Following the recent reveal of the 2024 BRIT Award nominations, you might have noticed one name popping up in an impressive (and, it turns out, record-breaking) number of categories: R&B musician RAYE. Want to know more about this buzzy British star? Read on.
RAYE: The British R&B Artist Taking The Music Industry By Storm
On an otherwise unremarkable Tuesday in September 2023, R&B singer-songwriter Rachel Keen – better known as RAYE – sailed onto the stage at the Royal Albert Hall and took a breath. With the entire Heritage Orchestra behind her – alongside Flames Collective, a gospel choir made up of inner-city secondary school students – she proceeded to perform her (now Mercury Prize- and BRIT Award-nominated) album, My 21st Century Blues, from beginning to end.
While this might have been a milestone for any musician, it represents a particular kind of success for a newly-independent female artist like RAYE, who, after a lengthy battle with her former record label, is unashamedly committed to tackling issues within the music industry. (And making incredible music while she’s at it.)
Who Is RAYE?
RAYE has been in the industry for over a decade, but you’d be forgiven for being unfamiliar: before striking out on her own, she signed a four-album deal with Polydor Records, but was prohibited from releasing a full-length project during her seven years with the label.
Even after writing and producing for artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna and John Legend – as well as collaborating with a host of big names, from Stormzy to David Guetta – RAYE’s debut album never received the green light from label executives. She addressed these struggles publicly in 2021, drawing attention to what is a little-known but wide-reaching industry phenomenon for many artists who are denied the resources and budgets required to release a substantial project.
RAYE eventually made the decision to split with Polydor. Her first singles as an independent artist arrived in 2022, and the slick, seething track ‘Escapism’ swept TikTok, its tale of post-heartbreak unravelling evidently landing hard. The song steadily gained traction before reaching the top of the Billboard charts in January 2023 and going on to win an Ivor Novello award for best contemporary song. My 21st Century Blues finally saw the light of day in February 2023, and it has brought huge success for RAYE: after debuting at number two on the UK Albums Chart, it has earned Mercury Prize and BRIT Award nominations for album of the year, with RAYE receiving seven BRIT nominations in total – a new record.
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What Kind Of Music Does RAYE Make?
RAYE is a pop/R&B artist, but you’ll detect a dizzying range of genres in My 21st Century Blues. Tracks like ‘Escapism’ and ‘Hard Out Here’ blend R&B with hip-hop and electropop, while ‘Mary Jane’ and ‘Worth It’ spotlight billowing brass segments and soulful vocals reminiscent of stars like Amy Winehouse.
My 21st Century Blues has been praised particularly for its candid investigation of themes like anxiety, body dysmorphia and sexual abuse. In an interview with Rolling Stone, RAYE reflected: ‘Music is just the safest place where I feel I can express my truth. I can just be explicit and honest about my perspective.’
What Are RAYE’s Biggest Songs?
While ‘Escapism’ is still a radio favourite, RAYE’s track ‘Prada’ is a more recent hit, featuring hip-hop group D-Collective and up-and-coming DJ Cassö. During her time with Polydor, RAYE’s most popular release was BED, a collaboration with David Guetta.
RAYE At The Royal Albert Hall
While RAYE’s Royal Albert Hall set was a one-night-only affair, it was recently broadcast on the BBC and is now available to watch on iPlayer. You can also stream the live album, My 21st Century Symphony, on Spotify and Apple Music.
If you’re itching to see a RAYE gig, however, you’re in luck: she’ll be performing the album again at the O2 on 15 March, complete with both The Heritage Orchestra and Flames Collective. Find out more here.