Review: Ravyn Lenae, ‘HYPNOS’

The young R&B prodigy returns from a four-year hiatus with her long awaited, hypnotic debut album.

Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa spearheaded the rising tide of the “new Chicago” scene, however many rookie talents came alongside them and formed what would become the next generation Hip-Hop and R&B talents in the 2010’s. Whilst we’re now familiar with Hip-Hop stars such as Saba and Noname, teenager Ravyn Lenae was a quiet prodigy who steadily attributed solid efforts to many of her peers’ records, in addition to providing us with 3 critically acclaimed EP’s. 

Since signing to Atlantic records in 2016, Ravyn’s devout fanbase have been eagerly waiting for a reason to ascend her to the higher ranks of mainstream R&B with a breakout record. Despite the long and relatively quiet wait, it’s safe to say that HYPNOS was worth it.

Photography: Jean-Philippe Joseph

HYPNOS is by no means a short-changed effort, clocking in at just over 53 minutes and 16 tracks of content – plenty for R&B lovers to enjoy. The ethereal and understated production is a departure from her stunning and racy Crush EP, displaying both significant growth for the Chicagoan rookie and a callback to her earlier styles from Moon Shoes.

Hypnos is conventionally known as the god of sleep in Greek mythology. However, in astrology it is also attributed to quietness, tediousness, boredom, being hoodwinked or mesmerised, all of which are covered on this LP. “Mercury” and “Lullaby” are the most obvious examples of this theme at play, with the former referring to “Mercury being in retrograde” and the latter exploring being in a past lover’s dreams. 

Throughout, Ravyn opts for a nasly vocal delivery, striking a strong resemblance to a For All We Know NAO. The album kicks off with a one-two punch of relationship-gone-sour synth ballads in Cameo and Venom. Long time collaborator and guest producer Steve Lacy delivers spacey vocals on the lead single “Skin Tight”. The delivery and songwriting on this track is so smooth and sensual it’s surprising that the song doesn’t have an explicit tag. 

We also get some Chicago native cameos across the album, with songwriting credits from Jean Deaux on the free-floating “M.I.A.”, Mereba on the ancestral “Where I’m From”, and Smino on “3D”. Whilst Mereba provides great songwriting, her vocal delivery fails to match the potency of the lyrics. Conversely, Smino’s contribution fits perfectly into the “no commitment” theme of his respective track, but fails to provide the level of solid songwriting he is known for. 

Songwriting is where HYPNOS shines brightest — what’s even more impressive is that Ravyn is credited for the vast majority of the songwriting on the album – a rare quality in modern-day R&B. Tracks such as “Inside Out” where she talks about finding her self-esteem really show the talent and potential that the singer has (“I wonder why, suddenly, I’m my type? No one can shake me now”).

Fousheé, another rising R&B star, teams up with Ravyn towards the backend of the track listing on the hilarious and beautifully crafted “Mercury”. The pair burst at the seams with natural chemistry and lament over past lovers that they (really) would not rather hear from again: “I low-key hate you, you’re never gonna change” is by far the most memorable hook on this album.

Though not explicitly stated as interludes, the album provides two brief cuts in “Like You Do” and “Higher”. Both deliver catchy hooks and melodies but I can’t help but feel disappointed by these not being fleshed out to full tracks.

The ambitious production on HYPNOS is welcomed but it often leads to Ravyn’s vocals taking a backseat. The melody for “Deep in the World”, for example, is nice to the ears but I’m left with no quotables. “Wish” is a vocally breathtaking album closer, which (pun intended) leaves me wishing that she explored her upper register more throughout the album. It particularly would have come in handy especially for tracks where her vocals are drowned by the production. 

Showing boundless potential both vocally and lyrically, HYPNOS proves to be a strong foundation for Ravyn to build on in the future. Once she is able to incorporate a more varied soundscape on a LP (a song akin to Crush was sorely desired), she will be a particularly strong force within the budding next generation of R&B talent.

7.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Wish”, “Venom”, “Mercury”, “Lullabye”