Since the release of his 2018 debut album Platinum Fire, Arin Ray has been moving in silence.
During his visit to Billboard’s NYC office last Tuesday (May 31), the L.A.-via-Cincinnati singer makes it known (once or twice) just how excited he is to be back in the city doing press for his sophomore album Hello Poison which came out that Friday (June 3) via Interscope.
“New York is a vibe,” he says, sitting at a conference table. “You see a whole bunch of life. The rooftops, the scenery, the way they dress out here is different. And they show so much love. It feels like home a bit more than L.A., because where I’m from, we got the real s–t. Like [New York] is some real close-together s–t.”
In general, Ray tends to keep a low profile. He’s not super-active on social media, and when he is, it’s usually to promote new music, which he has only released sparingly in recent years. In 2019, the 26-year-old singer-songwriter surprise-dropped his Phases II EP, a follow-up to his 2016 debut project Phases, and has delivered only a handful of features for other artists — a list that includes EarthGang, Kiana Ledé, Terrace Martin and most recently, Blxst.
However, over the past month or so, the R&B crooner has been marking his return and restoring balance within the R&B world. (“The ladies got a stronghold on this [R&B] s–t, the n—as gotta step it up.”) Ray carefully rolled out Hello Poison with two lush singles — “The Mood” featuring D Smoke and “Gold” along with equally seductive visuals. Taking a more go-with-the-flow approach compared to Platinum Fire, the new 15-song “quarantine album” as he calls it is a combination of older and newer songs, and is heavily informed by a relationship that Ray was in at the time of its creation.
“When I got in this relationship, everything changed,” he explains. “All the words just started flowing out, all the melodies started flowing.”
Billboard caught up with Ray to discuss the meaning of Hello Poison, how fatherhood informs his career and why he says he’s no longer “playing fair” with his music.
How have you been?
I’ve been good. Taking it day by day, forreal, personally. I’m just grateful to be alive, honestly. This pandemic s–t, everything that has happened since the last time I seen you [in 2019], just seeing the world forreal [has] been crazy. I’m good – a lot of emotions, but I’m grateful.
It’s been four years since Platinum Fire, and I know you dropped the Phases II EP in 2019, but how does it feel to be dropping another album again?
It feels different this time. I put a lot of work into this album just over the years, because it’s old music kinda, and new music. But this time I don’t really know how to feel. I think I had a lot of expectations the first time with Platinum Fire just hoping that I was gonna become some big a– star, you know – just everything was going to happen after that. I think this time I’m just letting s–t happen. I’m not stressing it, I don’t have too many expectations.
I don’t think I’m as excited as I thought I would be at this point, but it’s not really a bad thing, I’m just not a kid no more. This s–t is a job, it’s real business, it’s not just some s–t I do just to have fun, it’s some s–t I do to make a living. I guess I’m grateful that I’m still able to release music and people give a f–k.
What are some ways you’ve grown from Platinum Fire to now, musically and personally?
Musically, I’ll start there – I pay attention to detail a lot more. I think I’m singing a lot more. When I say detail, I mean just the way I record, who I use as far as production, my process is a little different. It’s easier to make music now.
Personally, I had a couple relationships. Some great ones, some OK ones, some not-too-good ones. But I feel like I’ve learned a lot as a man, as far as learning how to communicate. Not really stressing s–t, even though I stress this music s–t. I’m growing into the man I’m supposed to be, taking care of my kid. I’m just living. I don’t put too much thought into it.
How has fatherhood and watching your son grow up informed your approach to your career and life in general?
[My son] Pharaoh is the reason for all of this, my growth in music, my personality, just everything. He makes me better because he’s on my a–. I can’t be on him, because he wants the same out of me. I expect certain s–t out of him and he expects me to be a great example. Seeing him now – he’s graduating Pre-K next week – seeing him grow and seeing what he’s into, what he loves to do and what he’s picking up on…his lingo and how he’s navigating through friends and school. And then me taking him and doing all of that, it’s been a wild thing to see.
I didn’t really grow up with my dad doing none of that. I’m not learning on the fly, I’m just doing what he didn’t. I’m just trying to be there as much as possible. I’m not the weekend dad, I’m the four-out-of-seven dad. You know what I’m saying? I’m a real pops. But I really do this music s–t as well. [Fatherhood] has changed everything for the better. I just can’t wait to see him grow because he loves everything that I love, plus more. I could talk for hours about this lil n—a, he’s my inspiration.
How old is Pharaoh?
He’s 5, he’ll be 6 this year. Godd–n, saying that is crazy too.
Explain the title Hello Poison.
Hello Poison really came from me calling love “poison” for like a year leading up to my [last] relationship. I was just hating on that s–t, like “F–k it, I don’t want a relationship. I don’t want to be with nobody. I wanna be free and have fun.” [The] pandemic happens, and I meet this woman who I had seen before, but this time it felt different. I knew I was about to be f–king with this woman for a minute, from that moment on. It just seemed like “hello, love” which means “hello, poison” to me because it’s basically the beginning of an end because I know this s–t ain’t about to work.
Walk me through a typical day recording this album.
I did this in quarantine. There’s only one record that was finished prior, but it’s basically a quarantine album. I’m at my house recording everything, and really the whole process leading up to it, like before I got in my relationship, I couldn’t write no music. Had I dropped an album like maybe last year or two years ago, it probably would’ve been the worst s–t I ever put out because I just had no inspiration, nothing to talk about. And when I got in this relationship, everything changed, all the words just started flowing out, all the melodies started flowing.
The process was really just chilling with her, making music and talking about it. It’s all I had to do. It’s really just a quarantine album, a moment in time. The process wasn’t nothing forced, because we didn’t know what was happening, but the concept didn’t come until after [the relationship] ended because I was able to tell the whole story, and it made sense from track to track. It came together [by] accident, to be honest.
How much of the production are you involved in?
A lot. I Quincy’d this thing, that’s what I call it. I’m Quincy Jonesing all of this, there’s not a beat that I don’t touch. I go seek out producers, but I did most of this record with DJ Camper – and the pen is 90% me.
Why did you decide to drop now?
Why? Because I need the tour, I need to make some bread. [Laughs.] Honestly, now that I’m outside, now that I’m moving around, I would love to create… like after this, I’ma be consistent. No going away for four years. I plan to drop at the end of the year, I want to drop another project. This is old a– music, but I needed to get it out. I would love for people to hear where I am and a different perspective. And people need it, ain’t too many n—as like me. The ladies got a stronghold on this [R&B] s–t, the n—as gotta step up.
Speaking of that, how do you feel about R&B right now?
The genre is great. The crazy thing is, people say it’s dead, but there’s amazing artists out here that people need to hear. Alex Isley, Mereba, Malaya. Obviously, I love Summer Walker, Ari Lennox – but it’s some undergrounders killing s–t, like serving, like pen game stupid, vocals stupid, everything. All the women that’s doing this s–t is crazy. I think Brent [Faiyaz] going crazy.
Gallant is really good too. I asked about you when I interviewed him last year because you guys have that song “Third Eye Blind.” on his Neptune EP.
He’s incredible, that’s my dawg. His falsetto is one of the coldest in the game. If it’s one thing Gallant do, he gon’ sing high as f–k.
What’s your favorite song on Hello Poison and why?
There’s a record called “Storm.” At this moment, it’s my favorite. I just love the cadence [and] time signature, it’s kind of all over the place. The drums but the chords is so beautiful, it almost feels like my “Human Nature” on the Thriller album – and it’s got Brandy on the vocals and Terrace Martin on sax. It just feels really, really good. I always wanted to make a record like that.
And if I could pick another one, “This Is Nice” — because I produced it. I made this during Phases II, but I didn’t put it on the project because it didn’t fit. But “This Is Nice” is pretty crazy too, it’s real different, alternative vibes.
From following you over the years, it seems like you’re not a big social media person. I imagine this is a way for you to protect your energy and peace – but what are some other ways?
That is one of the ways. I don’t like seeing a lot of s–t, I’m a thinker. It’s just too much going on [on social media], and I got too much to focus on worrying about some little s–t like that. I really don’t tweet, half the time I don’t know what to say.
Another way is surrounding myself with great people, [but] not a lot of people. I don’t really hang with too many people. I keep family around.
Anything else you want to add?
Listen to the album from front to back. Don’t just go picking songs because they got cool features. [But] just enjoy it. This is my gift to the world, me expressing myself. I put a lot of heart into this and I want the world to see it. I want to reach the masses this time and just keep being consistent.
I’m not going nowhere. I’m about to f–k n—as heads up. If you think Hello Poison about to be cold, the last three songs I just made is killing this whole album, period. I’m on another level right now, creatively, and I’m not playing fair. A lot these people getting writers and producers and doing all that – I’m bouta go utilize my friends and go make the best project I ever made after this.