Words by:
Photography: Alex Rorsin
Makeup: Taisha Sherwood

Hadaiyah Bey is in a west London hotel room contemplating what it means to be present. It’s a profound topic for an early winter morning, but the New York native more commonly known as Yaya Bey seemingly relishes this kind of philosophical musing. “To exist without resistance,” Bey offers wistfully, “to just be with what is in the most immediate moment without trying to change it.”

Bey’s new album, Ten Fold, is an extension of this commitment to relinquish control. A surrendering to the universe in the face of life-altering loss, the record was created in the wake of the death of her father Ayub – the rapper and hip-hop producer Grand Daddy I.U. – in December 2022. In a post announcing the project, Bey describes the work as “a recording of the year I lost the things I thought I could not live without and the proof that I did indeed survive”, acknowledging the sense of reflection and fluctuating emotions that flow through its 16 tracks. 

Ten Fold isn’t her first foray into vulnerable, diaristic songwriting. In fact, it’s an artistic quality that’s become something of a signature for the 34-year-old. On critical faves like 2020 breakout Madison Tapes and 2022’s genre-spanning Remember Your North Star, Bey gracefully offloaded and unpacked the complexities of her life, recounting stories of sex, healing, family dynamics, Black womanhood and misogyny, all set to the luscious sounds of Black musical traditions like R&B, hip-hop, reggae and jazz. 

Ten Fold flits between ruminative and freewheeling, untethered to any specific structure or mood. This speaks to its creation, too. Bey didn’t start working on the album with a particular theme in mind. Instead, she listened to the breezy instrumentals supplied by the likes of Exaktly, Boston Cherry, Jay Daniel, Karriem Riggins and Butcher Brown’s Corey Fonville, and expelled what needed to come out. “Because of that,” she carefully explains, “it’s the first album that I’m not so removed from now that it’s done – because it’s just an album about the flow of life.”


Yaya Bey wears: Skirt: BUSYBDY, Jeans: Levi, Shoes: Maison Margiela

Bey was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a child, she struggled with school and its strict structures (“I was a horrible student!” she laughs). She much preferred being at home in her room, which became a hub for creative freedom. Here, she hunkered down and listened to artists like Donny Hathaway, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z and State Property. “I had a Prince and Aretha Franklin phase. I also had an Amy Winehouse era. Man, all kinds of stuff…” she drifts, smiling. Around the age of nine, Bey took an interest in writing songs and poems. Her father, who was her primary parent, nurtured this artistic curiosity and encouraged her to pen hooks for his own tracks. “We had a very deep bond that formed over – and through – music,” she says, her voice full of emotion. “It moulded me in a way that nothing else ever has.”

Evocative turns of phrase like over and through come naturally to Bey, who, during our call, chooses her words carefully and delivers them with intention – much like her artistic output. This considered approach makes sense: Bey’s practice as a poet taught her she doesn’t “want to be stuck in a box”. While poetry was something she first embraced as a way to satisfy her writing itch, it was also a medium she leaned on at a time when pursuing a singing career was discouraged by those around her. “[My dad] always wanted me to write songs, but for other people; he didn’t want me to sing. Later in his life, it was always the elephant in the room,” Bey admits, speaking about her father’s own career misgivings. “I know he had a lot of regrets about that.”

Bey grew up Muslim, and the title Ten Fold is inspired by the story of Ayub (like her dad) in the Quran, or the story of Job in the Bible. As the tale goes, Ayub was considered a faithful servant. He was made to endure loss, grief and pain by the devil as a test of his devotion to god. This resilience, however, eventually leads to reward, as god returns Job’s fortunes. “My dad lost a lot of things in his time being a musician. I always felt like, when it was my time, I’d be the tenfold. I’d get it all back,” Bey asserts. “Not just in success or money or accolades – but in how I will take heed of the lessons. Because there’s a lot of life lessons in choosing to do this.”

Stories of her father permeate our entire conversation. He was Bey’s biggest inspiration and remains a constant grounding force in every aspect of her life. As a child, right through until early adulthood, Bey viewed the world through his eyes. “Whatever my dad said was cool, was cool. Whatever my dad said was true, was true,” Bey says, softly. She is not afraid to admit that he was her ultimate coach in life and art. “If this was a sport, he’s the one that trained me, and he’s the one that made me love the game. Now I’m having my first big games and he’s not here,” she sighs. “I think that is the hardest part of it all: not being able to share this. So I’ve been trying to make him present. Just trying to have him here in whatever way that I can.” 

On the track East Coast Mami, Bey included a sample of her father’s wisdom via a voice note, in which he encourages his child to “present yourself to the world like you’ve been somewhere”. Elsewhere, Bey sings about spending money on taxes and putting “her daddy on a boat” on the jazzy Crying Through My Teeth (previewed last summer in a blue-hued Colors session) while swaggering dancehall cut So Fantastic fuses Bey’s lower, icier register with her father’s commanding vocals. 

In pursuit of emotional honesty, Bey often reveals intimate details of her family life, genderqueer identity and interior world. Does she ever feel too exposed? She brushes this off. “The music is the only place that’s mine. I need to be vulnerable in that space because I can’t control anything else; none of us really can,” she asserts. “We have to work jobs we don’t want to work. Do things we don’t want to do. Witness atrocities we can’t stop. There’s so much that happens outside of our control and so many things we have to try to fit ourselves into to survive. But in my music, I don’t have to have any restrictions. And I need it that way.”

“We have to work jobs we don’t want to work. Witness atrocities we can’t stop. There’s so much that happens outside of our control and so many things we have to try to fit ourselves into to survive. In my music, I don’t have to have any restrictions. And I need it that way”

This freedom of expression translates to her live shows, too; another space in which Bey’s innermost thoughts are left to roam. However, she’s learned the hard way that sharing her views before an audience can invite torment, mainly because “not all of your fans are like you”. She takes a beat, then expands. “I’m learning that a lot of white men listen to me. But then they come to my shows and they get upset because I’m not shy about my political views. I speak up at every show. Then after, someone will be on YouTube, Twitter or TikTok really offended by something I said.” 

It’s not everyone, she’s quick to add, and she’s appreciative of those who do get it. But for Bey, performance isn’t just about showing up for a crowd – it’s about showing up for herself and her community. “People have a hard time digesting a Black person – especially a Black person who is perceived as female – up there, saying what they will and will not do, what they don’t feel up to doing. [They’re] witnessing me in protest,” she says, pausing. “But you’re here to see my art and it’s not up to you to dictate what that is. I’m not here to shuck and jive for you. This is a conversation, and I’m initiating this conversation because I’m making the art, so you can’t tell me what the end of the conversation needs to look like.”

Days after our call, the topic is still on her mind. In a lengthy caption accompanying an Instagram photo dump from a recent promo trip in Europe, she reasserts the purpose of her art and live performances, and discusses the tokenization of Black artists in predominantly white independent music spaces. Judging by the supportive comments from followers, her words seem to have struck a chord.

This isn’t a surprise. Bey is an expert communicator; and it’s always on her own terms, even when the topics are tough or muddy. Her priority is simply to stay true to herself; to remain authentic and present, and keep feeding the fighting spirit that her father instilled in her. Going forward, a renewed sense of openness will also sit among these priorities. “There’s so much that I thought I knew that I don’t,” she ponders, as our exchange comes to a natural end. “If I can stay open to what is meant for me this year, I think I will have done alright.”

Ten Fold is out on 10 May via Big Dada