Sounds Like: A soulful rose that grew from the South London concrete
For Fans of: Mary J. Blige in her My Life heyday, Jazmine Sullivan, Estelle
Why You Should Pay Attention: Ray Blk is an artist who both resembles the current R&B landscape and sounds nothing like it. She's a rapper-turned-singer that can still spit a rhyme or two, as she proves on the just released single "Patience (Freestyle)." Her beats, made by producers like SG Lewis (Gallant, Disclosure), have the same electro-pop tones that most of her peers use, but she sings with the full-throated passion of an earlier era – think Mary J. Blige on "Happy. "I learned how to sing from choirs, and from listening to my mum's Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston CDs," she says.
On her second project, Durt, she writes about a life growing up in her gritty South London neighborhood, whether it's with the defiant "5050," or "Chill Out," where she asserts her right to have platonic, casual relationships with the opposite sex. It's those qualities that helped her win BBC's Sound of 2017 poll last month. Meanwhile, her Durt EP has nearly a million SoundCloud streams, partly thanks to her "My Hood" collaboration with hot grime rapper Stormzy.
She Says: While unknown to most Americans, the annual BBC Sound of poll is highly regarded in the UK music industry. Past winners who went on to major success include Adele, Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding and Haim. Ray Blk is the first indie artist to top the poll. "I feel like from the second I put something out, labels have been trying to contact me and sign me, from, like, when I only had 200 listens. I don't know how they find people! But from that early state, labels have been approaching me. I've had conversations and stuff, but I just decided that, for me, I kinda just want to stay independent. If the time comes and I decide there's a right offer for me, and the right partner to partner up with, then I might be up for it."
Hear for Yourself: In the video for "Chill Out," Ray Blk's demand for self-determination takes on a new tone. Filmed in Jamaica, the clip spotlights members of the Gully Queens, a transgender community that has suffered homophobia and persecution. Mosi Reeves