"People really wanted R&B, that soul, that feeling again," Ray tells Billboard. "So that's what I tried to do. I tried to really be R&B with this project." Though Ray remains tight-lipped about a release date, he assures fans that his upcoming effort will be nothing like Platinum Fire, as they can expect a lot more "progress" and "growth" from the 23-year-old hyphenate.
Billboard caught up with Ray to chat about his new single "Change," working with Kehlani, chasing a No. 1 song and why he wants to be limitless. Check out our interview below.
How did "Change" come together?
I've been working with Chris from The Rascals a lot lately on new records. You know, he did "Reckless" and "Always" with me. I had the song for "Change" and I was like, "I gotta get somebody on it." And the day we were really trying to figure out a feature, he was like, "What about 'Lani?" I was like, "Dang! That's crazy. That's actually a great idea." And I've known 'Lani for a long time now.
So we call her and she's around the corner; she came over with the baby and recorded the second verse. Then she wrote the whole bridge part -- the rap, the back-and-forth joint. That's kind of how we solidified the record. It was just so organic. Their team is just great and everything worked out business-wise.
I thought it was your idea to do the whole back and forth, rapping the bridge part.
This is what happened: She wrote her whole verse and I was like, "What if I rapped this half part?" After she left, I rapped her little part. We wrote the whole bridge and I was like, "Lemme do the back and forth real quick" because it sounded like I can say what she's singing. It just made sense. It was perfect. It was meant to be, for real.
Kehlani said on Instagram that this is her favorite collaboration in a long time. Where does this collaboration rank on your all-time list, given that you've worked with Ty Dolla $ign, DRAM and Babyface?
This gotta be at least top three. On the real, it's No. 1 because as far as the collabs, I never went so hard with somebody and actually worked in the studio with somebody like this. For her to come and being able to work with me and record the verse, we really worked together.
On most of the other collabs like Ty, he did on his own. Babyface, he actually came and wrote it. Those were legendary moments, though. That was big for me. But this one, in particular as far as how big I think this can be, this ranks as one of the top ones. The experience I had doing this record and shooting the video was great.
What made shooting the video such a dope experience?
The directors. AJ and Miles did an incredible job with the cinematography. I've had some dope videos in the past, but this one, as far as creativity and doing things differently, this is the one. This is the one where I'm like, "Yeah, we really got this one." And I don't wanna do it differently after this, I wanna keep the same formula. I want to keep using these guys. It's bananas. And I'm not a fan of all my videos. That's s the thing. Half of my videos out, I do not like.
How have you evolved as a songwriter and as a man since your debut?
A lot is going on. I have a son. I'm dealing with a lot of different things as a man and life, just as far as relationships, being a father, dealing with business. Songwriting is better with my experiences. The more that I experience, the more that I go through, I'll only get better until people don't care what I'm doing no more. [Laughs.]
As a man, I feel like I've grown so much and knowing how to move in this LA business of music and communicating with people. I'm just now being the artist that they always wanted me to be. I was always kind of in the back, always trying to stay to myself just because of the songwriting thing and I didn't want to bring too much attention to myself. But I gotta understand that if I'm going to be putting out this music and it's going to be dope, people are going to want to talk to me. People are going to want to be around, so I gotta be able to do that.
I'm just grateful that I'm still able to do this and doing it at a high level and still getting better. I have a lot to learn.
You spoke to Teen Vogue back in June and said you want a No. 1 album, a No. 1 song and a Grammy. Which takes priority first for you at this point in your career?
We'll start with the single first. That would be great. Hopefully, this could be that. Then, when I drop the project -- which is done, but I can't tell you when it's coming out -- hopefully, we can get a No. 1 project. And then we get the Grammy. One, two, three. Hopefully, that'll be the three-piece that I'll be able to obtain. If I don't get it now, I won't be tripping.
I feel like I have some time in this industry and I'm young. The more I do my thing and the more I just keep working, I'll be able to get it. I'm around so many people and so many influences that I feel like I have no other choice but to try to be great. I feel like as long as I'm doing that, I'll have a good chance of getting what God has out there for me.
You're not even 25 yet, so you have plenty of time.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I turn 24 in less than two and a half weeks.
How did you challenge yourself making this project?
It was drastically different. The way I recorded was different, as far as [Auto-Tune] and all that -- I tried to record without it. For my process, I used different mics. And then, the way I wrote -- my approach -- it felt easy when I was doing the records.
That's something that comes from my experience, but as far as the approach, I was just trying to give people something that they were asking for. I think Platinum Fire had a certain sound to it. This will not sound like Platinum Fire.
It's another journey and the one after this is gonna sound different from that. I'm grateful to show the progress and the growth. I don't want people to put limits on what I can do. I don't want it to just be R&B -- because, eventually, I might just do a rock album. If I can fuse something, I'm going to fuse something. Trust me, I got some stuff in the bag.