Ray BLK has an agenda, and she states it clearly in her adopted surname: building, living, knowing. Although the 23-year-old considered singing and songwriting her “calling” since age 7, she didn’t take on her new name until a few years ago, when she announced to her friends that she would pursue music full time. She had tried the more conventional route by briefly studying law (“I couldn’t grasp the fact that I wasn’t allowed to think for myself,” she says) before delving into literature. Armed with a newfound love for poetry and a dissertation on postcolonial Nigerian literature, the Nigerian-born, London-raised Ray released the Dickensian-titled EP Havisham in March 2015. It announced her as an unwavering artist, seemingly unafraid of baring her life to listeners.
But Ray admits that, at first, she was fearful of the view that being blunt and autobiographical is somehow self-indulgent as a female. “It’s a part of that social contract out there, that women should be more meek and gentle, and not say this and not act this way,” she says. “But I put that to the side and thought, ‘No, I have to be me. I have to say things how I want to say it.’ I can only truly express myself if I’m saying everything as honestly as I would like to.” She embraced the unapologetic rawness she considers core to hip-hop, combining it with her R&B stylings. When she shed the found instrumentals of Havisham for collaborations with dance, electronic, and hip-hop producers, her sound gelled—the result of which is Durt, a seven-track “mini-album” released this past fall.
“Everything is said in the music,” she says. Durt is a primer to Ray in both sound and subject. Her love for her hometown—growing up with grime, glued to the television set watching MTV Base—seeps through, as do further-reaching realities (on the opening track, “Baby Girlz,” she frankly addresses a schoolmate’s young pregnancy as a larger issue). “This Durt project was an introduction to me, for people out there listening, of what’s to come,” says Ray. And what’s next? “Testing myself a bit more and throwing myself in the deep end.”