Photo Credit: Jean Philippe Josheph
On her debut album Hypnos, Ravyn Lenae steps into the most confident and sensual version of herself. We discuss collaborating with Steve Lacy and how she navigates the male-dominated music industry.
Ravyn Lenae has been working on her debut album for four years. Over a Zoom conversation from her Los Angeles home, the red-haired singer is in good spirits as she divulges her Chicago upbringing and the culmination of her highly anticipated record, Hypnos (out today).
Originally from Chicago’s South Side, Ravyn recalls growing up listening to R&B, soul, and hip-hop, with her mother playing everything from Destiny’s Child to India.Arie. These early R&B influences can be heard in her music. Her songs are emotionally tinged, melodic, and probing, Lenae’s delicate and ethereal voice often paired with experimental and distinct alt-leaning production too.
The roots of her artistry stem from attending Chicago’s High School for the Arts. Lenae said the school strengthened her understanding of her talents, where she studied classical music, music theory, acting, and music production.
“Being able to immerse myself in music in that way for those pivotal years in my life was very crucial for me,” she said.
By her sophomore year in 2015, she felt she needed to make her own music. Shortly after, she met Classick Studios owner Chris Classick, producer Monte Booker, and Smino. The following year she released Moon Shoes, her debut project, and signed to Atlantic Records, making for a promising start for the rising singer.
Midnight Moonlight and Crush came next. The former, half-produced by Booker, arrived in 2017. But Crush lead single “Sticky,” produced by Steve Lacy, is how many were first introduced to Lenae. Packed with a killer beat and Lacy’s immediately recognizable guitar sound, it’s most reflective of where she was as an artist in 2018: a refreshing addition to the R&B market. The entire EP had a distinct feel and offered her up as a face to pay attention to, not one to haphazardly listen to in passing.
Lenae feels she’s grown a lot as an artist since the release of Crush, adding that her special music kinship with Lacy has been important to her.
“It’s nice to be able to grow with a producer and bring those ideas together,” she said. “It’s an exchange of energy that’s really inspiring for me.”
With Hypnos, Lanae initially wanted to work on it alone. Ultimately, she ended up working with Luke Titus to carve out the specific sound she was aiming for, with Titus serving as the album’s executive producer.
“A lot of these songs came about because of me feeling it’s a woman thing to feel you have to do everything yourself,” she said. “I’m trying to learn to delegate a little more and be open to help and inspiration.”
Hypnos is jam-packed with feminine energy and Lenae also shares a more sensual side of herself – this is a natural progression for Ravyn, who felt she’s been experiencing high and low points throughout the past four years. Starting work on the album in 2018, Lanae pushed herself to be vulnerable through her songwriting, which challenged her in many ways.
“I went to those places I was really uncomfortable with being vulnerable and talking about love, relationships, breakups, self-love, self-doubt,” she said. “Femininity, sexuality, [and] sensuality are all parts of me and things I’ve unveiled.”
Overall, she feels liberated after working on the album, sharing: “Throughout this process, I’ve had to find that inner peace and really empower myself.”
Thematically, Lanae describes Hypnos as a “cosmic journey” through where she’s been over the course of the pandemic and her life before COVID-19. She shared that the album is also the culmination of her downfalls and life lessons, adding that artists have a responsibility to pour themselves into their music as a means of providing a space of solace for listeners.
A part of that journey also included stepping out of her comfort zone musically, with Lanae saying she served multiple roles during the album’s creation: singer, songwriter, and curator.
Jam sessions and studio sessions in Los Angeles (where Lanae moved to nearly two years ago) were significant parts of the road to Hypnos. Lenae was led by the idea that classic-feeling melodies and song structures would be the right fit for the album, too. Mainly she landed on an overall breezy feel for most of the album. This can be heard prominently on “Skin Tight,” the first single from the album. Recorded at Lacy’s home, the sensual cut was co-written by Lanae and Lacy. (Aside from “M.I.A.,” the two wrote every song together on the project.)
“[“‘Skin Tight’”] strikes the balance of feeling very classic and moody, but also feeling a little different from [other] stuff I’ve done,” Ravyn said.
Another standout is “3D.” Featuring Smino and produced by Monte Booker and Phoelix, Lanae described the track as “a jam.”
“I love that song, I love working with Smino always,” she said.
On Hypnos, Ravyn’s ever-evolving musical state is prevalent, but it’s also evident that she’s her most confident on this album.
“Navigating my way in the industry as a black woman and starting so young too will always be a lifelong journey for me,” she’s said. “Over the past couple [of] years, I’ve really learned how to stand up for myself and speak up and make sure my voice is heard. When in a very male-dominated industry, it’s easy to get washed out and dismissed in a lot of ways.”
“I make this music for Black women,” she continued. “So when I see myself and my fans and my supporters and the crowd that does a lot for me because my message is being reached.”