“God forbid, if ever I’m actually in that cubicle desk, I can be like, at least I tried.”
The scene at The Camel on Tuesday, April 11, makes a statement; a wave of cameras fills the space in front of the stage as the crowd holds their breath, waiting for Virginia Commonwealth University Student and hyperpop/experimental R&B/rap artist Ryen Harris to make his first appearance after a months-long hiatus. “Find Ryen”, is a production– there’s a backing band playing along with Ryen’s produced tracks, and a team of videographers is there to capture the night in its entirety.
Ryen doesn’t break out onto the stage; he’s brought out by two people with masks over their heads, like he’s a hostage. The creative stunt is the culmination of a social media marketing effort that included a ransom letter and a video of Ryen being thrown into the trunk of a vehicle outside of Ipanema Cafe on Grace Street, and marks a step back into the spotlight that he met with INK to talk about.
“‘Find Ryen’ came about because I had released my song, MIA, and we needed to find a way to promote the show– it was an obvious answer because it was so easy. We were like, ‘Let’s act like Ryen was kidnapped.’” Ryen starts.
Ryen currently has 18,654 monthly listeners on Spotify, with a Soundcloud discography stretching back to 2019, and is a second year Creative Ad major at VCU.
“Promotion was really fun, definitely a challenge though, tastefully figuring out how to do it, and make it feel real. Were people going to be told Ryen’s missing, when I’m clearly in their anatomy class? I realized it wasn’t going to feel real for a friend– that wow factor, it’s not for the homies.”
The frequency of releases for Ryen’s music and his social media presence had both slowed down after putting out eight songs and a live performance in 2022. Leading up to the show at The Camel, everything on Ryen’s instagram except for the ransom video had been archived.
“With ‘Find Ryen’ I’m over the anonymous shit– I love interacting with people. Especially at this stage of my career, I feel like it’s important to not be seen as some god figure, you know what I mean?” Ryen explains. Though there was a turnout of over 100 people, during the week leading up to the show there was uncertainty about the size of the crowd.
“We sold 12 tickets as of the week before the show, so those last 7 days I thought, either we’re doing something really wrong or n****s are just gonna buy at the door,” Ryen says. “When I heard the number 12 I was like, holy shit, we’ve been working so hard for three months for 12 tickets?”
His work didn’t stop when the show started either– there were three people doing camerawork for Ryen, recording video and taking photos. Along with Ink, there were five other people capturing the night with their own cameras.
“It was really cool to see all the love camera-wise, y’know, that’s every artists’ dream,” he says, before we move to talk about his previous momentum and hiatus.
“This is the first time I really took a break; these past four months have really been a dark mode on what I’m doing on the internet, on being social on social media,” Ryen reminisces . “It’s normally promo, promo, promo, or always creating a new campaign for a song. This break has been really healthy.”
In his absence, Ryen hasn’t been making much music– instead opting to take some time to breathe, aside from putting the show at The Camel together.
“I’ve really just been living life and I think it’s for the better. I need breaks. I really live and take inspiration from here and there and I gain ideas. Before we started the promotion, I was going through this roadblock of thought and creativity. I couldn’t make anything. So this break definitely let me hone in on what’s important.”
After that, he delves into what led him to where he is now.
“I use the world spoiled but I think I really was– my first introduction to the world of hyperpop was [the artist] Midwxst; we were talking my freshman year of high school, and I got really fucking lucky to catch that person so early on.”
Midwxst is a hyperpop/webcore/rap artist with 2,101,864 monthly listeners on Spotify, who started breaking into the scene in 2020.
“My best friend producers, Typhoon and Wavy (typhoon and yvngwxvy)– we’ve never met but we’ve been cooking and creating every other day since, three years ago,” Ryen adds. “My biggest thing that I try to really instill into them– I’m not trying to do the same thing as anyone else. I don’t really gravitate toward the genre hyperpop. That’s just what I’ve come into fruition to.”
The digital landscape that Ryen occupies as a niche music artist in 2023 is particularly unique– instead of local gigs and house shows, his playing field occupies the screens in our pockets.
“From the outside looking in, it can look really easy. And I guess in theory it is because all it takes is one DM to get on a song with Braden Ross. But like– these are like relationships that I’ve built, like, oh, yeah, they’re friends at the end of the day. It’s blood, sweat and tears, especially in the underground scene that I’m in.”
Being a student in college and an artist with an international community doesn’t come without a price, right?
“I struggle with imposter syndrome a lot– I think people don’t realize that when it comes to artistry of any kind, whether it’s being a writer, you can have this amazing article that you wrote. But then, I don’t know,” Ryen says, trailing off for a moment.“It’s kind of depressing.”
“Your highs and lows are just like that,” Ryen snaps his fingers and continues. “It’s hard to stay afloat emotionally, number one. After my first concert I made a song called ‘Well Gone’, about that high of being on stage–everyone’s screaming your name. And then the next morning, you go into your 9:30am biology class.”
According to Ryen, everyone has their moments of fame.
“I’ve come to realize I don’t think I’m having my moment. It’s a gradual build-up. I think it’s a perfect storm,” Ryen says. While he’s here, he’s focused on building a solid community in Richmond, until it’s time for him to leave.
“Ever since I got to VCU I’ve been like, alright, I’m gonna take these next four years and really hone in on this population. I’m adaptable in this arena; there are so many cool music scenes. I couldn’t go to any other university, to be honest,” he states. Though freshman year, Ryen didn’t find much value in being a Creative Ad major, but participating more in the student community and extracurriculars like Create-a-thon have led him to have a more appreciative view of his education.
“I just wanted to go to VCU because it just sounded cool. So I went in, but I didn’t really connect the dots of oh, I can do this and this. Link what advertising and music could do. I’ve had a lot of professors look over the flyers I’m doing in class and give me pointers on style, direction and structure.” After getting so close to home, we pivot to Ryen’s song, “Ole Virginia,” which he says is a joke title.
“The whole purpose of the song was escapism. Like, getting the fuck outta Richmond. There are amazing things in Richmond, but I don’t want to be in Richmond forever. I have plans, I want to be big and do all these things. I feel like there’s a lot of people who have this mindset of, they take over Richmond and it’s over,” He says.
“And I think that’s easy for me to say because my fan base is primarily the internet, you know? So I see people, I’ve got my Spotify for artists and I have like, 100 people in the Netherlands. So I want to get the fuck out,” Ryen states, but don’t get him wrong; he has plenty of good things to say about the city too.
“I can understand how Richmond could seem like such a big scene because it really is. There’s a lot of talented individuals here, but I think I’ve been spoiled by the fact that my fan base is the internet. If my fan base was just a hometown I don’t know if it’d be as encouraging to spread out.”
Ryen continues talking about the influence the feedback he gets has on him.
“Having people from different countries and languages write paragraphs about how I changed their lives with songs I made in my bedroom– if those people are confident enough to say that, I can’t imagine who else is being touched by my music and not saying anything,” he says. At the end of the day though, for Ryen there’s one underlying motivation that’s stronger than the rest.
“I would be unemployed and string out my last dollar to make music. That’s the motivating factor of it all– I do a lot to make sure I’m giving my 100% effort to this music shit. So, god forbid, if ever I’m actually in that cubicle desk, I can be like, at least I tried.”