Ravyn Lenae – Rough Trade NYC – April 4, 2018
Ravyn Lenae is a workhorse. In the past year, she graduated from the Chicago High School for the Arts, provided support on R&B sensation SZA’s Ctrl tour and released her third EP, Crush, to rave reviews. Now, she’s touring behind the new music, which brought her to Rough Trade NYC on Wednesday night. Such a rapid ascent might shake the average performer, but 19-year-old Lenae seems to only have been buoyed by it. She opened with “Venezuela Trains,” off her first EP, Moon Shoes. The song, like many to follow, felt looser and lighter than its production-heavy recording. Even “Closer (Ode 2 U),” the evening’s first track off Crush, played jazzier than expected: The album’s producer is the Internet’s Steve Lacy, the man behind Kendrick Lamar’s Damn.
Lenae herself was an ebullient presence, with red hair and a red boa–wrapped microphone to match. Her astonishing vocal range dominated the evening—a rendition of OutKast’s “Prototype” transformed the Atlanta duo’s funky love song into something beautifully heartfelt. But the singer really came into her own on “The Night Song,” also off Crush. She sang, “I wanna be no one but me/ And all I really need is my own company.” Lenae remarked on the number’s deep relevance, saying it’s especially important “in this social climate” that women feel beautiful on the inside and outside. The song is just that—a joyous celebration of women feeling themselves: “Ooh I love my body, tellin’ everybody.”
“Sticky,” the single off Crush, followed, and was the audience favorite by far—a delicious, sultry dance track with Lacy’s fingerprints all over it. Lenae closed the set with a classic Chicago house song, an ode to her hometown and certainly to her influences. But leave it to the classical-music major to opt for the unexpected, ever the eclectic, the singer, ended the performance with an encore, singing a classic French chanson. Bonne nuit, indeed. —Rachel Brody | @RachelCBrody