5 Feminist Albums That Got Us Through September

An illustration of singer Kacey Musgraves, a white woman with long brown hair flowing in the wind, wearing a strapless white dress and bedazzled eyebrows.

Illustration by Rachelle Baker

Summer is officially over. These releases kicked off the season providing us with a perfect soundtrack for fall. And this month’s list—with Kacey Musgraves challenging gender roles while healing from a divorce and Little Simz discovering her inner power—has you covered. As always, happy listening!

Little Simz, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Little Simz - Woman ft. Cleo Sol (Official Video)

{Age 101 Music}
Release date: September 3, 2021

Little Simz searches inward in her latest work. The album starts off with “Introvert,” an indomitable war cry backed by a drumline—jolting and demanding, hitting hard like a metaphor for her own personal breakthrough. Little Simz brilliantly tackles subjects like political oppression, pride in her identity as a Black woman, and her navigation of fame: “I bottle up and then spill it in verses/ One day, I’m wordless, next day, I’m a wordsmith.” The British rapper packs the track with clever rhymes, flexing her wordsmithing and proving that she’s determined to face all of the thoughts she’s buried inside. The song sets the tone for Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, as Little Simz continues the theme of introspection. On “Woman,” she partners with fellow London artist Cleo for an anthem that honors Black women across the diaspora. On “Little Q, Pt.2” she recounts her cousin’s story with the struggles he faced as a Black boy growing up in South London. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a powerful triumph of self-reflection that centers the varied experiences of Black people around the world.

Kacey Musgraves, star-crossed

KACEY MUSGRAVES - simple times (official music video)

{MCA Nashville}
Release date: September 10, 2021

When Kacey Mugraves released her Grammy-winning album Golden Hour in 2018, she was about a year into marital bliss. She wrote about love and romance, typical honeymoon lyrics that led to the project receiving mass critical acclaim. On star-crossed, Musgraves wastes no time informing listeners of her divorce. The 15-track album is only about 45 minutes long, a rather brief post-mortem but Musgraves succinctly and successfully provides a vivid view into the broken relationship and her journey to healing afterwards. On the title song, a psychedelic groove on which the harps and guitar riffs create a theatrical effect, she sings about the couple making every attempt to save their marriage before realizing it wasn’t worth being saved (“Did we fly too high just to get burned by the sun?” she asks in the chorus). Songs like “good wife” and “breadwinner” address archaic gender roles that possibly had an adverse effect on her marriage (“He wants a breadwinner/ He wants your dinner/ Until he ain’t hungry no more,” she croons). But the split isn’t based solely on this logic, nor is it easy or clean. Musgraves reveals her over-idealistic and unrealistic perception of their romance in “if this was a movie..” and gets into the messy debate of whether to delete all of your ex’s pictures off your phone in “camera roll.” Her lyrical storytelling shines throughout star-crossed intensely. Yes, it’s Musgraves who recently got divorced but it feels like we’re experiencing heartbreak right there with her.

Yebba, Dawn

Yebba: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

{RCA Records}
Release date: September 10, 2021

It’s hard to believe that Yebba’s soulful voice has graced the music scene for roughly five years—collaborating with hitmakers like Drake, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith—and she is just now releasing her first full-length project. But Yebba is no rookie: With a voice that plunges into gospel and folk with flair, she has put together an album that’s firmly tailored to her retro style and offers profound emotional depth. Dawn, named after Yebba’s mom who died by suicide in 2016, is a somber, candid mourning. The 12-track LP explores Yebba’s varying stages of grief following her loss. Reflective songs like “How Many Years” and “Stand” feature the Memphis native’s stream-of-consciousness as she asks how she’s supposed to deal with her pain and anguish. The answer remains unclear. What’s certain is that Dawn masters the unpleasant task of using immense vulnerability to fuel music that’s as beautiful as it is tragic. Dawn was worth the wait, but, more importantly, it’s a strikingly brave project where Yebba shares her trauma openly.

Lil Nas X, Montero

Lil Nas X, Jack Harlow - INDUSTRY BABY (Official Video)

{Columbia Records}
Release date: September 17, 2021

Finally, Lil Nas X’s highly-anticipated debut album is here. The Montero release feels like a welcomed and much-needed relief given the rapper has been a frequent target for homophobic trolls recently. It’s unfortunately refreshing to know that the latest Lil Nas X news revolves around his music and not around another rapper expressing his unsolicited disdain for Lil Nas X being gay. The former should be the standard. But he gives his haters the middle finger while introducing listeners to his more vulnerable side. The apt eponymous title points to his message of respecting and loving yourself enough to ignore that negativity—to not let it define who you are. On raps like “Dolla Sign Slime,” with Megan Thee Stallion, and the smash hit “Industry Baby,” featuring Jack Harlow, Lil Nas X brags about his successes and how he stays true to himself. The more rap-infused singles balance pop tracks “Dead Like Me” and “Sun Goes Down,” where the Georgia native bluntly details his family issues and battles with depression. Montero is a coming-of-age story that unabashedly centers Lil Nas X as the only character who matters. Homophobes have no place here.

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Nao, And Then Life Was Beautiful

Nao - Wait (Official Video)

{Little Tokyo Recordings Limited}
Release date: September 24, 2021

Nao deftly creates cozy, heartfelt R&B music that feels blissful. Her critically acclaimed 2018 sophomore album Saturn, was a warm collection that showcased her signature high-pitched vocalizing. Since then, the world experienced, and still is experiencing, a pandemic and the East London-bred singer became a mom. And Then Life Was Beautiful poignantly captures those monumental changes with ease. The album feels like a breath of fresh air. Songs like the title track and “Nothing’s for Sure” relay messages of finding beauty in stillness and living in the moment (“Just go with the flow, let your spirit run free/ We don’t need to look back,” she sings). Elsewhere, Nao sings about deciding to leave a relationship that’s reached its end (“Messy Love,” “Glad That You’re Gone”), second-guessing that decision (“Wait,” “Good Luck”), and being open to love again (“Postcards”). The album ends with “Amazing Grace,” which reinterprets the classic gospel hymn. Throughout the tune, Nao sings about how she’s okay with finding certainty in the unknown (“How precious is a wretch like me? Was blind but didn’t care to see”). It’s an appropriate conclusion to a work that encourages us to accept uncertainty in the pursuit of peace. And Then Life Was Beautiful provides the quintessential playlist for learning to embrace change, which is a timely reminder as we transition into fall.

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by DeAsia Paige
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DeAsia is a freelance writer covering music, culture and identity. Her work has been featured in publications like VICE, The Nation , Blavity and Hufington Post Black Voices. To read more of her work, follow her on Twitter.