Five years ago, Ray Lavender scored a radio hit with the Fabolous and Red Café-assisted “My Girl Gotta Girlfriend.” With the release of his latest single, “Tequila,” the Monroe, LA, native is hoping to return to the airwaves with a more lasting impact. In the time in between, Ray was busy touring the world, perfecting his craft and parting ways with Akon’s KonLive label. Now in control of his own destiny, Ray is ready to boss up and take his star international. BET.com chopped it up with Mr. Lavender, whose upcoming fall debut is set to feature Fab, Keri Hilson and Pitbull, and learned about his growth as an artist, his take on “hard” R&B and his ultra-competitive one-on-one basketball games with his idol R. Kelly.
BET.com: Do you see your new single, “Tequila,” as a rebirth for your career after the success of “My Girl Got Girlfriend” a few years back?
Ray Lavender: Definitely not (a rebirth), cause I never went nowhere. I was still dropping music while I was on my little hiatus, but all I did was turn the BPMs up a little bit. It’s still a pop, rhythmic record. “My Girl Got a Girlfriend” was as well as this record, but this one is more on an international level. It’s got a Caribbean island feel as well… We having a party, man. It’s party time. I wanna be in the club, I wanna have fun. And when you drink Tequila, it loosens you up. It’s a universal drink. And it’s usually a club atmosphere when Tequila is being served. So I wrote a song to blend in with this party.
Does that interest in being international come from getting to see the world on tour?
Absolutely. (I was) doing a lot of touring. One of the biggest places I toured around was Sweden. I did a lot of work over there in the U.K. and Sweden… We all know, my album didn’t get to come out. So we can hear everything that was on my album. And being around Akon, he was doing a lot of touring as well. We got to listen to a lot of different music and got to be a lot of different places. So I’ve been on it, it’s just now that I’m turnt up, you actually get to hear where I’ve been and hear how international my music has become.
What’s your relationship with Akon right now?
Me and A, we good. Akon’s good, he’s busy. I’m not with the KonLive situation anymore, but I’m definitely doing my own different thing with Global Artist Group over here now. But it was no bad blood between us, I just respectfully backed out. I’m growing up, man. I’m a boss, I wanna be a boss, I got boss qualities. So I wanna try to do my own thing.
Everyone from Teddy Riley to Dallas Austin has noted your talent. How does it feel to be recognized by the greats?
Definitely an honor. [It’s] something that I’ve worked for, for a long time. And to be noticed by these music moguls is a different kind of feeling. It’s what I’ve worked for all my life. When you’re sitting in that basement or you’re in the studio and you do a song and you come up with a clever idea, it’s always good to be acknowledged. But when you’re acknowledged by the greats like that, it means so much more because people respect these guys on a global scale. And then for a Dallas Austin or a Teddy Riley or an Akon or somebody like that to come to you and say, “Hey man, you’re gonna be great. Your music sounds incredible.” That means so much more. That’s what I do it for.
People describe your music as more “hard-edged” R&B, especially compared to today’s scene. It’s reminiscent of what R. Kelly used to do because you’re singing, but there’s nothing soft about it.
I had a conversation with R. Kelly, he said, ‘Listen Ray, to get your point across sometimes you gotta go ahead and just say it. Don’t sugarcoat it, just go ahead and say it.’ And we’re hip hop influenced. He’s hip hop influenced, and I’m hip hop influenced. So, sometimes if you wanna say it in a hard demeanor, maybe you may have to say a couple words that somebody regularly wouldn’t say in an R&B song to get your point across. And he was definitely right. If I want to say it and I need to say it like that, go head and say it. If they have to bleep it out, then let ‘em bleep it out on the radio. But as long as you got your point across, that’s all that matters. That’s where that hard R&B comes from, it’s me just not really giving a damn about what they think about what I say.
So you and R. Kelly have a relationship?
I haven’t spoke with him in a minute, but last time I saw him — me and him are always playing basketball against each other. Last time I seen R. Kelly was on the basketball court. We all moving all over the place, we’re always on different sides of the globe. But when we are together, yeah that’s the homie man. He’s very competitive on the basketball court.
They say Kells is nice on the court, you can take him one-on-one?
Absolutely… I’m too fast for that (laughs). Actually, I’m up (in our series), I’m up one. It’s three to four right now.
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(Photo: Interscope Records)