Music has the power to instantly set a mood, whether it be sad, serious, or fun. So when Ray J began working on his Atlantic debut, “THIS AIN’T A GAME,” his goal was to inject the energetic, raw vitality so often absent from R&B. The handsome, multi-talented 20-year-old born Willie Norwood, Jr. has created a sophomore album that ignites with the flare of a hip hop party record while incorporating plenty of R&B sparks. Combined, these elements are destined to keep his throngs of female fans happy.
The Southern California-bred, McComb, Mississippi native began his pursuit of stardom at age 8, when he started receiving calls to do television commercials. By 12, Ray J was on television in a co-starring role on the critically acclaimed The Sinbad Show.
Ray J’s future as a successful entertainer was inevitable. His singing abilities landed him a recording deal when he was just 14. “EVERYTHING YOU WANT,” Ray J’s well-received first album proved that – like his big sis, recording and television superstar Brandy – he has what it takes to grab the entertainment world by storm. With a string of movie roles, a co-starring spot on the top-rated UPN sitcom, Moesha, and a brand new gig hosting The Source Sound Lab, Ray J has carved out a major niche for himself.
Ray J’s musical vision has expanded tremendously since his 1996 debut. “Then, I didn’t know what type of direction I wanted to go in,” says Ray J. “Being that Brandy came out and blew up, I just went with the flow. But after my album dropped and I saw what was out there, I started to develop my own ideas about what I wanted to do with my music.”
Since 1996, Ray J has appeared on the RIAA platinum and double-platinum soundtracks to the major theatrical releases Set It Off and Dr. Dolittle, respectively. His years of honing his production skills also earned him an opportunity to produce music for Mattel. The leading toy manufacturer hired him to produce music for the commercials advertising Brandy’s Barbie doll. The young producer, who also wrote and produced a jingle track for Candees, is currently developing his own production company, Knock Out Entertainment, and continues to produce music in his spare time.
“I started producing when I was 12,” says Ray J. “When the (keyboard/drum machine) ASR10 first came out, I got that. I messed with that for a few years, and then I got a MPC, and then I just built around that. I just mess around with the beats and just started putting my company together.”
At the urging of Ray J’s keen music tastes, he summoned the best producers around to contribute to the new “THIS AIN’T A GAME.” The Neptunes (Kelis, Mystikal, Jay Z) produced “Wait A Minute,” featuring Lil’ Kim. This track already has mix show and club deejays across the country going wild – not to mention the major bombs Funk Master Flex has been dropping for the record all over New York’s Hot 97. New York’s premier mix tape icon, DJ Clue, produced “I Got It All,” the fiery “Wait A Minute” B-side. Both allow Ray J to showcase his crisp, convincing rap skills.
Teaming with producer Rodney Jerkins and The Dark Child camp, Ray J proves transcendent on the uplifting infectious mid-tempo ballad, “Keep Your Head Up To The Sky” – an instant classic if ever there was one. Bryson Evans and Lil’ Mo, solo artist and one of Missy Elliot’s writing partners, produced the anthemic “I Tried,” a fictional account of a girlfriend gone ballistic. And up-and-coming producer Antonio “4Eva” Mobley has composed the hot album pick, “Where Do We Go From Here,” a standout ballad that stresses the strains extensive traveling puts on relationships. On the flip side of that sentiment is the hip hop-flavored, Neptunes-produced “Formal Invite,” a sex-fueled joint that sees Ray J complemented by a rap from Neptune Pharrell Williams.
“People might think that I’m coming out hardcore,” Ray J says of parental advisory themes heard on “Formal Invite.” “I’ve never been hardcore. I’m just on the edge. I don’t feel like I got a clean-cut image, and it feels good to be able to do what I want to do. Whatever I go through in life, I just put it on my album this time.”
“I really don’t want to come off more as a rapper or singer,” continues the artist. “I’m really trying to come off more as an entertainer.” Ray J’s knack for being able to switch emotional gears so effortlessly comes from his numerous years of acting experience. He proved his versatility with key roles in Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored, with Al Freeman, Jr. and Phylicia Rashad; The Enemy Within, with Forrest Whitaker; Mars Attacks!, with Jack Nicholson; Steel, with Shaq O’Neal; and Aftershock: Earthquake In New York, with Charles S. Dutton and Cicely Tyson. But, the weekly grind of playing Dorian on the top rated UPN sitcom Moesha has shaped him into an even better actor.
“Acting is like a big challenge to me,” Ray J says humbly. “There are a lot of challenging roles that I got to play, but my role on Moesha is my best right now. I think I graduated when I got on Moesha. I learned a lot more.”
In fact, Ray J’s character on Moesha, Dorian, isn’t a far cry from his real life persona. For instance, when he’s not working, the personable, charismatic artist spends his spare time hanging out with family and friends. A huge car buff, Ray J enjoys his cars (namely his 1964 Chevy), ATVs, dirt bike, and newly acquired motorcycle. Though he is now coming of age, his personality is the same as it was while growing up in Carson, California, where he loved to sing in his family church, watch movies, and play sports and video games.
In 1997, it was only natural for him to stand in support of The Norwood Kids Foundation alongside his sister. Through the performing arts, the charitable organization has provided activities for more than 250 disadvantaged and at-risk youth in both Los Angeles and McComb, Mississippi. Staying grounded has helped Ray J evolve as an all-around artist, and the results of the new album are incredible.