Breathe in, breathe out. “Hvnli,” a centerpiece from KeiyaA’s 2020 debut album, Forever, Ya Girl, begins with a simple act of exhalation.

She ignites a lighter, burns a joint, and audibly inhales smoke. Finally, the Brooklyn-based artist begins to unravel her troubles.

“Gone for so long, I can barely recall my rememory,” KeiyaA sings, evoking a phenomenon invented by the late Toni Morrison in her seminal novel, Beloved. “Gone for so long, I can barely afford to eat much more red meh-aht,” she continues, drawing out the word “meat” into two syllables and repeating the construction—“meh-aht,” “meh-aht”—as if she’s sobbing. She has programmed the music over which she sings, and it burbles with warm bass tones and synthesized key notes. It sounds like spiritual jazz for a congregation of one, a poetic, messy expression of loneliness and longing, a search for meaning in life’s details.

Gone for so long, I prefer to spend time alone with my pain.
Gone for so long, I can barely recall the last my phone rang.
Gone for so long, I can surely afford to be in the rain.
Gone for so long, I can barely afford to eat much more red meh-aht.

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