Lady Wray is trying to keep her head above water. The artist formerly known as Nicole Wray has been swimming in the music industry since her teenage years. Wray first dove into the industry at age 17 when Missy Elliott signed her to her Goldmind label.
By 1998, after appearing on Elliott’s Supa Dupa Fly album, Wray had snagged a hit with “Make It Hot,” the title track to her debut album. The song, which peaked at No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, was certified gold by the RIAA within six weeks.
“It was a great journey,” Wray tells Rated R&B when reflecting on her early success. Although Wray made waves at the start of her career, she soon felt the waves crashing down on her.
Her second album was never released under Goldmind. After exiting and signing with Roc-A-Fella Records, she became the first artist to sign with the label. And like before, her then-planned second album never saw the light of day, and she ultimately left the label.
This time around, she put matters in her own hands. “I had to start all over again and not give up,” she tells Rated R&B. “It was definitely hard, but I had the support of my mom. She managed me for many years and she was always in my corner.”
During this transformational period, Wray took time to do things that she couldn’t do while on the road during her Make It Hot era.
“I would go bowling, skating, and just enjoy my family and friends. I wasn’t able to do those things in the midst of my career. I was on the road and traveling overseas as a young kid. I was seeing a new world, meeting new people and having to get out there on stage to do something that I dreamt of. It did kind of feel like it was snatched from under my feet.”
She credits her family for motivating and helping her stay afloat. “They stuck with me through it all. They were there with me. They laughed with me. They cried with me. They believed that if I believed, then I would have a second chance.”
Even though Wray went through a period where she wasn’t as visible as she once was, she remained committed to her craft: music. She was featured on The Black Keys’ 2009 album, BlakRoc, and contributed background vocals on their Grammy-winning album, Brothers. Shortly after, she formed a duo called Lady, the Band with singer Terri Walker and released a project.
She later reintroduced herself as Lady Wray, then released her debut album, Queen Alone, in 2016 on Big Crown Records. Working closely with producer and label co-owner Leon Michaels, the two crafted an album that represented overcoming her past trials and tribulations.
Now, Wray is back with her sophomore effort, Piece of Me, which is somewhat of a continuation of Queen Alone. Wray and Michaels joined forces again to create yet another pleasant body of work rooted in R&B, soul and gospel elements.
Where Queen Alone brought triumph, Piece of Me brings healing. “I wanted to give people something from me so that they can feel like, ‘Wow, everything’s gonna be okay. We’re gonna take this ride together,” she explains.
“At the end of the day, what we want as normal human beings in this pandemic world is something we can hold onto and enjoy. I didn’t know at the time that that’s what I was doing. Now, looking back on it and listening to the songs off the album and the journey, that’s exactly what happened organically.”
On Piece of Me, Wray opens up about some of her real-life experiences hoping that people who listen will find comfort in hearing relatable stories. “I just kind of gave everybody my life. I’m praying that it hits hard and people can take a piece of this and say, ‘Wow, I understand. I’m here with her. And, get it.'”
“Through It All” is about embracing the imperfections of a relationship. She sings in the first verse, “We don’t always get it right / We’re not even perfect friends / I hate when people love pretend.”
The gospel-inspired “Beauty in the Fire,” which features her father Kenneth Wray Sr., is an uplifting tune that sends a gentle reminder to hang on to any light you come across during difficult times.
“Under the Sun” is the epitome of a feel-good anthem, as Wray sings about the joys of summer. She previously told Rated R&B, “When I first heard the production, I immediately thought of warm weather and partying with my friends — just letting go and having a good time.”
Then, there’s “Where Were You,” a confrontational tune directed at those who only show up when things are going well. She sings in the chorus, “(Where were you) When I was just sleeping in cars? / (Where were you) When I should’ve been reaching for stars?”
In our interview with Lady Wray, the Virginia native talks more about Piece of Me, shares how motherhood changed her world, and how she views herself today as an artist.
Piece of Me is your second album as Lady Wray. In the past, we saw you as Nicole Wray make attempts to release a follow-up to Make It Hot. However, in multiple instances, it didn’t pan out. How does it feel now to be able to reach a proper sophomore album?
I think that is why today it feels really good to be able to stay consistent — to be able to work with musicians and producers that believe in me to the point where we’re writing and releasing albums for my fans. I’m still out here moving and shaking and trying to stay above waters and trying to give people something new. It’s been a long ride. I’m just happy that I’m still here and to be able to pump out music.
You were first introduced to the world as Nicole Wray. You later changed your stage name to Lady Wray. Do you see those as two separate identities or an evolution of one to the other?
I’m still Nicole Wray — 1998 or 2022. I just took on the name Lady Wray because I was in a group called Lady, and I liked what we were doing. I love that live sound. I was like, “What if I just put Wray on the end of it?” I’m older and wiser. But I’m still that girl that was eager and believed when people were like, “You can’t. You’re not going to be this.” I didn’t want to let go of dreaming. As a kid, I would look at the magazines, look at Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, and hope one day to do music. Nicole Wray and Lady Wray are the same person.
You’re now a wife and a mother. Did either influence the direction of Piece of Me?
When we first started this journey of this new album [a few years back], I had no idea that I was about to be a mother. This album was kind of done in stages. When I went to the beautiful city of Rhinebeck, New York, to work with Leon [Michaels], I was about seven months pregnant. We had a great time. We jammed. He had some records. We put the mic up, we talked and we ate. It was like a family gathering in the same breath. I just started singing and writing about things that were on my mind. When I came to New York to finish the album, the pandemic was going on.
There are gospel influences throughout the album, and some songs sound more heavily influenced by it than others. How did your upbringing in church shape who you are as a singer today?
I take it back to when I was about nine years old. My mom, dad, me, and three siblings were always at church. It felt like we were at church seven days a week. On the weekends, we were in bible school. I would hear my father sing. He was a deacon in the church. [Gospel] is rooted in me. It’s in my bloodline. My great-grandmother was a singer. My grandfather was a singer. It’s a couple of people in my family that sing.
God chose me to take the torch and go out here. My mom pushed me as a young kid, but it started in church. I got my first solo song when I was nine. I was singing in the church choir. My family would always love to hear me singing. I didn’t do much of that belting on my first album. It was kind of all written for me. I knew I could sing, but I was just following a path that was there for me. Many years later, I found the love of singing loud and proud.
“Come On In” is one of the gospel-tinged songs on the album. What was your mindset when you were creating it?
When I heard the track, the pianos immediately reminded me of my grandmother because she had this piano in her front room. She had so much love for my grandfather. So, I wanted to touch on that endless love. Me and my husband got married, then we had a kid. I wanted to pay homage to the real love that is happening in the world.
“Melody” is named after your daughter, who makes a cameo in the song. What did it mean for you to make this song?
She’s three years old now. When we first started the album, she was in my belly. I was frightened. I was excited. My emotions were all over the place. This time, she was actually there in the room. Leon — we always laugh — said, “If you do a song about your daughter, it can’t be cheesy.” We brought in Paul [Spring] from Holy Hive to play the acoustic [guitar].
It ended up being live. It felt like I was on stage. I sang it one time and that was it. [Melody] was in the room and we were like, “Maybe we can get her to say something.” She just started talking on the record and we left it that way. It’s paying homage to my daughter and how she’s changed my life. I’m just blessed and thankful that God was able to bring her through to this universe.
What was the inspiration behind “Joy & Pain”?
My husband and I were just in the studio jamming. It was a sunny day. We were listening to and paying homage to the song “Joy and Pain” by M.A.Z.E. and Frankie Beverly. I was like, “It would be cool to kind of turn it around and give it a new jolt of what’s happening today.” Life is simple, but then you got love. There’s love with your family, your friends and your partner. You want the flowers and all these things. But then the pain comes — that jolt of sorrow. At the end of the day, you’re gonna have joy and you’re gonna have pain. Love is sometimes not kind. Love can take you into all these places, turn back around and still be right there in your face.
What impact or impression do you want Piece of Me to make on listeners?
I want people to realize that we’re in this together. We’re going through this pandemic together. I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I get up in the morning with my bonnet on. I’m making some pancakes for my daughter. I might be listening to Anita Baker. I’m not just on the stage all the time. I’m doing real f**king shit. I want people to hear these songs and not feel like I’m singing songs from the moon. I’m singing to you. I want people to feel great about what’s happening in the journey that they’re about to embark on, whether it be confusing. We can all do this together.
Stream Lady Wray’s new album, Piece of Me, below.