Two years ago Rita Ekwere released Havisham. Inspired by the jilted Dickensian bride, her debut EP acknowledged her literature degree while marking her professional transition from a graduate career in corporate PR to her real calling as a musician.
Now better known as Ray BLK (pronounced "black"), the 23-year-old Nigerian-Londoner still lives with her mum in Catford, but won the BBC Sound Of 2017 poll in January, an accolade previously granted to Adele, Ellie Goulding and Michael Kiwanuka.
But, unlike those acts, who were already on big labels when they got tipped, Ekwere remains unsigned. As with a number of London artists who are shaping British music – Skepta and Stormzy, her Croydon contemporary who joined her for her rousing final song, My Hood – she has so far maintained her independence, because the south London slang in her lyrics, among other things, wouldn't get through the suits.
So to be recognised by the Beeb is all the more remarkable. But then Ekwere is one of a kind. This was only her third headline show, but she stormed Village Underground's modest stage with a performance that was somehow both swaggering and subtle; many more established artists would kill for her stage presence.
On record, Ekwere's music is built on a confessional brutality indebted to hip-hop which is then glossed in a coat of stripped-back RnB. Live, she's backed by a four-piece band and two singers, who lend the love-and-loss tracks of her 2016 mini-album Durt a more ambitious, rock-stung edge. Songs such as Gone wouldn't go amiss during a Rihanna stadium show setlist, while a brand new track, Empress, showed the influence Alicia Keys has had on Ekwere – she saw the New Yorker in this same venue last summer, as she tells the crowd, in disbelief that she has sold out the same space.
Ekwere inspires several comparisons: she has the bravado of Mary J Blige and the spit and soul of Kelis, while her narration sits somewhere between Lauryn Hill and her emergent London equivalent, Little Simz.
But it is her voice, as layered, rich and sweet as cinder toffee, that sets Ekwere apart from all of them. While her own songs show off her best assets, a cover of Say My Name by Destiny's Child summed up her ethos: full of love, full of shade, showcasing her talent for delivering both rapid-fire, staccato verses and a fiery chorus that, frankly, suggested her a worthy challenger to the Beyoncé of that era.
It was Patience which showed both how far Ekwere has come and the enormous promise she holds. Little did she know, she would win the BBC prize when she wrote this kiss-off to the established music industry, she told us. "I'm walking going at my own pace," she defiantly cooed. It's working wonders for her.