Ray Vaughn had no plans of signing a deal with his dream label, Top Dawg Entertainment — nor did he know the label’s biggest superstar, Kendrick Lamar, would be leaving for a new home after his next album.
But the current situation at TDE is the perfect opportunity for a rap rookie to come in, earn their minutes and take the label to new heights. Once he got there, Vaughn knew what he had to do — and intended to make his small introduction the head-turning debut listeners couldn’t stop talking about last month.
His Peer Pressure EP isn’t what you would normally expect from a regular Top Dawg Entertainment release: Each song on the three-pack project has the young rapper blazing his way through hard-hitting trap beats found on countless mainstream hip-hop records in 2021. What makes the “Tap” rapper stand out is his ability to take listeners deep into his psyche, one molded by the tough streets of Long Beach, California.
To succeed on an established team like TDE, one has to stand out, and Vaughn is catching people’s attention for how much he diverges from his labelmates.
“As you can hear, the music is a completely different sound than what TDE fans are used to,” Ray Vaughn says via Zoom. “So I’m literally the disruption of TDE — because first of all, I know people are like, ‘Why are you signing a dude that does Auto-Tune? Why are you signing a n—a that’s on trap beats? Why are you signing someone that sounds a bit too industry?
“It’s because most of the label doesn’t sound too industry,” he continues. “But me, I have a balance of having that industry sound, but keeping it at a high level of lyricism to the point it’s captivating. This is a sound that TDE fans aren’t always invited to because they don’t want to hear that.”
Ray Vaughn’s musical journey began when he was 12 years old and first started writing lyrics and rapping with his friends — idolizing wordsmiths such as Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, Drake and Fabolous. The early hobby transformed into a bevy of mixtapes that would eventually lead to his meeting with TDE boss Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. The label head executed the deal after asking the Vaughn to play him 25 records he felt would change his life, during their first meeting at Interscope Records in Los Angeles.
“[Top’s] aura is very weird,” Ray Vaughn admits. “He’s like the boogeyman, because if you don’t know him, you don’t know what to expect. He tells me to play him the records. I played them — and he let me keep playing, then asked how I felt about TDE. I said it was my dream label, and all he said was, ‘Welcome to your dream label.'”
Ray Vaughn has mentioned his signing is like joining the hometown Los Angeles Lakers, and believes he has to prove he’s either as good or better as Kendrick Lamar — who he deems the label’s “LeBron James.” With K. Dot slated to leave the label after his next album, Vaughn has an opportunity to make this debut even more special.
“Do I want to be the rookie that takes lead of the team and becomes the face of the franchise? Or do I want somebody else to come in and do it?,” Vaughn contemplates. ” I feel like I’m responsible for taking us to the next level now — and even if [Kendrick Lamar] was staying, I would still have the same mentality, that I want to be a starter and play with the big boys.”
At 26, Vaughn is the youngest member of TDE, and he feels he relates more to the younger audience than his peers. Vaughn says we will be seeing a lot of him compared to his labelmates, who aren’t as active on social media. He wants to be at the parties and have a strong presence on Instagram and TikTok.
“I’m naturally just that type of person,” he explains. “I’m not the n—a that’s [a] general, black hoodie TDE [rapper]. I’m the n—a who’s like, ‘Dior this, Rolex that.’ Unlike what most people think TDE artists are, like being ‘in the cut’, I’m going to be loud and want to shoot this b—h up.”
Peer Pressure was a filling appetizer set to hold fans over until his proper introduction. Although he won’t say much about his forthcoming debut studio album, he assures people will go on another unexpected journey with even more surprises when he unleashes the album.
“I’ll go to the lengths of pissing people off at the label to satisfy the fans [in terms of] what they want to hear or what they want to see, because it is about the fans at the end of the day,” Vaughn says. “I’m willing to have Top on my ass if it means giving what the fans want.”