Album Review: Akua Naru – The Blackest Joy [The Urban Era; April 2018]

Akua Naru released her third album, The Blackest Joy, on 27th April 2018 on The Urban Era label. Growing up in Connecticut, Naru was originally influenced by gospel sounds from the Pentecostal church. From the age of nine, however, she was introduced to hip hop by her uncle despite secular music being banned in her household. Naru would later be inspired by key black activist symbols, leading her to create musical work built to empower her community, of which The Blackest Joy is the latest example.

Akua Naru lays down her words of encouragement and resistance atop calm or swirling melodies that are mostly jazz and West African-inspired. The lounge-like quality of some tracks could see them easily sitting alongside a playlist including Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, although there is enough sonic variety to break up this sound that can fall victim to blandness.

The ‘angry black person’ trope is used to shame black people from displaying anger when it’s perfectly justified. Although this anger should be expressed, it’s important to realise that the black experience doesn’t revolve around the negativity we witness on 24-hour news cycles. The aptly titled track ‘Joy’ tells us we are deserving of such feeling. ‘Made It’ is a hallelujah moment appropriate for those who have reached the desired destination in life.

Songs like ‘Serena’ and ‘My Mother’s Daughter’ sit side-by-side as nods to the strengths, goals and achievements of black women that are often overlooked by those both within and outside of the black community. Of course, no pro-black album would be complete without its token slow jam dedicated to black love – in this case ‘(Love) Right Now’.

There are times where Naru could acknowledge moments of darkness from which the uplifting moments could burn brighter, so as to make the album reflect how our moods fluctuate in such a volatile world. But as an album served purely to boost black self-esteem, this might be able to hit the sweet spot.