With so much gangsta rap out there, what's a young rapper gotta do to get noticed?
For 18-year-old Ray Ray, he jerks.
When looking for inspiration, the young newcomer turns back the clock to the late '80s-early '90s. With a high-top fade and jerkin style, Laray "Ray Ray" Thomas is tired of hearing raps about gangstas and money. He wants something different -- a little more upbeat.
"I feel like back in the early 90s, everything was getting fresh and dope, bright colors, standing out," he told The Skanner News. "I don't want to be another rapper you here talking about the same old thing, I want to do my own thing, venture out and do something else with it."
Ray Ray is a recent graduate of Multnomah ESD's Helensview School, the home of Phoenix Studio, which allows students to integrate their studies with a musical curriculum similar to what the new charter High School of Recording Arts Portland, will be doing in the fall.
With a new EP "Tha Funkshun" that just dropped (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/RayRay3) and a new video "High Top Fade" online, he says he says his music is more than just a retro throwback. He says he likes to venture into new territory and is one of the Northwest's "Sappers" – a rapper who can just as easily sing as they can throw down rhyme.
View Ray Ray's "High-Top Fade" video here
"I switch it up like Dennis Rodman's dome," he jokes.
With his beginnings singing in the church, Ray Ray formed his first rap group "Dynasty" at the age of 15. After transferring to Helensview, Ray Ray easily expanded what he was previously producing.
His instructor at Helensview, Chaz Mortimer, says Ray Ray was capable of a wide range of musical stylings while attending the school. He was quick to collaborate with any student, says Mortimer, even if the student's musical interest differed greatly from his own.
"He'd been recording stuff before I got there … doing really cool stuff," says Mortimer, who has taught at the school for the last two years, and says Ray Ray has a natural talent for producing and memorizing lyrics. "The turning point was when we brought in Tre Hardson, one of the MCs from the Pharcyde … something lit a spark underneath him."
Ray Ray says Hardson – also known as SlimKid3 -- encouraged him to take his music to the next level, to promote it and treat it like a professional piece of work. He says without help from Hardson and Mortimer, there would be no "High Top Fade" – let alone an album to back it.
"In the studio I stood out," Ray Ray says. "SlimKid3 from Pharcyde came in and started working with our school album and one day he started talking with me and was like, you know what, you can do so much stuff with this, just don't baby it, make sure you expand it, don't keep it under locks."
Ray Ray says he's already getting recognized by strangers on the street – even during the filming of his video on location in Seattle.
"People notice me all the time," he says.
Always humble, Ray Ray says he plans to pursue a music degree in college to improve his craft.
View Ray Ray's "High-Top Fade" video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onsp0IIyH5s and preview/buy his new EP "Tha Funkshun" at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/RayRay3 for $5.