South London's voice of empowerment speaks

“As a black woman, I love seeing other black women come to my shows and connect with me and my story because ultimately it’s all of our stories. Women love feeling empowered; we don’t want to feel sad.”

Ray BLK is in a league of her own, opting to dedicate her heart to empower women everywhere. Her music is an ode to black womanhood, priding herself on what it means to be a strong black woman in charge. Currently flying the flag for UK R&B, she is making it loud and clear that the women’s empowerment movement is not to be messed with.

“It’s not about competing with other women or men for that matter,” she urges, “we’re just feeling ourselves and want to enjoy going out and having fun. For men to try and make it all about them is unnecessary.”

Ray BLK wears trenchcoat by Balenciaga, necklace by Balenciaga B at MyTheresa, top and gloves by Vetements, shoes by Topshop

Born Rita Ekwere, our first introduction to Ray BLK was back in 2015, upon the self-release of her first EP, ‘Havisham’, which followed the story of a girl who falls in love, has her heartbroken, and turns into the cold-hearted wicked Havisham, taking massive inspiration from the Charles Dickens novel, Great Expectations. The following year she released her second EP, ‘Durt’, which saw her collaborate with Stormzy, Wretch 32 and SG Lewis. ‘Durt’ unexpectedly propelled her into the spotlight, ultimately bagging her the BBC’s Sound of 2017 title and solidifying her position in UK R&B.

Her voice is indisputably raw. At this current moment in time, Ray BLK is in studio mode, gearing up for the release of her first official studio album next spring. Her last body of work, ‘Empress’, was her most sublime yet. The eight-track album was bursting with love and a whole lot of sovereign power featuring songs like ‘Run Run’ and ‘Mama’.

“‘Empress’ was all about achieving what I wanted in terms of making something that empowered people and had a strong message behind it,” she says, looking back. “The whole album felt like a throwback; it had mad throwback vibes. For this new album, I wanted to make music that I listen to. I want all my new songs to mirror the playlists that I like and make sure that everything is as authentic as possible.”

“My new album is more personal this time around,” she continues. “I haven’t been this open and talked so explicitly about my background, struggles, relationships and experiences. I wanted to give my fans something new, so this album will have more of a trap soul vibe that feels current but timeless. It still amazes me that people say tell me they have a connection to my music because I feel like I haven’t even given the best of me yet.”

It’s clear from our conversation that music is and always will be her first love. Citing Missy Elliott and Eve as her real inspirations, she reveals that rap was her first love. “It may sound weird to people when I say it because I’m an R&B singer,” she admits. “I’ve always connected with it on a deeper level because of the poetry element to it. You can get around subject matters deeper and play around with words, and that’s what I find so fascinating about it. Lil’ Kim and Da Brat was my era of music. Seeing all those black female rappers at that time embody what it meant to be a boss ass bitch in an industry dominated by men was so powerful. I wanted to be just like them because deep down, I always knew that’s who I am.”

While her heart is committed to perfecting her artistry, Ray BLK is devoted to rewriting what it means to be from the hood and successful. “I’m a South girl. You might catch me slipping in Morley’s or Bagel King; I’m really, really from the ends,” she laughs. “It’s important for me to write about my life experiences and who I am because I like to be honest, and that’s part of my story. How are people going to be a part of my journey if they don’t know who I am?”

Words: Shakeena Johnson
Photography: Rory Griffin
Fashion: Natalie Michaelides
Fashion Assistant: Gabrielle Dapaah

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