When you know yourself, nothing can stop you…
Zyah Belle both realizes and understands her power as a singer, songwriter, producer, and arranger. She’s reached this realization through a tireless grind, going from countless open mics and gigs at dimly lit bars in Northern California to collaborating with some of the most celebrated icons in history. At the same time, she’s also grown into an uncompromising and undeniable solo artist in her own right with widespread critical acclaim and millions of streams.
However, she only turns up the volume on her 2022 independent full-length debut LP, Yam Grier.
“I know exactly who I am,” she affirms. “When you face a woman who knows herself, you can’t stop her, because she sets her own standards. We make our own rules. I’ve already gotten passed some of my worst fears; I’m unstoppable.”
Hailing from the small town of Vallejo, CA, she initially discovered music in church. Mom served as the choir director, so Zyah participated in children’s choir as soon as she could. Inspired by her two older sisters, she simultaneously developed a passion for R&B. Raised by a single mother and her siblings, she found herself surrounded by “powerful women.”
“Before I even turned on the television to absorb the influence of Jill Scott and Angela Bassett, those black women in my home set the standard for me,” she notes.
During high school, she landed the lead role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, adapting to the stage right away. Following high school, she cut her teeth at countless open mics and state fairs. Eventually, she caught the attention of various heavy-hitters.
Among many highlights, she co-wrote and collaborated with Snoop Dogg on “Trouble,” which served as the end credits song for Dog Gone Trouble on NETFLIX. She lent her voice to Terrace Martin’s “Never Saw It Coming” feat. Zyah Belle & Problem in addition to Too $hort’s “I Stay Up” and “Get Top.” Recording and performing with Kanye West’s Sunday Service Choir, her voice boomed on chart-topping #1 releases such as ye and Jesus Is King. The latter even earned “Top Christian Album” and “Top Gospel Album” at the 2020 Billboard Music Awards and “Best Contemporary Christian Music Album” at the 2021 GRAMMY® Awards. Following New Levels 2016 and IX 2019, Zyah’s 2021 Who’s Listening Anyway EP racked up millions of streams and incited widespread critical acclaim. Vibe touted it on “The 21 Best R&B Albums of 2021” and went on to declare, “Belle is able to fold the styles of Erykah Badu’s melodic rawness, Anderson .Paak’s wittiness, and the essence of ‘90s neo-soul into a terse seven-track body of work.”
Working with the likes of Hollywood Cole, Sam Barsh, and PBnJ, she levels up yet again on Yam Grier. Cut at the legendary Doghouse Studio in Los Angeles, she strikes a balance between 21st century soul and classic seventies spirit—suggested by the title Yam Grier.
“Yam is a reference to a woman with a fuller body,” she states. “Grier is obviously Pam Grier. A friend had nicknamed me Yam Grier, and I started using it on social media. Pam Grier’s characters signified so much for the black community. In addition to the music of the era, we took inspiration from the freeness of black people—especially women—in the seventies. It’s all about being empowered, carefree, and strong as a black woman. That’s what we’re channeling.”
Zyah initially paved the way for Yam Grier with “Not The One” and “DND.” Of the latter, Soul Bounce instantly applauded “her powerful vocals and boisterous personality,” and Rated R&B likened it to “a jazzy version of Destiny’s Child ‘Bug a Boo’.” Meanwhile, the single “Back To Back” floats on clean guitar through a laidback beat. Vulnerable verses give way to a chantable chorus punctuated by her robust range.
“In its entirety, the album is about a woman stepping into her own power, certainty, and confidence,” she reveals. “On this journey, I feel like every woman has a relationship or situationship that is more representative of her past than it is of who she is today. We all have moments where we double back. It’s like, ‘Shit, I’m messing with this guy again who I know is no good for me’.”
With a swell of cinematic production, “Closure” leans into a smoked-out jazz vibe as it picks up a thread from earlier on the record.
“If you think of the story, the woman in ‘Back To Back’ needs to move on,” she elaborates. “Closure always comes before you leave. It was the perfect puzzle piece in the story we were telling.”
Organic percussion, glossy synths, and shimmering piano accompany her gorgeous intonation on the finale “Go” where she provides an affirmation for herself, “Wherever you want, go.”
“It was based on an astrology reading I was listening to before the session,” she recalls. “These days, people feel like they’re in a rush for certain things, and it’s difficult to be patient. I’ve been doing this for ten years, and I was having a hard time thinking about it. However, I felt more encouraged to tell myself, ‘I can do whatever I want. I can be and feel whatever I want’. I don’t have to work on anybody’s timetable. I’m on my own time. This is for me. ‘Go’ set the tone for the whole record.”
In the end, Zyah might just make you feel unstoppable too.
“When you listen to this, I hope you identify with something in it,” she leaves off. “I feel like there’s something in there for everybody. I hope it inspires you or helps you in some way.”
Soundcloud:Zyah Belle offers a refreshing presence and look to the R&B music genre/scene in Northern California. She has a sound containing elements that all generations can appreciate. Allowing her to captivate the listener with her soulful tone over complimenting modern production.
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