So far, 2017 has been a pretty good year for buzz-heavy actor and rapper Bryshere Y. Gray. Let’s start off with the obvious: Gray, like his fellow fresh-faced thespians, is still basking in the proverbial glow of the record-breaking success of BET’s ambitious, three-part biopic The New Edition Story. Now that the dust has settled (the numbers for the live and re-aired showings of the acclaimed miniseries, which follows arguably the ‘80s and early ‘90s most influential vocal group, ascended to an astonishing 29 million in total viewers during its premiere week), Gray can finally take it all in.
The Philadelphia native says that he was just happy to bring the rich story of the iconic Boston act to newbie viewers and fans who were not even alive yet when Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe, Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant were at their multi-platinum-pushing, turbulent peak.
“I think it’s important for our generation to know and appreciate New Edition,” testifies Gray, who adds that playing the role of Bivins — the successful music visionary who went on to discover the highest-selling R&B singing group of all time, Boyz II Men — helped transform him into a serious follower of the seemingly indestructible act. “They made it possible for people in their community to [move forward],” he says.
And while Gray couldn’t make it out for the guys’ triumphant January 23 ceremony, where they finally received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, he was equally as excited for what he calls an important moment for Black music culture. “Man, that’s something huge,” he says with a beaming smile. “A lot of groups can’t say that they got a star [on the Walk of Fame]. New Edition is still breaking the glass ceiling.”
As for his own stardom, Gray has seen his profile rocket off following the immense success of his scene-chewing role as resident lovable bad boy Hakeem Lyon on the hit FOX drama Empire. But when the most talked about, social media-igniting series comes back for its March 30 return, Gray says loyal viewers will find a mature Hakeem taking his musical craft much more seriously.
“We got more music…we got Nia Long…and more fights,” Gray muses. “But this season, [Hakeem is] realizing that he’s a father. He realizes that the music he was making is affecting his fans and his fans are females. He’s taking that into consideration when he’s making music.”
For Gray, it is a matter of life imitating art. Before he caught the acting bug, he was up-and-coming rapper Yazz. He now is publicly challenging his fellow emcees to strike a more positive tone for impressionable listeners. “[I would like to see] the rappers that are out there to start making better music for the younger generation because we listen and look up to them,” he says. “They just gotta make better decisions.”
(Photo: Bennett Raglin/BET)