Her Music is Transcendant
Seventeen-year-old Ravyn Lenae proudly hails from the South Side of Chicago. As a performer, Ravyn Lenae is a testament to music’s ability to transcend all of the barriers that seem to separate us. Navigating the murky, and often controversial, waters of Chicago’s tumultuous social-cultural environment isn’t anything new for this artist. Before her airy, yet precise vocals were gliding effortlessly over dizzying and sometimes unpredictable productions, Ravyn Lenae’s horizons were broadened by earning a scholarship to a renowned Chicago performing arts school. And that’s where she currently studies.
Lenae is a Natural
But don’t be fooled. Ravyn’s stage presence and vocal dexterity weren’t only learned in school. With her first recorded track, “Greetings” garnering over 100,000 plays on SoundCloud it’s safe to say that she’s a natural. Her tenacity for sculpting perfectly crafted melodies demonstrates just how deep rooted and natural this young performer’s talents are. Her performance at Chicago’s House of Blues on December 22nd was captivating. On January 23rd, she commanded the Metro’s stage, capturing her audience’s attention like a seasoned performer. Ravyn Lenae’s bubbly personality is infectious. She’s sure to take the industry by storm.
1st Amendment Media (1AM): Your music seems to resonate with a lot of people. “Blossom Dearie” is one of those tracks that people gravitate towards. For a young artist, your pen seems seasoned. When did you write your first track?
Ravyn Lenae (RL): It was this time last year! It was almost exactly a year ago. I can’t remember the exact date, but I will always remember the time of year, because it was also the around the time of my birthday. I got a really great response, which made me feel really great. When I put the song out I didn’t know what would happen
I go to a performing arts school, and I’m training classically. At the time we were learning the fundamentals of classical music. I thought to myself, OK this is cool, but I need to experiment. I wasn’t fulfilled. That’s when I started to do my own thing outside of school.
1AM: You’ve worked with some pretty talented producers including Oz, and Chicago’s very own Monte Booker, who has been gaining notoriety in his own right. How did you all connect?
Ravyn Lenae: The first studio I was introduced to was Classick Studio. The owner, Chris “Classick” Inumerable, introduced me to Monte. He also introduced me to C-Note and a couple of engineers. We just clicked. There was instantly a spark. I knew of Monte, but I didn’t know he was so dope.
1AM: Are there any producers you would really like to work with?
Ravyn Lenae: I would really like to work with KAYTRANADA. That’s one of my goals. I really like to experiment with new sounds. I’m not stuck with just one producer. Usually when I’m listening for production, I look for really confusing and interesting beats. I feel like my voice is super simple. So, I like to make that contrast. I think a super powerful voice on a Monte Booker beat would be really confusing. His beats are really intricate. There are lots of percussion. I’m really into percussion. I enjoy working with super difficult arrangements. It’s a challenge for me. I like things that are hard to write to.
1AM: “ICanNeverFindaRideBack” is a favorite of ours. Your lyrics can be very meta. There’s an almost other worldly sense to them. What’s your writing process like?
Ravyn Lenae: Thank you. That’s such a huge compliment! When I first hear a beat, I may hum a melody. I try not to attack a song. I might ease on it for 15 minutes, then I may record my melody. Then I give it a break and come back to it. I feel like I used to sit with the beat and try to write a song in like one or two hours, which is really really mind blowing. I don’t think it’s healthy [so] I like to take a break and come with a fresh mind. Now I’ll spend 15 minutes on it and come back to it in a few days. I realize I can’t force myself to write a song.
1AM: As a person of color, it’s easy to get boxed in based on your appearance. Your sound is unique. If you had to classify your music, what would you call it? Where do you draw your influences?
Ravyn Lenae: This is a very difficult question. I feel as if people are so quick to label an artist based on appearance. They may hear similarities in sounds and instantly compare it to something. They may hear elements and say, that sounds like R&B, or that sounds like Soul. I don’t really consider myself either of those. I was browsing through my Soundcloud comments the other day and someone said “Future Soul” I kind of like that. My music has elements of Soul and R&B, but I feel like it’s a more refined version, or a more futuristic version. It has those elements, but it isn’t fully Soul or fully R&B. I like Future Soul a lot.
1AM: A lot of people compare your sound to the likes of Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. Do you find any parallels between yourself and these artists?
Ravyn Lenae: When people first hear something they want to figure out how it relates to them. In order to get a better understanding, a lot of times they’ll compare, which isn’t a bad thing, but I wouldn’t say I’m inspired by Jill Scott or Erykah Badu. I wouldn’t say I look to them for inspiration [since] I hardly listen to soul. I listen to a lot of techno! When I do listen to soul or R&B I’m probably in my feelings… which is very rare. I have to be in a certain mood. People find it really surprising that I don’t really listen to that kind of music.
1AM: Your entire project Moon Shoes is really dope. You use these complicated rhythms. Each track is different from the last. Somehow you’re able make them all work. Do you have a favorite track from that project?
Ravyn Lenae: It would have to be a tie between two tracks. It would be between “Venezuela Trains” and “Everything Above”. No one really seems to like “Everything Above”, but it’s one of my favorites. My feelings are kind of hurt. I like “Venezuela Tains” because I stepped out of my comfort zone. I remember thinking to myself as I wrote it, I’m not going to sing too much on this song.
When I listen to my older songs, I feel like I use a lot of words. To me, it’s more meaningful to say less. The beat itself is really intricate. I kind of flew on the beat. I’m not sure how to explain it. I remember someone commented on the song saying my voice and lyrics fit right in the pocket. I think that’s really fitting. When I wrote the song, I made sure to stay right in the pocket of the beat, if that makes sense.
I also think the song has a more futuristic sound to it. I haven’t really heard anything like it. For “Everything Above”, I think it’s the opposite of “Venezuela Trains”. It kind of has an older groove to it. It kind of reminds me of Janet Jackson. But with that song I also wanted to be super simple. I didn’t do too much. I kept the melody and writing super simple. These days, I’m really into simplicity.
1AM: Chicago has been the center of national attention for a multitude of reasons, not all of them have been positive. How has growing up on the south side impacted you as well as your art?
Ravyn Lenae: I don’t think it has directly affected my art, but it has affected me as a person. We’ve all been affected by it in some way. Some artists choose to incorporate that into their music, whereas I kind of sit back. I don’t feel like my job is to be an activist in my music.
I feel like having a positive impact on Chicago with my music itself. I’m not blatantly saying Black people rock in my music, or stop the violence, but I think it’s had an effect on people by calming them. I see tweets from thugs saying “Ravyn Lenae you make me feel calm”, or “Your music has really soothed me”. If I can do that I may not be able to change what’s going on, but I may be able to add some comfort. I feel like that’s my job as an artist. You can’t stop what’s going on, but you can kind of wrap a blanket around it.
1AM: Your social media following has been steadily increasing, How do you handle the increase in attention? Do you have any tactics to maintaining a level head?
Ravyn Lenae: I was raised in a family where I was taught to be grateful and say thank you. I see a lot of artists don’t really take the time to thank the people supporting them. I don’t really like the word fan [so] I say supporters. It’s more humbling than anything. I keep people around that say OK Ravyn, this is a lot of attention, but you have responsibilities, you still have to be who you are. This is the way I was raised. It’s been instilled in me. It’s hard to depart from that.
1AM: What’s next for Ravyn Lenae? Where are you going? What can we expect to see coming from you?
Ravyn Lenae: You can expect some really cool visuals. I haven’t been putting out a lot of videos, and I feel like I need to come a lot harder with that. I’m thinking about putting out another project soon. It’s on my to do list. I really want to start touring soon, so we’ll see this time next year.