Ray BLK – ‘Empress’ review

The former BBC Sound Of… winner’s latest release is an important public service announcement carried by warm R&B sounds

Ray BLK knows the power of her voice, and isn’t shy about showing it off. Throughout ‘Empress’, an eight-track record billed somewhat mysteriously as a “project”, she states her worth over warm, ‘90s-influenced R&B sounds.

Previously released tracks, such as ‘5050’ and the Stormzy-featuring ‘My Hood’, showed the south Londoner – real name Rita Ekwere – to be a powerful woman as she led by example, discussing social issues – such as inner-city poverty – instead of sweeping them under the rug. With this latest release, Ekwere hasn’t created a record to make you jump around; rather, ‘Empress’ is an important public service announcement to all the ladies out there, a reminder that they are powerful, strong and have the power to do anything with their lives.

The musician serves up a balance of feel-good, high-tempo R&B tracks (‘Girl Like Me’) and slower, more straight-up ballads (‘Don’t Beg’), conveying the emotional and situational hardships many women face. Even when people try to buy her affection – discussed on ‘Got My Own’ – she doesn’t “care about the price” because she is so self-sufficient that she could happily “buy it twice”. Ekwere doesn’t need material things from men, because she already has her own. On ‘Empress’, the album’s empowering title track, she implores women to know that they needn’t settle for anything; fittingly, Ray BLK needs nothing more than acoustic guitar and her stunning vocal ability to present her simple message.

Aside from the feel-good sample of a voicemail message from Ekwere’s hero Lady Dynamite (“You are the new day – you are the gift”), there are no features on this record, a clear indication of the singer’s independence. She doesn’t need someone else to improve her vision, or to help it reach a wider audience. She is Ray BLK, and if you don’t like it – well, that’s your problem.

My only problem is this: where is Ray Blk’s crown? Because she has proven herself to be nothing short of a queen. Her message is necessary, her outlook visionary. Crown or no crown, she’s an empress all right.