Island · October 1, 2021
In the U.S., when one mentions a current female R&B singer, some names that come to mind are SZA, Summer Walker, or Ella Mai. However, don’t count out RAY BLK next time you think of the genre. Four years after winning the BBC’s Sound Of 2017, this London-based R&B singer recently released her long-awaited debut full-length album Access Denied with a whopping 15 tracks and nuanced style to keep you coming back for more.
When first working on the LP, she felt as if she needed to fit a certain mold to maximize streams and airplay. “I felt like I was being a little bit fake or trying to strategize everything,” said RAY BLK in an interview with R&B Rated. After this revelation, she completely scrapped the LP and reworked it to sound the way she genuinely wanted her work to be heard. And it paid off.
This album bleeds both resilience and confidence. The listener will know all about RAY BLK once the album is finished. The beginning track is a strong opener to this album. Blaring through the speakers, “BLK MADONNA” is a declaration of RAY BLK’s ambition as an up-and-coming artist and her yearning to be the next (black) Madonna.
As each track opens and closes, the listener is invited into the story weaved by RAY BLK’s smart hooks and careful rhythmic flow. In the title track, “Access Denied,” she explains her reasoning for paying her exes no mind, “You seeing me less, because I’m doing more,” she scoffs at the men that have hurt her. Then, in “25,” she takes on the pain of growing up fast in the music industry. There’s “so much to do, too much to prove / But I’m only 25, too young to feel this tired.” RAY BLK touches on many topics in this album, making each track relatable in some way.
Along with heartbreak and ambition, RAY BLK expresses her experience as a Nigerian immigrant living in London, a perspective that few people in the US know much about. In the song “Dark Skinned,” RAY BLK sings about her experience with not only racism but colorism. Growing up she had to learn to love herself, and she celebrates that realization on this track. “We talked about colorism, and I just hated that all of the discussion felt so negative,” said RAY BLK in her interview with R&B Rated.
While her lyrics tell a story, the rhythm is the backdrop. Each track is sonically unique, tethering the lyrics and beat together to get her messages across. RAY BLK uses the current style of R&B that most people are familiar with, and incorporates it with her Nigerian heritage. RAY BLK’s beats sound unique as one traverses from song to song, differing in pace and tempo. One minute it’s the trap beat-laced heartbreak ballad “Baggage,” and the next it’s the Afro-pop track “Over You.”
RAY BLK does an excellent job of mixing fun and seriousness together. This balance makes listening not too heavy on the mind, but also makes the listener think and appreciate where she comes from.
Her catchiest song “MIA” adds to the irreverent side of this balance. Compared to her other songs, the premise is a bit basic. She’s telling a story of going literally missing in action with her new lover. However, she tells it in a way that makes you want to belt along and go off alone with a newfound love interest.
Overall, the album is very listenable and relatable, evoking a head-bobbing motion through each song. While this may be your first time hearing of RAY BLK’s existence as a dynamic R&B artist, it should not and will not be the last.