Introducing Rai-Elle: the refreshing new voice of UK R&B

It’s not often that an X-Factor finalist leaves the show and goes on to release a music video where the settings include – in an authentic, not gentrifying way – what looks like South London black hair shop and an abundance of black girl joy and friendship. But from her intimate lyrics and to her distinctly London charisma and style, it’s clear that Croydon-grown singer Rai-Elle was destined to transcend beyond her televised launch pad.

To celebrate the release of her debut EP KSB, the pint-sized R&B songstress talks to gal-dem about her inspirations, navigating the industry and using her music to chronicle her life.

gal-dem: Talk to me about writing your debut EP – what inspires you to make the music you do?

Rai-Elle: Life in general. I love the whole idea of expressing emotions through music – one song can change someone’s mood. For me, when I feel a certain type of way about something, I want to write about it. That way, anyone that is going through something similar can relate.

On ‘Race’, you talk about being caught up in competition and defying the boundaries being set for you. How do you think your experience so far in the music industry has shaped you as an artist?

It’s definitely encouraged me to be myself. When you’re coming out with your own material, at first it’s quite scary because you don’t know if people will appreciate it enough to support you. My experience so far in the industry has also taught me that age doesn’t put a limit on what you achieve, this has a lot to do with my lyrics on ‘Race’.

What kind of obstacles have you faced as an artist?

It’s early days for me but I’ve noticed through networking that sometimes people [you meet] will try to get you to compromise your art. Building relationships and getting to know and respect the people you work with is so important. I’m very passionate about my music and really just want people to accept and embrace my style.

Is there anything you wish you knew as young girl about being an artist?

I wish I knew how cut throat the music industry is. When you’re dreaming of becoming something as a child, you don’t understand the hard work and dedication that is required. It’s like a fantasy. But with my experiences so far, hopefully the processes are building my resilience to live my dream.

Which artists inspire you at the moment? And who would you love to work with?

I really love Jacob Banks, his voice is so soulful and empowering. Beyoncé will inspire me forever because of her precision and hard work that she puts into everything. She inspires me to perfect my art and be the best that I can be.

And I would really love to work with people like Chip, Stormzy, WSTRN, Krept & Konan, H.E.R, Summer Walker…the list goes on!

Photo by Vicky Grout

The candid nature of your music is reminiscent of super classic R&B love songs. Do you draw on throwback influences when writing?

Yes! My favourite genre of music has got to be old school R&B. And that’s definitely where most of my inspiration comes from. It’s authentic, raw and connects on a deep level. When I’m writing, I try to connect in the same way.

Who did you grow up listening to?

I grew up listening to Lauryn Hill, SWV, TLC, Donell Jones, Brandy, Boyz II Men, Monica, Jodeci, Nas, Tupac, Biggie & a lot of reggae artists as well.

In the video for KSB (Always On My Mind), it’s beautiful to see you getting your hair done and being authentically yourself in music videos and lyrics. How important do you think your visibility is for young girls?

I don’t feel under pressure but I do believe that as a young female in the industry, I am aware that there will be people looking up to me, so it is important that I set a good example to them. If I can take advantage of the opportunity to speak positively about loving yourself and to be a voice that can be heard, if it can encourage others then I’m happy to help.

What do you hope people feel when they listen to your music?

I want people to feel as if they are either on my journey with me or use the music to help with their own journeys – to change their moods and uplift them. The same way I feel when I listen to my favourite artists.  It would also be great if my lyrics could allow people to get to know me as a person.

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