R&B singer Girl Wray pushes past the boundaries of teenage fame

Even earlier than she was grown, stardom appeared like future for Nicole Wray. She was a 15-year-old standout in a Portsmouth, Va., church choir when hip-hop legend Missy Elliott, who grew up in the identical city, heard of Wray’s expertise. Elliott confirmed up at Wray’s mom’s residence, requested {the teenager} for an impromptu audition and signed Wray on the spot. In 1998, Wray launched a debut solo album; a single went gold.

However that first style of success got here earlier than Wray actually knew who she was, by no means thoughts what she actually needed to sing or how she needed to sing it. She was uncooked expertise, topic to the whims of an business wanting to form her.

She spent a lot of her early profession as a background vocalist for Elliott’s initiatives and lending her voice to outstanding artists’ tracks. Wray wouldn’t begin writing and releasing her personal music till her 2016 album “Queen Alone,” a title that pointed towards her progress as an artist past her teenage fame, after a number of begins and stops at different labels. She adopted the title Girl Wray.

“I all the time needed to be a songwriter,” says Wray, who’s taking part in the Black Cat on Friday. “I simply didn’t know what it took till I began residing and form of getting exterior of the artist factor and began being an actual particular person.”

Wray says her songwriting is strengthened by her trials out and in of the business; her objective now’s to create a soundtrack to her personal therapeutic course of. Take the lyrical vulnerability that floats above the chunky bass of her 2019 launch “Piece of Me,” the title monitor to her 2022 LP: “I’ll allow you to take a chunk of me / I hope you get the peace you want / And if that’s not sufficient, I’ll allow you to go peacefully.”

It’s enjoyable wordplay with a percipient message, however followers may be additional impressed to know she wrote and recorded the music extemporaneously in a single take, sitting in a studio chair whereas eight months pregnant. Now a spouse and mom, Wray says her transition into life’s subsequent steps has additionally sharpened her writing in ways in which make her extra relatable than she appeared in pre-written tracks. And on an album that hints on the R&B vitality of her early profession and the gospel influences of her youthful days within the church choir, it looks like a full-circle second.

This makes Wray’s most private touches really feel universally endearing. On “Melody,” a music named for her daughter, guitar chords twinkle like a lullaby beneath Wray’s candy voice: “All of this pleasure, it issues greater than concern.” Her daughter’s 4-year-old babble responds: “Mother, is {that a} star?” In her latest releases, Wray appears to have answered her query.

Jan. 20 at 8 p.m. on the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. blackcatdc.com. $20.

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