We spoke with Detroit rapper Babyface Ray about working with Future, Michigan’s place in contemporary hip-hop, and more.
The days of the anonymous-yet-fully-realized rap phenomenon with a demo tape are fading. Besides the occasional virally-savvy superstar, the only tried-and-true method to building hype in 2021 is to have already made a name for yourself in years past. Babyface Ray arrives a little late. But, in a sense, he’s right on time. Ten years after his former group Team Eastside’s debut — and eleven projects as a solo artist later — he’s caught the eye of Future, Moneybagg Yo, and more.
The trajectory isn’t out of the ordinary. Before breaking through in 2018 with Blank Blank, DaBaby had already dropped twelve mixtapes in just a few years. The members of Griselda Records have surged recently, but Benny the Butcher and Westside Gunn have been rapping since the Bush administration. There’s a higher demand for content, but that content is more warmly received over time.
Babyface Ray’s bars aren’t as absurdist or viral-friendly as the rest of his Michigan peers, like Sada Baby, Flint’s Rio Da Young OG, or fellow Team Eastside-member Peezy. But that’s likely a positive in the long run. Over the last decade, he’s showcased an understated flow and strong pen with pace-changing tracks like “#1 Fan” and “Move to LA.” Already a respected veteran on the scene, he’s playing with house money at this point. By now, the Detroit sound is familiar to many listeners, and Ray’s a thoughtful and versatile enough writer to take full advantage.
Babyface Ray recently dropped Unfuckwitable, a promising seven-track appetizer with features from Moneybagg Yo, Kash Doll, and Louisville, Kentucky Rapper EST Gee. The project is a concise introduction. In the past, he’s sounded at home over the reverbing acid house basslines Detroit producers have perfected. But his sleepy, conversational flow fits over any sort of production. From the bouncy “If You Know You Know” to the reflective album closer “Change You,” he never really sounds out of place.
On the day of Unfuckwitable’s release, we spoke with Babyface Ray about Team Eastside, Detroit’s relationship with the Bay Area, and more.
First things first, Peezy is out now. Is there any chance we get another project from Team Eastside at some point?
You know that’s the biggest question everybody been asking right now. Trying to ask to see if we going to do another tape. I don’t know. I been kind of pushing for it. We got to get everybody in the studio. Everybody doing their own thing right now.
How did your experience with Team Eastside prepare you for a solo career?
It kind of was the base and everything, just getting me ready for putting tapes out, and having fans and stuff like that. Once I learned about all of that, then I kind of incorporated it to my swag and what I had going on, and just putting my little spin on everything.
Your delivery is so calm you might have to listen two or three times to really appreciate how clever your lyrics are. What’s your writing and recording process? Do you record whole takes or just punch in?
Line for line. I used to write. I stopped writing and now I just sit at the mic and just let it come to my head, for real. I feel like the writing process is the same, writing them on a piece of paper or writing a song to keep, it’s the same thing to me, it’s jotting it out line by line, for real.
The intro from MIA Season 2 really set the tone for that tape. How do you decide which song you wanna lead off with?
Usually on the intros I try to keep it the trillest shit. Whatever the trillest shit that I got, you know what I’m saying? You got to open up with that because that’s what it is.
You name-dropped Future on the first verse of that. What’s it been like to see yourself go from that to being in the studio with him?
Damn, I did say that, didn’t I? Shit man, that shit crazy, for real. I think sometimes that shit be seeming not real. You feel me? But, that shit lit though. You know what I’m saying? It’s all a part of just growing in the music industry, I guess.
He’s got a reputation for being a hard worker in the studio. What has it been like seeing him recording firsthand?
That shit crazy man, he don’t leave the studio, bro. I ain’t going to lie. That shit wild. I ain’t never seen no shit like that. That’s what I like most about him though — he stay in the studio. That’s what keeps me most motivated about it, you know what I’m saying? That’s what kind of made me gravitate, fuck with him more hard because dude in that bitch working. Sometimes you meet… motherfuckers, you don’t even see the studio with them cats. It was a different vibe with him.
I randomly opened Instagram live once and you were listening to Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” How much are you listening to other genres besides rap?
I usually play shit like that to keep me motivated. I don’t be knowing the names, bruh. I just be knowing the songs. So if I hear some shit on a movie or I hear something else then I just go and figure how it being played. Like you just said Tears of Fears — I ain’t even know that, know what I’m saying?
I feel like other states should pay attention to what happened in Michigan. It wasn’t a matter of co-signs from artists in other cities, but people like Peezy left the biggest city in the state and recruited some talent.
Yeah, Peezy put in the groundwork for us. Peezy was moving around. We weren’t doing that. We was in the city damn near stuck focusing on what we was doing. We was so big on our shit in the city. We weren’t thinking about going out. Peezy started moving around doing that shit… He was the first person moving around, reaching out and tapping in with different people.
We be treating our artistry like a hustle. What I mean by that is — we the bag. So, where we come from, if you got the bag you going to take the bag because this is a space where they don’t got the product yet. Peezy just used the same hustle mindstate. it’s like fucking with a bag when he was moving around to where people weren’t listening to music yet and he was touching down, reaching people, and touching people.
Who were some rappers that inspired Babyface Ray?
Man, a little bit of everybody. Man it’s so many. It would be hard to name everybody.
One comparison for you that I’ve seen is to The Jacka from the Bay.
Man, yeah that’s what my people keep saying. My people were real cool with The Jacka. They were saying I favor him. And I got up on his music. My man downloaded all his tapes. I can understand where they get it from, the calm flow, the reality rap.
You mention the Bay in your raps a good amount. What is it that makes these two cities connect so much?
They the connection for real. I don’t know, bro… the Bay [is] far away from us [but] when you touchdown they on the same shit we on. That shit wild. And then it’s like [Los Angeles] is right there so you can get to LA, it’s a whole different vibe from the Bay shit so I don’t know. I did an interview earlier and they was asking me who was an influencer in the city, and I was talking about Rock Bottom and Street Lord’z, which you might not be familiar with, but I remember Street Lord’z. You heard of them before? Street Lord’z was already out connecting with the Bay first, doing their thing with E-40 back in the day.
A lot of rappers have a weird relationship with the media. What can journalists do to make that relationship less awkward?
I don’t know. Some of them so far have been doing a good job. You can’t really patch that up between media and the place where the music comes from. Plus the artists be doing bullshit every day. [Journalists] be doing their job. People be salty about motherfuckers putting their business out there, I guess. Then the world gets to comment, and that’s a hurtful feeling for artists.