In the past eight months, Richmond singer Rayana Jay has seen her career trajectory go from strictly local to national — and even international — recognition. Her latest EP, “Sorry About Last Night” is an expose of an all-too familiar millennial scenario: Once the wine hits the lips, the fingers reach for the smartphone. Feelings pour out via text, chaos ensues.
It’s a personal record reflecting messy breakups and the emotional roller coaster associated with them. Jay pens raw, unfiltered honesty in her lyrics, pinned against backdrops of slinky R&B undertones and jazzy, smooth instrumentals courtesy of Bay Area producers Mikos Da Gawd and 1-O.A.K., with Drew Banga, Jamal Jellyfish and Los Angeles’ Fortune. There’s a high level of authenticity at play here and outlets such as FADER and NPR were quick to catch on. The Bay Bridged got a chance to sit down with Rayana Jay in Oakland to talk about her fast-rising success, the evolving Bay Area music scene and her first foray into festival territory at our 7th Annual Phono Del Sol Music and Food Festival.
The Bay Bridged: How’s life?
Rayana Jay: I can’t complain, everything is great. I feel like I’m waking up to good news every day. It gets a little busy and I have to figure out how to maneuver or to delegate certain tasks — what’s important, what’s not so important — but other than that, everything’s good. I’m good.
TBB: What has it been like since you’ve started getting national attention from publications like Fader, NPR, KQED, East Bay Express, etc.?
RJ: It seems unreal to think that we put Sorry About Last Night out in October (2016) and it’s barely been six months and all this is happening. I’m super grateful for it, and that’s really all it is, I’m just super grateful. In such a short time, I feel like I did a good thing. I’m really proud of myself, I’m proud of my team and I’m just trying to see what’s going to happen within a year. When it becomes a full year since we drop the record, what are we going to have accomplished by then? I’m excited for the future.
TBB: Are you working on a new record?
RJ: Yes, it’s going to be a full album, like 10-13 songs. I have production from ROM from London, Mikos Da Gawd, Drew Banga, Esta again because I really like working with him. I have some records with these cats from Fete Records, they’re a group of producers and rappers based out in Washington, DC; They’re tight, I met them when I was out there.
TBB: “Sorry” was something that came out of a messy breakup, what’s your next record going to be about?
RJ: This record is pretty much the clarification; It’s the waking up and things finally make sense. It’s when the hangover blows over and this is what I actually meant to say. It’s more about healing and making sense of things and the good side of relationships. “Sorry About Last Night” was about me being sad and we’re going to sing about it. This new records is like, I’m finally getting my wave back, it’s time to turn up, let’s go.
TBB: The communities in Oakland recently hosted its first ever Women In Music festival and you were featured on the cover of the local paper highlighting the event and its efforts. How did you get involved with that initiative?
RJ: Evangeline (Elder) and Carmina (Woodward, b.k.a. DJ Red Corvette) put it together — Evangeline is my manager, Carmina is my DJ — and I remember Carmina said she wanted to do it the first month of the year. And I just watched it become a full thing. It started just as an idea and then a few months later, it’s a weekend-long event. It was amazing. And at first I didn’t have anything to do with it, I wasn’t on any showcases or anything, but I wasn’t trippin’, I just thought that the idea of it was tight. To take all these women, and not just performers, but managers, talent buyers and publicists, like the women that people don’t really pay attention to. It’s like if you’re not in the limelight then people forget you even exist, that you even do anything. So just to see them put that together was amazing and for them to hit me up to get on the Women Breaking Ground panel, I said absolutely. They didn’t even have to ask, they could’ve just told me to show up and I would’ve been good with it.
“I feel like there’s been a shift, a Renaissance type thing where the rap is cool but people need music that is more soul-filling. The Bay is definitely an untapped source for good music.”
TBB: I’ve read that you really close to calling it quits on music until Evangline came into the picture.
RJ: At that point, giving up seemed like the only option. I kind of wanted to get into artist management like Vang, but I don’t think even that was for me. I tried working jobs again and that wasn’t for me so I was really in this stagnant place. I was getting really sad and I felt like I knew I was supposed to be doing something but I wasn’t getting it done. And that’s when Vang came into my life. She was like, “Well you can sing” and I’m like, “Nah, you just saying that.” Fast forward a couple months later and we’re in the studio doing “Sleepy Brown” and I guess the rest is history.
TBB: But even before that you were at (Oakland nonprofit) Youth Radio and you recorded “Marty McFly” (produced by Mikos Da Gawd). What was going on between your time at Youth Radio and recording “Sleepy Brown”?
RJ: I went to Youth Radio and put the song out in 2012. I got into a relationship in 2014 and moved all the way to Pennsylvania so I was away from home and I didn’t know anybody. I knew nothing there, I didn’t know any of their musical resources. I was kind of living in a village, it wasn’t even a city, it was like a township. It was dry, cold, rainy and I was still writing music. I had started on an EP before I moved and it was finished while I was out there. So when I came back after the breakup we put (the EP) out but it wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. I’m a really impatient person; I like to see instant results, but I’m working on that to this day (laughs). But because it wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do so I thought, “Forget it, this obviously isn’t for me.” Vangie pulled me out of that.
TBB: More recently, we’re seeing a whole different side of Bay Area music — alternative hip-hop and R&B, for lack of a better term —s getting put out and even recognized by a wider audience. It deviates from the hyphy music that made a splash in the late 2000s, but I’m wondering if this alternative side has always existed and why is it only now coming to the surface.
RJ: I think people were scared to do it for a minute because it didn’t seem so accepted. If you weren’t making hyphy music, and I even feel today if you’re not making that hyphy-esque, hyphy-offspring music, then people aren’t really giving it much attention. But you have artists like 1-O.A.K., Siri, Stoney Creation, and all of these punk, alternative, neo-R&B acts coming out now. So yeah, maybe we were scared for a minute or maybe we were putting it out and nobody was listening to it, but I feel like there’s been a shift, a Renaissance type thing where the rap is cool but people need music that is more soul-filling. The Bay is definitely an untapped source for good music.
TBB: The music community out here is pretty tight-knit, too. Even though you’ve collaborated with artists across the country, you — and other artists from out here — tend to stick with Bay Area producers (who also happen to be your friends).
RJ: I just think we’re just protective of the sound and we don’t want the sound to get out to people who won’t fully appreciate it. So it’s like yeah, I’m going to keep working with this or that producer because he has the sound that I need and he trusts me with that sound.
TBB: I read your mom used to work for a record label in the 1990s. Do you have any recollection of her time doing that?
RJ: I don’t remember any of it, actually. I think she was doing that before she got pregnant with me. I actually just found old pictures of her with EPMD, Rakim, Tupac; Those are my favorite pictures of my mom. I definitely look at those pictures and I realize that she set the blueprint for me before she even knew it. Cause my mom can’t sing and I tell her that all the time (laughs). But she definitely kept music in the house. My dad would sing all the time and my grandpa would sing all the time. Just growing up in the Baptist church where it was really nothing but music and God, it was like everybody in my life unknowingly planted the seed.
TBB: It seems like the church is where a lot of artists and musicians have their roots planted.
RJ: Yeah, Baptist churches are loud and they kind of just throw kids into any position. Like, “OK, you can talk? You can sing. You can walk? We’re going to put you on the usher board.” I remember days where I wouldn’t want to go to church like, “I don’t want to sing,” or “I don’t want to wear black and white, I don’t want to wear this dress,” but looking back I’m so thankful for that. Because it’s something I can always go back to. It’s more than the music, it’s the words and the spirit and soul in the music. When I feel down or super out, that’s the first thing I do, I go back to old church songs to remember where I really came from.
TBB: How did you wind up being a part of the lineup for Phono del Sol?
RJ: They just hit us up. I saw that Duckwrth was also performing and I’m a huge fan of his so I was immediately on board. I’ve been trying to get into the whole festival scene — outside, people in the grass having a picnic; that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I want to do a Coachella and a SXSW and a Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, all of those. I just like being outside with the sun and nature. Plus I just want to be able to perform with my shoes off. I feel like a festival is the only place I can take my shoes off and it’s appropriate.
TBB: What do have in store for the rest of 2017?
RJ: I want to do everything. I want to travel, I want to do like a mini-tour in the UK, hit up London because that’s where they love me the most. London’s super progressive, especially in the R&B and soul space; It’s like they invented it. London invented soul. But that’s definitely my goal, to hit London by 2018. I have a passport so I might as well do it. And I’m always getting emails about shows happening over there — I feel like they think I live in London. I’d go if I was over there. Or if they fly me out, whichever comes first.
Phono del Sol: Oh Sees, the Coathangers, Jay Som, Bells Atlas, and more
Potrero del Sol Park
June 17, 2017