Ray BLK, the audacious singer from Catford has been building her R&B discography, living her best life touring Europe and North America, living her dream connecting with her fans through her writing and breaking glass ceilings as the first unsigned artist to win the BBC Music Sound of 2017.
In her music videos, she carves up shots and scenes from her day-to-day with just the right balance of familiarity and curiosity of the unadulterated adventures of black women. With MTV Base and grime station Channel AKA (formerly Channel U) as her education, her visuals paint a picture of solidarity, sisterhood and the salon.
Standing for something
As pop culture whispers contemporary vocabulary – intersectionality and colour theory – all of BLK’s visuals choose to teach and enlighten its viewers. For ‘Chill Out’’s sensual and hi-fi house with beats a like to the rhythm of breath, BLK jetted to Portland, Jamaica to rivet a visual of the plight of Gully Queens, trans and gay youth who live in storm drains.
Gully queens do not have a place to hide, and due to an increase in homophobic and transphobic violence, many have been killed. “It’s important to have my music stand for something,” BLK says, evidently exploring the homophobic history of Jamaica.
The sacred sisterhood of the salon
For centuries, cultures have identified the hair as the crown of a human being. It has been believed that a woman’s spirit is occupied in her hair. This raised the value and status of hairdressers in the community and generational skills like braiding and weaving prospered close relationships between hairdressers and their clients. Many hours fly washing, combing, oiling, styling and embellishing their hair.
‘5050’ reveals walls of the salon are protected under the oath of sisterhood. “Don’t make me beg!” BLK calls out in the comfort of sisterhood about the hopelessness of giving time to a lowdown fuckboy. It’s remarkable how revolutionary it feels to hear an R&B singer being forthright about lust, desire and that itch for exclusivity.
BLK intentionally makes music for black women. Havisham, her first mixtape, was based on Miss Havisham from Great Expectations and made solely for her girlfriends who were sour about past experiences and who absolutely thought #menaretrash. Undoubtedly, black sisterhood is the main cast in BLK’s pictures.
Paced purpose over paper
The music business’ metric blazons that BLK has yet to release a debut album – Durt, from 2016, was technically a mini-album – but was made without the input of a major label. ‘Patience’ sets BLK’s pace in a fickle industry. With truth-telling in her range of vision, she unfolds the well-known thirst for fame – which is common to all fronts of business.
“Cause everybody wants a portion, of the devil’s power without caution”. BLK acknowledges the free-falling speed money and fame sets talent apart. Conceding to the industry’s fickle reality, it is evident that BLK has a purpose past paper and popularity. She looks to sustainability in her career a measure of success.
The soulful 23-year-old trails in the footsteps of Adele and Sam Smith to become the artist the music industry believes will be ordained for greatness this year. Ray said she was “honoured” to have topped the list at this stage of her career. “Winning the BBC sound of 2017 has to be the most surprising thing that’s happened to me thus far,” BLK said. With her first tour under her belt, BLK supported Emeli Sandé and plays live stages at Lovebox and Glastonbury and even #MERKY Festival in Ibiza supporting collaborator, Stormzy.
BLK proclaims unhinged self-love and esteem posing, “So why you worrying about being the outcast/Don’t you know to be yourself you never ask permission?” As much as the beauty industry holds a bland Eurocentric standard, BLK values the versatility of serving a look – rebuking insipid moulds. It is not your duty to please anyone. It’s as simple as that.
“My dressing is expression so don’t judge me by my clothes… A short skirt doesn’t mean that I want it,” in times when walking down the street is a call for sexual harassment, such is BLK’s essence to advocate for freedom of choice and expression. Being who you are, wearing what you like and loving who you love are clear missives from BLK’s message of love and choice whether it’s ‘Doing Me’ or World Pride Day 2017.