SMOOTH OP­ER­A­TOR

Pleas­ing but pre­dictable R&B from ac­claimed South Lon­doner.

Q (UK) - - Awards 2018 -

RAY BLK EM­PRESS IS­LAND, OUT NOW

Al­most two years af­ter she was crowned the BBC’s Sound Of 2017 win­ner for her lively and fiercely mod­ern dis­patches from day-to­day life, Ray BLK is back with her de­but al­bum. But it’s not merely her leisurely re­lease sched­ule that sug­gests the 25- year-old – born Rita Ek­were – isn’t overly fussed about cap­i­tal­is­ing on the hype. Em­press is a col­lec­tion of solid but safe soul and R&B, sup­ple­mented by gospel flavours, rap seg­ments and a smat­ter­ing of vaguely trendy pro­duc­tion ticks. At a time when the bleedingedge of pop is awash with R&Bbased in­no­va­tion, Em­press’s un­ad­ven­tur­ous sound does feel a tad dis­ap­point­ing. But on its own terms, there’s plenty go­ing for it – not least Ek­were’s ef­fort­less vo­cal and un­hur­ried rap style. There’s also much joy to be found in the ti­tle track – an amus­ing and re­lat­able riff on all the crap blokes she’s dated – as well as the bliss­ful retro vibes of Girl Like Me and Just A Kid. Tak­ing its cues from ’ 00s girl groups, Got My Own is a straight­for­wardly bril­liant pop song – but its lyrics, which see Ek­were as­sert her fi­nan­cial in­de­pen­dence, do re­call Des­tiny’s Child’s sem­i­nal take on the sub­ject. This nig­gling fa­mil­iar­ity is a re­cur­ring is­sue here: Run Run sounds un­com­fort­ably sim­i­lar to Jorja Smith’s Blue Lights, whereas mum-ode Mama cleaves tightly to lyri­cal stereo­types. Ek­were is clearly a tal­ented vo­cal­ist, but Em­press’s sense of déjà vu means she’s yet to be­come the voice of a gen­er­a­tion. ★★★ RACHEL AROESTI Lis­ten To: Got My Own | Girl Like Me | Em­press

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