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Music Ray BLK

Published on January 11th, 2019 | by voxx

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Ray BLK – Empress

Pleasing but predictable R&B from the acclaimed South Londoner…

Almost two years after she was crowned the BBC’s Sound Of 2017 winner for her lively and fiercely modern dispatches from day-today life, Ray BLK is back with her debut album. But it’s not merely her leisurely release schedule that suggests the 25-year-old – born Rita Ekwere – isn’t overly fussed about capitalising on the hype. Empress is a collection of solid but safe soul and R&B, supplemented by gospel flavours, rap segments and a smattering of vaguely trendy production ticks.

At a time when the bleeding-edge of pop is awash with R&B-based innovation, the unadventurous sound of Empress does feel a tad disappointing. But on its own terms, there’s plenty going for it – not least Ekwere’s effortless vocal and unhurried rap style. There’s also much joy to be found in the title track – an amusing and relatable riff on all the crap blokes she’s dated – as well as the blissful retro vibes of ‘Girl Like Me’ and ‘Just A Kid’.

Taking its cues from ’00s girl groups, ‘Got My Own’ is a straightforwardly brilliant pop song, but its lyrics, which see Ekwere assert her financial independence, do recall Destiny’s Child’s seminal take on the subject. This niggling familiarity is a recurring issue here: ‘Run Run’ sounds uncomfortably similar to Jorja Smith’s ‘Blue Lights’, whereas mum-ode ‘Mama’ cleaves tightly to lyrical stereotypes. Ekwere is clearly a talented vocalist, but the sense of déjà vu here means she’s yet to become the voice of a generation.

- By Jake White


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