R&B singer-songwriter Arin Ray evolved from his bright-eyed, teenage X Factor ambitions to raspy melodies of manhood on his debut album, Platinum Fire, out now. Alongside rapper DRAM, streams mounted for their earworm “Communication.” On his new 14-track LP, Ray valiantly divulges his experiences with sweet-sounding love, perfumed lust and bass-rattling betrayal.
Still, the old-school sampling and breakthrough potential of songs like “Fuck Y’all” highlight why the pride of the underdog is often relentless. His time behind the scenes songwriting for top 40 mainstays like Chris Brown, John Legend, Rick Ross and Nicki Minaj prepared his pen for this album.
As Ray’s emotionally driven Platinum Fire is released, the singer caught up with Billboard to discuss putting his personal life on wax, what he learned from performing on his first national tour, and how the birth of his son amplified his sound. Become better acquainted as the Interscope Records heartthrob launches his next chapter.
You broke on the scene through The X Factor as Britney Spears’ protégé. What is the dynamic of your relationship now?
With Britney? No relationship. I have not talked to Britney since the show. Then again, during the show, we barely talked anyway. You know, it was television politics.
How did that experience prepare you for the music industry?
It helped me to learn that everything is not going to go your way. Also, you have to go out there and just perform. [I learned] a lot; I don’t want to say anything negative. I just saw things that I would not necessarily want to do with my career, within that realm.
Yeah, it was more so learning what not to do. It taught me how to stay on point and not be nervous. You are going to be out there onstage in front of millions of people. It prepared me to move to California.
I had never been out there before. So I saw what Los Angeles was like, and how people moved. I met people in the business and producers. It prepared a sample size of what this was going to be like. The experience is really [about] dealing with people in the business, but it was a gap, though.
In what regard?
Well, coming out to LA and working from the ground up [there was a gap in time]. And to go from being on a television show then [starting over], that usually holds more weight. Nobody cared after the show was over. No one hit me up to sign me. I had to move out to LA and hustle. People just respect [me] more. They don’t think you feel like you are the shit. At one point, I was a kid on X Factor. So you are feeling yourself, but [starting over] brought me back down.
It felt like, “Damn! Everybody else is getting signed.” I am seeing Fifth Harmony. Everyone was going crazy. So it just motivated me. It made me feel like I needed to get out there and work hard. Maybe it just was not my time. I say that all the time. I am glad that went the way it went.
Music is in your bloodline. Your father was a drummer for early ’90s new jack swing groups New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe, while your aunt sang background vocals for Marvin Gaye. When did you know music would be your career path too?
To be completely honest, as far as being driven, it was high school. I began art school in the sixth grade. But I was hanging around and getting in trouble. I really did not take it seriously. In the ninth grade, I started auditioning for things. Still, from day one, my mother put a mic in my hand.
Whether it was drums or a keyboard, [my mother] always gave me an opportunity to do music. High school was when my focus hit. That was when I started trying to make beats. Well, I was trying to figure myself out. The music was always that one. I can really lean back on it.
Explain to fans who The Underdogs are and what they mean to you personally.
The producers, The Underdogs, mean a lot. Harvey [Mason Jr.] and Damon [Thomas], they brought me in. It was the first studio I had been to — the old Tupac Shakur studio. It is called No Name Studios now. Kanye [West] bought it. I began there in November of 2013. I was learning from a lot of the writers under The Underdogs, but that was not when I started coming up. I was writing in the studio every day getting told my shit was wack. [Laughs] It was the real work. It was hard. They’d tell me, “Nah, bro! You gotta really do this. You gotta learn how to build a full song. You need to learn how to capture the people. You cannot just write nonsense. You need to think.”
The experience made me learn a lot about myself, and style. I learned how to build and [create] songs. [The Underdogs] have so many R&B hits — it helped to be around them. A lot of the writers or the producers within that camp are the people that write the hits now. I was trying to be like them.
Your writing credits include Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, John Legend, Jason Derulo and K. Michelle. How did paying dues influence the success of your single, “We Ain’t Homies” featuring YG?
It helped me a lot! I just got to see how everybody did their thing. Yeah, it was [all about] work ethic. Being in the studio, I got to see how artists recorded their album, and how they got it done. It was all different. I would never say that I was great friends with any of these people. I was merely working for them. But YG, that is the homie! It caused me to go hard for mine and not take a day off. Don’t slack on your craft.
You opened H.E.R.’s Lights On Tour. What was your most significant takeaway on the road?
It was performing for the people. That shit was so fun. You have to go out there every night and give it your all no matter what type of attitude you have. It does not matter what type of mood you are in; you have to go out there and kill it. With H.E.R., the tour was sold out every night. I got to go out there and experience a trial run of my own tour. They showed so much love that you obviously have to be confident and know what you are trying to do.
You know when you hit that stage, you can’t give a second of not knowing, because show-goers can see. They see everything and know when you are not feeling it. It was really about keeping a dope ass energy.
“Communication” featuring DRAM was recently released. How did this studio session in particular shape what is to come with your debut album, Platinum Fire.
The session was dope as hell! It took place after I thought I had completed my album. I stopped recording Platinum Fire. It was like, “Yeah, we are good.”At that time, it was me Childish Major and me working. He is a producer-writer featured on my album with two records. He brought me the beat, and it began as our song. But, Childish Major had the great idea of putting DRAM on it. DRAM heard the record, cut his verse, sent it back, and we loved it. The song has a dope vibe.
So, I had finished my album, but I wanted to do something new. Playing around with it turned into something that we really loved. We threw it on that album, even before we got the DRAM verse. He really solidified it.
Platinum Fire is out now. What do you want the world to know?
That I am real about this music, and about making people feel good. I am real about creating a vibe, changing the scene and changing the way we listen to music. I am real about being a triple threat. I can sing, write and produce. I want to show the world I am here to stay. I ain’t going nowhere, and here to fuck shit up. There are a lot of songs on the album. Anytime I let someone listen to it, they have their thoughts on what their favorite song is. They say love everything but say, “This one is mine. I enjoy track 7.” So, the next single will be decided by the people.
I have a lot of sleepers on Platinum Fire. There may be songs you do not initially assume, “Oh, this is a single.” But, I am going to try and use all fourteen records. I had a son, and he turned my music up. He changed my life and my hustle. I have something to work for through my music.