It was six years ago this week that singer Arin Ray (then a senior at Cincinnati’s School for Creative and Performing Arts) was eliminated from televised singing competition The X Factor, placing 10th overall.
Ray is now 23 and living in Los Angeles, where he moved after graduation to work on getting his music career off the ground. It turned out to be a good move. Monday night (Nov. 19), Ray is returning to Cincinnati for a headlining show at Top Cats, after having released his major label album debut, the widely-acclaimed, Hip Hop-flavored Platinum Fire, this past March through Interscope Records.
After leaving The X Factor, Ray headed to Los Angeles and “couch-hopped” while trying to network and get his foot into the door, relatively quickly becoming a successful songwriter thanks to his association with hit-making production duo The Underdogs. Ray now has writing credits on tracks by Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, John Legend, Young Thug, Jeremih, Rick Ross, Jason Derulo, Yo Gotti and others, after just a few short years of hustling in L.A.
But more importantly, as Platinum Fire shows, Ray developed his own sound and identity as a solo artist during that transitional period. Ray has said that he learned a lot from his X Factor experience, where he was “mentored” by Britney Spears, but it was mostly of the “what not to do” variety. His TV show appearances didn’t lead to any of the industry clout or buzz the average viewer of such programs might expect, so Ray basically had to start from scratch and work his way up.
“Nobody cared after the show was over,” he said of his post-X Factor reality in an interview with Billboard in March. “No one hit me up to sign me. I had to move out to LA and hustle. People just respect (me) more. They don't think you feel like you are the shit. At one point, I was a kid on X Factor. So you are feeling yourself, but (starting over) brought me back down.”
Platinum Fire has been praised for not sounding like everything else coming out of the Hip Hop/R&B world these days, while also possessing the spirit of classic vintage Soul. The Los Angeles Times said, “Ray’s album showcases a classically trained singer who’s rooted in tradition yet forward-thinking — just look at breakout single ‘We Ain’t Homies,’ a slow-building anthem built around a sparse, jazzy arrangement, a guest verse from YG and the type of full-throated, soulful crooning that’s nearly nonexistent among artists in his peer group.”
Besides Hip Hop artist YG, Platinum Fire also includes guests MCs like Ty Dolla $ign and D.R.A.M., as well as Soul singer SiR and producer/singer/rapper/multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin, who was heavily involved in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly album and works regularly with the exceptionally gifted and musically diverse artists in that Pimp A Butterfly “scene” (Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, etc.). Ray is reportedly working on a Jazz project with Martin and another Butterfly musician, the great Robert Glasper.
Earlier this month, Ray premiered the music video for the latest single from Platinum Fire, “Damn," through Noisey.
Joining Ray at the show Monday at Top Cats are some other musicians with Cincinnati ties who are in various phases of taking their music careers to the next level.
After becoming a dominant force in Greater Cincinnati’s Hip Hop scene, rapper Speed Walton (formerly known as Buggs Tha Rocka) also relocated to Los Angeles, where he’s been releasing periodic singles and videos — the most recent of which is “Make U Feel” (see below) — in advance of his much anticipated full-length project, Real Name SPEED.
Also in the lineup Monday is Soul/R&B singer Jazmyn Alexis, who moved to Chicago from her native Cincinnati. In September, she released her latest EP project, Cheesecake II: Slice. Last month, she released the video for the single “Insanity.”
Rounding out the lineup is Tyshawn Colquitt, who has a few things in common with Monday’s headliner. Like Ray, Colquitt got his start on a national TV show. The fellow Cincy native did well on NBC’s The Voice this season, with the judges gushing about his talents during the audition process, but he was ultimately eliminated from the competition late last month. Ray will certainly have some words of wisdom for the talented Colquitt, who is also a graduate of SCPA.
Showtime Monday is 7 p.m. and tickets are $13. The event is open to all ages.
For more on Arin Ray, click here.