"My approach to the music is way more confident and assertive, and also very feminine..."

It’s a Thursday night in Soho’s Heaven and a sea of people are frozen, captivated by the voice of Ravyn Lenae. The 19-year-old Chicago singer began the evening’s performance by making a pact with her audience, asking them to stay moving throughout the show. But when she returns for the encore, disarming them with a rendition of Hahn’s ‘L’Heure Exquise’, that request feels like a distant memory.

“I’ve never seen anyone finish their show with a classical piece,” the rising R&B star tells us a few days later, back in the Windy City. “But I also wanted to leave the crowd on a very gentle and soothing note. I think it’s a good way to give them a new piece of me that they did not know.”

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Far beyond just ‘playing the hits’, Lenae’s show is a truly autobiographical experience. She walks her audience through previous releases ‘Moon Shoes’ and ‘Midnight Moonlight’, immerses them into her musical influences - including a breathtaking cover of OutKast’s ‘Prototype’ - and flawlessly delivering songs from her funk-heavy ‘Crush’ EP with the help of her live band.

“It’s important that people know where I came from, and my influences,” says Ravyn. “It just gives people a bigger picture of who I am as a person and an artist, being intimate with the crowd and revealing certain things about myself; being raised on house music and what that means to me, and how classical music has contributed to my growth as an artist.”

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Fresh out of high school, Ravyn describes graduating as a liberating experience that has allowed her to dive head on into her musical career, rather than having to fit it around her studies. The European tour that she’s just completed is a childhood dream that she’s proud to have already realised, and ending the run with a show in London was the perfect conclusion.

“That was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played for [as a headliner],” she explains. “I have a special connection with London; they’ve always been the first to gravitate towards my music and support me, so ending the tour there was full-circle for me.”

While many dedicated fans have been following her since her 2015 debut ‘Moon Shoes’, her third EP ‘Crush’, released in February, is proving to be a breakthrough. Co-written and produced by The Internet’s Steve Lacy, the five-track collection is what she describes as a coming-of-age project. “My approach to the music is way more confident and assertive, and also very feminine,” she offers. “I would like [listeners] - especially my ladies - to be able to connect with the emotions that I’m portraying and to see me in a different light.”

Her work with 20-year-old Lacy is her bravest to date. Songs like ‘Sticky’ boast incredible vocal performances that required her to throw caution to the wind, pushing her impressive range to its limits. “I definitely felt like I was stepping out further than I usually do,” she reflects. “But I think everything I do is always an extension of me and not me trying to be something I’m not.”

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While experimentation can be made even harder in the presence of others, she trusted Steve to be honest without being too critical. “I learned that it’s important to be open-minded. It was my first time collaborating with someone to that extent: he’s a singer and a songwriter, so oftentimes he was writing for me,” she explains, admitting that she can be very protective over her music. “I’ve been a fan of The Internet from a very early age, so I knew we had similar musical nuances and approaches. It wasn’t hard for me to trust him, because I respect him as a musician.”

‘Crush’ is a reinvention in many ways; a graduation from online buzz to a collection of songs that are translating into the real world, cementing Ravyn Lenae as an artist who lives up to the hype. “There were a lot of changes happening around the time I was making ‘Crush’, personally and musically, so I was portraying that in the music,” she says. “I need change in every aspect of my life - as soon as I get comfortable with one thing I’m like, ‘Okay, what’s next?’”

Despite being a self-described “people pleaser,” Ravyn has learned to put her own creative needs first, and is focused on progression when it comes to her sound. “I think I’ve gained a lot of new supporters from this project, but then I’ve also realised that a lot of people don’t like change - especially when they’re fans of an artist with a certain sound. They don’t want you to venture off and experiment,” she admits. “But for me, to keep my mind healthy, constantly challenging myself is something that I need to do.”

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Words: Grant Brydon
Photography: Benjamin Mallek
Fashion: Vincent Levy

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