Text JF. Pierets Photos JD Forte
In 2008, Solomon Ray released two street mixtapes that got him invited to Eminem’s radio show, Shade 45, on Sirius XM. What followed was a huge Internet buzz, a large amount of followers from all over the world and more than ten thousand copies sold. Several EP’s later the rapper came out with Le Garçon, greeted by iTunes as one of 2014’s “best new releases by a new artist” and the first single landed Vevo’s top five of R&B songs. Despite his success and positive feedback, the artist announced his retirement, due to depression, on Facebook. But last month he released a beautiful cover of Beck’s Guess I’m doing fine so it looks like Solomon Ray is back!
What made you decide to come back?
Creativity. You cannot tell an artist not to create and you can’t take a break from something that you love. Ultimately it was my love for music and the notion that we are placed on this earth for a reason that wanted me to reengage. So I tuned out all the superficial stuff that I kept seeing and moved on.
Stuff like what?
I’m an artist who identifies himself with what he makes. Which makes me quite sensitive about my work. I think I got to a point in my life where I got depressed because I didn’t see where I was going and let outside influences dictate how I felt. I started to constantly focus on how someone else had more advantages than me. After a while it became so depressing and stifling that I needed a break.
Did it have something to do with your coming out?
If you asked me this question four years ago I would’ve said yes and my response would be that I probably would not have told anybody that I was gay. Now I realize it was never really a choice because this is who I am. Now I have this “I don’t give a fuck about pretty much,” attitude so I would never be silent about it.
I can imagine it’s quite challenging, being gay in the rapper scene.
Being in this industry since 2008, you can feel a glass ceiling when you’re gay. It’s something that I’m aware of, yet I try not to give it too much weight. I’m also aware that it’s even harder for other people because I do know that it’s still a stigma to be gay in the black community. If you’re a gay rapper then you are already fighting against a lot of prejudices, but if you’re a gay rapper and you’re black and you live in America, then that really works against you. I’m a mixture of black and white so visually I can slide in. But there are a bunch of extremely talented men who don’t get the same attention as I do because of their color.
What’s the main difference between the moment of your retirement and now?
When it comes to music, the difference is that I don’t use rules anymore. I don’t hold on to formats in songwriting. Those formats are great because they are catchy but I try to use a different approach. The big personal difference is that I don’t stress as much anymore because I learned that my art and my gift is none of my business. It’s been given to me so it’s my purpose in life. I know that I’m going to be taken care of and as long as I trust that instinct, everything will be ok. Stepping into a new project with that mindset is very freeing. It literally allows me to be myself. Before I was afraid to be outspoken, to speak up. Now I don’t really care about the small things anymore.
‘I know that I’m going to be taken care of and as long as I trust that instinct, everything will be ok.’
Do you still care if people like your work?
It’s always nice when people like something you’ve made, if they identify with it or find a story to connect with. I love that. But if they don’t like it, than that’s also fine. If they are not coming to concerts or if they are not buying my records, I don’t really have the space in my life to care about them. Everybody should get to a point where they realize that people’s opinions about what you are wearing, how you are doing your hair, who you’re sleeping with, doesn’t really matter if they’re not paying your bills or have a huge influence on your livelihood.
How about future dreams?
I’ve already accomplished what I wanted. As a creative person I don’t care what it does, where it goes. I just need to make something. If I have an idea in my mind, all I’m trying to do is to get that idea out. Once it’s out, I’m on to the next project.
What would you say to an aspiring young rapper?
To be honest, I would advise them to stay in school and become a lawyer. If you go to bed at night and you cannot sleep because you have to create, then follow your passion. But if you can go to sleep and wake up perfectly fine, you need to go to school. Because there is no money in music anymore, there is no benefit. You have to do this because you need it. Very few get rich and famous and even a lot of people on the billboard top 100 don’t even have the money I have. Since finding out that harsh reality I try to tell kids to think about it, because it’s one of the toughest jobs to get into.
But you would never trade.
Never! It’s been a fantastic ride and I’m very much enjoying it!
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