There's No Box For Ravyn Lenae Or Chicago's Music

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“As a black woman, you are put into this box where you feel you can’t get out. And having someone or something literally put their hand over the box and watch you try to get out.”
<p>Ravyn Lenae </p>

Ravyn Lenae

Photo by Jimmy Fontaine

Classically trained singer/songwriter and Atlantic Records artist Ravyn Lenae thrives soaring above her hometown Chicago skies in her “Moon Shoes”, traversing the melodic worlds imagined in her mind. Lenae is among a new stream of talented artists showing the full heart of Chicago’s music scene—a subject explored in a new documentary This and Nothing Else: Chicago’s Hip-Hop Scene.

Lenae is young, an 18-year-old woman that was featured on Rolling Stone’s 10 Artists You Need to Know. Also a member of the visionary Zero Fatigue crew with counterparts Monte Booker and Smino, her EPs Midnight Moonlight and Moon Shoes have grabbed the attention of music critics. Lenae is currently touring with SZA, and she will be performing at this year’s Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Days In Chicago. However, her journey has not been as fluid as some of her male hip hop influenced counterparts.

In a recent interview, she said, “It’s very difficult to be a woman in any industry.” Musically, she couldn’t help but notice blogs and media outlets giving more exposure to the men around her, even though she was producing similar sounds.

“It was very discouraging at first, but I saw it as just having to work a little harder and push myself more,” she said. In that struggle, Lenae found new inner-strength and a new appreciation for her own measure of self-worth as an artist.

Even with the challenges, Lenae values the landscape for music and budding opportunities for women currently. Artists like SZA, Jorja Smith, Eryn Allen Kane, Solange and NAO are some of the artists she currently seeks inspiration from and who are showing the many sides women have to offer in music.

“When any girl wins, it’s an all-girl win,” is a motto she lives by and believes that this attitude can encourage women to keep pushing the boundaries in music.

In This and Nothing Else: Chicago’s Hip-Hop Scene, also featuring Andrew Barber of Fake Shore Drive and Kevin Coval of Young Chicago Authors, Lenae describes her identity as a black woman.

“You are put into this box where you feel you can’t get out. And having someone or something literally put their hand over the box and watch you try to get out,” she says in an emotional scene.

However, Lenae refuses to stay boxed in. She is a self-described potion of artists like OutKast, Erykah Badu, and India.Arie with influence by women in her life like her mother. She is committed to flowing with her waves of creation. She could feel r&b alternative soul one day, rock another time, and pop on the next song. The increasing openness in mainstream music is exciting to her considering her genre-bending style.

“I see a change happening and growth in the universal ear for music,” she said.

Specifically, in Chicago, she sees a “musical renaissance” that has largely been generated by camaraderie in the local scene.

“Everyone is around the same age and doing something, whether musical or visual arts, or dance. We all support each other, know each other, and we are all friends,” she said.

Chicago being an incubator for young talent was also confirmed by Chicago author and activist Kevin Coval who educates youth in Chicago through writing and storytelling.

“Chicago is one of the greatest places in the world, and it is also the worst,” he says in the documentary. He describes it as being like a person, adding that, “You can’t just love the parts of a person that are easy to love.”

The music coming out of Chicago has been easy to love. It’s a music scene that gives Lenae great pride and feeds her journey toward fulfillment.

“I feel like we come into this world with half a heart,” Lenae says in the documentary. She asserts that the heart grows when finding passion, love and giving love.

“If you leave this world with a full heart, then that is a beautiful life. And that’s what I want.”

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