Meet South London's new soulful queen of hip-hop, and 'The Sound Of 2017'
Forming the group ‘New Found Content’ with her schoolfriend MNEK aged just 13, the young Rita Ekwere knew from her first taste music that this would be the life for her. Now, the rising hip-hop prodigy Ray BLK has been officially declared as ‘The Sound Of 2017’ by the BBC. The 23-year-old’s undeniable talent and brutal honesty have been noted by collaborators Stormzy, SG Lewis and Wretch 32. Now it’s time for the rest of the world to find out.
What are your earliest memories are of being exposed to music?
“Being in church and school choirs and the gospel music that my mum would play. Then I found the music that I loved and got really into hip-hop and R&B. My musical taste just keeps on growing as I get older. At about the age of 10, I had my first studio session and decided ‘yes, this is what I’m going to do – I don’t know how, but this is going to happen’.”
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How did you come to work with Stormzy?
“I met him three years ago at a local talent show. He gave me some advice about the music industry; to take my time and focus on my music. I said that at the right time we’d work together one day – then the right time came.”
Anyone else you’d love to collaborate with?
“Kendrick Lamar. There’s all other rappers, then there’s Kendrick. He’s in a league of his own and such a force to be reckoned with. His music speaks to a lot of people.”
Would you say you feel part of a ‘scene’?
“Yes, it’s so weird to say that, but I guess that it means. I kind of live in a bubble outside the scene where i feel like am onlooker enjoying all of these other artists and forget that I’m one of them.”
How would you describe that scene and the whole energy of it?
“I feel like last year the scene was just so vibrant, so many real ‘characters’ came out from grime and R&B.”
Any other new and rising artists out there right now that you think are really killing it?
“My three favourite artists that I found out about last year would be Anderson.Paak who I’m a humongous fan of, Nadia Rose and Stefflon Don. Definitely keep an eye on them in 2017.”
Following in the footsteps of Adele, Sam Smith, 50 Cent and Years & Years, do you feel the pressure of what previous BBC Sound Of winners have gone on to achieve?
“I feel the pressure just comes from me, really. I pressure myself to be better all the time, make better music.”
What are your thoughts on the rest of the shortlist?
“It’s actually such a great list. There are artists on there that I really admire. I feel like I’m among some really talented and amazing acts.”
I think it says quite a lot that it was dominated by so much urban music rather than guitar bands.
“Yeah, for sure. This year’s list was truly representative of what’s actually been going on in the music industry.”
Your character is stamped all over a very unique style. What do you think it is about what you do that sets you apart?
“What people have been drawn to is probably just my honesty. I tend to write from the heart and say it like it is to speak carefree about whatever I’m going through and I think a lot of people relate to it. That’s probably what it is.”
Your lyrics are very open and honest. Do you ever feel vulnerable by being so exposed?
“I think it’s more cathartic. When I first started, I did feel a bit exposed about people knowing so much about my life, but then I started hearing about how it resonated with so many people, gave them strength and made them feel like they weren’t alone. I thought ‘why should I stop telling my story?'”
What do you think the greatest misconception about you might be?
“Probably that I’m angry, aggressive and mean. I think that comes because my lyrics and music videos are quite tough and hard-hitting, but then people meet me and they’re like ‘oh, you’re a lot nicer and warmer than I expected!’ Why does everyone think I’m a monster?”
When can we expect your debut album?
“I have no clue! I’m not setting myself any date or deadline. I’m just going to work at making more songs, better songs, then when the time is right I’ll know.”
What’s inspiring you at the moment?
“A lot of old-school R&B actually. My friends are putting me on to a bunch of stuff i haven’t listened to before. I’m an R&B singer but I never spent that much time listening to it. I got into rap music then soul and stuff so now I’m going back.”
Anything you listen to that you think might surprise people?
People are always surprised when I tell them that I’m a huge Coldplay fan. I’m literally a die-hard Coldplay fan. I really love Chris Martin’s voice, it’s so soft and frail. His lyrics really hit you in the heart too. The Ghost Stories album, I spent the whole hour listening to it and crying at every single song.
Ray BLK’s mini album ‘Durt’ is out now