The musician has evolved from rapper to singer, teen heartthrob to ardent father, and Phases III provides perspective on how his music is changing with him, too.
Author // Jennalynn Fung
Photos // Jennalynn Fung
“This is what I was born to do,” Arin Ray declares in a fresh blue fit under the cover of clouds at Sol Blume music festival in Sacramento.
Arin Ray is no newcomer; he has influenced a new wave of RnB massively since his release of his first album Platinum Fire, in 2019, and in testament has landed collaborations with the likes of Kehlani, SiR, D Smoke, Cordae, and Kiana Ledé, garnered millions of streams and an ever growing fan base that keeps going back for more listens. With his latest release, Phases III, Arin Ray’s artistry expands. With a special nuance that often melds rock with blues and funk, the EP’s complexity and depth reside within its remarkable cohesion. The track-list offers a refreshing variety of genres, showcasing Ray’s prowess in crafting a fluid, yet multifaceted listening experience that invites audiences into a world where musical nuances harmonize effortlessly.
At Sol Blume, Ray was surprised by the crowd. “It was more than I anticipated. Honestly, I didn’t see the crowd before I got on. And I’m early, so I didn’t know who came — but it was pretty packed — they were singing every word.” Ray’s live performances are an immersive fusion of soul-stirring vocals and electrifying energy that transcends the stage and forges an intimate connection with his audience.
Ray’s start began on X Factor, where his mentor was pop icon Britney Spears. Ray hasn’t just studied under music legends, though; he has since contributed to their success, too, having written songs for Chris Brown, John Legend and Nicki Minaj – even providing backing vocals for her song “Favorite” feat. Jeremih.
He maintains his humility though, remarking with a genuine gratefulness: “It’s not something I need to gloat about, nothing like that. I’m just grateful that I got to work with these iconic people. And they’re a part of my journey, just as I am a part of theirs.”
Ray is all about the journey. Phases III (released in October of 2023) is “more like a tape,” he says, than an EP. There have been three installments thus far, with the first Phases EP going live in 2016. “I want people to hear everything as a collective. That’s the thing with my music — I’m not a singles guy, I want you to listen to my project. It’s all about the full body of work for me — not one song.”
Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, his beginning interest in music started at an early age due to family influences, as well as local inspirations like The Isley Brothers — a group that spans two generations and are very well known for their contributions to R&B, Motown soul, and funk. He still listens to them, he shares, with “You Are Loved” being one of his current favorites. Ray’s similarities to The Isley Brothers don’t end at their hometown, though; Ray has also hopped from genre to genre. “I started rapping at one point. I opened up for Mac Miller with my brother, rapping. My brother had a set on the K.I.D.S. tour. It was crazy,” but he made the transition to a more singing act after encouragement from his parents and his aunt, who were familiar with the industry via their own life trajectories.
His family’s connection to music as a business meant Ray had always grown up with the understanding that a music career was work. Before, music had been more of his dream, something he did out of love and fun; when Platinum Fire was released, he was single. Years later, though, Ray is a father to a first grader, and he feels staunchly different about the role of music in his life. His priorities have shifted to putting food on the table for his son; he confides that his family is what brings him true happiness. It has also altered his music making process; while the creation of a song comes easily to him, it is less about making the music and more about the business and financial aspects – he makes music because he knows he is good at it, and that’s what will enable him to provide for his son.
But there are always moments that reminded him of the fun of being an artist. “Performing and touching the people — there are some songs that people gravitate to. I do struggle at times with the love for music, because I see it from all the political and business angles. But while I’m not a doctor, I know I might save lives in a way — music does that for people. I’m just trying to do my part, to keep moving and impacting things, in better ways and different ways other than the music too.”
It didn’t matter whether he was rapping or singing, as long as he was on stage. While recognition is something he admits drives his work, he hopes that his work can impact and move people deeply. “I just want people to feel good, I want to give them something.”
Arin Ray gave the people Phases III. Although some songs are from the highly praised “Hello Poison” album, which was his most heartfelt and honest release, Ray confesses that the process of production and lyricism differed greatly between the two projects. Phases III began with an intention of just getting music out, but it progressed into an entire EP. “Wait So Long,” “Moonlight” and “Cold (with Vanilla Black),” are clear stand outs in the project. Wrapping around smooth melodies, alluring yet powerful vocals, and lyrics about love and physical relationships, finds its commonality within Ray’s discography.
The opening track, “Good Evening,” feels mildly psychedelic, like a sunset transition into night being observed through a silver plated mirror, while “Wet Dream” continues the feel of drifting in time as it floats down a lazy river. “Curious” picks up the energy with a fast tempo hidden anchored by Ray’s honey-coated vocals. The hypothetical galactic-organ of “Wait So Long” transforms into a galactic-xylophone that produces twingey-high pitched sounds in “Curious,” which are carried sonically into its closing track “Psychic.”
The EP is impressive in its webbed-variety and holisticness — it becomes obvious why Arin Ray is so adamant about his work being consumed as one project rather than as individual singles. Phases III is a cohesive piece of art, with its songs flowing effortlessly into the next. Far from a boring listen, Ray’s genius is in utilizing his voice in different ways to introduce diversity in sound. He easily captivates the listener with a rap-like chorus in one song, while seamlessly moving into ballad reminiscent tones in others. However, all are recognizably the work of Arin Ray — breathy, sweet, and seductively honest.
“I think my best has not even come yet,” Ray says. “I’m proud of all my projects, but I got a lot in store — consistency. A lot of great music.” Ray toured in October for the Phases III EP, and will be back on the road again in March and April of 2024. “As long as I can keep influencing people, still getting our shows, we’re good. I had a great time [at Sol Blume], vibes were high. As long as it’s coming through for them.”
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