The soulful sounds of singer-songwriter and Reebok feature star Ray BLK surfaced on the U.K. music scene during a high time for hard-hitting grime. Though her music was surrounded by a starkly different sound, Ray BLK forged her own path in the industry, with her songs featured on a number of Ones To Watch charts.
Now, the London-based artist is firmly at the forefront of the U.K. R&B scene and boasts three albums, including a debut studio album titled Access Denied released late last year. Ray BLK has developed a unique library of music that sees her bounce from heart-pouring ballads to empowering anthems, with a common thread of melodic beats underpinning her lyrics.
From Nigeria to Catford London, Ray BLK understands the odds were against her in making it in the music industry. However, with an abundance of success and industry experience, she aims to help more female musicians, from similar backgrounds to herself, break into the scene.
In Reebok’s new “Always Classic” campaign, the brand celebrates its timeless Classic Leather sneaker by telling the stories of those inspiring the next generation just like Ray BLK. Almost 40 years after the sneaker’s initial appearance, Reebok reflects on what classic means to the activists and advocates of change today. HYPEBAE catches up with Ray BLK to chat about her journey to musical success, exploring how she crafts her array of classic tracks and why it's so important to be the change you want to see in the industry.
Hypebae: Hey Ray, let's start on when you were an aspiring artist, what did a classic track sound like to you?
Ray BLK: When I was growing up and aspiring to be an artist, a classic track was your typical pop song. The sort of music you hear on the radio. The expected progression, simple sing along lyrics and a big chorus. That’s what we were fed, really. Classics are a lot more diverse in sound now.
Tell us a little bit about your music-making process today.
I like to start with the beat. For me, the production of a song is the foundation, because I feel the music before I hear the words. Then I put down melody ideas. Sometimes they come with words and I like to just freestyle on the mic and see what comes out, then I formulate all the ideas and build on them.
“Classic to me means something that is good in every era.”
How do you mold your music so it’s widely loved and listened to, yet stays true to your unique sound? Do you feel there is a compromise?
I don’t make music with the purpose of it to be widely loved anymore, because it compromises the art when you approach it in a formulaic way to appease the masses -- that just dilutes your sound and you sound like everything else that already exists. I try to make music that I like, and then if other people like it too, and they happen to be the masses, great. I make music for people like me, with the hope that the shared human experience of what I’m writing about is what will resonate with people who aren’t like me.
“My Hood” is an anthem that resonates with so many people, what inspired the lyrics in your verses?
I was exhausted and had just finished my day working at the corporate PR job I hated so much, but I pushed myself to go to the studio in the pouring rain, because I was tired of seeing my mum struggle and was determined to change that. I got in the studio and wrote about the struggle of where I’m from, because it was my everyday reality. And although I was ready to leave the ends and do big things, I love where I’m from so much and it makes me who I am. The south London girl will never leave me, and I just wrote a love song about it.
“I make music for people like me, with the hope that the shared human experience of what I’m writing about will resonate with people who aren’t like me.”
In what ways does Reebok’s “Always Classic” message chime in with your approach to making music?
The “Always Classic” message of Reebok is always my aim with my music. I’m not interested in following fleeting trends. I want to make music that stands the test of time, and so even when I write lyrics, I don’t really say things that are of the now. I want someone to listen to it 10 years from now and still understand what I’m saying.
You have paved the way for a new generation of female R&B artists coming out of the U.K. Which rising artists do you think we should have on our radar?
I like Debbie. Her pen is fire. I also like Bellah, she’s got a way with words too. And Berwyn, he keeps his lyrics real and I love it cause it’s not made to appease the masses.
What advice do you have for artists who hope to one day see their music become classic hits?
Firstly, be a student of music. Listen to music outside of the genre you make or love. When you have an eclectic taste in music, you’ll be able to hear the things that make a good song in every genre. So although you might not be a huge fan of rock, you understand that chorus’ on songs like Aerosmith’s “ I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is a classic because there’s a feeling of desperation in the melody, and lyrics that makes you want to sing along at the top of your voice every single time. You can then take that and apply it to your own genre.
The Reebok “Always Classic” campaign defines classics from sneakers to sounds and beyond. As it shines a light on those who are propelling the next generation of aspiring talent, Reebok hopes the “Always Classic” mantra will transcend time and live on in more inspirational stories.
Shop the Reebok Classic Leather in brand new colorways now online.