Ravyn Lenae review – neo-soul star still finding her way to the top

Heaven, London
The teenage diva energised the crowd with her strongest material, but didn’t tap into the vulnerability she has on record

Fashionably punctual, Ravyn Lenae floats on stage at 9pm on the dot. It’s the Chicago neo-soul singer’s first European show, but the set-up is surprisingly advanced. Her name glistens on screen in a retro font as her four-piece band start up, and she appears, as glammed to the nines as her young, smitten crowd.

A cool and almost mystical teenage talent, Lenae has released three EPs in the last two years with Atlantic Records, and worked with Smino, Noname and Mick Jenkins from her home-town scene. But it’s her latest project, Crush, in collaboration with Steve Lacy of funk troupe the Internet, that’s solidified her ascension. Lenae plays it in full here.

With her nostalgic diva aesthetic, she’s reminiscent of a marginally more subdued Chaka Khan. At times she stretches her voice a little too far, and her vibrato grates slightly as she verges on musical theatre, no doubt a result of her classical training. She expands on it in her encore with a fluttering classical aria, much to the audience’s bemusement.

Ravyn Lenae: Sticky – official video

However, when crowd favourites emerge in 4 Leaf Clover, Sticky, Spice and the Chicago house gem Free Room, the room is energised, suggesting that the misfires are down to the weakness of some of her filler tracks and not her performance – something that is likely to correct itself as her catalogue develops.

Choosing the medium-sized Heaven was perhaps a little premature. Although her effort to establish herself is noble, the scale of the show prevented her from tapping into the vulnerability that is so present in her work. An incredibly talented star-to-be, but one very much still in the making.

Natty Kasambala

The GuardianTramp

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