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Ayra Starr – The Year I Turned 21 Review 

On her sophomore album, The singer-songwriter celebrates her life and its emotional chapters, through songs that stream-of-consciousness flow, showing a clearer sense of identity as she ages with success.

Ayra Starr turned 21 on June 14. She is currently Mavin’s powerhouse. She has come a long way, from recording in her room and putting out freestyles on YouTube to her breakout deal with Mavin Records, it feels like she was inevitable. Under 4 years in the industry, she has earned herself a Grammy nomination and topped the charts worldwide with her lead single, Rush.

Commas, Rhythm & Blues and Bad Vibes which features Seyi Vibes also followed up as the album’s next singles, setting the tone for an interesting debut. Ayra Starr’s secret weapon is her soaring singing voice, effectively contrasting her story-telling skills. Being 21 symbolizes the transition to adulthood, a time of personal growth, newfound responsibilities, and legal rights. 

That’s all Ayra, In the intro Birds Sing of Money, she sounds fierce, over a classical beat, she is ready to take all that is hers but it’s her flair and Gangsterism that carries here, there’s a little bit of cussing here and there, that’s how you know sh*t got real on her debut. After premiering Goodbye at  Apartment Life, the song became an instant fan favourite before the album’s release,  the excitement toppled after Asake’s verse, who delivered a verse without hooks/chorus, straight up opted for a full rap verse, catchy one balanced by P2J who expands the boundaries of his production by merging pop with Afro.

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There are many Sability moments on the album, but one of its grooviest parts is woven in Woman Commando. The song starts as a downbeat and minimalist one, then builds to boppy heights, all orchestrated by Nigerian Producer (insert interview link) Rage. It feels like Charlie’s Angels here, a diverse pool of three powerful vocalists representing their sound and making kick-ass, feminist music. From Anitta’s melodies drenched in Latino crooning to Coco Jones’ swag and Starr’s “abilities”, it is easily the cleanest song on the tape, has it all. The features are fitting, Giveon on Last Heartbreak Song is a heartfelt letter, penned in the throes of awful moments that a love chapter came with, Ayra sounds defeated here, but ready to let go and prioritize herself, like the Sability girl that she is. On propulsive songs like 1942, she sounds light, expressing her fear of losing despite her winning streak. Jazzy’s Song  sounds like it was inspired by Don Jazzy, your proper Nollywood party song.

Her emotions range from the quotidian to universal. On 21, there is a period of self-reflection, expressing feelings and small details of young adulthood over an appropriate ballad production. Her me-time on the album is cherishable, Lagos Love Story explores the thrill of young love in Lagos, stuffed with Nigerian Pidgin and Yoruba which are sprinkled throughout the song. She carries the same energy on Control, a song where she serenades her lover with appreciation and becomes submissive only to her lover. Occasionally, she makes veiled references to her past, with phrases that seem to mirror lines from elsewhere in her catalog, Orun has that effect. She mournfully revisits memories of her late dad on The Kids Are Alright, letting all her siblings assure him they are doing well, and learning from his mistakes via a message from her mum, it’s the most genuine and sad moment on the album.

The album ends with Santa, a delicate genre-cross bop that combines Rauw Alejandro’s vocals with Ayra and Rvssian’s aura. It sounds like a song that will get featured as an OST for the Fast & Furious movie franchise. The Year I Turned 21 feels like a sonic diary, read out loud by its author, bearing the mark of a life well lived at just 21, with a lot more to offer from a singular talent whose hard work has spiked her glory.

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