Pleasing but predictable R&B from acclaimed South Londoner.
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