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A review of Amaarae's second album: 'Fountain Baby'

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The singer Amaarae has a goal. She's Ghanian American and says her goal is to be the quintessential African princess of pop. She has a new album out, and our reviewer thinks she's on her way to that goal.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMAARAE SONG, "WATER FROM WINE")

TARISAI NGANGURA, BYLINE: Hi, my name is Tarisai Ngangura, and I'm here to talk to you today about Amaarae's new album, "Fountain Baby."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATER FROM WINE")

AMAARAE: (Singing) When you hold me too close, I feel more than I want. So don't go too fast.

NGANGURA: I think what I like most is how experimental it is. She does a lot of cool things with her voice, with music choices, what genres she chooses to include. And I find that really interesting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATER FROM WINE")

AMAARAE: (Singing) Shake it, don't break it. Shake it, don't break it. Fake it till you make it. Shake it.

NGANGURA: I like the variety. I like the different kind of touch points that she brings to it, whether she's doing Southern rap on one song or whether she's doing R&B or pop in one song. It's all a fusion, and it all works really well. I think on this album she's really trying to show that variety because she wants people to really accept her as an artist with multiple interests and with multiple points of reference.

So Amaarae - she's lived between the Bronx, Atlanta and then also Accra. And so she's had this very sort of diverse upbringing that likely introduced her to a lot of various sounds. And all of these kind of coalesce to create this artist who is just inspired by so many different things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RECKLESS AND SWEET")

AMAARAE: (Singing) See my blessings, feel my essence. Look how I just stepped in. Please don't try my patience.

NGANGURA: "Reckless & Sweet" - that's a really good one. She really melds pop, and there's just this very groovy Caribbean vibe to it. And it works on the song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RECKLESS AND SWEET")

AMAARAE: (Singing) 'Cause I got too much, 'cause my money gets too long. Looking at me, you get goosebumps. Baby, want to roll with a...

NGANGURA: I think since Amaarae's debut, her music has become more confident. There's just this groundedness (ph). She feels like someone who has stepped into her own, and I think it takes quite a great deal of confidence to be able to try something new on each song as a young artist.

Amaarae doesn't want to be put in a box. She doesn't want labels imposed on her. She wants to create these avenues that express who she really is as an artist. And if they don't exist in the world, she's going to make them for herself.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMAARAE SONG, "BIG STEPPA")

NGANGURA: I found similarities between her and Janet Jackson just in the ways their voices are. I think I heard it most on "Big Steppa."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG STEPPA")

AMAARAE: (Singing) You want to desert me like I been auctioned off. See, I had to, to be pressure, just to be option one.

NGANGURA: So both of them have very light voices that are sort of deceptive because you hear them and you think there's nothing really happening. They're not, like, belting out ballads.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG STEPPA")

AMAARAE: (Singing) She never asked what you want. She can't love like I do. If she don't say me too. I need...

NGANGURA: It's always interesting to hear people who have gentle, delicate voices really play around with their tones and really play with their levels. And that's what Janet Jackson and Amaarae have similar.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG STEPPA")

AMAARAE: (Singing) Big Steppa, make up the room. Come get her. They know your body be pressure. Got to pay out the fee, don't waiver (ph). Don't waiver, my baby Big Steppa...

NGANGURA: So the song "Big Steppa" is dancehall-inspired, and it's also a pop song. It makes you want to get on the dance floor...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIG STEPPA")

AMAARAE: (Vocalizing).

NGANGURA: ...But it has that earworm quality of every great pop song. Like, once you hear it, you can't stop humming it in your head.

INSKEEP: Tarisai Ngangura reviewing Amaarae's new album, "Fountain Baby." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tarisai Ngangura