Ravyn Lenae is R&B's Next Big Thing

Ravyn Lenae is R&B's Next Big Thing

The 19-year-old artist's sound evolves on her strong new EP.

The 19-year-old artist's sound evolves on her strong new EP.

Photography: Marcus Mam

Styling: Marcell Rocha

Text: Lisa Mischianti

This interview appears in the pages of V113, The Music Issue, on newsstands now. Order your copy of the issue today at shop.vmagazine.com

“It kind of started with mimicking Beyoncé videos,” says Ravyn Lenae with a laugh of her blossoming career’s earliest beginnings. Well, perhaps it was that—as well as her comprehensive study of classical music, music history, and music technology at the prestigious Chicago High School for the Arts. That’s where Lenae honed an aptitude that had been apparent since age eight, when she started dabbling in guitar, then piano, singing, and songwriting. Now 19, Lenae has already released three EPs: 2015’s Moon Shoes, 2017’s Midnight Moonlight, and the latest, 2018’s Crush. “When I think about those projects, I like to imagine flipping through a photo album and seeing that progression,” says Lenae, who describes her work’s trajectory as charting her personal and emotional maturation. With Crush, she has arrived at a place of acceptance and openness when it comes to her feelings, as well as a complete embrace of her feminine energy. “With the social climate that we’re in, I think it was very important for me to highlight the qualities of being a young woman,” she explains. “I’ve been really in touch with my girly side.”

Crush also marks something of a sonic shift for Lenae. Her first two EPs, produced by fellow Chi-town local Monte Booker, featured Lenae’s soulful vocals layered over Booker’s signature synth sounds and unconventional percussion. For this latest project, however, she partnered with The Internet guitarist and SoCal phenom Steve Lacy, who produced and also co-wrote lyrics for the EP. “It was just a completely different style,” says Lenae. “I was used to this very intricate and fast electronic music, and Steve is more about live instrumentation and slower beats with a lot of space.” Lacy is also, famously, very low-key in his process, often using his iPhone as a primary music-making tool—a technique that Lenae encountered early in their collaboration, and which ultimately helped give rise to Crush’s star single, “Sticky.” “Our first session was actually [with The Internet]. I was just hanging out with them, and when they went out for a break, Steve pulled up the beat for ‘Sticky.’ He played it, and I was like, ‘Whoa. I want to get on that one,’” she recalls. “So he just brought it up on his cell phone [laughs] and I recorded on his phone—using a pop filter and an iPhone speaker—the hook to ‘Sticky.’” That hook is a powerful one, defined by a soaring falsetto with a psychedelic guitar riff and organ chord backdrop.

Recently, Lenae embarked on a tour for Crush, an experience she was prepared for thanks to time spent touring with SZA last year. “She did a really good job of pulling me to the side and asking how I was doing, and just being very encouraging,” says Lenae. “She would remind me that she was once in my position, and that [this would be] a stepping stone.” Looking at Lenae now, it seems like SZA was right.

RAVYN WEARS JACKET GUESS, SHIRT LAND OF DISTRACTION

Credits:
Makeup Chris Colbeck (Art Department) for Dior Beauty Hair David Von Cannon (The Wall Group) Photo assistant Vincenzo Dimino Stylist assistant Kate Longarzo Location ROOT BKN

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