Is Alt-R&B a Thing? (What I’m Listening to These Days & a Review of Ravyn Lenae)

One thing you should know about me is that I like listening to a variety of music depending on my mood – from 90’s-00’s R&B, to Indie-Pop, to Trap Hip-Hop. So I’ve been wanting to write a music blog post for awhile now. One of my favorite genres to listen to these days is what music know-it-alls are calling Alt-R&B, despite whether the artists themselves want to be labeled as such. Pretty much if the artist sings, their production has Hip-hop or R&B influences, and they aren’t mainstream, then they’ll probably be considered Alt-R&B. I feel like it should be deeper than that but that’s pretty much the trend I’ve noticed. Sometimes, these artists are characterized as Neo-Soul but, although I love the Neo-Soul of the early 2000’s, I don’t 100% agree with that characterization of the music today. I’ve even heard Electronic Soul or Future Soul as labels. I’m not sure about those either.

Anyway, some of the non-mainstream-R&B artists I’m listening to now are Sampha, FKA Twigs, Banks, Hiatus Kaiyote, The Internet (and Syd), Little Dragon, Kelela, Abra, Kilo Kish, Nao, and Xavier Omar (fka SPZRKT) – just to name a few. And I haven’t even gotten to the producers and DJ’s like Sango and Kaytrynada. These singers do vary from more of a jazz-funk sound to more electro pop and sometimes right there in the R&B lane. But what is most important to me is not the label, it’s that it’s not the stuff you hear on the radio (no shade) and it always gives me good vibes. To get an idea of the sound, think of the songs and artists you would hear in a coffee shop in Brooklyn, on the Insecure or Atlanta soundtracks, or at AfroPunk.

But if you are a newbie listener, where would you begin? To get you started, I wanted to review a non-mainstream-R&B artist that, though she has been around for a couple of years, I’m just now discovering. I first heard Ravyn Lenae on Soundcloud after a friend told me about her. She only had a few tracks up at the time but they were all so good. I loved her earthy voice and dreamy sound so I followed her on Soundcloud and hoped she would come out with a full EP soon.

Then last summer Lenae dropped her first full album, Moon Shoes. She has since dropped another album, Midnight Moonlight. But her debut album really struck a chord with me. From start to finish, Lenae takes you on a dazzling journey through what seems like her personal journal.

On the first track, Venezuela Trains, there’s a staccato, trippy beat that is complemented by her soft but compelling vocals as she sings about a love she had to leave behind. The second track, Moon Shoes, is a bittersweet song about the desire to be somewhere else and feel something else, then deciding to pretend it is so. By the end of the song Lenae realizes she doesn’t have to pretend because she has the choice to feel what she wants to and be where she wants to be. Blossom Dearie is a love song where Lenae sings about wanting more over a jazzy, tropical beat. Next, we have Recess, a song about missed chances and schoolyard crushes where we can hear a Lenae’s voice aptly climbing chords in the chorus. Free Room has a really fun dance rhythm; I start bopping in my seat as soon as it comes on. Sleep Talking is a more mellow song about a relationship in transition. Lenae softly sings, “Can we be like children?” over a percussive beat. Greetings is a midtempo a song about working up the nerve to say hello to a crush, something we have all been through. She describes this crush as reminding her of a summer, “Racing through the thunder, laughing with our shoes untied.” In Everything Above, the beat is a bit more uptempo and Lenae discusses the wonder of life and how it is that we know where we are going, if we know at all. Right of Spring is a song about wanting happiness and demanding to be indulged in it – the production actually brings Springtime to mind. The last song, Something in the Air, leaves you with the feeling that Lenae has found her voice but is ready to explore so much more.

Lenae’s second album, Midnight Moonlight,  is shorter but still quite good. It has a bit of a more mature sound than Moon Shoes, in both Lenae’s voice and the subject matter she sings about. I think the only issue for me is that the production on most of the songs is down-tempo and not upbeat. However, it definitely lives up to its title as it is the perfect album to chill with under the moonlight.

If you haven’t already, check out Ravyn Lenae and the other non-mainstream-R&B artists I’ve mentioned. And see my list of albums to start with below. Best of all, get a Free 30-day Trial of Amazon Music so you can listen to all of this great music right now! (P.S. If you want to go all out, Try a 30-Day Free Trial of Amazon Prime Music, which includes unlimited music, TV, and Movie streaming, plus 2-day shipping and you can even borrow Kindle books.)

Ravyn Lenae – Moon Shoes

Sampha – Process

Banks – Goddess

Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon & Tawk Tomahawk

Syd – Fin

Nao – For All We Know

Kelela – Hallucinogen 

Xavier Omar – The Everlasting Wave

Be sure to leave a comment and tell me what you think about the music I discussed here or if you have any other artists to suggest!

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