We’re Hypnotized By Ravyn Lenae’s “HYPNOS”
On May 20th, “Chicago-born and Los Angeles-based singer and songwriter” Ravyn Lenae officially released her debut album, HYPNOS! The album features production from Kaytranada, Monte Booker, Luke Titus, Steve Lacy, and Phoelix as well as guest performances from Lacy, Mereba, Smino, and Fousheé. Much like Kali Uchis’ debut album Isolation, HYPNOS keeps most of this established star power to the back so as to showcase the primary artist’s talents. Much like Uchis, Ravyn Lenae delivers in a big way.
Right from the start of “Cameo,” the R&B can be felt in the synthesizer bass and subtle drums. However, the way “Venom” begins feels like the start of a glitch-hop song. Better yet, “Inside Out” sounds like it comes straight out of the ‘90s R&B scene, but “M.I.A.” feels just as glitchy and vibey as “Venom.” This might make it seem like the album goes all over the place, but that’s the thing about modern R&B: a soulful voice and excellent lyricism can make anything sound smooth.
The album’s big hit is, of course, “Skin Tight (feat. Steve Lacy),” for good reason. Lacy’s production on the instrumental is gorgeous, but the layering of Lenae’s vocals on the chorus is what sticks with the listener when the song is over. The tsunami of voices singing singular syllables through your ears – trust but verify me on this one, go experience it for yourself – provides an energy that few projects have had recently. There are sensuality and smoothness, yes, but there are also grit and determination. Through subtle vocal flips, Lenae plays the jilted lover, the jilting lover, and the confused third party all at once. The confusion that comes with scenarios like the one described in the lyrics of “Skin Tight” is present in Lenae’s vocals, and that takes a special vocalist to achieve.
One could go on and on about Ravyn Lenae’s vocals for years. From her Moon Shoes EP onward, Lenae has showcased her ability to work absolute magic over intriguing instrumentals punctuated by full keys – usually coming through with the sound of the Rhodes – and usually sparse drums, driving bass lines and atmospheric synthesizers. When Lenae is feeling exceedingly generous, she will throw some guitar in the mix, and that’s where “Skin Tight” gets its instrumental power. The drum machine is the heartbeat of the song, and Lenae’s vocals with Steve Lacy’s production provide the soul, but without that guitar… It wouldn’t be the same song. It would still be great, but it wouldn’t be next-level amazing.
HYPNOS has drawn comparisons of Lenae to SZA, Tinashe, and Janet Jackson, and while all three of those artists are incredible and those comparisons are meant to be complimentary, it has to be noted that Ravyn Lenae has some of the greatest instrumentals of any of those artists. “Where I’m From” feels like it’s right out of the early 2000’s without getting hung up in the loudness wars. “Deep In The World” touches on the more psychedelic elements of Lenae’s style, and “3D (feat. Smino)” has the same energy as Noname’s Telefone. This is obviously because it was produced by Monte Booker and Phoelix, but it just needs to be pointed out how exquisite these instrumentals on HYPNOS are. That’s not to disparage those other three artists. They’re absolutely incredible artists. There’s just something more about Lenae’s instrumentals on HYPNOS than we have seen recently from the others.
Admittedly, there are moments where HYPNOS seems daunting. It’s 53 minutes and 33 seconds long. There are sixteen songs. Each song takes an individual journey that all coalesces on a lyrical level, but that’s a lot of journeys to take in an hour. However, Ravyn Lenae’s voice – yes, I’m still going on about her voice – is soothing enough to guide a listener through while also being raspy enough to keep said listener fully invested. Even through the middle dip of the album, her vocal quality pulls you through while making you wonder if her arms are going to fall off. A bad analogy? Perhaps. But it got you thinking, didn’t it?
Speaking about the project, Ravyn Lenae has said, “When you listen to the music, I hope you have a better understanding of me and even catch a better understanding of yourself… As artists, we make music as a pathway to help other people understand certain aspects of their lives. I’ve gone through the tunnels and seen the light on the other side. I’m finding my way. I’m clearer on who I am and my power through music and lyricism. I’m pouring more into me, friendships, family, and music. Through all of that, I’m fulfilled.”
I could go on about HYPNOS for a while, but please check it out below. Ravyn Lenae has been doing incredible work for almost ten years, and now is her time. Let her have it.