Interview: Ray BLK
Ray BLK has been on the rise ever since winning the BBC’s prestigious Sound Of award back in 2017. On the eve of the release of her highly anticipated ‘Empress’ project, Philip Giouras caught up with the singer to find out more.
Last year, Ray BLK became the first unsigned artist to win BBC’s prestigious Sound Of… poll. An award decided by a variety of esteemed critics and industry figures who anticipate which upcoming artists are set for success during the following year. Previous winners have spanned a variety of genres, with the majority receiving significant acclaim and career growth off the back of it, Adele, 50 Cent and Sam Smith are just a few for example.
You can see how it would be tempting to immediately release material following such an award, whilst there is such a large buzz around you, however, instead of rushing straight out of the gates with a debut record. Ray BLK (real name Rita Ekwere) spent the following year touring and signing a major record label contract with Island Records, which is coincidentally also the home of this year’s Sound Of winner Sigrid.
Fast forward to the present day and she’s now returned to the scene, and in a big way. Two weeks ago she released her new project ‘Empress’. The 8 track collection spans a variety of styles, including the hard-hitting ’Run, Run’ with its lyrics painting a vivid and honest image of today’s society. Not to mention, the empowering title track ‘Empress’ and it’s celebration of Womanhood or even future club anthem ‘Girl Like Me’. It also features a beautiful ode to her mother on ‘Mama’. The project shouldn’t be mistaken for her debut album however, we fortunately still have that to look forward to as well next year she informed me.
It doesn’t just stop there for Ray though, in the midst of promoting her latest project she’s also supporting Rudimental on their UK spanning tour. In between all of this I caught up with Ray to discuss who empowers her, what’s inspired that remarkable ‘Run, Run’ video and find out more about how she’s reaching out to local school children, discovering more about their stories.
Empress is about empowering women, whose the person that empowered you and gave you that self-belief as a woman?
Empress is really about empowering all people. Obviously, as a woman there is going to be more female central topics, but yeah, I’d say my mum’s one of my biggest cheerleaders and she’s always uplifting me and other people around her as well.
I think what this project shows with songs such as 'Girl Like Me', is that there are many different sides to your music, not just the serious side but also music you can just get down to in the club. Is that something you’re trying to showcase more?
Yeah, I’m just trying to showcase all the different facets of myself. I think people think I’m really serious all the time but I am someone that really loves to enjoy myself and I love to have fun. That’s just another part of who I am.
Speaking of fun, How’s the with Rudimental tour been going?, performed any new material?
It’s been very good! well, I’ve got one more date with the guys, but it’s been amazing. I’ve been performing Mama during the shows and the response to that has been really sick. It’s the song I’m most looking forward to people hearing,
I’ve seen from some clips, you’ve been having some fun on tour with your management, I want to know, who pulls the better pranks?
(laughs) I’d say me, to be honest, but then they got me yesterday! and they got me on camera as well. They got a water gun and they just sprayed me with Ciroc. It went all in my eyes!
I’m not even exaggerating when I say, ‘Run, Run’ is my favourite video of the year, where did the striking concept behind the video come from?
It just came from me wanting to do something that showed, the people that the song is about in a different light. because for the most part, the media portrays them as, you know not even human, just another number. So I just really wanted to humanise these people and their experiences.
Which brings me to the Just A Kid sessions, You’ve gone to schools and spoken to kids that have to deal with this on a day-to-day basis, what was that like?
That was crazy! That was such a great experience, one of the most fulfilling moments of my career so far. At some points it was quite hard though, I was asking them what their proudest moments are so far, where they have done something amazing or achieved something and one of the girls said how she was there when someone got stabbed, she applied pressure to the wound and waited with him while the ambulance came. She had helped save a life, but she said it in such a nonchalant way that where it just seemed like an everyday occurrence, she wasn’t phased by it at all. None of the other kids even batted an eye, You know when someone tells a crazy story and you’re expecting the kids to gasp or something, everyone just remained calm, they didn’t even blink and I just found it so sad, that this is their reality. Like that doesn’t even affect them, how do you even know you’re supposed to apply pressure to a wound at that age.
What have the next few months got in store?
Lots of promotion, I will be going on tour myself next year, I’ve got two more videos coming out for the project, and then yeah my album next year, Which is very exciting.
Finally, What’s your opinion on the news that Wireless Festivals new license agreement means artists won’t be able to swear during their sets or wear vulgar items of clothing. Do you think artists should be censored?
I don’t think artists should be censored when it comes to their art because, at the end of the day, it’s supposed to be a complete expression, so no, I don’t think I agree with that actually. Personally, I’m not someone that likes lots and lots of profanity in music but I think it’s up to an artist to choose however they want to express themselves. So yeah I don’t support that.
Empress is out now.
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