Ray BLK: Empress review – a sweet, street debut

(Island)

The first unsigned winner of the BBC’s Sound Of competition took her time to align herself with a label. A year passed between Ray BLK’s 2017 win and the deal with Island, under Amy Winehouse’s old A&R. Ten months on, BLK’s first major outing is a mere eight-track “project”, but bears the hallmarks of considered investment; it doesn’t come up short.

There is nothing fly-by-night about Rita Ekwere, an artist in the classic mould – audibly from London, but gazing outwards. Empress feels hugely current: its first salvo, Run, Run, deals with the pain of gun violence with a startling level of nuance and catchiness. In spirit, though, Ray BLK harks back even harder to the best bits of 90s R&B and all the soul-pop in between.

There is a frisson of Lauryn Hill in how she sings, raps and handles herself with sweet righteousness, coupled with the accessibility of Emeli Sandé. Female empowerment is Empress’s overriding theme. On Got My Own BLK flexes her financial independence (“I could buy you twice,” she sings sweetly). Mama, though, is a forthright, gospel-tinged song that acknowledges the sacrifices made by one single mother raising three kids right – rich in autobiography and universals.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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