In her lifetime, Maya Angelou released the 1957 LP Miss Calypso, joined Ashford & Simpson for 1996’s Been Found and won three Grammys, all for spoken-word releases. This May, she died at age 86, but now her estate and producers Shawn Rivera and Roccstarr (who contributed to tracks on recent albums by Chris Brown and Jennifer Lopez) have finished Caged Bird Songs, a collection based around vocals that the poet and author had previously recorded.
“This project is important,” she had said before her death. “It’s woven into the tapestry of our lives, and we’re being serious and giving and kind about it. So obviously, it’s going somewhere. And we have to release it to go there.”
On most songs, Angelou delivers her lyrics in a tight, hip-hop cadence, and backing tracks bring in elements of funk, boom-bap and (on “Harlem Hopscotch”) even surf rock. Tracks like “On Aging” demonstrate what her voice would sound like processed through heavy Auto-Tune – which is exactly what she’d be using if she were to make the 2014 version of Miss Calypso.
Caged Bird Songs will be released November 4th on Smooch Music, but you can listen to it in its entirety below. The actual record can be pre-ordered here.