Babyface Ray is always working. Though he isn’t as prolific as some of his peers from Detroit, there’s a craftsman-like quality to his music, both in subject matter and tone, that insists on a dedication to technique and constant revision. Earlier this year, he released FACE, which was both his first full-length since 2019’s MIA Season 2 and his first complete statement since Detroit’s rap scene gained a national audience. His decade-long career has been far from a straight shot, but he takes pride in the journey. When he raps lines like “I had to go through hell to live this hell of a life, this shit ain’t come overnight,” it’s an exasperated sigh, not a lifestyle flex. Ray’s like a veteran player in the middle of a Cinderella run, entirely aware of the stakes and unwilling to blow his shot.
If FACE was a polished blockbuster, then his new album, MOB, is something like its gritty director’s cut. Musically, it’s a return to a rawer sound, combining the run-and-gun energy of his quarantine EP For You and projects from his past with the conversational and filmic style he’s refined over the last few years. With MOB, Ray is approaching a more natural balance between the reality raps he built his reputation off of at home and songs that feel like plays for wider listenership.
A few weeks before MOB’s release, I spoke to Babyface Ray about Detroit rap’s influence spreading across the country, taking the long road to success, and how he views his artistic evolution.
This Q&A is taken from the latest episode of The FADER Interview. To hear this week’s show in full, and to access the podcast’s archive, click here.
The FADER: It’s been a crazy few years for Michigan rap. As an outsider, I got on around the time when SOB X RBE was collabing with BandGang, stuff like that. Seeing it now, it’s a whole new landscape for y’all. There’s so much attention on the scene. How do you deal with that?
Babyface Ray: For one, I appreciate it because I remember when we was just underground. From the era you was saying, we’ve been doing it since then too. So everything that’s going on and how we poppin’, it’s a great feeling for sure.
One of my favorite interviews you’ve done — and I think about it a lot — was on the day that Peezy got out of jail last year. You were just talking about having to keep things going even while people are locked up or things look chaotic. Y’all have kept grinding for years.
Keeping that focus, bro. As artists, we still human. Life is going on around us, so being able to keep doing what we’re doing is crazy.
I feel for artists sometimes with the demands and expectations of fans. They see y’all as having to put stuff out constantly. Especially with all the reality rap stuff, it takes a toll on people.
For sure, because you’ve gotta go through experiences first to even be able to create the art, especially in our city and what we’re doing. As we’re growing up and elevating, [making] new music, we’ve gotta go through it first.
Over these past few years, the music has gotten a lot more serious from Michigan as a whole. Back in the day, it used to be kinda crazy, but now it’s way more cinematic and smooth.
Back then, how raw it was is because that’s how raw we was, period. So as we elevate in life and transition from doing the things we used to do to doing the things we’re doing now, of course the music’s gonna clear up and be a bit more serious.
I don’t know if you’re tapped into what’s going on all over the country, but you see all these other scenes really embracing the rawness of it: Florida, Philly, they’re all embracing that Michigan sound, that basement music sound.
We used to be at that point, and then the light wasn’t on us at that time. We was just doing our thing. So to see [Real] Boston [Ritchie] and the guys in Philly that’s doing it — or whoever around the world got that same type of bop — and they’re talking about real stuff that’s going on, it’s crazy. I remember when we was in that same bag, for sure.
Y’all didn’t have to change at all. People had to catch up to what y’all were doing.
We might’ve played a big inspiration in some of the people that’s doing music now, whether they say it or not. If you pay attention close enough to what’s going on and then look back at what we was doing, you’re gonna see it, self-explanatory.
You’d be surprised, bro. Go around and ask who people’s favorite artists is. Detroit got a lot of influence — not just for music, period: how we carry ourselves, how we comin’, a lot of people take a liking to that.
How do you think Detroit dudes make themselves different from everyone else? How would you describe y’all’s demeanor versus another city’s?
We was raised tryna get a bag, so our main focus is getting a bag and handling business. Set aside the entertaining aspect in music. We’re not really locked in on being entertaining for the fans. We’re really just staying in our business and doing what’s needed to be done.
Earlier this year, in support of FACE, you went on tour all across the country. Did you have any favorite cities you hit? Any shows in particular that stood out?
The first city we did was Portland or Seattle. They both was crazy. Chicago was turnt. Atlanta was turnt. It was a couple more cities we went where it was surprising: I was all the way in Denver, places I didn’t even know they rock with me at.
To me, off rip, MOB is back to that grimier side. Not that FACE was going pop or anything, but there were more records trying to appeal to people, reaching out. This one, I can tell you got back in a different bag for it.
I had to tap back into being rough. I’m more raw on this one, but I’ve still got something that’s appealing to the world — something for the ladies, something for the dope boys, something for the dope boys that’s tired of being dope boys. It’s a book of life right here, this new CD.
How do you see yourself changing with the times over these last few years?
I always say, “Look back last year, this time, where you were. That’s how you know if you’ve progressed or not.” I do that often, so it’s crazy seeing me grow, blossoming to what I am now, because I remember when I was just wilin’ out. I ain’t even that same person no more; I be so locked in on the opportunity and not blowing it, being careful and just handling business for real.
Last year, we was gear gearing up for FACE. We already knew what we was gonna do, so when we dropped in January, we was already locked and loaded. But right now, we much bigger. And when I say “we,” I’m speaking about me and my team.
For those unfamiliar, could you tell us a little about what the east side of Detroit is like?
Eastside ain’t no different from your regular ghetto. Same stuff going on: Poverty, people tryna make it out the hood. It’s a lot of violence, of course, but it ain’t no different. Same old shit.
“I’m going right now, but I might not always be going, so you’ve gotta make sure you plant some type of seeds for the future.”
You keep your production circle really tight. Why is that?
That’s my sound, so I’ma stick to it no matter who you are, how big, how small. It is what it is. Shoutout to Space, shoutout to Kmoney, shoutout to Pooh Beatz. These are producers that I be around for real, so building with them is a good feeling, especially when we’re able to make music that the world’s hearing. Sometimes, when you create albums, you go reach out to the biggest names, and it ain’t really about the connection. We do it the other way around.
Y’all have really been building this whole movement up. Whitehouse Studio was started by your cousin, and you got Los and Nutty to start rapping because they’re just hanging around, like, “Yo, get in there.” What’s made y’all build such a supportive environment?
It was a genuine connection and bond. It wasn’t forced. Sometimes things can be forced and fake, but as far as Los and Nutty, that was a genuine connection. They never had touched the mic before, so it was them just getting in there and doing their thing. It wasn’t supposed to be that. Whitehouse was just like any other studio. What it became and the artists that came out of it happened by the grace of God.
I really appreciate how you’re always shouting out the younger generation of artists and tryna put them on. A few days ago on your IG stories, you shouted out Shaudy Cash, Samuel Shabazz, and the World Tour Mafia guys.
Don’t forget about 44 Tez. I shouted him out too. That’s that raw you just was talking about. King Hendricks too. I feel like it’s important because this is the music I’m listening to, so why not shout ’em out? I ain’t gonna hide it. I know the world don’t know this going on, and I know my platform’s much bigger. So a shoutout might lead to them being able to put food on the plate for their family. If I can do that, that’s a great thing, and they’re always gonna remember that. I’m going right now, but I might not always be going, so you’ve gotta make sure you plant some type of seeds for the future.
“It’s a neverending thing. Once you get to one spot, others behind you might feel like that’s the top spot, but you’re looking up.”
There’s a really touching song on MOB, “Vonnie,” about the sacrifices our parents have to make for us, stuff you sometimes don’t even see, especially as a kid.
Me and my brother was kickin’ it one day, and he was telling me how my mom never really got to enjoy life. I never really looked at it like that, so the song is just me understanding her — Her pain, her emotions, the things she says.
There’s always gonna be a difference because they’re from a different generation than you.
Yeah, they can’t really understand it: going on billboards, the different accolades. My parents just blown away by it because they’re just going through life and doing what needs to be done. They never thought this moment was gonna happen: that they’d have a son actually doing good for himself, especially in music.
I read that at first you didn’t even tell your parents you were doing music because your father’s a pastor and they weren’t really into the whole rap thing.
I wouldn’t say my dad went into rap. Coming up, he used to play Tupac and all that. But when he changed his life to God, he got more serious. I remember going to bible study one time, and they was having a study on hip-hop and what it was doing to the community and the culture. From that, I created in my mind that they wouldn’t want me to be rapping. You start off rapping, you not having no money, and they think you’re giving me your time to something that’s never gonna be.
Being a successful rapper is just like being a successful basketball player. If you tell them, “I’m going to the studio every day, I’m not going to work,” they’re gonna look at you crazy. So I kept it to myself till I got some type of notoriety. When Team Eastside popped off, it was hard for them not to know what was going on because my name was buzzing around the city already.
Having made music for over a decade at this point, how do you define success for yourself? Is it purely in the accolades? Is it just providing for your family?
It’s a neverending thing. Once you get to one spot, others behind you might feel like that’s the top spot, but you’re looking up. You keep going, because they’ll be looking at you like, “What’s next?” You could’ve done the best thing you ever did in your life, but you can’t get stuck in that moment. You gotta keep pushing.
You said that with this album you were trying to get back to that raw feeling but still have it be accessible. How do you balance these things?
The beat selection, things I’m talking about, how it makes me feel. The last album, I was putting music out for the world. This album is just songs that touch me in some type of way.
Do you think making music with the audience in mind, trying to predict what they want, is the right way?
It really don’t be that deep. I just know if I say certain things that I used to, the world won’t understand it. Everybody not running around in the streets; some people actually clocking in at work. I’m understanding of that. It ain’t that I’m thinking for the world. It’s just if I say something about this, I know you don’t know what I’m talking about.
When did you start working on this record?
Probably the beginning of spring. FACE did so well, we wasn’t really trippin’ off putting no music out. I told myself I wasn’t gonna do it. But everybody was dropping. I was hearing all the music coming out, so I’m like, “Lemme give ’em something to close out with.”
The song “Wavy Gang Immortal” — it’s that motivational music type shit: “You can boss your shit up.”
I’m a perfect example of it. Everything I’ve got right now I didn’t used to have, so you definitely can boss your situation up. And it didn’t happen right away for me, so I always tell people, “I been down longer than I been up.” I understand where people be coming from, so when I be speaking down on people that’s not doing so well, it don’t be to bash you. It’s just like, “Get out your comfort zone and get in your bag.” I used to sit around and procrastinate all day and thought it was gonna fall out the sky, until I started putting my foot forward and working toward the things I wanted. Then it happened.
That’s important to remember. You can’t predict when it’s gonna be your time. You’ve just gotta know: When it’s your time, you’ve gotta be on go.
Frustrating moments I had in my career was when I thought it was time and it ain’t work out like that. And then for me to start poppin’ off right at the pandemic… Who the hell starts poppin’ in a pandemic?
That’s gotta be a really weird feeling. You blow up during the time when you literally can’t do shows. You’ve gotta be like, “How do I capture the audience that’s coming to me?”
Before I put the tape For You out, I was thinking: We can’t do shows, we can’t really do nothing. I’m about to drop a CD with no videos to it and put it up. Ain’t nobody got nothing to do but sit in the house and listen to it. And when I did that, it definitely worked out for the better.
How did you keep the momentum going after that?
I don’t know. I was doing a lot of moving around at that time, though. When the world shut down, we was on shutdown, but we really wasn’t on shutdown. It was a lot more money flowing around, so we started moving around more, and things started falling into place.
This moment in Michigan rap… It’s not the same as drill in 2012, but you can really feel the attention on rap shifting toward the Midwest. How does it feel — this sound that y’all had throughout the 2010s going everywhere?
It’s crazy. It’s from the videos to the music. We was the first artists doing lifestyle videos, where we’d shoot a video just displaying a normal day. We was the first explaining to you how we was hustling and the things we was doing in our music, and the reality of what we doing with the money from it. When you listen to the music now, it’s a lot of that going on. The rappers used to play with metaphors, and it’s different now. It’s shifting toward the reality rap side.