“I don’t care if it’s the slow way, I just want to do it the right way.”
It’s a typically brisk afternoon in early-March Chicago, and in a few weeks, Ravyn Lenae is set to head out on her debut headlining tour. But sitting here in her manager’s loft-style office on the city’s north side, the 19-year-old R&B singer is quickly realizing how much she still doesn’t know. Clothes, wigs, lighting, set design -- even on recent outings opening for SZA and Noname, “These were never things I worried about,” Lenae admits. To wit, she’s just finished meeting with a newly hired stylist who spent the past hour asking Lenae about matters largely foreign to her: wardrobe cases, wig maintenance, hair extensions. “It’s definitely a more thoughtful process,” the R&B singer says respectfully, tossing her maroon-tinged braids around her head as she tries to wrap her head around what’s in store for her.
It hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere: In recent weeks, Lenae has seen her fame and critical acclaim explode thanks to the release of her funky and fresh new Crush EP. And while she knows taking creative control of her headlining live show is a luxury, it’s also an unforeseen task she hadn’t previously considered. Nonetheless, “People are paying good money to see you so you should put that much effort into what the product is and what they’re experiencing,” she contends. “It’s a big responsibility. It’s all about making sure people leave your show with the right feeling.”
Lucky for her, constructing a unique world -- in her case, one stuffed with slinky, tender vibes and all the feels -- is Lenae’s specialty. On Crush, she and producer Steve Lacy of the Internet (Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, the Creator) together concocted one of the most sumptuous and supple, meditative and detailed dispatches from a soulful young singer’s mind in recent memory. In its wake, she’s been critically praised, plotted a European tour and landed a slot at the tastemaking Pitchfork Music Festival in her native city. Still, Lenae says she’s a bit dumbfounded by it all. “I’ll be honest: I’ve listened to [Crush] so many times by now I can’t even tell if it’s good anymore. I was like, ‘I don’t even know if this is good or bad?