Ahead of her appearance at Hidden Door, rising R&B star chats to us about hitting the road with Nicki Minaj, her role in the music industry and standing up for your rights
There's something wonderfully relaxed about chatting to Ray BLK while she gets her hair cane-rowed. The R&B singer and rapper is currently in the middle of a run of support slots for Nicki Minaj on the UK leg of The Nicki Wrld Tour – understandably, an experience that has been something of a dream come true for the 25-year-old South London artist.
'When I heard she was touring last year, I said that I wanted to be on the tour, and then it actually came to fruition at the very last moment. It was a real surprise to me. I was in LA about to come home and before I got on my flight, I was asked if I would want to go and start performing with Nicki Minaj when I landed. It was crazy!'
It's just another example of the kind of attention Ray BLK is currently receiving from the industry. Her brand of R&B, hip hop and neo-soul has been catching the eye of stars and fans alike; both her video for single 'My Hood', and 2018's 'Run Run' have racked up nearly 2.5 million views apiece – no small feat.
Born in Nigeria, Ray moved to London as a toddler, and started singing and rapping as a child. 'I'm not really from a musical home, so the music I heard and got involved in was mostly from church and from school. I sang from about seven years old and started writing raps then as well. I probably started properly song writing, when I was about 13. That was when me and friends used to make songs after school. From that age I knew that I wanted to be a singer. I was trying to chase my dreams.'
credit: Olivia Rose
She released an EP 'Durt' in 2016, featuring both Stormzy and Wretch 32, while studying for a degree in English literature at Brunel University. 'I knew Stormzy from years before, so that was me collaborating with a friend who happened to be strongly rising at the time. With Wretch it was very natural as well. It came about through the studio he used to work in, where I was recording at the time. He's a fan of talent and he's a really cool guy.'
Something of a career turning point came about when Ray won the BBC's Sound of 2017, the first unsigned artist to ever do so. Her empowering, unflinching exploration of the effects of youth violence, and general promotion of self-worth, have continued to distinguish her in the community. She is clear on her stance on some of the issues facing young people today.
'As a citizen of Earth, I feel like when you see an injustice or when you see something wrong, you should try and speak up about it, or try and do something about it – otherwise, you become a part of the problem. I've never felt like as a musician it is my responsibility. I just stand up for what I believe in, and what affects me and my community. I felt like I needed to say something and do something.'
So, what are Ray's thoughts on her position as a female, particularly as a black woman, within the creative industry? Does she feel a sense of responsibility to pave the way for other young women in the UK?
'I don't really like the word role model – I don't think anyone should try and emulate anybody – everyone should try and be themselves and make their own impact. But being inspired by someone is an amazing thing, and you can be inspired by someone just by their existence. Like by existing as a female artist in a male-dominated industry, especially as a black female, is inspiring in itself. And I would say that, as a female in the industry, what is important is for me is to support other women.'
Playing the opening night of Hidden Door at Leith Theatre this May, Ray is hoping she'll get the chance to explore the city more fully. 'Unfortunately, I've never really had the chance to walk around and enjoy Edinburgh. But it is really beautiful.' Tourist duties aside, her perfectionist tendencies should ensure a great show for the Hidden Door crowd. 'I'm someone who's always been an entertainer from a young age. It's a natural thing for me. I used to struggle with nerves, but I think that was just because I always want to do the best and be the best; it was all about making sure it was perfect and being scared I would fuck it up. But I've managed to get rid of that fear, by the grace of God.'
This year is set to be a landmark one for the young artist, as she'll soon begin releasing music from her debut album, which is set for release towards the end of the year. 'I'm very excited to release my first ever album … it's all just really exciting!'
Ray BLK plays Hidden Door, Leith Theatre, Thu 30 May.
Volunteer-run arts organisation Hidden Door returns for a long weekender of music and art at Leith Theatre. Following a successful fundraising campaign to secure the future of the non-profit festival, the team behind Hidden Door have opted for a shorter format in 2019, to support efforts to build towards a full festival…