“I Thought I Was Supposed to Be a Pastor:” An Interview with Morray

TE P. speaks with the North Carolina artist about his hometown of Fayetteville, his faith, not having a defined process for his work, and more.
By    February 4, 2021

Photo by Nick Farrar, courtesy of Audible Treats

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Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. The statement is somewhat fair depending on whether or not you believe the DSP’s and record labels are telling the truth. With streaming farms creating listens faster than artists can get cancelled, it’s hard to gauge if an artist makes good music or if a song is just popular. Comb through YouTube long enough and you’re liable to trip over something you like. Turn into a repeat offender and the platform begins to know you and what you tend to look for. I too fell down one of those rabbit holes that claim so many of us. I began who knows where and ended up on the other end of the site.

But in that spiral down the neverending virtual halls of the trademark red play button, I found something that I’d never heard before. It was only a few months old and already had millions of views. Luckily, that something was Morray.

By the third grade, the 28-year old rapper, crooner, and street pastor had already experienced life’s tribulations. Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, one of his first memories as a child was wreaking so much havoc in class that his mother had to take off work, lose money, and come to the school to discipline him. On the other hand, he also remembers the first time music made its way into his life. As his recollection serves, at age 4 he was asked by his mother and grandmother, who had a church, to sing his favorite song, “I Believe I Can Fly” during service. Both incidents in his early youth, though very different, would foreshadow things to come.

Aside from his mother who makes an appearance in a large part of his music, his father holds a central role in these adolescent years, but for very different reasons. Where his mother serves as a constant reminder for him of sacrifice and the kind of love that doesn’t need to be spoken, his father is a glaring example of the kind of person he never wanted to be. Though he makes it clear that his father has now since cleaned his act up and takes care of his current family; the emotional scars that his both “hands on” and absentee approach left on an impressionable and embittered Morrae Ruffin are impossible to miss. 

As Morray began to get in more trouble, his mother moved them to the least likely of places: Lebanon, Pennsylvania. With a population just over 25,000 people, Morray was as big of a fish out of water as one could be. What was supposed to be a way to slow down his activities in the streets, turned into just the opposite. With a true lack of footing, being in a strange place, and feeling like an outsider in so many ways, Morray did what he knew—he fought. He fought so frequently that first month in Lebanon that he was kicked out of the school district before the second month could even come. For him, this period in his life is where he truly embraced his “Fuck It!” mentality and embraced all that came with it.

After 6 years in Lebanon, Morray returned to Fayetteville. Having “learned himself,” he immediately hit the ground running. Before he knew it, he’d gotten a girl pregnant. But this was a turning point. He’d carried that animosity and frustration he had for his father’s flaws and knew he wasn’t going to make the same mistakes. So, at 21, after recording a birthday song for his now wife and feeling the genuine love she had for the record, he chose his path.

Morray will be the first to admit that his initial records were good in his eyes but it was his wife who gave an honesty that only a wife can. For her, his content fell short like so many other artists trying to gain inspiration from daily goings on. The weed and the women wasn’t what she felt people would want to hear from him. She knew who he was at his core. She knew what he’d been through. So in somewhat of a challenge, she made it very clear that nobody wants to hear his generic recordings.

Being challenged through the creative process, let alone by one’s wife, would 9 times out of 10 produce a spiteful piece of art that only the creator would appreciate. But for Morray, that challenge forced him to dig deeper. It forced him to take off his blinders and see all around him. With some weed, his last blunt, and a pen and paper, he went into the bathroom and out of one single emotion—anger—he created “Quicksand.”

Led by the strings of an electric guitar, guided by the pop of a kick and snare, pushed by the bang of a thudding bass, and powered by Morray’s spiritual voice, “Quicksand” is a life lived in one song. It’s an introduction to an artist who’s been on the losing end of more than a few of life’s battles. But for artists like Morray, and songs like “Quicksand”, listeners get to know him strictly through the music. Before all of the media runs and PR pushes, it’s all about what people hear. And they hear–the voice. Where the older church folks would call it anointed, the new generation would label it soulful. In either case, it comes from far deeper than his soul. It’s a voice that begins in the lower stomach, so that by the time we hear it, all of the feeling and emotions behind the notes make his words tangible enough to touch. 

After dropping “Quicksand”, Morray has been on an incredible run of creativity and universal affirmation. First he dropped “Switched Up.” A conversational anthem for those who fall out with the ones they’d give everything for–even their own lives. Next, he brought the slow creeping track “Low Key” to that table as a warning to those who think they want it, but have no idea who they’re beefing with. Keeping his foot on the gas, he then dropped two more records in “Snitch On Ya Man’s” and “Dreamland.” Where the former puts in very clear terms his feelings on going against the age old code in the streets, the latter lays down all of the pain and anguish he’d gone through as a child. But, just when audiences may have thought he’d emptied his entire clip, the Pick Six Records general dropped another 2 pack. “In Da Trap,” is a galactic bouncer that tells listeners exactly where they can find him. And “Big Decisions” puts into perspective the internal struggle of taking care of family but being pulled into the enticing direction of wrong.

While Morray is going from just another artist in Fayetteville to a YouTube sensation, the universe also begins to provide him a level of affirmation that even to this day he doesn’t understand. With some of the largest names in the game co-signing him, the verdict was out. But, for him, hometown legend J. Cole’s co-sign shines as a true testament to all of the work he’s put in to get to this point. To those years in Lebanon that helped him find himself. To a childhood that showed him what he didn’t want to be. To leaving his mom’s house as a father and making a way out of no way. To sitting on that toilet, angry as hell writing “Quicksand.” It was all part of a larger plan.

As we closed up our conversation, the amount of times Morray used the word blessed was alarming in the realest sense of the word. He was making it clear that he was appreciative of his current position. For the life that he’s living, the love from fans, the recognition of his peers, and the ever-increasing streams on various platforms. In this industry it’s so very easy to lead with doubt and cynicism; especially when it comes to the numbers. But with Morray, what you see is what you get. So, maybe, just maybe, the numbers got this one right. — TE P.

I don’t think anyone who’s seen you up to this point doesn’t see North Carolina. You make it very clear where you’re from. Fayetteville to be exact. For people who’ve never been, can you describe your city?

Morray: I would describe my city as a regular place you can be yourself. There’s so much different stuff in Fayetteville other than just hood niggas and the street shit. There’s so much talent. There’s so much culture. There’s so much love. There’s so much life in my city. I don’t want to describe the bad shit because fuck the gangs and shit. There’s so much beautiful stuff in my city. That’s why I’m going to keep saying I love them. I’m going to keep saying it in my songs. I’m going to try to bring my city where they’re supposed to be. That’s to the top!

I appreciate you acknowledging the fact that we can talk about the street shit all day. But the beauty in all of this is what we should be highlighting.

Morray: Exactly! The cookouts, the basketball, the tag games, red light-green light, the fun shit.

Your music definitely speaks to how eventful your childhood was. Thinking back on how you grew up, what is one of your first childhood memories?

Morray: It’s probably not a good one but the earliest memory I have is acting up in school. I was in 3rd grade. This memory pops in my head all the time. I was cutting up and don’t even know why. My mom had to leave the only job she had to fend for us to come discipline me. Which almost lost her her job. That’s the memory that’s always in the back of my head–because what if I were to cause her to lose her job? I might have been down bad more than I already was. That’s the memory that makes me want to do better in life because you’ve been messing up since a young age. And there’s no way I’m going back to that.

Your songwriting is candid when you paint the picture of your mom and your pop’s dynamic and the turbulence that sits inside of that. Can you speak to their relationship?

Morray: First, I do want to say that my dad is a different guy now. I’m glad he’s taking care of his family and other kids. But in those times they were young. My dad was very aggressive and my mom was aggressive as well. He could have handled a lot of stuff in different ways but he was very hands on. Very disrespectful. Very abusive. So, for me watching that as a kid, it made me hate the person he was, and made me want to be nothing like him. It’s weird that I thank him for showing me who I never wanted to become.

We’ve been on the phone for 5 minutes and you’ve mentioned your mom at least 3 or 4 times already. She without a doubt stands out as an integral piece of your story. Can you speak to the kind of woman she was in raising you the way that she did?

Morray: My mom wasn’t the best parent but I thank her for being as good as she was. She worked a lot so we didn’t have the closest relationship. I was always with aunties, cousins, uncles, and grandmas so we didn’t really build a relationship the way we should have. But one thing I will always say is she was always there. If I needed a place to stay, she was there. If I was hungry, she fed me. You know, we didn’t do a lot of Christmases and birthdays because we didn’t really have it. It is what it is. But she tried her best and for that I will always love her because she could have gave up like everyone else did. I will always thank her for being there.

I wanted to pick out some pieces in the music that I thought were interesting. In “Dreamland” you say, “I was smart as a bitch but I let my mind go to waste.” When I hear something like that, I immediately think back to being a youngin and falling victim to the things we’re taught or we see that ultimately goes against who we are naturally. Can you speak to that outside influence?

Morray: I said that because I was actually smart in school. I never studied but I aced my classes. I was A’s and B’s honor roll all the time. But I never really went to school. I was doing really well my 10th grade year. I was playing football but I ended up getting locked up for 6 months and fucking up my situation. I had to get my GED. But even then I scored the second highest in the entire state. I always let my bullshit get in the middle of being smart because I wanted to follow. I realized as I got older that as a kid I was a following-ass nigga. I’m mad that I didn’t have the courage to stand up and be myself until now.

I could imagine that even while you’re doing what you’re doing, you had a favorite teacher. Who is that person that you can look back to and say, “You know what. Even though I’m doing all of this stuff, this person really looked out. They always saw my potential and tried to keep me on the straight and narrow”?

Morray: Of course. It was a teacher named Mr. Maz. He was my science teacher. He had a funny ass accent because he was from Boston. He was my dawg. And at the alternative school I was in, teachers could grab you and all types of shit. So when he saw I was about to do something, he’d pull me aside and make me laugh or something. We would chill after class. He was one of these great teachers that didn’t get enough respect. He was just the man.

Mine is a woman named Mrs. Hutchinson. She changed the trajectory of my entire life. Shoutout to all the teachers out there putting up with all of the bullshit.

Morray: OK! They don’t get enough love and they get too much disrespect. I hate that shit!

I couldn’t agree more. I know some people who are teachers now and they are so good at it because they know what we went through when we were kids.

Morray: It’s funny you bring the teacher thing up because without the music I wanted to be a teacher. If I wasn’t doing anything with entertainment I’d be a teacher. I went to school for psychology but I didn’t do that shit because I’m a hood nigga and do stupid shit, again. [laughs]

Let’s talk a little bit about some music. When would you say music entered your life and it became something you paid attention to?

Morray: I’ll never forget this story. I was 4 years old. My grandmother had a church. My mother and my grandmother told me to sing one of my favorite songs at that time. It was “I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly. They let me sing the song in the middle of that church and that was the first day I was like, “Yo! I really want to start singing.” I didn’t rap until I got older. I love singing. Gospel, R&B, just singing. I loved it.

Your content ranges but you are without a doubt talking to cats who are outside trying to make a way out of no way. You can’t miss that. When would you say, without incriminating yourself or anybody else [that’s not my get down], it became less of getting in trouble in school and it really became your lifestyle?

Morray: I was 12 years old and we moved from North Carolina for a few years. We moved to the city. I was living in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. It was so hard to fit in. There were so many people that spoke Spanish, and other languages, and I wasn’t used to that because I’m a country ass nigga. I was used to one language. That was English. And it was broken English. Because I wasn’t able to fit in I got into a lot of fights my first month. I ended up getting kicked out of school the first month and a half. Since that day, I just said, “Fuck it!” My mom worked too much to care about what I did. So I did me and tried to figure out who I am.

Did you have any old heads or OG’s that could pull your coat tail and just say, “Tighten up youngin”? Or were you just hands on and figuring it out as you went?

Morray: I figured it out myself when I left the city. I moved back to North Carolina when I was 18. I got a girl pregnant and ended up having my first son. That’s what made me realize that I’ll never show him this way. I’ll never let him see none of this bullshit. I will do whatever I can to make sure we stay afloat because I have to show my son how to be a man. When he was born, I wanted to show him all of the things that my dad didn’t show me. Catch, play fighting, video games, laying up all night watching TV. I still kiss my son. That’s my baby. He’s 9 years old now. He really made me change my whole entire life.

Even being in the life, dudes ain’t tryna be on bullshit all day. What were some things that you did to get away, get off the block, and pass time?

Morray: Back in them days, I would chill with the homies I knew weren’t like that. You gotta have homies who are gonna ride no matter-fuckin-what. And you gotta have 2 or 3 that you just want to smoke, chill, and have an OK day. So when I knew I didn’t want to hear no rah-rah shit, or fighting and all of the extra shit, I’d go hang out with my niggas that just did music. I just sat with them and listened to them rap and do their shit. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do. They used to have a group called, “SGS.” It was “Spit Game Series.” And they tried to make me Head of the knucklehead squad that would fight everybody. But I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be that bully. When I would sit with them, they would let me do music and it called me down. Music has always been that outlet but I didn’t know how to use it until I got older.

As the music starts to take you away from the day to day street shit, there had to come a point where you began to take it more seriously. When did you get to the point when you wanted to record?

Morray: I was 21. I was just getting ready to get out of my mom’s house. I had just met my wife I’m with now. I wrote her a birthday song that was on Facebook. It’s still on Facebook. I ain’t never taking it down. That was the first song that I really wrote for somebody to hear and listen to. And she told me she loved it. I was thinking, “You loved it? I didn’t even try my hardest.” I thought, “This might be OK if I keep recording and writing.” That was July 26th, 2014. I remember that day like the back of my hand. That was the day I started taking it seriously.

That’s so dope that this all started from you doing something selfless, and her saying it’s good being the thing that made you want to get serious.

Morray: She actually inspired all of this new music like the “Quicksand.” I’ve been writing songs since I was 21 and none of them popped. It took her to have the balls to say, “Morray, I love you baby. You can sing and you can rap but them songs ain’t it my nigga.”

It always takes a good woman. Now that we’re talking about this, it makes me think of when I noticed you were wearing a ring in your video. It gave me married vibes.

Morray: I had that rubber band ring and I lost it. [laughs] So, I gotta get me another one. My wife was like, “Oh. You a rapper now?!? You lost it?!?” [laughs]

You talked about church earlier. When you grow up in it, you develop a certain ear that others might not have. That organ, that percussion, true soloist all make you listen to rap differently. When I first heard you, I thought I was listening to a pastor. I was getting Reverend James Cleveland vibes. Can you speak to developing your style? Because your cadence is quick and choppy but you still deliver the singing.

Morray: No cap. I get asked this question a lot and I really don’t know how to answer it because I don’t have a method. I know some people go in the studio, cut all of the lights off, and have to have candles and shit. I don’t have none of that, bro. I just sit in the bathroom, take a shit, smoke a blunt, and write a song. God blessed in a way that I can’t understand. I don’t even want to try. I just know every song I do I’m going to give 110 percent because that’s what he gave me. Since I’ve been in the church, I thought I was supposed to be a pastor. I may not be the pastor that I’m supposed to be. But I’m still gonna preach the way that I have to. Whatever message I’m going to give, I’m going to do it the way I think God wants me to do it. I don’t care what nobody says. I’m gonna love the Lord. I’m gonna sing his songs in interviews and on the radio. I love the Lord. I’m gonna keep on loving the Lord. It is what it is.

I have a large smile on my face hearing you speaking of your faith that way. A lot of us in this generation still hold that faith but the holier than thou approach pushed us away.

Morray: I’ve been in the church my whole life and I know, no matter if you’ve been saved for 50 years or 5 minutes, he still loves you the same. It doesn’t matter.

Just a random question. Who is your favorite gospel artist?

Morray: Deitrick Haddon. Off top! God is good. Good is good. God is good all the time, yall! It don’t get no better than that, bro!

Full transparency, I found you just going through YouTube. I saw the thumbnail and figured I’d give it a spin. “Quicksand” was my introduction to you. I’m not going to lie, I was surprised. I felt the gospel but it was also clear you’d been through some shit. The pocket, the cadence, the ability to sing to it–it’s all there. How did the process of making that record come about?

Morray: I played a song for my wife. It was a song about going out with a girl. She said, “The song is alright but you write all the same songs about girls and weed.” She was like, “Write something that people don’t know about you.” I took that as her talking shit. So I took the last blunt we had. Rolled it, smoked by myself, and I wrote “Quicksand.” In the bathroom, by myself, with an attitude. I was trying to show her that I could do it, not understanding that she was the one pushing me to be the person I was supposed to be.

I’m sure every time you hear it or get to perform it, you think of being on that toilet, tight as shit as you wrote it.

Morray: All the time! But when I see a 6 year old or a 60 year old smile at my song. I’m like, “What the fuck?!?!” All of these generations are loving this song. Bro, I fucking love that shit! I love it! I had no idea it would be like this.

What would you say is the first thing you wanted folks to think when they first saw you?

Morray: I wanted people to say, “He’s him.” I didn’t care about having the flyest outfit. Or having jewelry. I had gold grills in that I wear every single day. LRG and shorts I wore already. I wore them for the video shoot the next day. And shoes I spilled coffee on two weeks ago. I didn’t give a fuck about what people saw me with. I want you to know that I have talent. That’s it! Because if I come at you with spectacle or some kind of gimmick, I’m going to be the gimmick man. I don’t want to be the gimmick man. I want to be the guy that can do rap, rock, pop, country, act, comedy, whatever. I want to be an entertainer. My life has given me so much inspiration to be better that I want to be better at everything — and everybody. I will stay up 24 hours a day to write songs until I am!

Are you sure you haven’t done this shit before?

Morray: Bro, you don’t understand. I don’t know how these answers come to me. I don’t understand how this music comes to me. I don’t understand any of it. I just know how blessed I am. It’s hard not to come to tears when I think about how blessed I am. I can’t not smile. Why would I be upset? I have to smile!

In the days following you putting “Quicksand” out, can you speak to what they were like when you started to get that feedback and realize this was something?

Morray: My first time getting over 100,000 views I cried. Me and my team were all just chillin’’ having a regular day. I looked in my phone and it said 100,000 views. I dropped my phone and broke down. I didn’t even mean to. My team was like, “Bro, you OK?” I started crying and the whole room started crying when they understood what I was saying. It’s a feeling. A lot of niggas like to hide they emotions. I don’t give a fuck if you don’t like my emotions. I’m an emotional creature. God made me this way. I’m happy as fuck. And I like showing it!

I can always respect an artist who has a big record but uses that momentum to go on a run. Can you speak to dropping “Quicksand” but not getting comfortable and releasing two more records after?

Morray: I had put “Quicksand” and “Switched Up” on SoundCloud already and I took it back down. Then we put it back up and got better views and listens. When I saw “Quicksand” do this, I said, “I’m definitely putting some more stuff out.” But I also knew I had to do something different. They know I can sing. They know I have lyrics. Now I have to show them I ain’t playing no games and I ain’t no hoe. Ya feel me?!?! We were already chilling in the garage. So I said, “Let’s do a video!” It was all good timing! I have to give credit to my squad at Pick Six. I do the music but they really help me out with how I should do this. They really talk to me. They don’t make decisions for me. We do it together. That’s why I really love this shit. [laughs] It’s crazy, bruh.

With the success you get a lot of attention. For what it’s worth, co-signs do still matter a little bit. For you, how do you feel when someone comes out — especially people from where you’re from — and says they respect what you’re doing.

Morray: Honestly, I wasn’t expecting no co-signs. But when those busy guys took the time out of the day to listen to my shit and comment on it… Like when J. Cole [from my city] wrote that my shit’s amazing. Bruh! Mr. Cole World from the 2-6. DaBaby said my shit is hard. Jay-Z put me on his playlist. How is a nigga supposed to take that?!?! I don’t know how people take success so well. I really be having to sit down in my bed and think like, “Boy! What the fuck going on with you?!?!” I be having to calm myself down. I’m the type of person that I can’t play a too call ass nigga. I’m too happy. I really be hype. When I meet niggas I really be hype. I’m the same person.

That’s what makes this jawn so special. Cats like you can come from Fayetteville and touch other cats in the game. And you can genuinely inspire one another when you’re being real and show that appreciation. So, again, you drop to more records with “Snitch On Ya Man’s” and “Dreamland.” “Dreamland” dives so deep into who you are and gives us a way to learn more about you. It shows the good, bad, and the ugly. In terms of being a songwriter, how important is it for you to paint the full picture?

Morray: My life really had ups and downs. So I have to put that into the songs. When it comes to the truth, it’s not hard because it happened. When I wrote “Quicksand” I was in a bad mood but the beat was happy so the song is happy. “Switched Up” was a bad situation with a down beat. So it made me feel down. I’m going to try to pick people up and down with my life so they can grow and share the pain with me. That’s always been my process. I just want them to hear the songs and feel where I’m coming from. It just so happens that people are coming from where I’m coming from.

One of my favorite parts of your videos is you can follow your visuals and see all of the same people. From “Quicksand” to “Dreamland” you see these recurring characters. Shoutout your man that was dancing in the ‘Quicksand” video by the way. What does it mean to you have to have all of your people around to share these moments?

Morray: I have my team called “EBS.” It stands for “EveryBody’s Family”. That’s who everyone sees in the video. We always stick together no matter what. Even if it’s not music. We are a team. If somebody needs help with rent, we pay monthly dues, and we’ll pay your rent. That’s the squad. We look out for each other. Once I have a relationship with you, I want to fuck with you. I don’t like changing up the people around me.

When I think of you, what you’ve done makes me think of just how far you can go. But looking back, 2020 was a wild year. We saw so much crazy shit happen. We saw a lot of stuff come off the internet and hit the street. Not to be morbid, but we lost a lot of people too. What are your plans to stay on top of your game and not get involved in the bullshit?

Morray: Honestly, there’s nothing that I can do besides be me. The world is going to put in place what’s supposed to be in my place. The people are going to be who they’re going to be. All I can do is continue to be a respectful Black man and live my life until it’s over. If somebody brings something to me, as a man I have to handle it. But if nobody is coming at me crazy, I’m just going to live my life and smile. I can’t prevent the future but what I can do is try to stop the stupid shit from happening by being me.

We are all getting introduced to Morray through your music and healing your story. But if I were to ask you, “Who is Morray?” And I was to give you one sentence to describe yourself, how would you?

Morray: Morray is a proud father. That should tell you all you need to know. I’m going in for mine!

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