Never mind just the albums we missed this year, Lady Wray has had a career of them. The American singer was the first artist that Missy Elliott signed to her label, The Goldmind Inc, back in 1997. But after a promising start – including guesting on Elliott’s gamechanging debut Supa Dupa Fly – Wray’s second album got scrapped. Subsequent signings to hip-hop heavyweight labels Roc-A-Fella, then Def Jam ended in another shelved release. In 2012, she formed a duo with British vocalist Terri Walker, who quit during their album tour. Now this, Wray’s sublime third solo turn, has been sparsely covered.
It’s a true crime. Piece of Me is classy retro-soul shot through with the gospel of her southern churchgoing childhood and the delicious boom-bap thwack of 90s R&B – where Mary J Blige meets Bill Withers. Through It All is a roll-the-windows-down head-nodder of the highest order; a song so sweetly triumphant and glowy that they should install it in sunrise alarm clocks. And her formerly homeless father features on more dramatic, redemptive Beauty in the Fire. None of it is overblown, the production still raw enough to crackle off the vinyl.
Piece of Me is an album in the classic sense: it’s got range. It might have been the one Wray has always wanted to make, but it’s also one she could only have written now, steeped as it is in experience, familial warmth and overcoming heartbreak. Next time, for album four, hopefully we’ll be ready for all of her.