Quite fittingly, Ravyn Lenae likens her music to a fairytale.
Sprinkling signature “futuristic soul” like pixie dust and pops of vibrant color across this aural world, the 18-year-old Chicago singer and songwriter writes her own chapter for Pop equally informed by a classical sensibility and youthful daring and already championed by everyone from Pitchfork to Chicago Tribune.
“I think of it as a fantasy world,” she affirms. “There are familiar elements of R&B and soul, but there’s also a more refined approach and new wave of thinking. Overall, it’s this fantasyland where my mind lives and my art comes from.”
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, art immediately spoke to her as a child. Between learning piano and guitar, she went from obsessively listening to India.Arie with her mom and OutKast’s The Love Below to eventually discovering the likes of Antonio Vivaldi and Reynaldo Hahn. In her most formative years, attending Chicago’s High School For The Arts proved nothing short of revelatory.
“That’s where I found a lot of my inspiration,” she elaborates. “I couldn’t imagine myself in any other high school. I don’t feel like I’d be the artist I am today or that I would have tapped into the artistry inside of me if it wasn’t for that environment. I was encouraged to be myself, but I also learned discipline. I was up at 5:30am every day, in class until 2pm, and then conservatory until 5pm. I loved being classically trained, but I also wanted to find my own voce, so I started songwriting.”
She met producer Monte Booker, and the two began collaborating in 2014. Her first upload, “Greetings,” stirred up a palpable buzz online as she inked a deal with Three Twenty Three Music Group and Atlantic Records. The Moon Shoes EP nationally ignited this buzz followed by the Midnight Moonlight EP. Rolling Stone placed her among “10 Artists You Need To Know,” while Vibe, Nylon, Essence, Fake Shore Drive, Saint Heron, Earmilk, and more trumpeted her throughout 2017. In tandem, she morphed into a powerhouse performer on tour with the likes of SZA and fellow Windy City luminary NONAME.
Simultaneously, she carefully assembled her EP, Crush [Three Twenty Three Music Group/Atlantic Records]. After developing a friendship on Twitter, Steve Lacy of The Internet produced all five tracks.
“He posted my stuff, DM’ed me, and insisted on working together,” she recalls. “I had already been a big fan of his and felt stylistically connected before even knowing him. When we finally met, we instantly clicked. We’re the same age and share the same taste. That trust and friendship needs to be there before you can create.”
Over a lush instrumental backdrop, she opened up like never before. “The main growth for me was the writing,” she admits. “Steve’s production is so different that it made me change my approach. I’m way more blunt now. I used to be very shy with my emotions. I would cover them up with pretty metaphors. Now, I’m not so shielding of my experiences, because I feel like I owe my listeners the honest truth of how I’m feeling. The attitude has completely progressed. It’s sassier.”
A swell of organs, strutting guitars, and jazzy coos ushers the first single “Sticky” into an unshakable falsetto refrain evocative of that evolution. “It’s about being stuck to someone and knowing you shouldn’t be,” Ravyn goes on. “The person is not really nice to you; he’s actually a little mean. Even though you know that, you take him back all the time. He’s sticky.”
Elsewhere, glitchy beats swing as her smooth voice soars on “Four Leaf Clover.” During the duet, Lacy serves up a vocal call-and-response about the doldrums of getting “friendzoned.” “Computer Luv”—which concerns “finding love online”—entangles their voices once again in hypnotic harmony.
“The entire tape sounds like a girl writing in her diary about how she has a crush on this guy,” she explains. “It’s the most I’ve ever dedicated a body of work to a boy. That’s where I went, because that’s how I’ve been feeling—head over heels.”
It’s a classic sentiment shared by a bold new voice. It’s also ultimately indicative of what’s to come from Ravyn.
“When people listen to me, I’d love for them to feel the essence of earlier records, but with a fresh twist,” she leaves off. “Pharrell and OutKast brought me to another level. It was very musical in an old school way, yet it still pushed forward. I hope listeners walk away feeling the same way I did listening to those classics.”