Review Summary: Pain is defeated by art.
Where does it take you? When you come home from a long day of work, shaking off the weight of the day and sliding your headphones on, where does it take you? What are you searching for? Emotional kinship? Self-validation? More importantly, do you find it? Whether your drug is depth or distraction, music is a consistent dealer. Whatever your vice, My 21st Century Blues has your fix. This is Raye's first project following her departure from Polydor Records in 2021, and it's a resounding proclamation of growth and a fearless display of vulnerability.
The subject matter of this record surrounds addiction, sexual assault, depression, and anxiety. Tracks like Mary Jane tactfully explore the escapism that various illicit substances provide for the wounded soul. A blues guitar lick with a slight delay and heavy-handed reverb anchors the track while Raye's soothing vocals lightly dance above like a fleeting fever dream. One distinguishing feature that is palpably entwined in Raye's music is her gospel background and apparent love for early 2000s R&B, but this influence is used sparingly yet with great effect. While the Amy Winehouse influence is readily apparent, it would be a cheap and quick comparison that does not begin to take into account Raye's own musical genius.
The heavy subject matter of this record is exemplified in its most potent form through the eighth track, Ice Cream Man, which details Raye's experience of sexual assault with an unnamed producer. Similarly, tracks like Body Dysmorphia and Environmental Anxiety are excellent studies of introspection conveyed in meter and rhyme. A fitting noire atmosphere complements these tracks, but the production is never languid or too lugubrious despite its depressing nature. However, this isn't solely a melancholy affair. Tracks like Five Star Hotels are certified bangers where Raye utilizes a more traditional R&B/Hip-Hop approach to her vocals. Even the songs exhibiting darker lyrics, such as Black Mascara, incorporate hypnotic techno beats with ethereal background vocals that provide a refreshing change of pace. In short, My 21st Century Blues is a strong release from a young artist showing a lot of promise. This dynamic record explores darker subject matter without being entirely consumed by the crushing emotions associated with it. It isn't a record by a victim, but a survivor.