“You Have to Go Through Different Shit in Life to Make Music:” An Interview with Babyface Ray

Jameson Draper speaks to the Detroit rapper about helping other rappers in his city come up,
By    February 22, 2021


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A few hours ago, on a Wednesday afternoon in early February, Babyface Ray’s counterpart and mentor, Peezy, was released from the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution in eastern Ohio after serving an 18-month sentence. Ghazi, the founder of Empire Distrbution (to which both vaunted Detroit rappers are signed), has just driven Peezy from prison back to his family in Detroit. As part of the journey, he pops in to see Ray doing an interview in an industrial loft just outside of downtown Detroit. 

Optimism is in the air. After all, Ray’s Unfuckwitable EP is 48 hours from dropping, and one of the most important figures in modern Detroit rap is home. In just a few hours, Ray’s caravan will meet up with Peezy at an undisclosed location with Detroit rap legend GT, posting welcome home messages across Instagram channels. Ray will gift him a chain complete with a diamond-encrusted wave emoji pendant from the famed Hutch Jewelers, a show of appreciation for his mentor, but also a commentary on how far he’s come since Peezy left. It used to be Peezy taking care of his people, and Ray carried that weight proudly while he was gone. According to Babyface Ray, it feels like everything is just getting started.

When it comes to his music, Babyface Ray has always been the best at what he does: rapping over minimal, atmospheric beats that leave enough space for his mesmerizing and distinctively nasal Midwestern vocals to shine. A founding member of the now-legendary Detroit rap collective Team Eastside, he’s always moved at a slower pace than his contemporaries who are known for fast-paced, aggressive music. Ray speaks deliberately, oozing calm confidence in a relaxed, conversational style that sounds like someone took a blog-era backpack rapper and forced them to consume copious amounts of California weed and Wockhardt cocktails. Bars like “I talk to God the same way that I talk to my plug” or “I’m so cold, I bought another Moncler for the summer”  are so Instagram-worthy, they might make you want to post selfies in your most expensive outfit just for the caption.

Since his first full-length effort– 2014’s unpolished but jovial and exciting Young Wavy— Ray has been a Detroit fan favorite because of his unrelenting consistency and innumerable show-stealing verses (both on guest appearances and his own tracks).  The mid-2010s saw Ray craft his own image away from Team Eastside. He transitioned from just another face in countless YouTube videos to an icon in the city, perpetually draped in designer, the tattoo of a goat on his left hand gripping a styrofoam double cup.

With 2015’s MIA Season, he began to find his voice as Detroit’s most quotable rapper, delivering memorable bars like, “I’m in a Syracuse mode, bitch I’m in the zone” and buying Dolce and Gabbana in Miami, coming back to the city with a woman colder than February. Each project seemed to build upon the last, culminating in his magnum opus, 2019’s MIA Season 2, which has become canon in midwestern hip-hop lore, painting fragmented pictures of a dystopian rockstar lifestyle funded by crime and death, with enough anecdotes about drug addiction and toxic love to make Future proud. There are features from other acclaimed Detroit artists like 42 Dugg and Veeze, but there aren’t as many guest appearances on MIA Season 2 as there have been on other Ray projects. He carried the album, proving himself capable of creating a classic body of work beyond YouTube loosies and iTunes singles.

You don’t need to explain Ray’s greatness to those who live in Detroit. Across pockets of the city, any given gas station might have several Babyface Ray cuts playing out of cars. He’s treated like royalty— whether it’s getting customized diamond pendants with Hutch or attending COVID-era Pistons games that aren’t open to the public. Accordingly, Ray has parlayed his local prominence into taking on a Godfather-esque image. He might pop up at any function of Detroit rap’s “Who’s Who,” and when he does, he commands attention. His prominence is known and his co-sign is important; rising rappers hope to get verses from Ray just as much as promising fashion designers in the city try to get him in their clothes.

When Peezy went to prison on racketeering charges in mid-2019, Ray knew he was one of the most influential rappers left. Normally content with laying low (he mentioned his penchant for staying out of the limelight several times during our interview),  Ray felt he had a duty to take what Peezy had created and keep building upon it. His creativity and output have both increased since Peezy’s sentencing. You could make an argument the last three years have been the best of Ray’s career, both in terms of quality full-length projects and an increased marketing and branding push. 

Ray has had a notable hand in building the burgeoning rap scene that’s present in Detroit, probably because he was in the first wave of millennial Detroit rap stars that took music seriously as a career and left the streets behind. In the early 2010s, most kids in Detroit weren’t listening to Big Sean, or even J Dilla. Team Eastside (along with Doughboyz Cashout from the West Side) created the first movement since the Street Lordz frenzy in the late 90’s to take hold of the city’s youth. And when Ray began to build a bigger career professionally, he had knowledge and resources that most young artists in the city didn’t have access to. He played a critical role in 42 Dugg— someone he knew as a friend before rap— signing with Yo Gotti’s CMG. He also helped build the Whitehouse Studio with his cousin, Skeddy, building a bridge for young stars like Los and Nutty (or his nephew, WTM DaeMoney) to follow in his footsteps and invest in their music careers. The Whitehouse has become one of the most exciting new cultural hotspots in Detroit. In both music and culture, when Babyface Ray talks, the city listens.

In rap years, Ray is a veteran. He hasn’t had any instant mega-hits like Tee Grizzley’s “First Day Out.” He hasn’t gone viral on Tik Tok like Sada Baby’s “Whole Lotta Choppas.” But things started to change over the last two years, when industry moguls and rap’s biggest stars alike started to take notice. He signed a distribution deal with Empire, and with the release of the Unfuckwitable EP on Friday, his last three releases have been under the Empire imprint.

Nothing momentous enough has happened yet to thrust Babyface Ray into the national spotlight, but he’s on the cusp. In just the last year, Ray has been spotted in clubs in Atlanta with Future on numerous occasions (a since-deleted leak of a track with Future circulated YouTube for months). In just the first two months of 2021, he’s released songs with nationally prominent artists Doe Boy and Moneybagg Yo, and has a song on the way with Houston rapper Sauce Walka. While Ray is already a legend in his own right, there are inklings that this year could be the biggest for him yet— the day his EP dropped, it shot to #7 on Apple Music’s top albums of all genres.

Unfuckwitable features quintessential Ray cuts like “Real N****s Don’t Rap” and “Tahoe.” That’s not to say there aren’t radio efforts, like “If You Know You Know” with Moneybagg Yo, the project’s single, and “Allowance” with Kash Doll. It’s a step towards targeting a broader audience, but the music is still uniquely Ray, managing to retain core aspects of his style. Unfuckwitable is littered with direct lyrics and loosely arranged silhouettes of donning luxury clothes and laying up with models. It’s not a significant departure from Ray’s brand, which is a sigh of relief for many fans who thought Ray might lose some creative autonomy after signing a deal.

Ray arrived to our interview in a Dior print puffer jacket with Dior B27 high tops to match. That’s not to mention the iced-out Royal Oak Offshore Audemars Piguet adorned on his left wrist — probably what he’s talking about when he raps, “Thirty-five racks all in one watch” (I wouldn’t know, I had to bring in Twitter watch enthusiast @trapyeezus for watch identification). His calm confidence on wax isn’t an act; Ray spoke with composure and tranquility, taking thoughtful pauses before answering my questions with calculated responses. He talks like he raps, with each of his sentences seamlessly falling into the next.

Not all artists make music that reflects their own personal experiences — and you can never be sure — but after five minutes in a room with Babyface Ray, the authenticity of both his persona and music feel palpable. — Jameson Draper

I think the first time I heard your music was “Who Beat Is This” [off 2014’s Young Wavy]. Would you say that’s when you feel like things popped off for you?

Babyface Ray: I wouldn’t say “pop off,” but that was my breakaway from the group effort that we were on.

It’s interesting because I feel like you’re breaking through the national stage right now, but people in Detroit have known you for years. Where do you believe you stand in Detroit lore? Where do you see yourself in the culture?

Babyface Ray: I think they fuck with me heavy in Detroit because, for one, of course Team Eastside is a big staple. And then, when I branched off, I added my own flavor. I ain’t stick to the typical Detroit shit. I started changing up doing small EPs. Remember, I was doing the I Did This Today [2014] shit?

“Football Pads” was my favorite song.

Babyface Ray: “Football Pads” and all of that. I think I created some shit where it was OK to be outside the box of the typical Detroit shit. I think that’s what people really hold on to. Before that, niggas were just straight Detroit flow. I did things like go to Revive [a popular luxury streetwear shop in Metro Detroit], you know what I’m saying? Doing cool shit.

How would you say you evolved since you started really taking rap seriously?

Babyface Ray: I evolved a lot. It’s like going to the gym. If a basketball motherfucker goes to the gym a lot and works on their jump shot, you’ll eventually get your shot good. Once I got my own equipment — and really sat there — fucking with it, doing my own thing and putting thought into it and attacking and attacking, I got better.

What would you say your influences are? I know that’s a tough question because everyone has influences but also everybody has their own style.

Babyface Ray: Yeah. It’s crazy, because I grew up listening to everything. My daddy had a big ass thing with CD’s. He had rap music, R&B, everything. So he’d have Pac, Prince and other artists like that. I was the youngest child. All my brothers had moved out of the house, so when I used to come home from school, I used to scan the disc changer and put something in and just rock. I’d find myself in 8th grade listening to Prince, or I’d fuck around and listen to the Ojays; that shit was hard to me. When I was that age, I used to have a barbershop job and it was a record store down the street, nigga i went and bought Outkast’s The Love Below CD as a kid, so I was into all that shit for real — and Kid Cudi!

[Laughs] I went through an intense Kid Cudi phase. Regarding your early career as a member of Team Eastside, how did you guys link? Team Eastside has become an important foundation of today’s rap in Detroit.

Babyface Ray: It’s funny. When we first started doing it, we were our own fans. We ain’t have no fans when we started rapping. We’d go to the studio and make that shit to ride around to. At first, we were just doing it for fun. When people started getting wind of it, we started trying to take it a little bit serious. Of course, with Peezy and [Damedot, another founding member of Team Eastside], everybody gravitated towards them first because Dame had the equipment. Dame was the first nigga I knew that had studio equipment when we didn’t have to go to the studio, and he also made beats. For a minute, we were reliant on Dame for everything. From the beats to recording our CD’s. So when niggas started to go their own way for a minute, niggas was stuck! All of us, we ain’t as tight as we used to be, but everybody got mutual respect. Niggas doing they own thing, and we’re grown as hell now. Everybody has different shit going on. But everybody fucks with each other, for real.

I feel like with this era of Detroit rap, there’s been much more mutual respect with artists in the city than before. I feel like you guys as a whole — Team Eastside — were really innovative in that way, reaching across the aisle and bridging gaps, because you were all taking music seriously at this point.

Babyface Ray: I ain’t going to lie, niggas never really had no problems with nobody. So, for us to link and do songs with everybody in Detroit, it was just, like, let’s get together and do some music. When we first got together it was hard doing music with Doughboyz Cashout, because they were the only rap group in the city at the time. When we came up, it was “Team Eastside vs Doughboyz” to the public, so everybody clashed us against each other. It was never anything. Nothing had ever happened.

Yeah. The age-old “Eastside vs. Westside” beef doesn’t really seem to be a thing these days.

Babyface Ray: I feel like I played a part in patching that. When I was born, my mama raised me on the East Side, but my whole family is from the West Side. I was the only nigga going east to west. Eventually, niggas started growing up and learning that I stayed on both sides, and they started piecing together that it really wasn’t shit. East Side niggas going west is a foreign world, and West Side niggas going east, that’s a foreign world. Niggas still to this day will say, “I still ain’t never been to the East Side,” That’s crazy.

When did you realize that your music was more than just something you guys made to just ride around to? When did you realize it was something you were really good at?

Babyface Ray: When motherfuckers were screaming our name like niggas was on us you feel me? Eastland Mall used to have these press play CD booths. We would press the CDs up at the mall, and they used to run through the whole order in one day. Organic shit! This was how we used to make our money, before we knew anything about iTunes or distribution deals. We used to press our shit up, take it to the mall and throw parties and shit. We used to make money like that. That’s when I knew it was real, you feel me?

What were things like around the time you released Young Wavy and the first MIA Season? Were you talking to labels at that time?

Babyface Ray: I ain’t going to lie, when MIA Season came about, I was really stuck. I was in a standstill, and one of my home boys from my neighborhood knew I was going music, but a nigga ain’t really have no drive, because I was fucked up for real. My mindset was to really get out there and make some money. My big homie saw that and said, “Fuck that, we can go do this music.” The niggas was just paying for the studio time and putting me in that bitch. That’s how it came about. Young Wavy is when I finally got the equipment and learned how to record myself. It’s when I played with my voice and range. You know, a nigga drinking lean and popping pills, if you listen to the earlier music, I was just shouting on the Team Eastside shit. Once MIA Season and Young Wavy happened, I found my calmness. I got comfortable. And that’s why I started calling my shit “wavy,” because niggas were like, “You on some cool shit.”

I feel like those two projects are where you found your identity as an artist.

Babyface Ray: I don’t know if you know about Young Wavy. I paid for that shit, recorded it myself and paid to get it mixed. I had released it on [Detroit rap mogul] Joseph McFashion’s 4sho Magazine as a free project. I wanted to put it on iTunes, but the mixing was terrible, but niggas were stil fucking with it. I remember getting the project back and was so mad at the mix. I called Joe and said, “Man, just drop that shit for free.” Niggas still ate it up. That shit is crazy.

Young Wavy is also a seminal project of that era in Detroit rap that established you as one of the most important figures in the scene. That tape had Detroit’s who’s-who featured on it. Eastside 80s, Rocaine, Peezy—

Babyface Ray: I’ve always been the type of nigga to see someone doing his thing. He’s doing his thing? What up, let’s cook. Before that, niggas were doing standalone shit and not reaching out. I’m probably the first motherfucker other than Peezy— he had Tee Grizzley on his shit back then– that was reaching out to other artists.

I feel like that’s become a theme of your career. You’ve become known for helping out other artists in the city with your platform, and your co-sign has become really important. Has that been a conscious effort to put newer artists on?

Babyface Ray: It really ain’t no complex thing, you feel me? When the Whitehouse shit came about, you know, to this day there ain’t no engineer in there. I went in that motherfucker and was sitting down recording and people were sitting there, hanging out. Los and Nutty, this was before them niggas even thought about touching a mic.

I remember when Los came out, people were saying that he wasn’t even rapping a year prior—

Babyface Ray: Hell no, that nigga ain’t give a fuck about rap. That nigga was coming in there and doing whole other shit. Like, my cousin that built the studio, Los and Nutty are his people. They used to be over there just fucking with [my cousin] Skeddy, and I’d just be in there rapping. It really just started off with niggas coming around drunk, just playing with the shit. It ain’t like we picked niggas, like “Los and Nutty, you get in there!” I’d just walk in the house one day, and this nigga would have a banger. Damn, that shit’s hard.

But once they started rapping, you immediately started appearing with them on their debut projects. You’re on their first tape together, as well as Los’ debut tape. I think that holds weight—

Babyface Ray: What’s that one song they got, that goes “Niggas kill for they bitch, my niggas kill for”… that shit?

I think it’s “Kill.”

Babyface Ray: When they made that shit, nigga, I was playing it every day for like two months straight. But they were still doing regular hood shit! I was like, “Y’all niggas tweaking.” I called the camera man, paid for the video shoot and got that shit popping. And them niggas ain’t never stop — look where they’re at now.

You haven’t had any instant mega-hits nationally like other Detroit rappers such as Sada Baby or Tee Grizzley. It feels like you’ve slowly gained a bigger and bigger following as your career has progressed, which honestly may give you more staying power in the national conscience. When did you realize things were really starting to move forward?

Babyface Ray: I ain’t going to lie, I just stayed working. That’s the key to this shit, I feel like. Just stay doing your music. Try to stay current and try to stay relevant, you know what I’m saying? And then all the other shit is going to fall into place. I remember Fetty Wap hit me up when “Football Pads” had first dropped, and that was the biggest thing to me. I couldn’t believe it.

That was 2016? Fetty Wap was huge at that time!

Babyface Ray: Yeah, man. The nigga came down here and was calling me. I was doing shows for him and shit. It was like, this nigga is at the top of his game and he’s playing my shit! That’s when I knew that niggas were on my shit.

Throughout your career, what are you most proud of?

Babyface Ray: Literally, the growth bro. Because I remember, I used to play basketball with my cousin. This is what I was fucked up fucked up. Before I did I Did This Today, I was finished. Like, zero dollars. I think Icewear Vezzo was going crazy around that time, and I was standing on my mama’s porch. He had some shit on the radio, and I was like, “Man, next year at this time, bro, niggas are gonna know about me.” I remember going to the studio and doing the four songs for the EP. We were like, fuck it, we’re about to put the pint of lean on the cover and drop I Did This Today, and niggas ate that shit up. I say something in my head— every year, when the day turns, if I’m doing something better than what I was doing a year ago, then I’m doing something good. That’s how I keep track of my growth and shit.

I’ve been listening to your music for years, but MIA Season 2, your most recent full-length work, to me, is your most substantial project. Every time I listen, I have to play it all the way through.

Babyface Ray: I sat on that bitch for so long. You know how that “part two” album shit be, bro. Making a part two after a part one is, like…

Always got to have a worthy follow up.

Babyface Ray: Yeah, it’s the hardest shit ever. I was really scared, I felt like I couldn’t drop no shit. It took me so long. I always be telling my people that you have to go through different shit in life to make music. Especially reality rap, the shit that I do. I had to go through shit, feel different emotions. Seeing different shit happen for me is what makes the music. It’s kind of crazy. I go on a long break of not making music, because I’m trying to figure out some inspiration. I can’t just get in there and make some shit sound repetitive, because I ain’t did shit else in my life yet. I be having to do some shit, go off, do something. My shit is like a different picture of what’s really going on with me, you feel me?

On that note, what can we expect from you on your new EP, Unfuckwitable?

Babyface Ray: I feel like with this EP coming out Friday, it’s just the beginning. It’s like the tip of the game for me. We’re just getting started on some shit that’s real big. The whole game is starting right now.

Even since 2021 began, you’ve been releasing music with many nationally prominent artists. You’ve got tracks with Doe Boy, and you have both Moneybagg Yo and EST Gee on your new project. There have even been some leaks on YouTube of tracks with you and Future. Can you shed a light on who else you’ve been working with lately?

Babyface Ray: I ain’t going to lie bro, I’ve been moving around. Just crossing paths with whoever fucks with me.

Yeah, man, I saw you were in Kansas City for the Chiefs-Bills AFC Championship game. How did that happen?

Babyface Ray: Man, just organic shit. My guy hit me and told me to pull up, and I pulled up! Niggas ain’t think I was going to pull up. Me and my brother. No security, no nothing. We just flew out there and were like man, we here.

It looked cold as hell.

Babyface Ray: Cold as fuck. And it’s funny, dog. I ain’t going to lie, I always told myself that I ain’t going to no fucking football game. That shit is boring as hell. But that shit was a real great experience bro. That shit was live. And to see the NFL niggas looking up there— they’re fucking with me. Man, they’re in the NFL! That’s crazy as hell!

If you’re talking directly to Babyface Ray fans right now, what can we expect from you throughout the course of the next year?

Babyface Ray: I can’t really predict the future, bro. I be saying this a lot. It ain’t no blueprint to it, so I don’t really know, but I know it’s going to be some bigger shit than what’s going on right now, because I’m going to always stay working and always stay moving. I’d just expect more of me doing something you haven’t seen Babyface Ray doing. Just like how you see me working with new, bigger artists and shit, man. Maybe some Billboard charting songs… I don’t know. Different shit. Bigger shit.

From the outside looking in, this looks like you’re on the cusp of something big. I don’t know what, right, but there have been moments in your career that have felt like somewhat of tipping points. And this feels like a tipping point. You’re on the heels of your last full-length project, MIA Season 2, and 2020’s For You EP–

Babyface Ray: [For You] was a play. I literally had thought that shit out. COVID had hit, and I was like, how can I capitalize off COVID, and niggas being in the house? I remember calling my camera man, and telling him what I was about to do. Like, I’m about to drop four songs, no videos and put that shit out on iTunes. I had this distribution shit going with Empire, and I was damn near going against the grain. Like, this was some shit I wasn’t supposed to do. You feel me? I’m talking to my man, like, let’s just do it. I’m telling him I’m not gonna shoot no videos, because niggas are in the house, so they’re just going to have to listen to this shit. And that shit really worked, you feel me? And all of that shit that I recorded, I did that shit right there. I didn’t get that shit mixed or nothing. That’s what got me out here. That’s what got me in motion.

Yeah. Is the feeling of being on the cusp something you are feeling too, or am I way off-base?

Babyface Ray: Yeah, I definitely feel it, but to feel it and have it happen are two different things, so I don’t want to overreact to the feeling. I feel that shit, but I’m going towards it until it happens. I’ve seen niggas celebrate before the end of the game.

You got anything you want to say about Peezy coming home today?

Babyface Ray: I’m mad as hell I’m not getting to see my nigga right now. He’s out and about. But yeah, Peezy coming home is a major thing, because before I was moving around and doing this type of shit, Peezy was the nigga doing this shit. Throughout I Did This Today and all of that music, I had always been in my shell. Niggas who knew me, knew that I was a quiet killer. They were always like, “Ray be on his own type of shit.” I never really cared to move around, meet people and talk to niggas, because it was never really something I wanted to do for real. But I had seen Peezy doing it, and I remember seeing how much love he got when he was doing this shit. When he went to jail, bro, I swear I to god, I damn near had a talk with myself, like, I can’t let this shit die down. Let me pick up some game from bro. So I started catching flights to different places, booking time and meeting people. On some Peezy type shit, you feel me? It’s a real play out of his book.

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