Ray BLK Celebrates Blackness in her latest single “Dark Skinned”

Are you familiar with Ray? Dubbed the Lauryn Hill of the UK, Ray is known for being an advocate for Black women in a male dominated music industry. She has an album coming up, for which she owns 100% of the royalties. We were fortunate enough to talk to her about some of her tracks including her latest single “Dark-Skinned”. Addressing the meaning of the song on her socials, Ray BLK explained; “This song is for the underrepresented, the over plagiarised and uncredited. This song is a celebration of my melanin.” 

Her musical and visual prowess puts her en route to becoming one of the most prolific female artists of 2021, while her charming yet brazen personality has Buzzfeed raving “NO ONE is doing it like RAY BLK and that’s facts.” Ray is an incredible artist and I feel like you’d really dig her.

            Feature Interview: 

Shirley: Before we get into it, I wanna thank you for this project. I just really appreciate your expression of Black femininity. I really enjoyed the project and I’m super glad that JaJuan and I had a first listen. 

Ray BLK: Aw, thank you so much! I really appreciate that. That warmed my heart. 

JaJuan: Hey Ray! My name is JaJuan Malachi. I’m stationed in Brooklyn, NY. Originally born and raised in Bed-Stuy and to echo Shirley’s sentiments, I’m really excited to be able to speak with you and to just divulge a little further into who you are, as well as, what you have going on.

Ray BLK: Ahhh yes, I love your name.

JaJuan: Thank you so much. I think of it as sort of like black royalty in a way in my mind. That’s how I define it. First and foremost, I wanted to say congrats on being featured on the cover of NME magazine. I just saw that all over your socials and I thought it was dope how you put that together and I consider it to be somewhat of a stepping stone in your career. To kick things off, I wanted to ask you being someone of British and Nigerian descent, who are some of your biggest influences? And how have they shaped your sound? 

Ray BLK: So, my biggest influences one has to be Mary J. Blidge. That’s what I grew up listening to or being played in my house. My mama only listened to a few things growing up. Gospel music. Mariah Carey. Whitney Houston. Mary J. Blidge. That’s it. When I got into music and started writing songs, I realized that I take a lot of influence from Mary J. Just how she merged R&B with Hip-Hop and Soul music. Just how her music, a lot of it, were real stories of the Black female experience. I feel like that inspired me a lot. From the U.K., my sister put me on to Ms. Dynamite and for me, she was one of the few people I feel like I could relate to because, you know, she was from “the ends” and she was a young Black female who was like winning BRIT awards and things we hadn’t really seen ourselves represented on those platforms and on those stages before. She was a big influence for me. When I got to an age where I could actually understand what she was saying, I felt like it really represented me. Her lyrics were always about empowering people and women, specifically, not to put up with abusive relationships. Not to put up with, you know, being put down and to fight for your rights. Of course Lauryn Hill was a big influence for me. So like a bit of America and a bit of the U.K. 

photo credit: NME Magazine

JaJuan: Those were all great responses. I can definitely see all of those themes sort of manifested in your music for sure. You must have vast experiences that shape your life and make you want to promote the richness of a dark-skinned identity. Can you share your inspiration behind your single “Dark-Skinned?” Shirley and I were fortunate enough to gain a little sneak peak on that. 

Shirley: We have the whole album JaJuan. We enjoyed all of it already! 

*collective laughter and giggles*

Ray BLK: Don’t leak it please 

*collective laughter and giggles*

JaJuan: Nah. We’ll never do that

Shirley: We’ll never do that. It’s great though! 

Ray BLK: So I really wanted to make a song that was really about the celebration of blackness because I felt like a lot of the music, the art, news, every that we were being shown in 2020 and even prior to that, I felt like was just heavy and it was very negative and we were having discussions about whether it’s about violence against Black people. Um, colorism or not feeling beautiful, not being represented. All of it just felt really heavy and negative. I found myself on social media just needing to get away. It felt like this “woe is me” sort of theme. Like “ahhh being Black is such a bad thing, such a heavy thing, such an unfortunate thing.” I mean of course it comes with its difficulties but I just felt like we need to celebrate our blackness. We need to celebrate how far we’ve come and don’t need to be so negative all the time because for me when I celebrate Black History Month, I celebrate where I come from my roots, my hair. I don’t think about slavery and all of the things in society that have tried to pull us down, so that’s where the inspiration comes from. Also you know when I came into this industry, I feel like I came in a little bit naive because I was always raised to believe that I could be anything, like that’s something my mom always told me and then when I came into this industry I feel like a lot people thought they were being supportive and giving me good advice. They kept telling me “you know, as a darker-skinned female, it’s going to be really hard for you.” And “you might not get that many opportunities and very seldom do opportunities come, so you need to hold on to it with two hands.” Um, I just hated that rhetoric because I felt like it gave me the struggle mentality and so, I wanted to fight against that with this song and be like “babe, I shine in the dark.” It doesn’t matter what shade I am regardless I’m gonna shine. 

JaJuan: Well, I definitely commend you for that. For just taking the lead on presenting the dark skinned identity in the most positive light possible. That definitely reflects in this track and I would say across the album as a whole. 

Shirley: I would say as well, when you were talking about feeling “naive,” what kind of advice then would you give someone who is in your position when you were naive? Like if somebody is entering the music industry now who kind of feels like ungrounded and maybe that would add to that feeling of being naive, what would you say to that person? 

Ray BLK: Um, honestly I feel like being naive is the best place to be just because, obviously, you’ll learn things as you go along. I feel like that essence of being childlike, is what allows you to dream and is what allows you feel like anything is possible but then when you get all of this information but “oh no, this is how this works and actually these are the limitations” then you start restricting yourself or your dreams start to shrink a little bit because people tell you what is or isn’t possible, so I would say don’t listen to those people. Honestly, stay naive and stay childlike because especially stepping into an adult industry, it minimizes your dreams to be honest and just maintain that essence that you came into the music industry with and don’t listen to all of the noise especially if you start receiving recognition or become bigger. I think there’s a lot of pressure to follow whatever you see everybody else doing, to continue growing but you have to remember what got you there in the first place and just try and maintain that essence.

photo credit: Romany Francesca

JaJuan: Since starting your career, what is some of the best advice you’ve been given so far? 

Ray BLK: Do you know what? My old manager gave me some really great advice where he was just like “do what feels right for you.” And I know that we hear stuff like that all the time like “be yourself and whatever it feels really outdated. Like just be yourself and do what feels right for you and I heard that advice and I didn’t take it at the time. I did what I thought was the right thing for other people and then I realized that that doesn’t work for me for so many reasons. Mainly because when you’re inauthentic, I feel like everyone can see it. 

Shirley: Say it louder for the kids in the back! 

*collective laughter* 

Ray BLK: Like this ain’t really hitting! Something is off here. So I feel like it’s way better and easier even to be yourself. I feel like as well, you don’t lose track. You stay in your own lane but when you start being like “maybe I should do what this person is doing or maybe I should do what that person is doing,” you just get taken way off track and you miss what’s meant for you. That’s probably the best advice I was given. And another bit of advice I was given was “it’s really not that deep, like we’re not saving lives in it (or we might be) but we’re not doing heart surgery. That was advice from Giggs. I’m someone who takes themselves quite seriously when it comes to my work because I love what I do and I’m passionate about what I do and I want to do my best. I remember he invited me out to the Drake show at the O2 and he was like “after this, there’s an afterparty” and I was like “no, I have to rest my voice.” He was like “Drake’s gonna be here, have you been to a party with Drake. I don’t think so.” 

*collective laughter* 

Ray BLK: He was like you need to have fun. He was like Ray, it’s not that deep. You’ll do your vocal warm – ups in the morning. And I realized like “yeah, you know what I have the opportunity to have all these amazing experiences. I have to have fun with it. Don’t overthink it. It’s not that deep. 

JaJuan: I definitely feel like the authenticity screams really loudly when listening to your music. Also, I just feel that lightheartedness that you’re referring to in your music as well.

Shirley: And right now! 

JaJuan: Yeah and right now, you’re a total source of light! 

Ray BLK: Aw, thank you! 

Shirley: And she’s humble.

JaJuan: Yes, yes very humble for sure. So based on my research, I discovered that you’re currently signed to Island Records but I have also realized that you have complete ownership of your music. How important is it to take ownership of your music in today’s landscape? 

Ray BLK: Ah, I would say it’s so so important. More in the business sense, I think it’s important. This might sound a bit dark and stuff but this industry is so fickle, you really don’t know what’s going to happen at any time. All you really have is your catalog. And so, I feel like ownership of your catalog if you can do that at some point in your journey is really important because like to be real, you might not be the hottest thing after a couple of years, you know what I mean. So I think on a business level, it’s important to try and have or create as much ownership as possible. And also, I think it’s important because you just learn what happens behind the scenes as well. Like, having the opportunity to be an independent artist when I first started was really instrumental for me because I learned what it means to have budgets and what it means to have a press person and this person. All the moving parts of the industry. I think I wouldn’t have known otherwise. I would have gone to a label and been like cool, whatever. This isn’t something anyone is really gonna take the time to break down for you that’s why it is important to just know what’s happening in your business and trying to own as much of that as you can.

photo credit: Emily Nkanga

Shirley: I’m over here taking mental notes cause’ this all stuff I need to know. All relatable. Thank you for being super open and chill this whole interview. I don’t know, I feel like I hoped on a little FaceTime group chat with a friend, so that was really pleasant for me.

There’s 14 tracks and there’s just so much soul, vulnerability and even dignified confidence all in one not to mention some exciting features and it’s very hard for me to choose to a favorite because everything is great but if I was to choose some favorites, I would say it’s “Baggage”, “Mine” and “Over You”. I feel like “Baggage” is actually the kind of headspace I live in often. I just felt like I really related to that song and just the emotions behind it. To wrap up this interview, I wanted to ask: what else is in store for Ray BLK? 

Ray BLK: Ummmm, more music obviously. I feel like with this project, I really got to create the album that I wanted. I felt like with my other projects, I was kind of experimenting and tryna find my own feel or sound. Now with this album, I feel like I have found my sound, I said the things I wanted to say and for my music after, I want to have a little bit more fun. I’m good with experimenting but I wanna have a bit more fun with different sounds, so I feel like that’s what’s going to happen next. Also, me branching out into different pockets. I’m quite business minded, so there are a couple of things I want to tap in to. I went to drama school as well, so I’m tryna get back into acting as well. 

Shirley: Wow, that’s exciting. Well that’s all the questions that we had. Thank you so much for your time! Thank you Auden for organizing and scheduling. Thank you JaJuan for conducting the interview. 

Ray BLK: Thank you guys for having me! Have a good one! 

Credits:

Interview conducted by JaJuan M. Morris-Guity and Shirley Reynozo

Interview transcribed by JaJuan M. Morris-Guity

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