see a beautiful painting, that painting never gets to see itself, you know? … So, it was hard to see that beauty at times. But I can see now those times where I didn’t see it before, or where I wasn’t accepting of it. And I can accept it now.”
Yahloe said this acceptance has been both personally and creatively transformative, leading her to craft some of the most searing, introspective songs she's written to date. “It’s the good, the bad and the ugly. And a lot of it is very uncomfortable, but that was all a part of the process,” said Yahloe, who recently wrapped pre-production on the new album but doesn’t yet have a timeline for its release. “Some of what happened was super traumatic, and some of it was self-inflicted. ... A lot of what I'm touching on speaks to that core [of who I am].”
In a way, the forthcoming record is a deeper extension of the approach the rapper adopted on “Broad & High,” with the messages contained in the music serving not only her own therapeutic needs but also offering a point of connection for others potentially reeling from similar experiences. Yahloe traced the sense of empathy inherent in her music through her bloodline, recalling how the trait was nurtured in her from childhood by her mother and grandmother, both of whom exhibited similarly tender hearts.
“It’s something that’s already in me, so it’s going to come out,” said Yahloe, who stressed that she has had to learn to rein in the quality, at times, since in the past it has taken on more damaging forms of self-sacrifice. “But it’s never something where I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make this song for people going through this or going through that.’ No. It’s more like, ‘This is what I’m going through, or this is what I’ve been through and how I got through it. And if you can relate to it, cool.’ You never know what someone is going through or how you could be of help.”