Ray BLK: Empress review – a sweet, street debut

(Island)

The first unsigned winner of the BBC’s Sound Of competition took her time to align herself with a label. A year passed between Ray BLK’s 2017 win and the deal with Island, under Amy Winehouse’s old A&R. Ten months on, BLK’s first major outing is a mere eight-track “project”, but bears the hallmarks of considered investment; it doesn’t come up short.

There is nothing fly-by-night about Rita Ekwere, an artist in the classic mould – audibly from London, but gazing outwards. Empress feels hugely current: its first salvo, Run, Run, deals with the pain of gun violence with a startling level of nuance and catchiness. In spirit, though, Ray BLK harks back even harder to the best bits of 90s R&B and all the soul-pop in between.

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