For Fans Of: Rod Wave, CeeLo Green, Roddy Ricch
Playlisted: "Quicksand," "Dreamland," "Bigger Things"
“My life is amazing. I’ve never been this happy,” declares Morray, with a beaming smile. The Fayetteville, North Carolina singer and rapper’s career is accelerating before his eyes: in April he proved he could live up to the potential of his viral hit "Quicksand" with the confessional Street Sermons mixtape. When we connect he’s between working on his debut album and rehearsing for September tour dates alongside hometown hero J. Cole, after featuring on The Off-Season highlight "m y . l i f e." Until last year he’d never boarded a plane. “Now I’m on planes every single week. I’m meeting people that I’ve only seen on TV. I just bought me a house, I bought me a brand new car, my kids have all the toys they ever wanted. I’m putting arcade games in my house,” he pauses with disbelief. “What the fuck!? For what!? Just cos I always wanted this shit!”
Although the success of "Quicksand" - with its unpolished, feel good visuals and highly addictive hook - could easily be mistaken for an overnight success, it’s the culmination of years of hard work for the 28-year-old artist. After singing in front of the church congregation at the age of four, and coming up in youth choirs, music remained a part of Morray’s life when he got locked up at 16 and started writing songs. After the birth of his first son, when he was 19, he identified the necessity to slow things down: “One thing I will not do is be away from my kid for years because of some stupid shit in these streets that don’t give a fuck about me or my family.”
He gave up the street life for a construction job in Fort Bragg, walking nine miles to work every day: “That shit was crazy,” he declares, still with disbelief. “Yo, construction is so cheap, we on the fucking 14th floor, they’re sending a rope down to the first floor to get a fucking bucket of mud that’s 50lbs. I’ve got to lift that 14 stories on a string. Then I’ve got to walk home two hours. Like, ‘What the fuck are we doing here bro?’”
While commuting by foot, without a phone plan or headphones, Morray spent a lot of time reflecting. “Sometimes having your own thoughts to yourself for a long time is bad,” he says. “Cos every walk I’m like, ‘Why the fuck am I doing this shit?’ It was so many times I was looking to these cars like, ‘N****, I’m ‘bout to step in front of one of these motherfuckers. This shit is hard as fuck.’”
These formative experiences are foundational to Morray’s bluesy rap songs, which explore the duality of struggle: documenting the tough times, but also celebrating the rewards reaped from grinding. While he’d been making music since his teens, Morray admits that he’d been influenced by rap clichés that didn’t reflect his lifestyle well into his twenties, when his wife challenged him to write something with substance. “It was kind of upsetting, because I felt like she was saying I wasn’t good enough,” he admits. “That shit pissed me off, and I went in the bathroom, smoked my last blunt and wrote 'Quicksand' and 'Big Decision.' Now, looking back it was needed, but back then it wasn’t as nice. I didn’t like that shit.”
Contrary to his assumption that “I didn’t think n****s would want to hear about somebody who worked a nine to five,” Morray’s relatability has fuelled "Quicksand"’s 97 million views and counting. “I think there’s more people like me in the world,” he reflects. “[‘Quicksand’] was my first time trying to actually understand what I’m writing about, who I’m reaching, what I’m trying to say about myself. It was a blessing to be able to go through what I went through, to get to the point where I understand who I am now. So I appreciate the damn growth to even get here.”
When the video first hit 100,000 views, Morray cried. “I didn’t even know that I would ever be able to have a video reach as many views,” he remembers. “So at that point I’m like, ‘Yo, I may not have to ever struggle again, because my numbers is going crazy!’” Despite tens of millions of views since, he still appreciates every play: “Every time I get another view it’s a milestone, because I wasn’t expecting any of this.”
Three months after signing with manager Moe Shalizi’s Interscope imprint Pick Six Records, Morray boarded his first flight. Over a few days in Los Angeles, he impressed Moe and the team with his work ethic, recording 30 songs, many of which would form the basis of his debut mixtape Street Sermons. “I wanted something to speak about who I am, and being from the trenches, being from the bottom,” he says of his intent for the tape. “I wanted people to hear a mixtape with just me, no features, so you know already what I bring to the table… It was really a coming out to my fans and to the industry.”
The tape’s title reflects Morray’s come up: “Something I always have to give is glory to God,” he says. “The sermons I heard growing up made me who I am. So Street Sermons just made so much sense; being from the streets and always listening to teachers and pastors, I just had to put it together.”
With all the noise in his hometown, Morray soon caught the attention of J. Cole, who co-signed "Quicksand" on Instagram before building a genuine relationship via FaceTime. While working on his Billboard-topping new album The Off-Season, Cole invited Morray to his house where he was recording. “He was like, ‘I want you to get on this hook,’” remembers Morray. “I’m like, ‘Bruh you sure? Because this song is already spicy as shit without me!’”
Cole was finishing his verse and a 21 Savage feature was already in place - he just needed Morray singing Pharoahe Monch’s hook for Styles P’s 2002 Rawkus Records classic "The Life" to complete the album standout. “I had never heard the song before until Cole asked me to do the hook,” admits Morray. “So I went home, I listened to the song a bunch of times. I was like ‘This shit is fire, but I want to do it my own way.’ I don’t like to copy people, so if I’m going to do somebody’s hook I’ma change that shit and do it my own way. And I liked that J. Cole let me.”
Taking their collaboration further, Cole offered Morray a support spot on The Off-Season Tour this September. Due to the pandemic, Morray has performed only a handful of shows to date, but he’s prepared to play his position, complement Cole’s performance, and pick up some new fans in the process. Morray looks to his fellow Fayetteville native as proof that his own dreams are within reach: “[J. Cole’s] a genuine ass person,” he explains. “He really showed me that you can have all the money in the world, you can be able to do whatever shit you want to, and you can still be a solid ass person. My ultimate goal is for me to be understood as, ‘This n**** Morray was a solid person.’"