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Mississippi Music Monday: Play to Win by Ariel J.

You know what it is! It's Mississippi Music Monday and we want to put you on to dope music artists and let you in on the people we're listening to around the state. We're starting off with Camden, MS native, Ariel J. and their latest project, Play to Win.

album cover, designed by Alexis Cee

Ariel J. has achieved the difficult feat of combining candor, vulnerability, anguish & even hopefulness, packing them into a cohesive story, and delivering a prelude and track list worthy of the “No Skips” badge of honor. In her debut project, titled “Play to Win”, that many of her fans have deemed on their own, an album. Ariel digs deep into the foundational desires of wanting and needing more from life. A demand made in a bold, brilliant way. Her voice possesses a haunting level of authenticity that is beyond talent or skill, that lands directly in your core. She truly sings her feelings and it’s undeniably authentic.

The project’s single, “Broke AF” is a very raw, honest monologue that is more relatable than not, discussing money and money management and how we fill our voids with currency in order to compensate for other things that seem to be missing. From this realization and very honest ask, we then follow her to her adolescence on Virgin Mary Road where she addresses “generational baggage”, picking apart criticism and hypocrisy from elders, sentiments that are unfortunately a shared experience that so many young adults from Black house holds can relate to. Even though “Play to Win” starts off emotionally heavy, we hear a transition and new found freedom spring forth in track 4, “Church”, where the songstress makes a massive decision to leave the church and never go back. It’s a declaration to not only the God she hopes is out there, and the congregation, or people that may judge this choice, but to herself. She repeatedly sings“I’ll be where the love is” as almost an affirmation to self.

photo by DJ Evans (@djthephotographer_)

Ariel refocuses the listener on her true mission with this project in a spoken word piece titled “Tell Me it Gets Better”, reminding us where this need for more stems from. She paints a picture of childhood with her grandmother who worked tirelessly to make ends meet. It’s okay, Ariel J. We know it gets better! She effortlessly lifts our spirits in “Fa’ the N*****s”, a song scattered in affirmations featuring artist and producer, Mastad0n, that are perfect for a nigga’s highest highs or and lowest lows. This record in particular mended me in places I didn’t know I was wounded. It’s an ode to all the niggas here and the ones who have preceded us. I know she left church, but this is absolutely the lord’s work.

The next one is a personal favorite which gained an online buzz, bullying Ariel into making it a full song. Thankfully, she obliged and it landed at 7 on the project. “Clouds” is a stunning, confident version of the artist, standing in exactly who she is and was always meant to be. She taps fellow Mississippi songstress, Tatiana Clark, and their voices dance together, boldly and effortlessly, making space for each other while simultaneously standing in their individual power. This one is for the sweet girls who happen to be warriors, too.

It’s a perfect segue into another spoken word piece where Ariel J. exalts her lover, almost Brandy as Moesha style. “Love Letters” is the track that embodies what many who believe in soulmates pray to feel and achieve with another. She writes a beautiful passage about how this person is “everything I described in a journal that I wrote years ago”. She poetically professes this love over a beat that marries jazz and hip hop in a very special way, making its title even more fitting.

When you listen, you’ll hear how even through the weight of her subject matters, Ariel J. never ceases to affirm herself, and in turn, her audience. In “Sunday”, there is a hopeful, blissful undertone that lifts any existing heaviness off of me. She’s very certain, commending herself for the seeds she’s sown and the work she’s done, for herself and her career. She blends R&B and rap effortlessly, making me praise the pen once again.

In true Virgo, “leave me alone” fashion, Ariel J. presents to us, “DND”, an ode to loners, workers, and anyone else who just doesn’t want to be bothered after a long ass day. This song feels like a bubble bath with candles, wine, and a great novel. It’s so sweet while also being assertive. A perfect song to listen to on your entrance back into the house after an exhausting day in the world. DND soldiers, stand tall! Or lay down, whichever you choose. We won’t be bothering you, either way.

At number 11, “T.M.S” is a bold and boastful way to bring us toward the end. In listening, you can close your eyes see our songstress on the porch, feet propped up, and blunt burning in between her fingers. She gives us another taste of her rapping capabilities while never neglecting the melody. This one features 5’1 lyrical giant, pink nois & Mississippi’s own, Vitamin Cea. Spoiler alert: they do, indeed, talk their shit.

The final track on “Play to Win” is a perfect prediction of the future dubbed, “See You at the Grammy’s”. She doesn’t stop talking her shit from the last track. Her vibrato seamlessly transfers to this song, making anyone listening believe every word. And I do, without a shadow of a doubt, believe that we will soon see Ariel J. suited to perfection at the Grammy’s.

The feel-good cohesion of this project welcomes listeners on a journey we hope you take. You won't be disappointed.

Support Ariel J. by not only streaming the album on wherever you listen to your music, but also purchase / listen to the project on bandcamp! Link below.

Written by Charity Hicks

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