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South London R&B artist RAYE’s second EP Second (geddit?) is a step up from last year’s introductory and more hesitant but consistently engaging release Welcome to Winter. Now signed to a major label – instigated partly by massive raves from label mate and Years & Years singer Olly Alexander – the five songs here are more confidently and cohesively presented than those featured on her debut. RAYE has not refined what came before necessarily, as this is still R&B-pop at its most intelligent and interesting, but the melodies are now stickier and RAYE’s vocals are alternatively plusher and more possessed.
RAYE has made no bones about the fact that she wants to be a proper pop star. She may be already be a blogger’s delight but the 18 year singer has wide-reaching ambitions. First track and current single ‘I, U, Us’ is co-written and directed by fellow Brit Charli XCX – another artist that would probably like to a bigger known force than she currently is and surely will be soon.
‘I, U, Us’ is all hard edges and trap hi-hats with RAYE asserting her stance that this tryst will ‘never, never happen again’ before throwing down an effortless, tumbling middle eight. ‘Shhh’ follows this and ups the ante even further, and although RAYE is not a rapper, she is reminiscent of Missy Elliott just before she and Timbaland’s sonic fearlessness exploded into the mainstream arena. Its credentials are utterly impeccable.
‘Distraction’ is mid-tempo hip hop-R&B that musically references College/Registration-era Kayne but refuses to succumb to US twangs and identity confusion with RAYE confirming her London roots and the seemingly massive differences between East to West and North to South living and attitudes. It’s not the most grandstanding track here but ‘Distraction’ pointedly establishes RAYE’s position brilliantly as a new artist with a voice and mood where vulnerability may just be the key, grounding the fuck you bangers with an honesty and relatable caution.
The previously heard ‘Ambition’ may open with plaintive and unexpected Kraftwerk synth cords but vocally RAYE morphs into a more guttural Rihanna sound-a-like. She sounds great here it’s impossible to deny, but there is also no requirement for her to over identify with other singers in order to pull people toward her own style. It’s hard at this point to tell where she’ll eventually end up, but Second shines brightly and frequently enough to know that RAYE is definitely one to watch – even if her best is still to come.