INTO caught up with Ray prior to the release of the single to talk about what it means for him to put out a gay reggaeton anthem, why he loves the genre and what it means to be an Afro-Latinx artist right now.
Congratulations on the release of “Asi Asi!” Can you tell me what first attracted you to reggaeton as a genre?
Thank you. Well, I started my music career as a rapper. So I’ve always had my foot in hip-hop. Since I was about five years old, I always wanted to do music in Spanish. And as time went on that desire intensified, but so did my fear. Reggaeton just fits better with my musical background. But it was more so my producer Daneon, the tracks we’ve made so far are all reggaeton. But eventually it will evolve and I’m going to blend genres as I usually do.
Reggaeton has a reputation for being a genre soaked in machismo. Did that worry you at all about working in that genre? Did you feel like you wouldn’t be accepted?
Coming from hip hop, no. I came from a genre where I wasn’t accepted, so this kinda didn’t phase me. I think the audience has changed a lot. Two thirds of my listeners are female, so it’s interesting to see that shift. But I haven’t stayed in this genre long enough to feel that glass ceiling yet. Lets circle background in a year! Haha.
Are you proud that “Asi Asi” is a song that is explicitly about queer affection in the reggaeton genre?
I always try and keep my music neutral. Just so that everyone can sing along to it. But what I love about being gay and making reggaeton is this is also my perspective. Like Selena was a female in a male-dominated genre and had her perspective. Same with me and that comes out through the song choices, my style and stage performances. When my last single, “El Otro,” came out I was actually shocked so many gay men were so supportive. So many people reached out saying how proud they were to have someone like them do this genre. I had no idea there was a void.
You quit music briefly in 2015 and came back. What made you leave and what made you return?
What made me leave was I didn’t feel I fit in. It’s hard to find inclusion in the music industry as well as the gay community. And in both I kept hitting a block. And honestly, that kinda fucks with your head. You question every single thing you do. But then one day I told my best friend I wanted to do music in Spanish and how I had all these ideas but was too afraid. And that resurgence is what brought me back.
Do you feel like there’s still a hesitation to feature queer artists on major music websites like VEVO?
Yeah. VEVO is a great platform. They’ve done some great things for me, like feature some of my past videos. And they’ve dropped the ball a few times. I asked them to market my last video and they said they would if it achieved a few things first. At first the requirement they gave me seemed impossible, but the support I got made it happen. I went back to them, showed them, and they hit me with yet another requirement. I achieved that too. But they didn’t promote it. See, I’m very blunt, I’m a Capricorn. Tell me the video and the song is trash and I’ll move on. Don’t put me through all these loops if you know you don’t wanna push it.
Have you had any problems with Spanish-language media being a queer reggaeton artist? Does this bother you at all?
I’m still new to this genre and market, and I have a huge amount of anxiety over this. I think I’m more scared of not being Mexican enough than I am about being gay. But I did do a interview with “Suelta La Sopa” which is a huge show on Telemundo. I put in a thousand dollars of my own money to help produce the piece and elevate it. Being an unknown indie artist- you get the smallest if not non-existent budgets. Needless to say, the interview went really well, but it never aired. They never returned or calls, or e-mails or anything. And stuff like that is upsetting. Because being a new artist introduced into a new market, those huge platforms are great marketing and branding opportunities for us. But I take all this in stride. I hope I get back on this show again. However, LA TV had my music video in heavy rotation, so that’s great!
You are part of a lot of Afro-Latinx artists who are stepping forward to challenge people’s ideas of what it means to be both Black and Latinx. Why do you think it’s important for artists like you and Amara La Negra to be out right now?
Visibility. Being Black, I’m always hit with, “Well, you don’t look Black.” Which is wild, because Black comes in all shades, all hair textures and all features. So saying that is essentially anti-Black. And then being Mexican, it’s the same thing. Not all Latinx people share the same skin tone or hair. I had this manager joke and tell me how I’m on the “Selena side of being almost too dark” for the Latin music industry. So he warned me jokingly to stop tanning and watch the lighting on my photoshoots. It hurt my feelings, but thats so real. Look at all the top stars, see what they look like. In a fucked up way he was looking out for me. I hope in the future your background and skin color won’t matter.
Can you talk to me about the collaborative team behind Asi Asi? Why did you trust them with this song?
The track is produced by Daneon, who has worked with so many big artist in the Latin genre that I admire. And it’s also co-written by Neka One who just won an ASCAP award. It’s so hard trusting people to produce for me. Especially coming from a production background. But I trust them because they know what they’re doing. And for them to work with such big names in the industry and wanting to work with me and believe in my talent is a great feeling. In fact, I was so nervous of Daneon finding out I was gay, I ended up deleting half my Instagram after we had our first conference call! Haha. The call went so well I was afraid he was gonna figure me out and not want to work with me. But he knew! Which is how music should be. About the music.
You are an artist who believes that you should also be outspoken and political. How do you balance being political with “playing nice” and making sure you don’t ruffle feathers? Or does that even matter to you?
I’m always torn. You gotta be careful and cognizant of how people might view you. When a straight white man stands up for himself, he’s viewed as honorable and as a boss. But when a woman does it, she’s a bitch. A cunt. A black woman does it, she’s angry and has an attitude. And when a gay man of color does it oh forget it! We’re overreacting or being queens. We need to calm down. And when you look a certain way, you need to just be pretty. Don’t talk. But you gotta be careful. Sometimes certain things are owned by certain people and you don’t wanna say the wrong thing that can get you in trouble. But when I find out I’m getting paid less or what’s offered to me is different than a white male it bothers me. And I know then I gotta stay off the internet, cause I’m quick to @ someone.
Make sure to check out his brand new single, “Asi Asi!”