Ray J’s worked hard to be his own man. Gone are the days when he appeared to stand in his big sis Brandy’s shadow and was simply referred to as “Brandy’s lil’ brother”. Nowadays, the 27-year-old smooth operator is running a successful independent label (Knock Out Entertainment) and topping charts (his seductive hit “Sexy Can I,” which is certified platinum sold 1.4 million copies) and his sales (to date his sophomore album toppled at 100,000 copies sold and he’s still gunning for 500,000). Although the discerning public would like to chalk up his recent success to a sex scandal and highly-publicized romantic liaisons, there’s something to be said for his business acumen and boyish charm. Essence.com had a candid chat with the R&B star about his family’s reaction to his sex tape, possibly jumping the broom with Whitney and why he respects Bobby Brown.
Essence.com: Congrats on the success of your debut single “Sexy Can I,” which I understand has already been certified platinum. That’s major for your independent label Knock Out Entertainment. How has it affected your baller-status?
Ray J: Yes, it is, but we’re very humble and grateful for Koch, which is the No. 1 indie label for the distribution partnership. We’re going to keep doing what we do and our goal is to have 500,000 in sales.
Essence.com: It’s great to see you hold your own because there was a time in the beginning of your music career that your album struggled and many believed that you’d always live in your sister Brandy’s shadow. Was it ever difficult to receive such criticism?
R.J.: Yeah, I heard everything but I don’t tune into it because words don’t affect me. You always hear what everybody says but the media doesn’t make me think twice about myself or my family. We stay true to ourselves and let the everyone else create their own stories. Honestly, it wasn’t about struggling. When I was a teenager I didn’t really care about music especially with my sister being so successful I was able to experience it through her so I didn’t devote myself to my music. It wasn’t like I was thrown into the music industry but I will admit that I didn’t have the passion. At that age, I just wanted to have a lot of fun. My first goal was to take care of my family and the second was to have fun. It wasn’t fun because it felt like work.
Essence.com: As most teenagers do. Now, you’re all grown up yet most of the public still has a difficult time viewing you as a young man—even in the aftermath of the infamous sex tape. Was your song “Sexy Can I” inspired by that very public experience?
R.J.: No, it was inspired by me--my life and naughty-by-nature experiences. I love and respect women. I shaped my music based on how a woman would feel when she listens to my music. And I also want the fellas to be able to relate to it and maybe feel the way I do about a sexy woman. Even my latest single “Gifts” honors beautiful women with special gifts be it her lips, hips, love handles or whatever. I thank each and every woman for her own unique gift. With this album, I just want people to feel, laugh, cry and know that I’m only going to get better with time.
Essence.com: It’s interesting that you say that you respect women because some might beg to differ—again after the sex tape. What do you think of that public perception?
R.J.: Well, that’s people who don’t know me, but the people who do know me like the Whitney Houstons, the Lil’ Kims, my sisters and my friends they want to hang out with me because we vibe, they’re respectable people, I’m respectable people and it’s all love--that’s who I am.
Essence.com: As it should be. Would you consider yourself an opportunist?
R.J.: When an opportunity comes I want to be prepared for it. So am I prepared as far as my talent is concerned? Yes I am so that I can be prepared for any opportunity so I guess in that sense I am. I want to be prepared as an entertainer so that when you come to see me perform what you see is entertainment whether you think I’m good or bad, either way you are entertained.
Essence.com: After the tape was released was there a part of you that felt like the damage had already been done so why not capitalize on it?
R.J.: But I did not capitalize on that tape. I turned down about five or six deals—some of them $2 million and $7 million dollar deals—which added up to a lot of money. So yeah, I took the meetings because I wanted to hear what they had to say, but I turned down everything because it’s not always about the money.
Essence.com: But I heard you were considering a deal to release your own brand of condoms. Is that true?
R.J.: Well, yes I’m still looking into the condoms. We all still need to practice safe sex at all times and everybody needs to use condoms so it’s something I would definitely consider doing.
Essence.com: I’m sure walking away from all that money was a difficult decision to make. What was your parents' reaction to the sex-gate scandal? Did they ask, “Boy have you lost your mind?”
R.J.: I’ve gotten that and a lecture—as I should receive from my parents. They’ve always been strict with me especially growing up, but they’ve also been supportive in helping me get through this.
Essence.com: And what was Brandy’s advice to you?
R.J.: You know she understands I’m living my life just as she’s living hers and that we have to be there for each other through thick and thin and the ups and downs and that’s the way it always been between us and will remain.
Essence.com: Family has to stick together. So did your parents or your sister ever see the tape?
R.J.: No. They would never, no. We were just trying to get pass it because it was an uncomfortable situation for everybody and it still is. We try not to focus on it. We just never talk about it.
Essence.com: There have been rumors that you and Kim Kardashian collaborated on the release of the tape for profit and the promotion of your careers. Is that true?
R.J.: Everything has been said about that. All I can say is that so many things had to be worked out legally to take care of the damages [that the company that released it] was prepared to do that from the start.
Essence.com: So you two were paid for your troubles?
R.J.: We got taken care of for the damages that happened with the tapes release especially with all the profits that were made from it.
Essence.com: What do you mean by damages?
R.J.: Career deals—everything was shut down when that happened as far as my career. I work on network television so everything was on hold at the time. It was a bad situation and not a good look.
Essence.com: It wasn’t a good look for you?
R.J.: Nah, it wasn’t good for me. I mean, that was between me and her, we had fun. We were 21 and did that tape like six years ago. We were weren’t even together when that tape came out. It was a terrible situation I’m just glad that I made it through.
Essence.com: Are you and Kim still friends?
R.J.: God bless her. She’s a good person and on the rise.
Essence.com: Are you still in touch with Karrine Steffans?
R.J.: Blessing to her and hers. We cool. Ain’t no love lost.
Essence.com: Mediatakeout.com reports that you proposed to Whitney over the phone?
Essence.com: (Laughs) Did you propose to Whitney over the phone—I would hope not through the wire?
R.J.: No. I respect all the young men who are getting married and taking a stand to be faithful and having a good woman in their life who supports them. That’s a good, good look for young men. I congratulate all the young men with the older women who are helping these young men to grow and the young men for keeping the excitement in a beautiful woman’s life. So with that said, I don’t know…
Essence.com: So you don’t know if you proposed to Whitney?
R.J.: I can’t say what happened. All I can say is that young men are being responsible, taking control and being bosses, that’s what I’m doing right now.
Essence.com: So you’re not going to go on record on whether or not you proposed?
R.J.: Yeah, I’m just going to say it’s good for men and women to connect and have a spiritual bond so I congratulate everyone who’s doing that right now.
Essence.com: (Laughs) And does that also mean congratulations to you and Whitney?
R.J.: (Laughs) I’d like to congratulate Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey.
Essence.com:(I read him the mediatakeout.com blog item about his proposal)
R.J.: (Laughs) Wow, Blessings to the United States of America! Blessings, blessings…
Essence.com: (Laughs) I get it “blessings” is your “no comment.” So you won’t confirm or deny the proposal?
R.J.: I can’t right now. You know, things happen so fast. Wow.
Essence.com: I also know that celebrities often have someone in their camp planting the seed for the media to grow and build on.
R.J.: Yeah, but I just woke up for real. For real, this is crazy.
Essence.com: Okay let’s make it more simple, are you and Whitney a couple?
R.J.: You know what? She’s a great friend of mine.
Essence.com: “Great friend” as in a platonic or romantic friend?
R.J.: Just a great friend. You know, I would say a friend who loves a friend.
Essence.com: How long have you and Whitney been friends?
R.J.: Since I was like young she’s been cool with my sister. If it wasn’t for Whitney my sister probably wouldn’t even be in the game because that’s who she studied every day. Then to have the chance to meet her, follow her and learn from her and develop her own style, that’s priceless. Whitney is my sister’s mentor. So I’d say, Whitney and I met when I was 11 or 12, I don’t really remember.
Essence.com: The last few years have been tough for Whitney. What are your hopes for her as she prepares for her comeback?
R.J.: She’s a great person and one of the greatest artists ever to do it and people want to see that experience again and that’s what I want to see and I know that’s what she wants as well and that’s the plan.
Essence.com: There has also been speculation that your song “Boyfriend” allegedly addresses what Bobby Brown failed to do for Whitney. Is that true?
R.J: [He begins singing the lyrics 'Is that your wife/ is that your shorty/well I'm her boyfriend/I think the problem is you don't beat it right/Making love is cool/just pull her hair sometimes' ] That part? No, not at all. I didn’t even write that song. When I heard the record I thought it was a great concept and I usually write everything. I only added it when I was about to wrap the album up I just felt it was so real and I just went there on this album.
Essence.com: How is your relationship with Bobby Brown?
R.J.: They are all great people. I’m a big fan of Bobby Brown’s. He’s the greatest R&B artist of all time so I have much respect for him and the whole family.
Essence.com: So you two don’t have beef?
R.J.: No, not at all. If I see him out it’s all love. Like I said, I have much respect for him and what he’s accomplished in his career.
Essence.com: So is Lil’ Kim your girlfriend?
R.J.: You know what she’s someone who inspires me and played a big part in my “Sexy Can I” single so I pay homage to her as someone who’s on my side.
Essence.com: So you and Lil’ Kim are platonic friends?
R.J.: It’s more than that, we’re building dynasties.
Essence.com: Up until this point in your life, what is the one thing you’ve discovered about yourself?
R.J.: That I’m growing—literally. I’m taking care of myself—working out, running—and I’m just focused and getting better.