Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images
Ravyn Lenae's 'Hypnos' Is A Cosmic R&B Contemplation
Chicago singer Ravyn Lenae's debut album, 'Hypnos,' is a romantic trip through the galaxies. The classically-trained singer discusses her collaborations and fascination with the other-worldly.
"I've always been infatuated with whatever's up there," vocalist Ravyn Lenae Washington says over Zoom from her home in Los Angeles, gazing upward to the ceiling and perhaps into the heavens. "I try to create that sense of the unknown down here through my art."
Lenae’s fixation on the twin mysteries of the divine and the galaxy served as the seed of inspiration for her debut album, Hypnos. Released on May 20 through Atlantic Records, Hypnos is a harmonic galaxy of space, time, and romantic ardor motifs. The power of these celestial entities, and Lenae's distinct vibrato, collide throughout Hypnos' sonic universe and will pleasantly spill out of terrestrial speakers.
Hypnos aims to be an cosmic voyage through the complexities of Lenae’s curious mind, sung with a lightweight nature that enables listeners to astral project through Ravyn Lenae’s anecdotes of enduring love and woe. Throughout Hypnos, Ravyn Lenae’s vocal range floats between registers, seemingly defying gravity with each glissando note. “Cameo” opens Hypnos while the upbeat electronic second track, "Venom," is a considerable adrenaline injection compared to the outro, "Wish" — a doleful swan song.
Ravyn Lenae’s infatuation with extraterrestrial dimensions results in an album full of dream-like tones, which she repeats as if singing into the emptiness of space. The hypnotic album exhibits her inner reflection, while Lenae's transcendent lyrics literalize her soul’s attachment to the vigor of love.
While Ravyn Lenae rarely collaborates and pens most of her music herself, the singer has found a frequent creative partner with longtime friend Steve Lacy — her "musical twin flame." "Sticky," Lenae's 2018 hit single, includes complimentary funky strums of Lacy’s electric guitar over her entrancing melodic chorus. The duo have released three songs together — "Skin Tight," the first release from Hypnos, "Computer Luv" and "4 Leaf Clover." Other musical mavericks joined Lenae on Hypnos: Smino, who is known for his prolific Southern rap flow, folksy balladere Mereba, and Fousheè’s tender vocals all contributed to the 16-track album.
The otherworldly nature of Lenae’s vocals is perhaps more explicable than the existential themes she contemplates on Hypnos. A classically trained singer, Lenae studied at the prestigious Chicago High School of the Arts before signing to Atlantic Records/Three Twenty Three Music Group. Her early EPs, Moon Shoes and Crush, were lush and caught the ear of Hollywood multi-hyphenate Issa Rae. The 23-year-old created the original song, "Rewind," for Rae's acclaimed television series "Insecure."
Yet, creating Hypnos was a four-year process. "I describe [Hypnos] as walking on the sun," Lenae says, carefully choosing the words. Ahead of her album release and global tour beginning May 26, Ravyn Lenae spoke with GRAMMY.com about her affinity for the great universe beyond us, and creating work that attempts to center us in the unknown.
How did you create space for Hypnos to form over the past four years?
Honestly, it's taken a lot of turns and jumps along the way. I think initially when you start a project, you have this big idea for it and you know what it’s going to sound like. After time went past, I realized I shouldn't put so much pressure on Hypnos and just kind of let it flow how it naturally should.
I wanted to challenge myself vocally and challenge my pen — that was my main goal because I think it's easy for me to kind of fall into this comfort zone that feels good. But, I wanted to really push myself there and go to more vulnerable parts of myself …on this project. I feel like there are simpler beats too, which is hard for me to write and interpret sometimes because I was trained classically. I wanted Hypnos to feel evolved from Crush and Moon Shoes because so much time has passed and I wanted that to show throughout the music.
Did you feel a sense of debut album pressure? If so, how did you combat those compulsive thoughts?
I think [the] majority of the pressure came from myself. I have a lot of people who love my music, who support me, who are going to be there,whenever I decide to drop. But I think at certain points I got into my own head a lot, which I think is natural for artists to do.
Combating that is going to be a lifelong journey for me just because… I think we can be our own worst critics in that way. It is important for me to have to come back to those peaceful places; places of solace for me [that] give me that clarity and perspective to be able to approach music in a more natural way, without those outside or internal pressures.
With your intensive musical background, what were your sensory techniques for your vocals in your first album?
With my vocal register, you barely ever hear me belt because I'm very uncomfortable with it. I studied classical music in school and we were taught to never sing with our chest voice ever. So in the outro song, "Wish," there are a few moments of that. They are also sprinkled throughout the project, where I do hit those lower registers but having that moment for the outro is really special.
I actually recorded that song three times; I needed to go there. I love the lyrics, I love the melodies but I think leaving it all out for that last song ["Wish"] is so important for the listener and for me to feel like I reach that goal that I wanted to. So even just emotionally, I felt like I had to go there. When I do vocal lessons with my teacher, belting still is a sensitive spot for me because I would love to be able to do that more naturally comfortably. It truly is a mind over matter thing.
How did you bridge different generations of music to find yourself on Hypnos?
I'm very, very inspired by the women that came before me. I think a lot of artists now are scared of being labeled R&B, which is funny to me, because I have no issue with that, because those are my roots. I think R&B is a part of all genres and in my upbringing.
It's okay for us to evolve and take new shape, just like hip-hop has and pop. Janet Jackson has had a huge influence on me, and so has Brandy with the way she layers her vocals and the tone.
If you had to describe your music to one of your close friends, what adjectives instantly come to mind when you think of your discography and this new phase you are embarking on?
Dreamy… Sparkly… Silky…
Why do you believe having a strong community of artists behind you guided you to where you are today?
The reason I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles is because I felt like I [had] kind of lost that artist community once everybody started moving away. I was the last person left in Chicago because my family was there and that type of connection was important to me. Being [in Los Angeles] now and being able to meet new artists and artists I've been friends with online in real life has allowed me to cultivate these relationships.
This is my first experience co-writing in that way because I have only really done it with Steve Lacy on Crush. I'm very particular about my verbiage in the way I express things in my music. So I never really co-wrote with anyone in the past until I met them to kind of bounce ideas off.
What is the energy in the room like when you and Steve Lacy are performing together?
He just gets me. It is so rare where you meet someone that approaches music in the same way as you. He just thinks of things in a very similar way to me, but still inspires me. I feel like I've really struck that balance with him and my homie Monte Booker, but in a different way with Steve, because we're both the same age.
He has super vibrant energy. He is himself, period. Being in a room with him inspires the music and pushes me into different realms. I wouldn't naturally go on this project. It's nice to be able to grow with your collaborators because he's grown so much too.
Which song on the album is your absolute favorite right now?
"Inside Out" is my favorite at this point. It changes over time but, at some point, every song has been my favorite which I guess is a good thing when thinking about the album as a whole.
How does the cultivation of your art influence your relationships and connection with the pureness of love?
I think that love will always be a source of inspiration for art because they just go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. For me, going through romantic relationships or self love, reflection and family relationships.
My song, "Deep in the world," speaks on my love for Earth and the universe, [for] nature, and it all kind of informs each other. Being able to evoke that through music helps me connect with other people and the love they have for themselves.
GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw
On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.
In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.
Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year
Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration
Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the
The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at
"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community."
Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list.
At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in
After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.
In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.
Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized.
For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or email@example.com.
Photo: The Recording Academy
Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.
By Alexa Zaske
This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.
The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.
Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."
Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.
Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed.
Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.
My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.
For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.
(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)
Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam
Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images
Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs
Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards
As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.
Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.
"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."