Ryan Jay // Def Jam Recordings
You've likely heard Bibi Bourelly's name. When Rihanna's "Bitch Better Have My Money" dropped, the hunt for the female writer behind the aggressive anthem began. She was a Berlin-born (then-)20-year-old who would eventually contribute, in even more ways, to the superstar's ANTi era. Remember when Ri teased "Higher" over a year ago, admitting she recorded it drunk at 5 a.m.? Well, it was Bourelly who co-penned the song, and in 20 minutes at that. Now signed to Def Jam, Bourelly's just released the first half of a two-part EP, "Free the Real." Aiming to address the "first chapter" of her career, what's resulted are five guitar-driven, emotionally-charged tracks full of attitude and encouragement, with vocals that are scratchy and soulful, fragile and frayed, all at once.
Having debuted on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 months ago, “Sally” serves as an awesome opener. If you haven’t heard it yet, don’t be confused by its initial handclap-driven beat. Sure, it’s playful, but this is not a nursery rhyme, this is not a song for the schoolyard. You get the sense that Bourelly is trying to cause a ruckus, and you’re along for the ride. You’ll realize that seconds-in when Bourelly, over funky and fuzzy guitar licks, encourages the eponymous character, decked in polka dots and high heels, to “F—k all the haters.”
One listen to “Ego” will have you drawing comparisons to, and recognizing the possible sonic inspiration behind, Rihanna’s drunk-dialing ditty “Higher.” The elements are all there: scratchy & stripped down vocals, beats that take the backseat. The strings that supported Ri are replaced here by a bluesy guitar and, with her attitude still on 10, Bourelly tells the tale of resilience—and sounds like she’s beating her chest and sporting a snarl while doing so: “And all of the teachers used to keep me after class / Behind the school bleachers suckin’ on cigarettes / I’m out of the norm since the day I was born / And I put this on life, I won’t ever conform.”
The third track features a special guest: Bibi’s own dad, noted jazz-and-rock guitarist Jean Paul Bourelly. (He’s played with Miles Davis, so you know he’s good for it.) If you’d missed it in earlier, blinded by all the sass, you’ll recognize now that Bibi is one hell of a storyteller; she’s got a vocal-to-visual skill that already sounds trademark. And though the slow-moving song follows the always-enticing bad boy—who plays the titular instrument, of course—the picture she paints first (“I was born and raised on this concrete / bad-ass kids running from police / skipping school and niggas smoking weed / playing guitar for me, playing guitar-ar-ar”) is just as important. Be sure to make it to the end, too, because Pops gets nearly the last minute all to himself for a piercing solo.
"What If I Told You"
Staying true to her no-holds-barred mindset, Bourelly doesn’t mince her words. You’ve grown to know this upon listening to the EP, but that doesn’t make this opening line any less biting: “What if I told you that I ain’t love you no more? / That I ain’t even care if you live?” It’s another bluesy ballad, but now drums and a falsetto (that she simply does not implement enough) are introduced. She also starts to air out some of her own flaws eventually, so maybe she’s not as unapologetically tough as we’d originally believed.
For a tune titled “Riot,” and a closing track at that, you may expect a rowdy anthem of sorts, a chant to incite an uprise. But you’d be wrong. Bourelly goes acoustic on the two-minute closer. True to form, she’s defiant but this time around, emotionally cracked vocals and all, she sounds as if her declaration hurts her more to say than it does the recipient to hear: “If I leave, I’m not leaving in silence / You won’t see me crying / You gon’ see fire in my eyes / If I go, I’ma start a riot.”