REVIEW: YEBBA’s Debut Album, “Dawn” is a Masterclass in Musicianship

Cover art for YEBBA's debut album, "Dawn." / Photo via

Abbey Elizabeth Smith, otherwise known as YEBBA, has released her debut album “Dawn” on Sept.  10. 

The singer-songwriter started as a background singer on a Saturday Night Live performance with Chance the Rapper in 2016. She went on to release her debut single “Evergreen” a few months later. In the same year, her Sofar Concert performance of “My Mind,” an original song by the artist, went viral on YouTube. 

These three events in her career perfectly collided, giving her the recognition she deserved and launching her to stardom. It seemed like this up and coming virtuoso had the music industry in the palm of her hand, but just three weeks later her life came to a screeching halt.

YEBBA’s mother tragically committed suicide, sending the 21 year old back home to West Memphis, Ark. at the height of her career. For the next five years, she mourned the loss of her mother and channeled her emotions through her music. With this context, it is easy to understand why it took YEBBA so long to release any new material. 

The album gets its name from her mother Dawn and is a direct outgrowth of the years following her mothers death. YEBBA cuts through her trauma over 38 minutes and 54 seconds of lush jazz and rhythm and blues infused pop, finishing with a cathartic ending of the happy memories spent with her mother.

In every aspect, this record is jaw dropping. To begin with the most obvious part, YEBBA’s voice carries listeners through each song tying each one to the next. She delivers a chills-inducing, powerful, smoky, and emotional performance. Throughout the record, YEBBA proves her range, control, and skill again and again with her voice. 

On songs like “Boomerang,” listeners can experience the raw energy and power her voice possesses. She quickly switches between nearly distorted belting and angelic falsetto floating over top of synths. Her dynamic and captivating voice is more than enough to keep you listening. 

Each song gives a small glimpse into YEBBA’s story through her thoughtfully written lyrics. “Stand,” the second song off the record, is a narration of YEBBA’s relationship with obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder caused by her mother’s suicide. The first three songs, “How Many Years,” “Stand,” and “Boomerang” are reminiscent of a classic love song. If you dig deeper it becomes clear the record is truly about the loss of her mother. 

This line from “Stand” is a perfect example of how the record perfectly tows the line between interpretation and storytelling: “When you went away, moonlight took the day, stars and darkness all collide, in the lonliest of space.” It could be interpreted as her possibly losing an old lover, or even a parent. She gives listeners the opportunity to find their own meaning in her words, but also to learn something from the grief and healing she is sharing with the world.

The production of the record was carried out by YEBBA herself as well as Mark Ronson, who has produced for big names like Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, Miley Cyrus, Duran Duran and the list goes on. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar Magazine, YEBBA describes him as “an interpreter.” With the help of Ronson and the impressive list of studio musicians he pulled in, the record came to life. Having only two features on the whole album, it is clear they were deliberate decisions. A$AP Rocky delivered a verse on the fifth track “Far Away,” and Smino on “Louie Bag.” 

To support her powerful voice, Ronson brought in The Roots’ Questlove on the drums, renowned bassist Pino Palladino on bass, James Francies on keys, and the well established Smokey Hormel on guitar, it would have been nearly impossible for “Dawn” to sound anything short of fantastic.

Ultimately, what is most impressive about this whole record is YEBBA’s unadulterated, unflinching bravery. She laid bare all of her feelings. She mixed the depressing and dark with nostalgic and uplifting. To reveal this trauma with such pure honesty to the world takes an imposing amount of courage. YEBBA understood that art takes honesty and bravery.

Overall, this album is not one worth missing. Although it only stands at #67 on the U.S. iTunes charts, it already holds a Grammy nomination for the single “Distance” and is predicted to receive more at the forthcoming Grammy Awards this year. As her debut album goes out into the world to be enjoyed and synthesized by listeners, YEBBA has already set a solid foundation for a sophomore album within the coming years.

YEBBA’s new work can also found on Drake’s newest album “Certified Lover Boy” in a song called “Yebba’s Heartbreak” which is an interlude that doesn’t include any vocals from Drake– to let her shine on her own.

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