RAYE’s “21st Century Blues” review: The revitalization of blues in the modern age


Courtesy of Pitchfork

Dajah Saul, Social Media Graphics Lead Designer

“Ladies and gentleman, give a warm heartbreak welcome to the wonderful, RAYE,” serves as the melodic introduction to one of the best albums of the new year: “21st Century Blues” by blues artist RAYE.

I know that’s a strong statement for an artist I’ve only known for a short time, but “21st Century Blues” is an album to watch, alongside its wonderful creator.

As a woman within the music industry since the age of seven, now twenty-five-year-old RAYE has not only created a plethora of lyrics and production techniques to envy, but she has also held her own in her journey with music. RAYE uses this album to revitalize the sound of blues in the modern century while also staying true to her musical roots.

After leaving her previous record label, RAYE embraces experimental sounds yet familiar melodies of jazz, pop, and R&B alongside moments from her personal life with this debut album.

RAYE magically combines multiple influences of sound while retaining originality within her lyrics and production, not relenting on any aspects that successfully tell her story, personally or through the harshness of the music industry.

The album begins with an immediate immersion into the scene of RAYE’s dreams: a late-night performance in a club made for jazz and old-school productions (“Introduction”). We hear a host introduce the producer of the hour, Mike Sabath, alongside his latest house band, the Moongirls, to assist a very special guest from London, England: RAYE. With introductions out of the way, and the lady of the hour in attendance, the show is ready to begin.

“Oscar Winning Tears” places a singular spotlight on RAYE and her experiences with previous relationships. The man in question may not be relevant, but his expressions and a sleuth of tears whenever something went wrong with his relationship with RAYE spoke volumes about his toxicity. She leads the song with a lovely, well-controlled crescendo that should be performed in the large hall of the Oscars themselves.

“Hard Out Here” deals with some of RAYE’s experiences within the music industry, as her journey has been difficult when dealing with a variety of producers and other musicians. RAYE doesn’t mention anyone by name, but she is adamant that her light will continue to shine despite who may try to stop her within her music. With a solid production and impeccable flow on the beat, RAYE continues through this album with a perfect sound.

“Black Mascara” is an instant club classic for anyone to dance to. Although the lyrics may seem repetitive throughout the chorus and following verses, the song’s intention seems to do so for this exact reason, which RAYE does flawlessly.

“Escapism feat. 070 Shake” is the ultimate catalyst for “21st Century Blues”. Instantly viral on Tiktok and other social platforms, RAYE’s “Escapism” describes her unhealthy desires after the abrupt end of her last relationship. She didn’t want to feel her pain, so constantly going out to clubs and consuming narcotics was presentably her only option.

“Mary Jane” pushes RAYE’s regrettable narrative of her consumption of drugs and alcohol to cope with her circumstances within her personal life and the industry. Despite the negative effects of these narcotics, however, they help RAYE to forget her saddening predictions.

“The Thrill Is Gone” speaks of the end of a relationship, where the spark has completely dissipated within RAYE’s relationship. Levels of discomfort rise as RAYE sees the end of a relationship and an era, but she somehow surrounds this tale with a high-level, jazz infused production with a strong range of lyrics to uphold her storytelling.

“Ice Cream Man” tackles topics of horrific sexual experiences and RAYE’s circumstances with producers and fellow members of the music industry. With being taken advantage of and staying silent, RAYE emotionally travels sonically through the song while describing her negative situations. Nevertheless, RAYE comes out of her situation as a brave, strong woman.

“Flip A Switch” expresses a switch in attitude toward confidence and strength within women. RAYE wards off negativity and insecurity to walk her own path toward self-discovery. “Flip A Switch” is a confidence anthem for anyone dealing with insecurities, bad relationships, or a change in surrounding circumstances.

“Body Dysmorphia” is a slow tune regarding the difficult topic that many women have experienced.. Constantly spoken of in a negative or unachievable light, women’s bodies, although a hard subject to speak about, are important and valuable in society and in the progression of women’s rights.

“Environmental Anxiety”, easily RAYE’s most experimental song of the album, morphs together aspects of the planet’s dying environment with subjects of politics and societal standards. Calling out political leaders by name and secrets of environmental hazards, RAYE makes it clear that these topics are important not only to hear but for her audience to understand.

“Five Star Hotels feat. Mahalia” delivers a more sensual track within “21st Century Blues,” as it deals with moments of infidelity, longing for a partner, and missing out on the highlights of what life can offer romantically. The song is a slow jam within the realm of bedroom pop, allowing RAYE to tap into her growing confidence in more ways than one.

“Worth It” enters back into the atmosphere of the jazz club, where RAYE wonders if her new relationship or positive step in life is worth taking a leap forward. Going through many negative circumstances, RAYE wonders if it’s worth making room and time for new opportunities within her life with finally stepping toward a better mindset..

Despite its comedic title, “Buss It Down” holds plenty of weight as the last full song of the album. Through the ups and downs of “21st Century Blues”, RAYE comes out on top as strong and ready to settle down in her new life away from her previously toxic music label, and she wants to share this positive energy with everyone around her.

“If you made it this far, I just wanna say thank you from the bottom of my heart for listening (‘Fin’),” to which RAYE’s words also relate to whoever has made it to the end of this album review. I have spent hours upon hours with “21st Century Blues”, as well as writing this review, but every passing moment has been worth listening to every song and story that RAYE has to offer, to which I cannot wait to see more from her future catalog.

Now, in the last words of send off from RAYE before the slow curtain closes:
“Finally, My 21st Century Blues is now ours, forever,
Till next time, lots of love, RAYE”.


“21st Century Blues” is now available on Apple Music and Spotify.

Illustration by Ariel Landry