If you don’t know about Ray J, first of all, where you been? Secondly, I’m not here to tell you his whole story, so I’ll just recommend that you do your own research on this prevalent figure in American pop culture. I’d recommend a few music videos, maybe an interview or two, and whatever else you can find before you go much further.
EMCEE had the pleasure of being invited to a private screening of his new visual album Raydemption, held at Detroit’s TV Lounge on a brisk Saturday evening. The dimly lit array of couches was the first time I’d seen the venue as an actual lounge, which set the stage for what was sure to be a momentous occasion. Although his rehearsal for Thugs and the Women Who Love ‘Em kept Ray J from attending the event himself, his colleagues were happy to share with us some exclusive content and opportunities to engage with his latest work.
Without revealing too much, because of course I recommend seeing it for yourself, I’ll do what I can to give you a glimpse into the world that Ray J and his team created, one that fluctuates between real-world inspirations and hyperbolized drama. A comparison to Purple Rain would be incomplete and nearly inaccurate, but the way Prince is fictionally depicted in his film while still retaining much of what makes him who he is in real life is not so far from what Ray J is going for in Raydemption. This fact, coupled with the new music and the inherent unpredictability that comes with an artist venturing into uncharted territory, made for a continuously fascinating and perhaps even thought-provoking experience.
At one point in the project, Ray J proclaims to himself, “You can’t stop the snow from fallin’.” While it’s relevance to the plot line is undeniable (like I said, go see it if you get a chance), I would venture to say that this moment is one where Ray J the person and Ray J the actor seem to mesh into one. His life has been filled with success and controversy, and as with anyone in the public eye he must constantly mediate between who he thinks he is and how the world sees him. The ideas of intension, morality, responsibility, and internal conflict are frequently examined in Raydemption, and I would imagine that their inclusion could be a snippet of Ray J’s thoughts on his own life. While fiction and reality do not share the same bed, the world they exist in includes them both. This juxtaposition of intimacy and contradiction is why we can still get emotional reading fantasies, why a character can feel like our friend, and why the things we create are a part of who we are.