Ray J breaks from sister Brandy's shadow
NEW YORK - In the '90s, Ray J's only claim to fame was being Brandy's little brother.
While her star grew on albums and television, Ray Norwood was home in Southern California, trying to be different, standing on a corner with a street gang.
But today, he's enjoying strong sales of his second album, "Raydiation," led by the hit single "One Wish," which is sitting at No. 2 on the R&B chart.
With a show on BET and a gig on UPN's "One on One," the 25-year-old entertainer has managed to transcend his past as a sidekick on his big sister's TV shows and videos. He spoke to The Associated Press about being taken seriously, cleansing demons and why he loves older women.
AP: Do you feel misunderstood?
Ray J: I feel like people just don't know what's up. It just takes emotion and time and being consistent with your music and your fans and just staying out on the scene. That's when people start to understand and start to get into your story.
AP: So you're a former gangbanger?
Ray J: Yeah. As a teenager ... I was young and just trying to find myself.
AP: I've read that you've been shot at so many times, you can't remember all of them. Did they ever shoot at you for being Brandy's brother?
Ray J: (Laughs) No. When you live in Carson and Compton and Long Beach and you growin' up in the neighborhood, getting shot at is just a regular thing. If you're hanging out at the school after hours with your friends and y'all shootin' dice and people are drinking and smoking and it's a gang environment and it's a party life constantly, that's where another rival gang targets. Just wearing red or wearing blue, in L.A., you get shot at. It was just one day when I almost got shot in front of my house, my grandma, in front of my family, and I realized it was no more fun and games. We used to run and laugh and hop the gate and get away, but that time I felt like my life was being threatened.
AP: Have you ever shot at anybody?
Ray J: Nah, I never shot at anybody. I didn't take it there. You know I was only 13, 14.
AP: Have you ever see any of your friends shot?
Ray J: One of my friends got shot in my truck. My best friend now, Shorty Mack, he's on my label, my hype man, my rapper, he got shot in the stomach and the arm with a .45 in my truck. I never really mentioned it, because it's hard for people to believe and I think sometimes it's irrelevant with what I'm trying to do right now. But if people want to know, I'm never afraid to tell them what happened.
AP: Your voice has been compared to Ralph Tresvant's from New Edition.
Ray J: That's cool. I heard that one time, that's a good look. I was a New Edition fan.
AP: Why name the album 'Raydiation'?
Ray J: It's a cleansing. I needed to be cleaned. I needed to clean myself from all my demons. All my bad vibes and just build back on being confident again. There was a time when I just stopped being confidant and started thinking about other things.
AP: Brandy is coming out with an album on your label, Knockout Entertainment?
Ray J: I'm structuring the deal with her, because she co-executive produced my album and she invested time and money too. So I'll invest money into her album, I'll get my cut and be a part of it.
AP: You know who speaks very highly of you? Karrine Stephans (the tell-all groupie author).
Ray J: Kerrine Stephans?
Ray J: Oh, oh, oh, yeah. She's cool.
AP: Was there any love there?
Ray J: Love like 'in love?' No, we had fun together. I was at my peak of being wild and she helped me be wild. We had a great wild life together, it was fun, exciting, exotic, it was very, very, very intense as far as just being wild. I was 18, 19, at my peak of exploration and finding out things about women, life and fun. And she helped me.
AP: You're into older women?
Ray J: I love older women. I've never dated a woman younger than me.
AP: Sometimes when you say the name 'Ray J,' people chuckle.
Ray J: That's what they do?
AP: Sometimes. Have you ever felt people don't take you as seriously as you'd like?
Ray J: I feel jealousy. I feel hatred. I feel envy. I feel disbelief. But that's the challenge. I look at this game as a card game, a domino game, a chess game. It's a game. A challenge. And can you overcome that challenge. You can complete your mission. It's a beautiful thing to have somebody not believe and then a year from then, they believe and support and love. That's the challenge. To make somebody believe and change people's minds. Time tells everything.