Chicago High School of The Arts alumni Ravyn Lenae has been gearing up to release her debut album for a few years now, and standing tall at 16 tracks long, Hypnos is the sound of an artist that clearly does not want to fit into any box.
Statement opener ‘Cameo’ is the first instance of unconventionality on the record, with extravagant bass squelches that would normally be found on a new jack swing track in the ’80s, rather than a 21st century R&B record. Contrasted with the inherent slow tempo of the track and Lenae’s flair for all-encompassing harmonies, it’s an epic starter.
‘Cameo’ serves as the perfect introduction for following track ‘Venom’, one of the album’s highlights which is bold to present this early on in the track listing. It’s a glitchy bop that has the quirkiness of mid-’00s electronic indie (see the debut albums by Calvin Harris and Gwen Stefani), together with the gentleness of soulful R&B from the same era.
R&B is the thread that runs throughout ‘Hypnos’, with a modest handful of the tracks appearing on the record falling into the archetypal slow jam and love ballad territory. It’s in the more obscure areas where Lenae excels, like ‘M.I.A’, which sees her channel the attitude of Doja Cat against a disoriented Afrobeats backdrop, ‘Deep In The World’ which is so beyond ethereal it softly ventures into psychedelia, and ‘Xtacy’, where she toys with club beats and distorted vocals in a fluid and soul-searching groove. Although it is objectively left-field, it still fits in line with the inherently tender and considered disposition of the entire record.
Hypnos is a colourful and other-worldly debut, aligning with its obvious influences but also way beyond that, capturing the same unconventional essence as Janet Jackson in her ’90s prime. Ravyn Lenae is invigorating and distorting R&B, fit for her Gen Z digital milieu.