It doesn’t take long on KeiyaA’s debut album, 2020’s Forever, Ya Girl, before other voices drift in like spirits on a warm fall’s night. Near the end of “I Thot There Was One Wound in This House, There’s Two,” she questions why someone won’t love her even though “I’m so damn easy to love,” and a child’s voice enters the mix.

“What kind of shoes is that you got on your feet?” the kid posits overtop a Sun Ra sample from the early ‘70s cult classic, Space Is the Place. “Yeah, walkin’ around with all these funny clothes. Shit, I’d probably take off running if I saw someone walkin’ down the street, comin’, talkin’ all that mess to me, talkin’ ‘bout goin’ to outer space!” The seconds-long snippet underlines KeiyaA’s alienation, and connects her with a Black radical tradition of innovators often misunderstood by the people around them.

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More than just sampling for surface pleasures, every source KeiyaA taps into on Forever, Ya Girl is intentional, reflecting her inspirations and experiences in New York. Throughout the album, she studies and builds on the work of her predecessors, much in the way a scholar accumulates references that will inform her thesis. She calls it a “citation process.”

Most prominently, there’s Ntozake Shange’s 1974 choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, which remains a vivid depiction of the ways that Black women navigate an unforgivably racist and misogynist environment. KeiyaA frequently turns to the 1976 Broadway cast recording, using Paula Moore’s rendition of “somebody almost run off with alla my stuff,” on four tracks. “I thought it was so emblematic of the breakup I was going through,” says KeiyaA. “But also, [it was] me giving myself permission to return to myself, and come to terms, so I can acknowledge the ways that I make room for others before taking care of myself. And making that obvious and apparent to help change that [behavior].”

KeiyaA poses for a photo shoot near the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan.
30 Rock 'n' Roll. (Just kidding, this is lower Manhattan.)

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