“I kind of just hammered it, did everything I could, took every opportunity, played every shitty gig, busking on the street, charity shows, used to sing at church…“ Speaking on the phone during a hectic day of commitments around London, there’s no doubt that Raye – real name Rachel Keen – knows what she wants and how she’s going to get it. But it’s not that her career so far has been without any risk. The 20-year-old South Londoner was a Brit school attendee for two years before dropping out to forge her own path, but if there’s one thing Raye has proven so far, it’s that risk can be worth it.
She’s since released two EPs – 2014’s self-released Welcome to Winter and 2016’s Second via Polydor – and counts collaborations with Stormzy, Charli XCX, Jax Jones and Jonas Blue amongst early career successes. But it was a spot on this year’s BBC Sound Of 2017 poll that proved a pivotal moment in Raye’s breakthrough. “I literally started crying like such a baby…” she remembers of receiving the call to say she’d come in third place. “I think growing up watching those lists and always wondering if I’ll ever be on them, let alone to come third, it was just insane.”
That being said, Raye is an artist still in the process of defining her sound. Look to the YouTube comments of last year’s track ‘Shhh’ and you’ll see fans claim that the song, with its multiple key changes and unconventional song structure, has created a “new genre”. In contrast, there’s her refreshingly straightforward summer pop hits – this year’s ‘The Line’ and last year’s Charli XCX co-written ‘I, U, Us’ – or latest single ‘Decline’, a no-nonsense noughtiesdrenched track which samples Ja Rule’s 2001 Ashanti-featured hit ‘Always on Time’.
“I kinda wanna dig in to the whole early 2000s thing,” Raye explains of where she sees her sound fitting into the UK music landscape. “Music’s about to evolve somewhere. Like, it needs to evolve somewhere now. The whole kinda drop section after your chorus is kinda reaching its end.”
She counts Jorja Smith, Stefflon Don and Mabel as her contemporaries likely to make it big in 2018. “It doesn’t feel mathematical. It just feels fresh and really exciting,” she says. “I just have so much respect for the UK females doing it in the scene right now.”
“Be nice to everyone because you never know what assistant or runner is gonna become the next CEO.”
But not one to be satisfied with simply performing her own songs, Raye is eager to also become a songwriter in her own right after meeting and “completely hitting it off” with Charli XCX at a songwriting camp in LA. “She was kinda like the first example of me really wanting to dig into my writing for other artists and projects as well as my own,” Raye explains, who’s since received songwriting credits on Charli’s ‘After The Afterparty’ and ‘Dreamer’, Snakehip and MØ’s ‘Don’t Leave’ plus Blonde’s ‘All Cried Out’, among others. “She’s so driven, so hard-working, and it really motivated me to wanna to do the same thing and so she’s been a massive inspiration to me.”
Another of her famous supporters includes Stormzy, who Raye describes as “like my big brother“. The pair first talked via Twitter, before Raye met him at one of his gigs in Sweden and they decided to work together; he later appeared on her track ‘Ambition’. “I think if he’s taught me anything it’s just to be nice to everyone because you never know what assistant or runner is gonna become the next CEO. You just need to treat everyone with respect.”
Raye comes across as an artist very sure of the direction she wants her career to head in, so what can we expect from her in 2018? First up, she’s set to release a mixtape of collaborations in January before playing a few shows and beginning the writing process of her debut album. Other than that? “I’d a love a UK top five. I would absolutely love that!” she shares. If all goes to plan, it seems to be a goal well within her reach.
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