In our digital age, where a movement is reduced to a hashtag and validation down to a like, referencing a character from a book written in the 1800’s may not seem like the most relatable starting point for a debut R&B project.
What do Miss Havisham, Azalea Banks, Pink and Amy Winehouse all have in common? Well the first was a fictional character from the 1800’s, after she was jilted at the alter she spent the rest of her days in a bitter, malevolent fury.
If Charles Dickens’ 1800 character Miss Havisham were a song, she would be the heartbroken angry child of a marriage between Beyonce’s ‘Broken Hearted Girl’ and Kelis’ ‘I Hate You So Much Right Now’.
Fast forward to 2015, and Havisham is the title chosen for a debut EP to be released by then, a little known London songstress named Ray BLK. Thanks to social media and the undeniable relatability of ‘Havisham‘, the seven track EP has now amassed over 90,000 plays on Soundcloud. Not bad for an artist who confesses “This time last year, there was no Ray BLK…”
Some may feel Ray BLK’s ascent and recognition as an artist has been fast, but after speaking to Ray you realise singing has always been a major part of her life. Having her first studio session at 11 years old, and confessing to ripping beats off YouTube to sing over, it wasn’t until 2014 when Ray finally decided to put herself out there: “I’m such a perfectionist I wanted everything to be perfect. The stuff people bring out today is so good and to such a high standard I wanted my stuff to be like that. I needed it to be good quality”.
The atmospheric, R&B soaked project contained seven tracks that mapped a female’s journey falling in and out of love, crawling into heartbreak then tiptoeing into bitterness. The appeal with ‘Havisham’ wasn’t just the sultry sound of Ray’s vocals; it was the story. It embodied the millennial females, from the ones airing their hatred to their ex on Twitter to the ones on Instagram posting pictures of independent women who don’t need a man #fuckmen. Music that relatable only comes from a very, very real place: “Some of the songs are my own story, some are also some what my friends have been through… So I feel like it came from an honest place which made it great for so many people to connect to it.”
Since Havisham, Ray has released her debut visuals, for a track entitled ‘50/50‘. The visuals are both captivating and empowering, very 2K16 girl-power, and it seems like Ray is taking her own narrative as a singer into her own hands: “Growing up as a black girl, and wanting to be a singer you rarely saw anyone like yourself. I would put on the TV and watched MTV Base, and if I did see a black girl, she always was light skinned… I never saw dark skinned girls on TV or women with natural hair – I didn’t see that anywhere”.
Citing Lauryn Hill, Pink and Lil Kim as her influences, it’s Camden’s Amy Winehouse who holds a special place in Ray’s heart: “Growing up Amy Winehouse was and is my favourite, she’s my God [laughs] it’s at adoration level – I’m even considering a tattoo!”. But it was Harlem’s Azalea Banks who gave Ray youcandothis push she needed to pursue a music career. Yes, people listen to music with their ears, but when you can’t see anyone you can identify on the TV, you start to question whether if it’s for you: “When I first saw Azalea Banks in her 212 video, I couldn’t look away, because there was this dark skin girl on MTV looking soo cool rapping… I was like wow she’s black! And in that moment I thought, I can actually do this.”
Having had an unstoppable 2015, Ray looks set to go from strength to strength in 2016. “I’m working on my 2nd EP – I’m really excited, now I have tools and have the connections to make certain music and I’m not ripping beats off YouTube!”