In Conversation with Ray BLK on Self-Acceptance, the Come Up and Touring Across the Pond

OkayAfrica catches up with British-Nigerian R&B artist, Ray BLK, and recaps her successful North American tour and more.

Speaking with Ray BLK right after her first North American tour is like catching up with a best friend—similar to how she relates to an audience on stage. During her tour, the South London R&B artist performed four intimate (and sold out) shows in Toronto, LA, DC and New York City bringing a new level of honesty to her clear, emotional voice and lyrics.

She’s also been having a strong year since she was named the "Sound of 2017" by BBC in January. One of OkayAfrica’s UK Artists to Watch, Ray BLK snagged a nomination as "Best Newcomer" at this year’s MOBO Awards.

In the conversation below, OkayAfrica catches up with Ray BLK and recaps her experience touring across the pond, her new single “Doing Me,” and more.

OkayAfrica: I really liked how intimate your show at the Mercury Lounge felt and how you connected with the audience. It was like a reciprocal kind of vibe going on that night. What is a main take away that you want people to go home with after they experience you performing live?

Ray BLK: I think just them feeling uplifted. I always like to have an energetic show that's just about good vibes and making people happy, so I hope that people leave happier than they came in. You know, when you've had a good night out and you're in good spirits.

What was it like traveling North America? What was the response like?

It was really good. It was so lovely to see people who've actually been listening to my music across the pond. It still surprises me that there are people in different places around the world that hear my music, and actually seeing them in real life makes me feel that they really exist.

It was a really nice experience and it was great touring the U.S. and seeing what the different crowds are like. The crowd in Washington was so ratchet and I loved every bit of it.

What other big performances will we be expecting to see you at later this year?

Currently I'm still doing a festival tour so I've got festivals coming up. And then towards the end of the year I'll be doing my first U.K. tour. That's something I'm looking forward to.

I also remember that you performed your new single "Doing Me." Could you talk about the inspiration behind that song?

When I wrote "Doing Me" I wanted it to be about self-acceptance and being proud of who you are and doing things your own way, and never trying to compromise for other people and dilute yourself in any way. That's what I think the message that still needs to be spoken. Everyone has bad days but sometimes we need to be reminded that it's cool to be you and you can be yourself, you don't have to follow what anyone else is doing.

What other aspects inspire you in your songwriting process?

Usually I'm inspired by my life’s experiences and also the people around me as well. I write a lot about my friends and my family almost as much as I write about myself. It's like getting to see the end and listening to the beat, and just live.

It's always great to see what the come-up looks like for yourself and other young African creatives and how different it looks for everyone. A lot of folks in our space say that you're #goals. How are you able to do it all?

Stuff like that scares me a little bit because I feel like it creates a certain expectation to be a role model who has to be able to do it all. I try to stay focused and the people around me keep me grounded. I think everyone has to enjoy their own journey instead of looking at other people hoping that goal because you never know what someone is going through.

I really like what your surname stands for (Building, Living, Knowing). How do you plan on continuing to live by that as you continue to rise as an artist?

It's funny because I think when I chose B-L-K as my last name, I feel like I was taking it to remind myself of those values, to remind myself to keep being devoted. I think now, and as I move forward, I'm still going to try and work hard like the grind never stops. I'm still trying to build that foundation in my career—I'm still in the early stages.

I'd say recently I've been struggling with taking time to read or learn anything new. I am always trying to learn more and educate myself.


Sarkodie Is Not Feeling Any Pressure

The elite Ghanaian rapper affirms his king status with this seventh studio album, No Pressure.

Sarkodie is one of the most successful African rappers of all time. With over ten years of industry presence under his belt, there's no question about his prowess or skin in the game. Not only is he a pioneer of African hip-hop, he's also the most decorated African rapper, having received over 100 awards from close to 200 nominations over the span of his career.

What else does Sarkodie have to prove? For someone who has reached and stayed at the pinnacle of hip-hop for more than a decade, he's done it all. But despite that, he's still embracing new growth. One can tell just by listening to his latest album, No Pressure, Sarkodie's seventh studio album, and the follow-up to 2019's Black Love which brought us some of the Ghanaian star's best music so far. King Sark may be as big as it gets, but the scope of his music is still evolving.

Sonically, No Pressure is predominantly hip-hop, with the first ten tracks offering different blends of rap topped off with a handful of afrobeats and, finally, being crowned at the end with a gospel hip-hop cut featuring Ghanaian singer MOG. As far as the features go, Sark is known for collaborating mostly with his African peers but this time around he branches out further to feature a number of guests from around the world. Wale, Vic Mensa, and Giggs, the crème de la crème of rap in America and the UK respectively all make appearances, as well as Nigeria's Oxlade, South Africa's Cassper Nyovest, and his fellow Ghanaian artists Darkovibes and Kwesi Arthur.

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