Interview: Ray J
Tue, 08 Apr 2008 07:30:31
L.A.'s always much nicer than New York. Ray J concurs with that. "I'm in New York right now. It's kind of cool here. Luckily, it's not that cold. Of course it's beautiful in L.A. though. That's my hometown." Home has been pretty good to the R&B MC. He grew up in the entertainment world and has been a fixture in music and TV since he was a kid. However, on his latest record, All I Feel (Knockout Entertainment/Deja 34/Koch Entertainment), he's grown up even more as an artist.
On the album, Ray J gives R&B an edge. In between sexy, soulful crooning, he spits jagged rhymes that cut like a knife. His flow is edgy, smart, and at some points, hilarious. He exudes charisma with each and every line. All I Feel breaks all the rules, in the right ways. Ray J's not afraid to say what's on his mind or get down. He's funny, smart and smooth. While chilling in New York on a cool spring day, Ray J talked to ARTISTdirect. He gave us a closer look at his new album and even took some time to make a hit song on the spot for us.
Dropping in some sexy verses and rhymes, you've broken with R&B convention. Would you say you've made R&B fun again?
Yeah, I really touched on a lot of different situations that most R&B cats wouldn't touch on. I'm a big fan of R. Kelly, Usher and all of the young guys out there making their own lanes. I just wanted to make my own lane and have something original, fun and sexy.
You're able to croon like an old school R&B singer, but you also drop some edgy lines in there.
I tried to make them very edgy. I'm a very edgy artist, and I'm a real cool person. So I wanted to have this fit my image exactly how it is.
"Sexy Can I" has that vibe. How'd your collaboration with Yung Berg come about on that song?
Well I was working on some stuff with Berg. We just became friends first off. Then I started working on some stuff with him for his album. He was like, "Yo, whenever you need me for your album, let me know." So in creating "Sexy Can I" with one of my friends, I was like, "We need Yung Berg on this." He's got this song called "Sexy Lady." This song is called "Sexy Can I." Let's make a sexy movement out of this! Let's make it an event. We made it an event. Yung Berg is a fairly new artist. So he's young and fresh. I haven't reached my peak where everybody knows me yet. It's just a fresh sound of two young guys that you're getting into and you're just starting to know.
You've both got a hunger and fire.
Definitely, man. It's all there, dude. It's all there for sure.
What's the story behind "I Like to Trick?"
"I Like to Trick" is a great record. I was going to drop that record from All I Feel, but then Lil Kim called me and told me, "Yo, that's my record." So now I'm going in with Lil Kim, and that's probably going to be her first single. It'll be totally different from what you hear on the album, but it's going to be smoking. So lookout for that remix/single of "I Like to Trick" from Lil Kim featuring Ray J. Crazy! [Laughs]
It must be great to get that response from other artists—inspiring them and getting them hyped up on your stuff.
That's what it's all about, people loving the music. If it's controversial, and you've got a story to tell in your life, that's more of a plus. My goal was not just to be controversial. I really wanted people to respect the talent, the music and the movement we've got going.
You also tell stories like a traditional R&B artist. Did anything particularly inspire you in terms of that?
Lil Kim definitely inspired me. She had a big crib in L.A. A few months ago after inking the deal with Koch, Deja 34 and with my company Knockout Entertainment, she motivated me to get back into storytelling and talk about my life and what I see around me. She's one of the illest female rappers ever. So for her to give me that hip hop inspiration and incorporate that into my R&B sound was really inspiring. That's what raised the bar for me to get back in and go that route creatively.
Did you have one concept in mind for this record?
I went into the studio, and I wanted it to have a consistent sound. I didn't want to have an up-tempo and then a slow jam. This is a record that you can pop in from the beginning and feel like you're watching a movie. Everything that happens in each song follows the one before it. I didn't sequence the album. I had a guy named Keith, who's VP of A&R at Epic Records, come in and sequence it. He sequenced this shit, and made it just explosive. He heard the songs and just made a movie out of it. I'm very stoked that people loved it and wanted to get in on what we're doing. It was just a blessing for me, man. I thank God everyday.
How do you think you've grown and changed as an artist?
I just think the light is shining on me a lot more as far as publicly. People want to know what's next for me. I'm giving them stuff that they're appreciating, liking and feeling good about. I just want to keep this ball rolling. We came out strong with "Sexy Can I," and we just want to keep it consistent and keep this whole thing rolling.
It's great you pulled The Game in on "Where You At." How'd that come about?
Oh yeah, that's West Coast central for all my thugs out there who like to get with it and throw up their flags. That's what it's about. I actually dropped the ProTools off at his studio, and asked him to work on it. I'm from Carson, and he's from Compton. I grew up in Centerview, and he grew up in Cedar Block. So we all can relate to the same thing. All my homeys wear red, and all his homeys wear red. It is what it is. We can relate.
Do you feel like L.A.'s coming back in terms of hip hop?
I still think the South's got it on lock right now. The Southern rap is really taking over, but I do think the West Coast will have its chance again. Shout out to Game, Snoop Dogg and everyone on the West Coast holding it down.
You'll be important to that too, especially with All I Feel.
Oh yeah. I 'm going to be the West Coast's T-Pain [Laughs]. I'm going to sing on everybody's hooks in the West and the East. Get ready, I'm the next.
What other collaborations do you have coming up?
I've got a few people I'm talking with. I just talked to Rick Ross. He's going to cut his verse on this new record we've got. I'm on the new DJ Kayslay album. I just did a song with Chingy on his album. I did a song with Rick Ross and Busta Rhymes. I'm going to hit 'em hard.
When did you start your company Knockout Entertainment?
I've had Knockout for about 10 years. It really cranked up on my last album with "One Wish." That was my first single for Knockout. It was the first thing we released independently. Even on "Wait a Minute," I wasn't independent, but I had Lil Kim on there going, "This is a Queen Bee/Knockout Collabo." So I was promoting Knockout since then.
Is there anything else you'd want to do with Knockout entertainment besides music? Maybe movies or TV shows?
We're going to do all of that stuff. Right now, we've got a lot of ideas being thrown to us in the company. We're definitely going to take the world by storm and keep this thing going. We're not just going to be in today and gone tomorrow. We're going to be like Puffy. We just won't stop.
Are you working with other artists too or is Knockout just for your own releases?
I've got an artist named Shorty Mack that's been loyal and down since day one. He's coming out under the Knockout Entertainment right after me. Then we're looking forward to doing some positive things on Brandy's album. She signed to Epic. So Knockout will play a part over there as well. We're just excited to have these new projects coming and to get Ray J cranking and off and running like it is right now.
It seems like you're in a good position now to build everything.
Definitely, we know it's going to take time. We've just got to stay consistent with these records and keep it going.
"I Can Feel It" really stands out, because it's got that rock vibe. What was your mindset behind that one?
A guy named Dave Pasarow is this really rock and roll dude. He jams all day, and he's always like, "C'mon Ray let's fuckin' jam!" He came up with the guitar for it, and I was like, "Damn, this is a hit, dude!" We just started writing, and he's actually singing the background too. I just wanted to go alternative and do something different. I love playing the piano and the guitar. I love singing over guitar too. So Dave Pasarow came in and did his rock and roll thing, and I put my twist on it.
Where do the songs usually start for you?
Sometimes, I'm just sitting at the piano coming up with chords, and a song might come after I find the chords. Sometimes, I might hear a beat and create a song. Sometimes, I just hear sayings that people have. "Sexy can I come over to your house," and I'm like, "Sexy Can I? Let's make a song with a title like that." Or "Get it Crunk" and "That's what's up," I just try to find the popular sayings outside and make them very catchy.
So inspiration can come from anywhere.
Oh, yeah. I could be in Frisco. Or I could be having sex and be like, "She said 'Ooh, ooh ooh.' Let's do a song called 'Ooh, ooh, ooh.'" [Laughs] Right off the bat [Laughs]. Whatever works, I could start singing, "She was saying, 'Ooh, ooh, ooh.' She was saying, 'Ooh, ooh, ooh.'" That might be hot. I think I just made a hit [Laughs].