Babyface Ray remembers sitting in bible study as a quiet 13-year-old, being lectured against the genre that permeated his life: rap music. The dynamic Detroit rapper, who happens to be the son of a pastor, felt torn between his own aspirations and the traditionalist religious teachings around him.
“I ain’t never told my pops this,” he says from his suburban Detroit home. “[The church] was speaking negatively about rap, so for the first three years, my parents ain’t know I was doing music. I hid it because I thought I was doing something wrong.”
Eighteen years later, Ray’s father, Randal, is the first feature heard on his 2022 breakthrough album, Face. He isn’t spitting a verse — instead, Randal covers his son with a blanket of divine safe-keeping. “Our Father and Our God … I come asking your choice blessings on my baby boy Ray,” he prays. “Giving him protection, prosperity, and peace, in a dark and dying world.”
Seconds later, the album darts into a piercing 808 Mafia beat, as Ray effortlessly unfolds rhymes detailing the very darkness his father prayed he’d be protected from. In a coolly nonchalant tone, commonly understood as the Detroit way, Ray recounts his conquests, wealth, struggles and triumphs, at moments “straddling the fence” between his upbringing and “being in the streets,” he says.
Throughout the 57-minute-long project, Ray remains true to the off-beat-by-a-millisecond cadence that defines modern Detroit rap, the slightly proper, slightly street accent, and the dark tales that can only occur in a city where for five months out of the year, thick, gray clouds are relentless, and the cold pierces every square-inch of city goers like ten thousand pins and needles. And while the city’s climate may be unforgiving, it undoubtedly builds resilience.
Despite many hearing Ray’s name for the first time with the arrival of his last album, Unfuckwithable, the 31-year-old rapper has been pounding the pavement for a decade (it’s hard to tell by looking at him, which explains his innocuous moniker). Since 2019, Ray has gone from a virtual unknown on the national rap scene to one of the most commonly referenced emerging Detroit rappers, spearheading a new mainstream wave for the genre, alongside fellow Billboard Rookie of the Month and CMG-signee 42 Dugg, who has morphed into a feature favorite.
Face marks Ray’s second charting album on the Billboard 200 and highest charting, to date, at No. 31. The album, released via Wavy Gang/EMPIRE. also landed on three other charts: Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, Top Rap Albums and Independent Albums, debuting at No. 2 on the latter. Loaded with features from recognizable artists including Pusha T, Wiz Khalifa and Swedish rapper Yung Lean, Face transcends borders, allowing an unmistakably Detroit body of music to be devoured by mainstream listeners everywhere.
Today, the support of his parents means the most to Ray, along with his hometown. Putting Detroit on the map, he says, was always a part of the vision. The East Side native recalls touring local high schools, a common way to self-promote for Detroit artists, and intends to pay a visit to his own alma maters, Osborn High School and Mumford High School, soon.
“There’s two stories to how this s–t can go,” Ray says. “You got the people that pop out with that hit and go crazy off one song, and then you’ve got guys like me who put so much work in and finally get they shot. I speak for those guys.”
How are you feeling, with the success of Face?
I’m just taking it all in. Everybody know I really be nonchalant, but now it’s finally starting to hit me. I don’t really know how to feel, it’s crazy because everywhere I’m turning, [people] are listening to it and saying something about it, it’s crazy. We planned for this to happen, though, so I’m glad we worked so hard for this moment and it’s actually happening.
What was your plan for this album?
We just map out everything we want to do [and] achieve. How we roll the album out — the songs are critical, how we choose songs for the album. Me and Baroline [Diaz] be going back and forth. I really can’t explain it, you had to be there watching us doing it. Putting this together, it took damn near a year to put this album out. We went through a lot together, from the features rolling in unexpectedly. It was a real process.
What was the most unexpected feature on Face?
I’d say Wiz [Khalifa] and Yung Lean. With Lean, I didn’t really know too much about him, I knew something about him because of his name and I drink lean, but I really wasn’t on him. A producer reached out to me about the feature and I checked him out like “man, that’s dope.” Everybody was super excited about it. With Wiz, Sledgren sent me a beat, I rapped on it and I sent it back to him, just because the vibe was lit. He never even wrote me back when I sent it. A week later, I woke up one day and checked my phone and Sledgren had sent me the song back with Wiz on it. I hadn’t even talked to Wiz, we didn’t have a conversation. Shit was hard. We went through a whole Wiz phase of chucks and smoking paper. So for him to be on my CD is crazy.
You also had Icewear Vezzo on the project — why is it important to you to feature Detroit mainstays?
Vezz had that wave in Detroit for a while. Everyone was Icewear Vezzo crazy for two years straight. [Vezzo and I], we cool forreal. I knew these cats forreal. As I’m going up, let’s go up together. Might not be me next time, might be you, might need you to pull me up. We’re just helping each other out. Me and Dugg been cool since I was in high school and he was in middle school. He got locked up when he was like a senior in high school and when he came out he started rapping.
While some may be hearing your name for the first time this year, you’ve been at it for a decade.
For me, it was definitely tough after so many years of doing it. So many times I was just like, “Man, what am I doing?” But I actually love music. I’m connected with it. When I’m sad, I listen to it. When I’m happy, I could be going through something and I’d go to the studio and speak on it. Plus, my fans are the greatest because they motivate me more than anything, it’s like they know me or something. I be going through a lot of stuff day to day, so for my fans to be there, to keep going, I appreciate that.
How involved were your parents in your musical journey?
I was doing so much stuff that they ain’t know I was doing — from weed to dealing with women, just trying to straddle the fence of being in the streets — so once they found out everything they was just like, “Man, who are you?” ‘Cause I was the quiet guy. I never said nothing. I’m the baby out of everybody. So they was not expecting me to be doing nothing [like that]. Once they found out I was doing music they were cool, but there wasn’t nothing for them to support because I really ain’t have too much going on. But now they’re very supportive, they love what I’m doing. I don’t really speak much, so they love that I express myself through my music.
You’re managed by Baroline Diaz — what’s the importance of having women on your team?
Baroline does a hell of a job. She do her thing as far as handling everything that needs to be done for me. I think we work well together. She do what she do, and I do what I do, and it goes hand-in-hand. I think it’s fly when you got a woman on your side. My lawyer is a woman, my go-to engineer is a woman. My DJ was once was a woman, my whole layout was to have a lot of women.
Face features a number of impressive producers. What’s a memorable music-making moment you had?
Working with 808 Mafia, that s–t was lit. We was in a big ass mansion in the hills, three, four o’clock in the morning. He called the engineer up and we was working, he even cooked some food in the middle of the night, some rice and fish. It was random as hell. He cooked, and we did like eight songs that night. When I got back to the city, “Six Mile Show” had stuck out. I sent it to Vezz and I remember that me and Vezz did a song in Atlanta at Future’s studio, and I’m like, let me combine these together and make one, and it came out good.
Your father is a pastor. What’s the role of spirituality in your personal life?
I believe in a higher power. Every time I get on a plane I talk to God. When I feel like I’m going through something, or even when something good happens, I take the time out to say thank you. I speak to Him on my own terms.
Where do you picture your career going?
I can’t really pinpoint what I want. I feel all that stuff falls in place when you just reaching and going and going. I want health and wealth for my family, for sure, like financial stability know what i’m saying, I want that type of shit that everybody does. All I can pinpoint, like certain shit, that I just want to keep reaching til I can’t no more.