LIKE any quintessentially 21st-century partnership it all started with a slide into DMs.

From the very beginning, Ravyn Lenae’s Crush EP – a one-off collaboration with The Internet’s Steve Lacy – was facilitated by technology.

Lenae recalls running the sudden idea past Lacy via text while in a meeting with Atlantic Records. The EP’s computer-age, texting-under-the-table origins carry over into the music itself. These five tracks brim with unabashed affection and long-distance desire.

The Crush EP is infused with both Lacy’s distinctive guitar riffs and Lenae’s impeccably layered, melodic vocals. Buoyed by irrepressibly catchy hooks, modest arrangements and undeniable chemistry, the collaboration represents both artists’ most realised project to date.

What’s more, it acts as an introduction to two of contemporary R&B’s most promising and innovative up-and-comers.

Ravyn Lenae

HAILING from Chicago, Ravyn Lenae cut her teeth at southside church services.

On graduating high school in 2017, she’d already dropped a well-received 30-minute record.

The Moon Shoes EP – a generous 10-track fare produced by fellow Zero Fatigue member Monte Booker – showcases Lenae’s otherworldly visions of love and adolescence. Her style is such that she rarely swells her voice to command attention: the arrangements are tailor made for her mellow delivery.

From the celestial quality of 2016’s ‘Moon Shoes’ to the warm fuzz of 2017’s ‘Hiatus (interlude)’, she’s spent the last two years carving her path like a musical auteur. That’s not to say she’s alone.

Self-assurance, body positivity, and no small amount of Badu-esque mysticism.

Lenae exists within a rich artistic community. She’s part of Zero Fatigue, an artistic collective fronted by St Louis rapper Smino; and Medicine Woman, a mysterious underground community that includes Drea Smith, Jean Deaux, and Akenya. It’s within the latter that the future of R&B is taking shape, infused with self-assurance, body positivity, and no small amount of Badu-esque mysticism.

Lenae’s appearances on Smino’s ‘Glass Flows’ and Noname’s ‘Forever’ have quietly positioned her at the forefront of a youthful musical scene, while the Midnight Moonlight and Crush EPs – released in the space of a year – have made her a prolific artist in her own right.

A project primarily credited to Lenae, the Crush EP hinges upon her versatile vocals and melodic intuition. It also marks her first time working with live instrumentation.

While Monte Booker’s approach on the Moon Shoes EP favours hip-hop production techniques – his intricate compositions and wonky beats compete for space with Lenae’s vocals – Lacy’s guitar-driven progressions are far more straightforward, offering more room but demanding a more assured presence.

It’s a challenge to which Lenae rises. The punchy groove of ‘The Night Song’ and the wordless melodies of ‘Closer (Ode 2 U)’ stand among 2018’s most accomplished soul.

Steve Lacy

WHEN Jameel Bruner – younger brother of funk bass wizard Thundercat – put Lacy’s name forward as a guitar player for The Internet, he unearthed one of America’s most promising neo-soul players.

Though still in high school, Lacy’s ample contributions to the group’s third LP, Ego Death, landed him a Grammy nomination.

2017 brought the release of his debut project, Steve Lacy’s Demo, a fleeting six-track exhibit of simple soul sensibilities and pithy production. Not even the unconventionally lo-fi palette of ‘Ryd’ and ‘Dark Red’ could keep the singles from viral success.

And yet Lacy’s debut EP wasn’t the highlight of his career-making 2017.

The young artist was showered in attention after it was revealed that ‘PRIDE.’, the track he produced for Kendrick Lamar, was recorded and produced solely on his iPhone.

Though Lacy’s voice quietly adorns the hook, it’s hardly the most recognisable part of the composition – the guitar that ambles throughout the track is something of a signature sound for the artist, owing to his unorthodox recording techniques.

Lacy used these same techniques on his solo effort, plugging his guitar into the pocket-sized studio and recording his vocals directly into the phone’s in-built microphone. In using the technical limitations of his setup to craft an individual sound, Lacy has developed one of the soul scene’s most effective calling cards.

As a result, his artistic fingerprints are dotted across the new wave of R&B. He’s produced tracks for newcomers such as Goldlink, Kali Uchis, and Chloe x Halle, and worked alongside established hip-hop acts such as J. Cole, Denzel Curry, and Isaiah Rashad.

Despite his already-impressive catalogue, the Crush EP marked Lacy’s first time executive producing another artist’s work. (Though he’d previously contributed to The Internet’s Ego Death, that record was steeped in a six-way collaborative process.)

[Lacy’s] artistic fingerprints are dotted across the new wave of R&B.

Lacy Introduced Lenae to live instrumentation by way of his own niche. This was new to Lenae, whose previous producers were just that – producers, limited to their technical craft.

Lacy’s writing, coupled with his quickfire composition skills and love of fast turnarounds, proved an entirely new approach for the singer. Lacy even had an unlikely hand in at least one of the EP’s more iconic refrains.

As Lenae revealed on Twitter, it was Lacy that penned ‘The Night Song’ lyric “got my edges on tight, it’s a party tonight”; a vivid depiction of female body positivity.

Reflecting on the process of working with Lacy, Lenae said that she “felt like [she] was making music with [her]self at some points”.

The Rise Of Bedroom R&B

THE Crush EP has only served to stoke anticipation for Lenae’s much-awaited debut album.

Though she’s quietly released a steady stream of concise R&B projects, the singer is yet to turn 20, a fact which helps explain the youth at the heart of her distinctive moonlit R&B.

Lacy, meanwhile, has returned to The Internet for their fourth studio album, Hive Mind. The record is as its title suggests: the reconvening of five newly-christened solo artists under the banner of their band, each bringing a vision refined by the solo outings produced in the wake of 2015’s Ego Death.

The rise of bedroom pop – think Clairo, Cuco, Boy Pablo, and Banes World – has been one 2018’s most explosive trends. Elements of the DIY aesthetic are a hot commodity, colouring Brockhampton’s early Saturation work and Rex Orange County’s uniquely lo-fi image of blue-eyed soul.

It could be argued that Lacy and Lenae’s Crush EP offers the most compelling take on bedroom R&B to date. While it remains to be seen whether they’re setting the stage or eschewing the formula, the lean project flaunts the merits of the unconventional: a short runtime, simplistic production techniques, and a reliance on the simple pleasure of a vocal melody.

In a genre brimming with sweeping ambition – from Frank Ocean’s Blonde to The Weeknd’s Trilogy – the pair seem to be opening the door to a future where less may, in fact, be more.

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