Hip-Hop

Why Morray Almost Quit Music Before His Breakout Hit 'Quicksand' Took Off

Morray
Nick Farrar

The 28-year-old Fayetteville, N.C., native’s first Hot 100 entry also helps him reach a new No. 7 high on the Emerging Artists chart.

When Morray received a call from manager Moe Shalizi last summer, the 28-year-old rapper had no idea who he was. "I was like who the f--k is this guy on my phone, with this blond hair he keep rubbin’ and sh-t," Morray jokes. Shalizi, who mostly works with talent in the dance music scene, reached out to Morray after falling across "Quicksand" on YouTube. And once Shalizi mentioned that he manages star producer Marshmello, Morray's ears perked up. "I was like, hold up, my kids know him," he says. "That made me listen."

Before the life-altering call, Morray was on the brink of abandoning his rap dreams. The now-burgeoning artist says it was one of many moments when he contemplated quitting music. Luckily, the phone rang just in time. Seven months later, "Quicksand" debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 100, reviving Morray's will to push forward. "'Quicksand' doing what it did really made me fall in love with music again," he tells Billboard.

With the heartfelt hit sitting at a No. 71 high in its 11th week on the chart and his debut mixtape, Street Sermons, out today (April 28) on Pick Six/Interscope Records, Morray is feeling unstoppable. "I want to do this forever, because I'm finally f---ing happy," says the father of three.

While his life is rapidly transforming -- the "Quicksand" visual surpassed 60 million views on YouTube and Morray now has weekly phone calls with J. Cole -- the rapper is determined not to let material gains change his heart. "All this jewelry I have on was a gift, I didn't pay for it," he explains. "And I’ma keep it a band, I probably won't buy this kind of sh-t because that's not me." Instead, the rapper's shopping list includes a Barbie Dreamhouse that his 8-year-old daughter has been eyeing, a new family home and something nice for his wife.

Morray's artistry and soul-spilling music center his own experiences growing up in Fayetteville, N.C., something he hopes will inspire others to remain true to themselves and be kind to those around them. "At the end of my career you ain't gotta say I was the best rapper," he explains. "Just say I was a solid ass person and it was good meeting me, that's it."

Below, Morray tells Billboard about finding his authentic voice, his friendship with fellow Fayetteville rapper J. Cole and why he decided to join Interscope Records.

How did “Quicksand” come together?

I was making songs that [sounded like] something that was already out, and my wife was saying, “I know you can do other sh-t — this music you’ve been writing is not you. This is a Chris Brown or a Drake or somebody that's already out there.” “Quicksand” and “Big Decisions” came out of that conversation.

What stopped you from writing music that was authentic to you in the past?

I felt like it wouldn't sell. Like nobody wanted to hear about how sad a n---a life is. They want to hear [about] the cars, clothes, the females, the money but that made music hard for me because I ain't have none of that stuff. So I had to watch videos and listen to music to figure out how to talk about it. But it’s easier to write [about] your life because it actually happened.

Why did you sign with Interscope Records in partnership with Pick Six Records?

I didn’t know there was a chance for me to get signed with another label, because I was already with Pick Six. I’m new to the industry. It wasn’t until [manager Moe Shalizi] was like, “Labels want to sign you.” He said Interscope first — I jumped on that and didn’t care about anybody else. Interscope signed every hot artist that has ever been alive.

What’s the message you want to send through your music?

I want people to understand that you can love yourself and other people as well. You can find your own peace in treating other people kindly. Making somebody smile will make your heart be like “Oh sh-t, I just did something good today.” You see the sun, you've kissed your kids. You got a job, your bills are paid, you can smoke some weed. Life isn't that bad if you can still do that stuff. That's all I really want to get across. Just be happy.

You contemplated quitting music before. Tell me about that.

Music is hard when your funds are tight. I had a regular job, so for me to pay $40 an hour for the studio when my check was only $900 a week, my rent was $600 and my car note was $100, it's like, "Damn, I got kids."

I paid $150 for my mixtape and never put it out because I didn't like the sh-t when I finished it. I didn’t think I could do it. “Quicksand” made me fall in love with music again. I want to do this forever. I’m finally happy.

What was it like seeing J. Cole react to your music?

Man, that's like Michael Jordan coming into the court with Derrick Rose and saying "good job." It was fire to see. At first, I thought it was one of his fan pages playing around but I said, "oh sh-t, that's him!" [Now] I talk to J. Cole at least once a week. Most the time we'll talk about music, [but] I got a haircut today because he knows a barber in New York.

What experience in your life has shaped you the most?

Having kids really shaped my mind, my heart, my spirit. Before that I wanted to be whoever the world wanted me to be. I wanted to follow around the cool crowd. When I had my kids and started seeing how other kids treat kids I was like, "Hold up. I gotta teach my son something different." I don't want him to be the way I was growing up. I really want him to understand your daddy loves you. I'm never gonna leave you. Without them I probably would still be the same knucklehead. Them and my wife really changed my whole life.

Tell us about Street Sermons.

I put my heart and soul in this mixtape and I really hope it is perceived as such. It's about how I lived my life and learned lessons through all the bad sh-t that I've done and how I've tried to become a better person. It's my life in this mixtape. I took my time to listen to my fans and I know what y'all want -- y'all want more of me, so I want to give it to you.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self to [just] be yourself. You're good enough, bro. You don't need validation from your friends. You don't need validation from your pop. You will need validation from nobody. Understand that you can achieve greatness if your ass stays focused. Giving up should never be an option. If you really love something, you really feel like it can change your life and it makes you happy, don't ever stop that sh-t.

A version of this article originally appeared in the April 24, 2021, issue of Billboard.