This Guy Can Steal Your Chick
It's 20 minutes past midnight and Ray J is feeling satisfied. The 27-year-old singer, actor and onetime amateur porn star is in Manhattan's Platinum Studios listening to songs from his fourth album, All I Feel. He's particularly into "Kiss and Tell", which features his homie and occasional lover, Lil' Kim. "Asking me about my girlfriend, wanna know if her name is Kim," Ray sings along. He bops around the room, puffing a blunt, waving his forefinger. "Asking me if we only friends, but I don't kiss and tell."
DJ Kay Slay, who is doing the A&R for Ray's album, thinks he should; he's pushing "Kiss and Tell" as a second single. "We're almost there, Ray," Slay encourages. In December 2007, Ray and Slay released a mixtape, Ray J Unkut. The cover art is a drawing of Ray J on all fours behind another Kim - Kim Kardashian. "I'm not going to stop till I got you on a fucking billboard in Times Square," Slay presumably exaggerates.
It's why Ray J is in New York this week. He's been in and out of the studio overseeing the mixing and mastering of All I Feel (on Knockout/Deja 34/Koch) and also meeting with producers who are playing new tracks for him. "I want that Jodeci-slash-Prince-slash-sex," he instructs Hot Runner, who's also working with Ray's older sister, Brandy.
Ray is sure he has some hits on his hands. He just needs people to listen. "2007 was like a roller-coaster soap opera," he says. "I didn't have one record out but was shining harder than I ever have."
Ray J has been in the public eye most of his life. Much of that time, he's been trying to prove that he isn't a cornball. He was a child star (corny); he's Brandy's little brother (cornier); and his first really big break was on her sitcom, Moesha (even cornier). But in the process, he snagged a couple famous girlfriends, and in 2007, he released a sex tape with one of the hottest of them all. It received tons of press, and now he wants to make the transition from porn to pop star. But will anyone take this guy seriously? He hopes so.
"I'm not corny at all," he says. "I'm not a little kid. I don't do corny things; I don't hang out with corny people. But when you're on TV as a young kid, and with Brandy being my sister, you automatically get candy-coated and labeled like that. I'm not B2K. I'm not Marques Houston. I'm not none of them punk motherfuckers. I'm not even in that lane. I'm not like anybody. I'm just straight-up me."
In the studio, he keeps a quiet room with a piano and dimly lit candles. But he also rolls blunt after blunt. He offers alcohol. He asks if you've ever had sex during an interview. He says that neither has he, but it would make for a helluva song. "Put this interview in the tub and wash it off with soap," Ray instructs. "Put some strawberries on this interview and some whipped cream."
He knows all about his image. He checks out the blogs, finds it hysterical that T-Pain complimented him on the size of his, um, "meat" and is insulted by rumors of golden showers or sex tapes starring himself and Lil' Kim. Time to set the record straight - sort of.
"We can talk about the women I slept with or what I did late at night in hotel room 223. Did she swallow? Did she drink it all?" he says. "But I wanna talk about being an entrepreneur, a young boss. People recognize me for all of the controversy, but they don't know the grind. They don't know that I put out records like 'One Wish' independently and still top the charts. People don't know I make my own money, buy my own homes, got my own team of people around me. I'm really on the grind to take that R&B crown as an independent businessman. Usher and R. Kelly are the dons. I just wanna be that young boss who's next in line to make money, sell records and put out good music.
It's been a struggle so far. In 1997, he performed in a Disney Channel special with Brandy (yes, we know, corny) and released his debut, Everything You Want. Later that year, Elektra Records dropped him. Since then, he's had two hit singles (2001's "Wait A Minute," which featured Lil' Kim, and 2005's "One Wish") but hasn't left a memorable mark on music. He hopes All I Feel changes that. The first single, "Sexy Can I," has hit 3,000 spins.
"If people open up their minds to Ray J, a whole lot more people will be receptive to him," Kay Slay says. "It's not like he just made a [porno] movie; he's got hot music to back it up." But even if he were to make his own Confessions, it would be hard to subdue that other image, the one Ray J revels in: He brags about hosting house parties with 30-to-1 girl-to-guy rations, and one of his business partners even greets him as "Sleazy Ray." the nickname doesn't bother him.
The night before his listening session at Platinum Studios, Ray sat in an SUV outside SIRIUS Satellite Radio in midtown Manhattan. Kay Slay rode shotgun. Ray J was in the backseat and a thick 20-year-old from Dubai - whom he met the previous day at Diddy's new-artist showcase at the music industry's hot hangout, Spotlight Live in Times Square - sat on his lap. Her passport photo from the United Arab Emirates shows her head covered in the traditional hijab, but that night she was smoking a blunt with Ray J. She was also freezing. "I'm here to keep you warm, baby," he cooed, wrapping his arms tightly around her curves. He nuzzled her neck and teased. "I'm an animal."
William Ray Norwood Jr. wasn't always a self-proclaimed animal. He was born in McComb, Mississippi; raised in Carson, California; and began auditioning for commercials at 8 years old. At 12, he landed a role as Sinbad's foster son on FOX's The Sinbad Show, which was canceled after its first season. He joined the cast of Moesha, his sister's UPN sitcom in 1999. But like most child stars, he grew up fast. And in 2001, this son of a choir director began repping Death Row (see KING Winter 2002 issue).
"People [were like], 'What the hell is Ray J doing hanging out with Suge Knight? He's trying to be hard-core! Ray J wants to be a gangster!'" his voice rising as he explains his dalliance with the label. "Suge used to roll through my neighborhood every week and say, 'What's up', to me as a young kid. People would never expect me to sneak in the back of Snoop's Cherokee Jeep and tell my parents I'm going down the street to do my homework. "Call Snoop," he urges. "Call Suge."
Hanging out with Suge [Knight] didn't result in the thug branding Ray J was seeking, but at least the ladies in his life comforted him: Karrine, Keyshia (so the stories say), Whitney, two Kims and two girls from R&B trio 702. He's prepared to be grilled and is ready with sound bites:
To read those sound bites in its entirety, cop the May 2008 issue of KING Magazine. On newsstands now!