There’s nothing sweeter than coming into your own with confidence.

Nicole Wray, also known as Lady Wray, is in that space. Most known for her 1998 hit “Make it Hot,” the Missy Elliot protégé was always destined to sing, but took a break to get it right. 

Now, the 35-year-old is back with her third studio album, singing personal songs about love and triumph on “Queen Alone.”

We sat down with the star to talk about her journey in the music business, relationship with Missy and her love of live performances. 

Essence: What are your thoughts on your music being defined as retro?

NW: I think I’m just making great music. I’m really not going to put a title on anything. I’ve been singing since I was nine in church. Music to me is anything that’s relatable to people. The genre is definitely soul. I don’t want to put any title on what I’m doing I just want to be able to relate to people and continue to make great music.

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Essence: R&B has changed so much since the 1990s. What are your thoughts on its current iteration? 

NW: I think change is good. I don’t have any negative thoughts on the music. I just think that we’re losing the foundation, the relatable topics and the melodies and things of that nature. But I do think that change is really good for us. We have a new generation. I like the fact that a lot of these artists are taking R&B music from the 90s and adding their own flair to it of today-I think that’s really cool. I don’t think that we’re getting a lot of melodic melodies how we did when we were coming up. We had New Edition. We had Toni Braxton. We had Mariah Carey. Those beautiful songs. We had Mary when she first came out. Those melodies, I think now are… it’s really like cookie cutter sounding music. And maybe it’s cool for the new generation but I think some of these artists are understanding that borrowing or remixing, it really, really keeps the culture alive.

Essence: How has the music business changed since you started?

NW: Back when I was out we didn’t have the social media. So you couldn’t go and see if nobody. If someone didn’t like this or if someone was saying this. You just really lived in your craft. You were really able to be a superstar because nobody, they couldn’t touch you. Like nowadays, people can just go on your page and talk crap about you. I see a lot of foolishness sometimes in articles and on social media and things of that nature. 

Essence: What’s your relationship with Missy Elliot like? Do you still talk?

NW: We definitely teetered off. I wouldn’t say that we have a relationship right now but there have been times I’ve emailed or she’ll text me out of the blue and I know that love is still there. You know what I mean. I mean you can’t not walk away from a friendship over all those years and she’s done so many great things for me and has been in my life and my family’s life for years even before my career started, so… I wouldn’t say that I talk to her everyday but I know that the love is still there and if I need her, she will be there.

Essence: How has your performance style changed?

NW: When I was young I had a whole bunch of choreographers and I had people telling me to do this and go here in front of here and do this and do that. It’s like you’re not really, well back then, are you doing this for yourself or are you doing this for the label or are you doing this for the producers who made this music or are you doing this for the writers? So I think nowadays, me being older, and I’m writing my own music. This is my second album that I’ve really basically chomped down and said you know vocally … And penning ideas about my life and my friends and my family and situations to be able to relate to people. I think getting on stage and being able to showcase that, it makes me more confident than I was years ago. 

Essence: What happened that took you out of the spotlight?

NW: I wasn’t prepped for celebrity-ism, or whatever you want to call it. I was young, my mom was managing me. Missy was still learning about the business, the ups and downs. We kinda all just figuring it out. I think today, looking back, I’m definitely owning it on stage more than I was back then. But I still do get shy.

Essence: Who are you listening to today?

NW: I really like the young girl, Kehlani. I really like her music. It reminds me of when we came out, the super friends journey with Aaliyah, myself, and then the Brandy days and Monica. It’s really giving me that 90s vibe and I really love her voice and I think she’s really sexy. I think she’s really gonna come up and blow a lot of these artists out of the water. I [also] love Little Dragon, I listen to them a lot. On my spare time I do a lot of alternative music as well. I’m thinking about putting out a project. Once I slow down with this on the road and stuff, I think I’m probably gonna put together an EP with some alternative music. Some alternative stuff I’ve been working on. Be looking forward to that, too.

To see all of her upcoming tour dates, go here