Known for her no-holds barred lyrics and straight talking, whether it’s on or off the mic, Ray BLK (real name Rita Ekwere) is going to speak her mind. “I always have to get everything off my chest,” says singer-songwriter. “As an artist and somebody who's been blessed with a platform, I feel like it is part of my responsibility.”
The 26 year-old artist is celebrated for music that makes a statement and her new single “Lovesick”, recent track “Warriors” the lead song from the hugely acclaimed ROCKS film and forthcoming album prove that the ultimate girl’s girl is back with messages of tough love, a catalogue of quotables and a renewed focus on self-love. The outcome is the musical equivalent of the unfiltered girl talk from your most raucous WhatsApp group chat.
Sonically and thematically, it’s both a throwback to the rawness of her ‘Durt’ days as well as a sleeker, slicker sound that is ushering in what she refers to as her “gangster era”. “I'm really owning myself, where I'm from, what I feel and I'm just not giving a shit,” she says. In this album, she is embracing the realness we have become accustomed to; the prettiest of voices sat atop a grittiness that thoroughly sets her apart from her peers.
Born in Nigeria, raised in Catford, Ray BLK’s music is heavily influenced by her upbringing. “I grew up with Grime music and clash culture in the playground,” she says. “As much as I don't make Grime music, I like hard hitting beats that you can sing over.” Aside from the apt characterisation of her hometown on songs like the 2016 breakout hit ‘My Hood’ featuring Stormzy, South London has shaped her sound, which sees her marrying the candour and lyricism of a rapper with honeyed R&B vocals.
Her musical journey began at the tender age of 8, scrawling lyrics in school notebooks. Even then her work was standout, catching the eye of a teacher who placed her on a music program for gifted and talented pupils. By 13, she was crafting her first body of work with school friend and future record producer and songwriter MNEK, forming the group New Found Content. It was during this time she would hone the introspective and sociopolitical writing she is so well known for. It took several years and a English Literature degree at university for her to release a mixtape of ripped beats entitled ‘Havisham’, a hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul hybrid inspired by the jilted Charles Dickens character. It was then she adopted her stage name, taking ‘Ray’ from her surname and ‘BLK’, an acronym of her three most important values: Building, Living, Knowing.
The following year saw the release of ‘Durt’, Ray’s crtically acclaimed first EP which featured collaborations with Stormzy, Wretch 32 and SG Lewis and won Ray a legion of new, non-local fans. Ray was also announced as the winner of the prestigious BBC Sound of Poll for 2017, becoming the first, and indeed only, unsigned artist to do so. She also received a best newcomer nomination at the 2016 MOBO Awards. In January 2018 she signed to Island Records and later released her eight-track project Empress, with a strong female empowerment message in the title track, “Got My Own" and "Girl Like Me". In the hard-hitting "Run Run", Ray references the youth violence that plagued her area, an issue she continues to be vocal on.
Her willingness to address difficult topics with deftness is second to none, from touching on domestic violence to partnering up with charities to do talks at schools about consent, after speaking publicly about her own experience with sexual assault this year. She has also been making herself heard as a host of Beats 1 agenda show on Apple Music, a gig that was extended by popular demand. “When I was younger, three things I wanted to do were sing, act and present,” she says. “I kind of feel like I'm just getting to live out one of my dreams like a side hustle.”
Her discography has already seen her hailed as the queen of UK R&B, but the best is yet to come, with Ray leaning into a newfound sense of autonomy. After her BBC Sound Of 2017 win, she cites a pressure to fit into a poppier, more polished mould that she’s now free from. “I am still proud of the music I made,” she says. “But I'll be real and say it felt inauthentic to me, because it felt very polite and brushed up and I’m just ratchet!”
Lovesick, the first album’s first single, is an anthem for newly anointed savages who have decided to no longer settle. “It really is just about reclaiming your power in a relationship where the person has made you feel like you need them and has made you feel not good enough,” Ray explains.
Ray has also faced obstacles in the industry as a black, dark skinned woman - another topic she has frequently and openly discussed. “It's about being told no and always remembering to tell yourself yes.”
Over the years, Ray has been dubbed “the Lauryn Hill of the UK” (who she cites as inspiration alongside female rappers such as Eve and Missy Elliott) but also grew up on a diet of her mum’s musical tastes: Whitney Houston, gospel music and Mary J Blige. Her writing is heavily influenced by the “realness and his relatability” of Drake’s lyrics and her stateside contemporaries SZA and Summer Walker. Straddling different styles and genres effortlessly whilst borrowing from various global, generational influences, she creates something that is distinctively Ray BLK. As a teaser on what to expect on the album Ray says
“For those who joined during Empress, they're gonna be like, whoa. For those who've been there since DURT they're gonna be like, “Yes, she's back!”
27 Jun, 2019
The Cure will headline the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival on Sunday, and the day features many artists from the Primary Talent International roster.
11.50-12.30: Circa Waves (Other Stage)
14.30-15.30: Self Esteem (Pussy Parlure)
16.00-16.40: Nilüfer Yanya (William's Green)
16.00-17.00: Joy Crookes (Pussy Parlure)
16.00-17.00: Tiffany Calver (Gully Blues)
17.00-18.00: Steel Banglez (Gully Blues)
17.15-18.15: Ray BLK (Sonic)
17.15-18.15: Loyle Carner (Other Stage)
17.20-18.20: The Bootleg Beatles (Acoustic Stage)
18.00-18.40: Ten Tonnes (William's Green)
18.00-19.00: DJ Vadim ft Kiko Bun (The Bug at Arcadia)
20.15-21.15: Dave (Other Stage)
21.15-23.30: The Cure (Pyramid Stage)
21.30-22.45: The Streets (John Peel Stage)
23.15-00.30: Maverick Sabre (Sonic)
00.00-01.00: Kasra (Arcadia's Pangea)
01.00-02.00: High Contrast DJ (Samula)
01.00-03.00: Mike Skinner DJ (The Rum Shack)
09 Apr, 2019
Over 100 new acts have been added to the Latitude festival bill, taking place in Suffolk in July. Joining the Primary Talent International artists already announced, will be:
...The Japanese House
...Art School Girlfriend
10 Aug, 2018
Ray BLK discusses her new single 'Run Run', and the subject of youth violence in London in The Guardian.
19 Jan, 2018
Many Primary Talent International artists have been longlisted in the Unsigned Music Awards. The shortlists will be announced on 7th March, and the final winners at an event at the Brighton Centre on 16th May, as part of the opening ceremony of the Great Escape Festival.
Best Male Solo Act
Best Female Solo Act
Best Urban Act
14 Nov, 2017
Ray BLK's highly anticipated debut album is released in the new year, see her on tour in the UK during December. She is featured in the current NME.
07 Sep, 2017
La Merce / BAM Festival will take place at various venues around Barcelona, Spain from 22nd to 25th September. The following Primary Talent artists will be participating, see their artists pages for full details.
11 Jul, 2017
Lovebox will take place this weekend in Victoria Park, Hackney in London. Friday's line up will feature:
18 May, 2017
The Great Escape festival begins today at many different venues across Brighton, and features some "stand-alone" Spotlight Shows. These include...
...Kano & Friends (Friday 19th May)
...Ray BLK (Saturday 20th, w/Rag'n'Bone Man)
26 Mar, 2017
Ray BLK's performance at the Jazz Cafe in London, for Annie Mac Presents, was reviewed in The Independent.
16 Mar, 2017
The Wilderness Festival in Cornbury, nr.Oxford runs from 3rd-6th August and will feature Primary Talent artists Two Door Cinema Club & Ray BLK.