“Don’t be afraid to take a chance and also with that, don’t be afraid to take your time on stuff,” says Little Rock, Arkansas rapper and creative, K. Ray as he reflects on creating his debut album, The More You Know. He entered the world of raps and rhymes as a Hip-Hop connoisseur and connected with genres like Funk, Soul, and R&B—which can all be heard in his distinct sound. However, when K. Ray decided to pursue music—or at least jokingly release a mixtape, he had to study the art of crafting songs. His gift with words was cultivated early on in the form of poetry and writing, which later translated well over the jazzy instrumentals that have become a part of his sound.
K. Ray was in no rush to release his first album, which took three years to reach completion. He says, “I had to be honest with myself and if I would have put it out before I did, I probably wouldn’t be as confident in it as I am now. I wouldn’t be able to talk about it or push it the way that I am now because I wouldn’t have believed in it had I released it prematurely.”
Read more to learn about K. Ray’s interesting road to rapping, his musical influences, navigating the music world as a newcomer, and a breakdown of his debut album, The More You Know.
We’re just going to jump right into it. Tell us a little bit about your childhood. I’m really interested in knowing where you grew up, what you enjoyed doing as a child, family dynamic—whatever you’re willing to share pretty much.
Born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. Home structure is pretty much just me, my mom, and my sister for the most part. My dad was in Texas—he’s still in Texas. He was was in Pine Bluff for a little bit of my childhood then moved to Texas around when I was eight. My mom had married my sister’s dad, so he was in the house for a few years, but like I said mainly it was just me, my mom, and my sister. I grew up in the Southend neighborhood of Little Rock—I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the geography of Little Rock, but it’s over there by the fair grounds. So, you got Roosevelt, MLK, like all that over there. Mainly, with me, I’m pretty much a nerd, man. Growing up it was school and sports. Well, my mom wanted it to be school and sports. It was sports and school for me. Played any and everything—primarily as a kid it was football and basketball. By the time I was in high school that’s when track took over. So, in high school played football and ran track in the summertime. Got a scholarship to UCA (The University of Central Arkansas)—went up to Conway for four years and ran track. Got my degree in 2015—got a BA in Public Relations and a minor in Business Administration. Kind of like the Reader’s Digest version of that.
I was wondering how you got to Conway because I remember me going to an event and you were performing there. I’m familiar with you as a creative from your poetry to your music—two areas that tend to fuse into one another. When did your love for verbal expression begin as it pertains to art?
Watching Def Poetry Jam as a kid. Just watching all those different artists come and the different types of spoken word—you would see real slam poets then they would bring in Mos Def or Kanye, like rappers, and then translate what they would say on wax per se and do it in a spoken word form. It was just like—listening to how people can flip words and bend words, tell stories with them, and just have you on this emotional rollercoaster or this emotional yo-yo and they’re the ones that are manipulating it. That was always so cool to me. Yo, if I could ever say something as profound and not as many words that would be it. That’s where that love of poetry and spoken word came from.
But prior to that—you grew up watching that—did you experiment with writing? When did you begin to actually put pen to paper or express your thoughts more poetically?
Honestly, the first time I actually tried writing something was—outside of a school assignment—was probably like my senior year of high school. It was something adolescent boys would do—trying to figure out how to navigate your emotions and do so in a “masculine” accepted way. I was going through a breakup. [laughing] I still got the notebook. I found it when I was moving a couple of months ago and I flipped through it. I said oh, this is so cringe! It’s really me just pissed off writing and trying to make words rhyme and stuff. Real teenage love drama and I’m looking at it now like this is so insignificant. [laughing]
You have a distinct sound, especially coming out of Arkansas. Have to note that! Before I share my take on your sound though, how would you describe your sound?
It’s kind of like… I’m trying to fuse a lot of my influences from when I was a kid, even when I was a teenager, so somewhat of a Southern/West Coast sound in terms of instrumentation. Lyrically—trying to bring it back to the mixtape era of rap that we were listening to when we were in middle school and high school.
I can sense that, for sure. Your rap style has a rawness to it. It’s very like—the words Boom Bap come to my head. It’s kind of like that raw Hip-Hop era. I appreciate your sound. How did you develop it over the years, though?
A lot of studying. When I graduated from college—I didn’t start rapping until I was twenty-three. I’ve been listening to music forever and I would consider myself a Hip-Hop head since I was a kid. I remember going to the store to buy Get Rich or Die Tryin’ when it dropped that week. Back when you had to go to the store and buy CDs, but when I graduated from college and started working I was a sales rep and I would have to go to different areas throughout the state. Like, remote areas where I could be driving like thirty-five minutes in between stops and I’m just playing stuff on my phone, so I’m going through albums. I’m on the road like eight to ten hours a day, so I was just going from stop to stop literally just diving deep into all types of albums—Hip-Hop, Rock, Funk, Soul, R&B. As an artist, just going through their discography like that’s what I’ll be listening to that day. Just paying attention to how artists would formulate their lyrics because after I would listen to an album I’m about to Google the lyrics and get on Rap Genius or something so I can see the annotations of it. I can find interviews where they’re talking about it and breaking it down and I’m like okay you said this and I can get my interpretation from it, but I want to know from you, the artist what did you necessarily mean by it. So yeah, a lot of studying the art of Hip-Hop and the art of rapping.
That’s beautiful just to know that you’re literally a student of the game and not afraid to say like yeah, I studied these people. I want to see how they structured things. I want to see how they put their words together to create this meaning. That’s great! You know some people don’t like to say they study other people, but that’s where you get growth from.
And maybe they don’t. I can’t speak on them. When I first started I was not that good, so I had to figure it out. Coming from a scholastic background all I know is is to study.
I’m not familiar with when you first started, but now your sound is solid. I can tell that you put some time into it, but I can also tell that it’s something that comes to you organically. Earlier, you spoke of some of your influences, but who are some of your musical influences?
Oh goodness. André 3000, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Black Thought, Lupe Fiasco, Raphsody. I guess newer—Anderson .Paak. If I want to go back older sonically—George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic—which I hadn’t necessarily just went that way sound-wise. I’m thinking about projects that I want to do in the future and I want to change my sound to more funk—something like that to get away—well, not necessarily to not get away from the pure Hip-Hop sound, but stuff like that. Rappers? I can reel off rappers for like the next ten minutes. [laughing]
It’s cool though that you’re wanting to experiment with your sound. I love when artists try new things because it shows that you don’t have to be confined in a box regardless of what other people think or how they feel I think that’s important that you branch out and try new sounds. So, earlier I brought up how poetry and music tend to fuse, but not all poets can rap and translate their words over a beat. At what point did you go from spoken word to creating music?
Right around when I was twenty-three. Spoken word? I dabbled in it. I had performed at a couple of poetry events in college. I didn’t really take it too serious. Literally just jump on stage like hey, what’s up I got something I’ve been working on tell me what you think, but I would really just go to all the events as a fan. In early 2017, I jumped on Facebook and was like, I’m going to drop a mixtape this year just for the heck of it. At the time, I didn’t even think I was going to actually do it. I was just talking out the side of my neck, but at that point, I had started writing. I’d be jotting lyrics down in my phone. I had a notebook with me at the house and would write stuff whenever it would come to mind and the more I wrote I was like okay, let me see if I can craft a song. Then, two songs jumped into five. Five jumped into seven. Now I’m on YouTube jumping down rabbit holes looking for beats and I’m like okay, let me see if I can do something.
Wow. I thought you were in the spoken word world heavy and you’re just like, honestly, I just got on stage and I just did it.
Yeah. At that point, I wasn’t really like a true spoken word artist. Someone who is interested and infatuated with it more so from a fan perspective than an artist perspective, but I wasn’t just like deep, deep into it.
You had me fooled because—
Well, no you’re probably going off of that Black&Gifted show in Morrilton that y’all had threw that time. If it’s the show in Morrilton, that was an actual song that I had at the time. I just didn’t play the beat and delivered it in a spoken word form.
Okay, that makes sense. You seemed comfortable in that space like it didn’t phase you. Let me get up here and deliver this in the form of a poem. [laughing]
Performing isn’t really… I never really… It was kind of natural. Maybe from the years of competing athletically. When I was in high school we’d be going to track meets and it’d be ten, fifteen, twenty-thousand people in the stand depending on which meet you’re at. If you go to Nationals or the Junior Olympics or something in another state, you’re competing against kids from all around the country, so it’s going to be a huge crowd so you get over stage fright quickly.
That’s pretty cool though how your sports experience prepared you to be on stage. That’s cool. It works. What inspires the content of your lyrics?
Either something that I’m actually dealing with or something that I’m observing other people doing. So, something that I may see daily or something that I’ll see on social media. A conversation that I’ll see spark on social media. I like—I don’t do it that much anymore, but kind of stirring the pot. Put something out there and see if I can start an argument. Not necessarily one that I’m partaking in. Just want to work everybody else in a tizzy or something. [laughing] But like, stories. Stories are definitely something that I draw inspiration from if I can get a narrative of some kind and throw a whole bunch of different types of figurative language into it and try to deliver it as creatively as possible.
You just said figurative language and the teacher in me—I was an ELA teacher, so I’m like hold on let’s go back a little bit. In school did you enjoy English as a subject?
Oh yeah! English and Social Studies were my two favorite subjects in school. I hated Math and Science. I was not a Math or Science guy until about seventh grade. In seventh grade, I was like this ain’t for me, dog. At no point do I care about what y equals, m or x—you can miss me with it. I don’t care! [laughing] Eleventh and twelfth grade—those AP English classes. I didn’t really like grammar as much because I mean, I don’t really like talking grammatically correct, but reading and learning about onomatopoeias and metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration—all that! The teacher in you might be smiling.
Whenever I taught ELA it’s so much that you can do especially with the poetry aspect of it. The artist and the teacher in me is so happy. How has your journey been as an independent artist in Arkansas in terms of networking, the music industry, just knowledge of the music industry, artist development—anything that you could think of. How has your journey been?
It’s a big learning process. Especially as an independent artist doing it on my own. For the most part, I have a couple of people helping me as far as the music production I just write. I’m not recording myself. I’m not mixing or mastering or anything like that, but as far as the music industry I—honestly, I don’t like it. I have to learn it because if you have any aspirations of any kind trying to profit from your art you have to understand how the industry works. The do’s and the don’ts—all of that.
Before I released this album back in December—like I said, it took three years to write it, but in between writing it I’m literally just trying to read everything and watch everything about how to—at that point I was green. I didn’t know anything. I’m like how do I get music on streaming services if you don’t have a label doing it for you. Or, how do you reach out to people to get anything accomplished? I’m coming from a complete outsider’s perspective. I can tell you anything about sports, but music from a business perspective? Yeah, I was pretty much lost… completely. So, it’s still a huge learning curve for me.
The marketing aspect of it with me having a PR degree you would think that I enjoy it, but I do not enjoy it. Marketing myself feels weird, so I’m just trying to step outside of my comfort zone with that. Networking within the state of Arkansas? That’s an interesting conversation. That kind of falls into the music scene generally and specifically the rap scene in Arkansas. It’s a bunch of talented artists that are doing all different types of rap, different types of music, and then just getting outside of music in different art forms. It’s a crap ton of talent here. We just have to figure out a way to network better and not have that whole—I’m speaking generally—not have that whole crab in a bucket mentality. It doesn’t necessarily matter who makes it out first. Sometimes I see that on social media and it doesn’t really matter who makes it out first as long as we’re getting exposure and cheering each other on. I’m not working on a project right now. I’m just trying to connect with as many artists as I can.
That’s great and I’m glad you brought that up. Eliminating that crab in a bucket mentality. I feel like that’s a common theme whenever I speak to a lot of artists and we talk about their city, networking, and navigating—that is just one of those things that you’re always going to run into.
You may have a different perspective because you’re out in LA now, right? What is the music scene like with artists?
I’ve met a few artists out here, but I’m still green to the city, so I really wouldn’t know. The artist that I’ve networked with out here, they seem to—well one, the majority of them came from a different city, so they’re trying to navigate the scene out here, too. But, they’ve mentioned pretty much what you’re saying—why can’t we all just work together and elevate each other? But I guess there’s more to it than that. It’s the mentality. People’s mentalities are hard to break.
It’s a weird time to make music. I don’t know what it was like ten, fifteen, twenty… twenty-five years ago, but people—I mean the artists get it and some consumers I’ve talked to in passing get it, but the public doesn’t buy music anymore. Everything is streaming. Back then when folks are actually buying physical copies of records I don’t think—I’m just assuming because I don’t know what the market was—I don’t know if it’s as saturated as it is now. It’s easier to make music. People can record a song on their phone and submit it to Spotify in like two hours if they wanted to. Any and everybody can put a song out and put it on a platform to where you have billions of people that could possibly have access to it. It’s a double-edged sword because it’s easier for more talent to get noticed, but you’re fighting to get people’s attention. It’s not a competition, but it’s definitely a competition.
What is your take on the South’s musical landscape and where do you see Arkansas in this conversation?
I think the South is where it’s popping! I guess you have to start in Atlanta and branch up that way then come up the Mississippi. Memphis is doing it, which that’s a conversation! It’s a conversation that was going on in Clubhouse one night talking about the Memphis rap scene and how erratically different it is from the rap scene here in Arkansas when between Memphis and Little Rock it’s two hours.
Completely different and so close.
Worlds apart. I don’t know what the problem is with Arkansas. It’s not a lack of talent.
We got the talent, but it’s like what is the issue? I love getting people’s take on this question. I’ve asked this question to multiple artists in Arkansas.
And that’s the thing. We got artists from Arkansas that have done some major stuff. We’ve got Bankroll Freddie. We got Kari Faux, bLAck pARty. We got artists out of Arkansas and not just Little Rock—throughout the state that’s making noise. When you think of Arkansas Hip-Hop you don’t put it in the same category as Memphis, Dallas, Houston, or let alone Atlanta. I don’t know. Maybe it’s a lack of marketing?
Maybe this needs to be a Clubhouse discussion.
It was! It might have been close to a hundred people in that room and it was going on for like three hours. People were saying some real stuff in there, but I don’t know if we ever got to a solution.
Yeah, it’s the how are we going to solve it? What are we going to do? What action steps do we need to take. Now, that’s going to be in the back of my head for the rest of the day. And I also feel like Memphis has a completely different sound from what’s coming out of the Dallas, the Houston—I feel like the South as a whole is like you said, we’re popping, but we also have our own unique sounds and sub-genres.
The South is not a monolith by any means.
It’s not and I feel like sometimes the South gets left out of the Hip-Hop conversation. That’s why I wanted your take on it.
I feel like that’s on purpose though. This ain’t ’95 no more. You can’t have modern Hip-Hop at the heights that it’s at right now without contributions from past Southern Hip-Hop greats and current Southern Hip-Hop acts. You can’t write that story without it, so if anybody is excluding the South from any conversation about Hip-Hop then they’re literally doing it just to be an asshole.
Going back to Arkansas, we have a lot of talent and the artists are getting overlooked. I don’t know if a lot of them that are doing it on their own have a good understanding of how to maneuver through the music industry, or have music knowledge in general for the business side to market their music and market themselves. Especially when it comes to creating an artist image, solidifying your musical sound—how are you marketing yourself other than saying I have this talent, I put a song up, go listen to it. I don’t know if a lot of artists are following a clear format.
It’s a competition, man. What you don’t know can and will definitely hurt you because you’re literally competing for the attention of so many people when it’s already so many people out here trying to fight for people’s attention. People have short attention spans now. If you don’t got them in the first fifteen or twenty seconds? I don’t know, you might not get them back.
Now I want to shift into your album, The More You Know. You dropped this in December. I have so many great things to say about his project. First off, you know when you press play the first track it’s just like whoa! Oh shit, this album is about to be fire!
I had to put it first. When I heard the instrumental, which I heard it on another dude’s project—another artist out of Arkansas. When I heard it I was like dog, this is sick. I hit him up like bro, can I get this? Shoutout to my man Luggie out of Fayetteville—he’s up in Northwest Arkansas. I was like bro, you mind if I get this beat? He’s like oh yeah, I got it off of YouTube. When I heard it I’m like this is the perfect sound for a—because at the time when I was working on it, it was one of the last songs that I started writing. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for an intro at that point. It was immediate—like oh yeah, that’s the one.
It was great like—y’all about to enjoy the shit! [laughing] It was a great introduction. It definitely hooked me. What does this project represent and can you speak towards the creative process?
Essentially, what it represents is the thought process of a twenty-something late millennial as you’re trying to navigate the world of new adulthood. You’re grown, but it’s so much about the world that you don’t know yet and you’re just trying to navigate through your own ignorance the best way you can. Not like ignorance as a bad thing because it’s not a lack of wanting to know what’s going on, it’s just you haven’t had that much life experience yet.
Creatively, it took three years to write everything and get everything finalized—very sporadic. I was going through different names for it because at the time when I first started writing it, it was after I had dropped that mixtape that I had talked about in 2017. I was like okay, I kind of want to do something for real. On that mixtape, I’m just going through it. I’m rapping, but I don’t really know how to rap at this point. People told me—they were listening to it like yo, this sounds kind of nice keep doing your thing. I’m like, you listen to that? Really? I didn’t expect anybody to actually listen to anything that I put out initially. I’m like okay, let me really put forth some effort and really study how to craft a song. What is a hook supposed to sound like? What is a bridge? How do I transition between songs? How do I tell a concise story and do so in a way that could possibly leave the listener captivated and maybe want to know more or listen to something else?
I wrote it as a fan and as a critic. I cut it down to twelve tracks. I wrote about thirty to thirty-five songs and out of the songs that made the cut, all but two of them had at least three different versions of them.
Okay, K. Ray. Wow! You were not playing!
It was a bunch of bad writing that I had to get out of the way. [laughing]
Wow, I’m glad you went through that process, though. How was it sequencing your project because you had all those songs and you had to cut it down?
Yeah, that was part of the hard part of it. Which, I guess this goes back to the whole networking thing. I understand the value of networking and how important it is, but at the time I was not really sure who to reach out to, so I’m just on YouTube getting different beats and stuff. I could listen to like forty or fifty beats throughout the day just hitting different videos on YouTube, but the reason the process took so long is I’m getting beats from different producers and I’m trying to figure out how to make it sound like a project with some form of cohesion. I’m doing it with so many cooks in the kitchen who don’t necessarily know they’re in the kitchen. I’m just pulling beats that they just arbitrarily put on YouTube and whatever rapper gets it, they get it.
That’s quite interesting. My next point was the sound and the beat selection, so you’ve answered the part of you sourcing your beats from independent producers from YouTube. How did you collaborate with—you said you don’t mix and master your own stuff and you don’t record yourself. So what was that like for you since you had the songs written, you selected what beats you felt aligned. What was that process like?
Well, through my man Penn Davis—shoutout to Penn. This was about four years ago—we got on a song and recorded with an engineer who he worked with. Shoutout to YK—which, that’s my guy now. I ended up working with him solely in terms of the recording and the entire mixing process. Sound and everything, that was all him.
That’s great though because you brought up how you wanted it to have this cohesive sound being that you got pieces from everywhere else and you have someone who can mix and master it, it’s like they can make it to where it is cohesive and you have some consistency there. It seems like it all worked out for you.
And when I say it was like a three-year process, it’s literally like three years of me working with him in different studio sessions throughout. It didn’t all just get recorded at one time. It was a whole bunch of different versions of the songs that I recorded, but ain’t nobody going to ever hear it except me and him.
I was going to say, hold on are you going to release the alternate versions? [laughing]
[laughing] Nah! They didn’t make the cut for a reason. But, we just grew. He’s been doing this for years, so I definitely was leaning on his expertise and his ear. If I’m in the booth or something I’m definitely telling him like bro, you have full range to tell me if something sounds terrible, if something is nice, if I need to do something. Like, if you ain’t feeling it, by all means if it’s trash—let me know! If I have a question about something I’m definitely about to call him, pull up on him. We were working on it.
That’s great! I’m glad to hear that and I did note that there are four features on the project. How did you go about selecting who you wanted to be on it?
I ran into everybody—actually, I think I heard everybody in person at some point. Which, Penn that’s my boy. We were roommates for a minute. That’s how that collaboration on “Boyz to Men” came about. I literally was living with bro at the time. My boy Greg, aka Saint—the dude that was singing the hook on the first song, which fun fact, I was the one originally singing the hook. I can’t sing. It was autotune everywhere! I was like nah, I can’t put this out. It’s not what’s up. He put a project out—he’s part of Da ARK, shoutout Da ARK—and I heard it and I’m like that’s who I need on the hook. I’m listening to his stuff then I’m going back to the beat that I had found and I’m like his voice would be perfect on that. I reached out to him and he came through. Damen is the saxophonist that you hear on track four. I can’t remember where I heard him initially, but I heard that saxophone, and I’m like my dog, what’s up bro come holla at your boy I need you! And then last but not least, Judi. She is the one singing on “Meagan’s Story”. It was a show at UCA in 2018 I had performed a couple songs at a music showcase and she was performing that night and she was playing the keyboard and singing. I went up there with my homeboy and when she started singing I looked at him, he looked at me, and we were like yo, sis is cold with it. So, I hit her up after the show like I have a song I want you to jump on, it’s not done yet but best believe when I finish it I’m sending it to you. That’s how it happened.
Nice! And it seems like those connections happened organically. Of all the tracks, what would you narrow down to your top three?
I would say “Fiji Water” is number three because it was the biggest risk. When I’m making the song, I’m like I need something ratchet. I’ve been lyrical, telling a story, blahzay blah. I just need a song where I’m not talking about anything at all. I need a beat where if we’re in the strip club we got the girls on the pole and they’re throwing it crazy we got money falling from the ceiling—I’m not throwing no money because I’m trying to pay my car off, but everyone else I’m going to let you do it. Throw your rent money and everything else. I had the most fun recording that song because it was definitely me outside of my comfort zone. I’m yelling in the mic and saying a whole bunch of ignorance. “4AM/Susie Carmichael” because I didn’t care about a hook on that one. I was just rapping at that point. If you like it, cool. If you don’t like it, cool but I’m doing this one for me. My favorite song on there is “984668” because I lean on storytelling and that was one of the harder songs to write. I was working on that one for close to two years.
I just love that you put time into this. I can feel it. The time and the effort that was put into it, it just shows that things have to be a certain way. It has to sound right, it has to feel right, it has to be right.
Art is a feel thing. You can think about it or whatever, but if it doesn’t feel right?
Okay, so that’s your top three. When we get off of this call, I’m going to go back and listen to your project. I listened to it a few times initially and then I was like I need to interview him. I need to know more. What was your biggest takeaway from this release and would you go back and do anything differently?
My biggest takeaway? Don’t be afraid to take a chance and also with that, don’t be afraid to take your time on stuff. The few people at the time who knew I was rapping are like bro, you need to release something. I’m just like you’re right, but it ain’t right yet. I had to be honest with myself and if I would have put it out before I did, I probably wouldn’t—well, I know not probably—I would not be as confident in it as I am now. I wouldn’t be able to talk about it or push it the way that I am now because I wouldn’t have believed in it had I released it prematurely. So, definitely don’t be afraid to take your time with something. Something that I would do differently? That goes back to the whole marketing aspect of it. I’m learning stuff now about how to market a project on the front end before you release it as opposed to everything on the back end. I would market it differently as opposed to how I did before, but other than that? It is what it is. It’s a learning process. It’s not perfect. It’s not supposed to be perfect. I’m enjoying it.
I look forward to what you have coming. You just made a good point—it’s not meant to be perfect. It’s been a learning journey from the beginning to now, but I feel like this is a great project for you to stand solid on and be proud of. It’s a really good project I feel. And my final question for you is how can we stay connected with you?
Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube. If you go to my Instagram I have a link to the album in the bio. I’m not light skin, I follow back! [laughing] Yeah, go subscribe to the YouTube channel we’re working on content for YouTube.