Ravyn Lenae is keeping her musical options open

Released in early 2018, Ravyn Lenae’s Crush EP endeared the Chicago singer to a global audience including a strong Australian contingent. 

The five-track release, produced by The Internet’s Steve Lacy, marked a major step forward for Lenae as she honed in on a brightly tinted, flexi-R&B sound.

“Working with Steve Lacy was great because I’d never written with production like that. I’ve never written with another person,” Lenae says. “Him being a singer-songwriter himself challenged me in other ways. So I think going more into that funky, psychedelic realm of music brought on a meaning and a new feeling to what I already had been doing and I think a lot of people resonated with that.”

The EP’s lead single, ‘Sticky’, was one of 2018’s most irresistible songs. Built around Lacy’s psychedelic organ and guitar arrangement, Lenae shares the experience of being stuck in a relationship despite continual mistreatment. The person described may be hot and cold, but ‘Sticky’ is all titillating R&B grooves and toothsome melodic candy.

“That was the first song that me and Steve had ever worked on,” says Lenae. “I was in The Internet’s studio session just hanging out. I think they went out for a smoke and Steve pulled up the instrumental to that song and I was like, ‘oh my god, I want this one.’ 

“So I wrote the hook in like 30 minutes there and recorded it on his phone, because that’s where he records everything. And then he played it aloud for everyone and I was like, ‘this is special, I want to finish this and I want to branch off of this idea and create something bigger.’” 

Lenae is in Australia for this year’s St Jerome’s Laneway Festival tour and sideshows, but afterwards she’ll head straight home to focus on new music. The success of Crush, in terms of creative stimulation and audience response, gave Lenae some clarity on what she wants to do next.

“A lot of people think of [Crush] as my debut. I like to think of it as my pre-debut,” she says. “Whatever I do next I feel like is going to be really what I want people to hear and the first voice that the world will hear post-Crush. But I gained so many new fans from that project and I think me dipping into a different lane, just the different sounds that were being used in that project spoke to a different crowd of people.”

Lenae was born and raised in Chicago and remains closely involved in the city’s bubbling music scene. She has appeared on songs by fellow Chicago artists Noname, Mick Jenkins, Joey Purp and Jean Deaux as well as supporting Noname on her 2017 Telefone tour. Lenae is also a central member of the Zero Fatigue collective along with Smino, Bari, Monte Booker and Jay2. 

“I’ve always thought of Chicago as being the hub for music in the US,” she says. “I’ve always been grateful to have been an artist here, because I had that initial sense of support when I was just coming out that I probably wouldn’t have had in a different place. I think that having that kinship and relationship to other artists who I looked up to coming up has really given me that extra push and encouragement that you need when you’re just starting out.”

Lenae’s network extends beyond Chi City, too. Along with the Lacy collaboration, she’s jumped on major tours with SZA and Jorja Smith. Stylistically she aligns with these artists in their common effort to defy boundaries of pop, R&B, hip hop, funk, jazz and soul.

“In each stage, in each era of my life things are different. So if I’m doing it right I’m always changing my sound or something else always feels right at different periods in my life,” she says.

“I think it’s important to remain box-less or to keep yourself open to other possibilities and genres and feelings. It’s important as an artist to keep it limitless.”

Ravyn Lenae plays her Laneway Festival sideshow at Howler on Wednesday February 6. St Jerome’s Laneway Festival goes down on Saturday February 8 at Footscray Park.