When an artist chooses to work with a sole producer for a project, there are two possible outcomes. Either the project sounds phoned in, lacking the symbiosis that should accompany an exclusive two-person team. Or, it’s the perfect conversation, a back and forth between creators sharing the same vision.
For Ravyn Lenae’s 2018 EP Crush, her union with Compton producer Steve Lacy is much the latter, building a neo-soul canvass painted with silky vocals and comforting instrumentation.
Unlike collaborations that force producers to produce and singers to sing, Crush is very much a five-track duet. When Lacy isn’t outright lending his voice to cuts like “Computer Love” and “Four Leaf Clover” his instrumentation, rife with floating synths, deep bass and tempered drums, swirls around Lenae’s breezy vocals.
The duet-like atmosphere is also aided by Lenae’s nonlinear approach to her song structure. Including hooks and pre-hooks that weave throughout her main verses keeps the music fresh yet familiar, building an intimate artist-listener relationship with each play. On the intro track, “Sticky”, Lenae’s bouncy delivery on the first two lines (“What did you do?/ Looking confused”) of the chorus stand in stark contrast to the flowing and melodic delivery of the hook’s remainder, zigzagging around Lacy’s bass guitar heavy production.
Only 19 years of age, Lenae is also tuned towards modern romance. Just as Erykah Badu’s last mixtape, But You Caint Use My Phone, was themed around connectivity in the modern world, Lenae and Lacy’s contributions on “Computer Luv” speak to the changing landscape of online dating.
“When will I meet you?/ I’m down to see you/ I wanna see you right now,” illustrates a lover’s dilemma in 2018, when romance is as easily found as a swipe on a phone, but overcoming the first meeting is as difficult as ever. That modern touch keeps the EP relatable and Lenae’s existence as the focus; she’s not singing about waiting by the phone for a Friday night date, despite the age-old romantic ideas that image can conjure.
Though Lacy’s production takes Lenae’s music in a different direction than her past releases, both of their contributions are distinctly reminiscent of their most recent work. Lacey’s additions on Syd’s Fin and Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., specifically his guitar work, would sound right at home on Crush, just as Lenae’s hooks on Smino’s Blkswn would be at home here. With Lenae and Lacy only nearing the end of their teens, both are steadily crafting their solo musical image in the vein of consistency.