Congratulations on winning the Sound Of 2017! How does it feel?
Mega cool! I keep using the word surreal, because it is. Everything’s surreal. I’m living the dream.
You’ve been called “the Lauryn Hill of the UK”. Are you going to release one album then disappear?
Haha! I love music too much to do that.
Where does the name Ray BLK come from?
Ray is taken from my last name, and BLK stands for Building, Living, Knowing.
Building: For your future and working hard. Living: Because I believe you have to live your life to the fullest. And knowing: Because I guess education is really important. We should keep trying to learn for the whole of our lifetime.
Media captionRay BLK performs My Hood in her local caff
Tell me about growing up in Catford.
Well, I was born in Nigeria and I came to London when I was about four.
Catford is a weird place, to be honest. Friends that come and visit say I live in a ghost township. But there’s a sense of community and it’s given me thick skin, as well.
Why did you need thick skin?
Growing up here, particularly in school, there’s a lot of bullying – but there’s also a culture of knowing how to defend yourself. Everyone here has to be strong.
Were you picked on?
I got away with not being picked on because I was always the one that dedicated it back! My mum raised me to fight my corner. You’ve got to dust yourself off and fight.
What was the first song you learned the words to?
The first video I recollect find was Michael Jackson’s
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. I remember copying the dance moves and wanting to be as cool as he was. That’s what started it off for me.
When did you discover your singing voice?
Do you know what’s funny? I believe I carried on singing because my sister told me I was really bad! So merely to prove that I wasn’t, I maintained on at it. I would listen to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey every day and try to copy their riffs. So I kind of feel like I’m having a “ha ha” moment!
Image copyright Ray Blk Image caption The vocalist worked with grime starrings Stormzy, Wretch 32 and SG Lewis on her latest EP
Is it true you attained your early ballads by stealing beats from YouTube?
I actually took advantage of the internet, and I think that’s what got me here Being be permitted to rend beats and record with them, then set it on Soundcloud for people to listen and share it.
It is like the recent explosion in Grime and British R& B has facilitated by the internet. People are making and distributing their music directly to fans.
Right. People who wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance are get hear, and making a name for themselves. I think it’s really important.
You started releasing music when you were at university, right?
Yeah, when I first attained my mixtape I was in my last year of uni, avoiding my dissertation.
What was the dissertation?
I wrote it on post-colonial Nigerian literature – focused on the fictions of Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie.
Presumably, your mothers were hoping that would lead to a “proper job”?
I’ve been luck, in that their own families have been so supportive. My mum’s my biggest champion. If I told her today I want to be “Ministers “, she’d is just like, “Yes, of course. You’re going to win the election! “
What would your main policy be?
Oh, that’s a really difficult question. More bank holiday ?!
Image copyright Ray BLK Image caption Like several artists on the Sound of 2017 listing, Ray has intentionally decided not to sign with a major record label
That first EP, the Havisham EP, was themed around a Charles Dickens novel. How come?
We were studying Great Expectations as part of the curriculum, and I was so inspired by the narrative. I felt like Miss Havisham was like a lot of women around me, who got their heart infringe and turned cold and began to dislike men.
Are you the heartbreaker or the one that gets heartbroken?
Both, probably! But what I learned the most was not to be sour. Get heartbroken needs to happen because, first of all, you pick a better person next time and, secondly, it stimulates you stronger.
Your breakthrough song, My Hood, features a poem from Stormzy. How did you hook up with him?
I met him a couple of years ago at a local talent reveal, and we said we’d do something together in the future. Then he liked the song and wanted to be part of it. It was all seamless and organic.
I want to have been at that talent show…
Do you know, it’s a good show. They find some really good people.
Where is it?
It was in Croydon. It’s called Unsigned Stars and Stormzy won, I think, in 2012. So they insure talent years before the world insures it.
The thing with these local talent displays is they’re really honest. If people are rubbish, they chuckle. They actually give it to you.
Image caption Ray worked as a copywriter for an advertising bureau to fund her music career
My Hood was written about Catford – but it’s quite bittersweet. Why is that?
I was robbed around the time I wrote it and I candidly just wanted to leave. I was like, “I’m get robbed. My neighbours sell medications out of their house. It’s not where I need to be.”
That must have been really unsettling.
I was extremely upset because my laptop got stolen and it had all my old sungs that I’d been writing for years and years. It hurt so much.
Was there a back-up?
They’ve gone, they’ve gone! I mean, some of them are still in my head but they’re gone.
The ones that stick in your head are the ones worth keeping…
And there’ll be new ones anyway, so it’s not too much of a loss.
Image copyright Ray BLK Image caption The video for Chill Out features persecuted members of Jamaica’s LGBT community
For the video to
Chill Out, you went out to Jamaica and filmed with transgender women who’ve been forced out of their homes, and live in Kingston’s storm drains. What was that experience like?
Meeting the Gully Queens was such an incredible experience. It set a lot into view because each day of their lives is a struggle and a battle to stay alive – yet they were so happy, so full of life. It attained me feel like I need to be a lot more appreciative of how good my life is.
Living in the West, you don’t actually realise how the things we see as normal are considered abnormal in other regions of the world. Now we’re trying to raise money to get them into safe housing.
The original anthem isn’t about that conflict, but the visuals and the music genuinely complement each other.
Chill Out, for me, was about female empowerment and not letting society tell you how to act. I felt like the video completed that, truly, because it was about empowering these females to be whom they want to be as well.
Female empowerment hasn’t been a big topic for UK artists up to now. Why do you think that is?
Everyone has their own message. I build music for myself and people like me, so a lot of my anthems tend to be about being a woman and strength and trust.
Is it something that needs to be discussed more?
Absolutely. I don’t feel as though I hear much about female empowerment from female artists.
On the flipside, one of your forthcoming songs has a lyric about “doing it in an Uber”. I wonder what that would do to your superstar rating?
Haha! I need it to go up, to be honest. An Uber driver told me my score wasn’t very good, and I don’t know why. Maybe I take too long to find the car?
So finally , now that you’re officially the Sound of 2017, what’s your ambition for the year ahead?
I merely want to become a better artist. I’ve employed this year to find my feet, and now I want to amplify that and give people more music, better music.
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