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Apple Up Next Presents: Morray

Smooth electric guitar strums enter the soundscape as soon as you press play on Morray’s now hit single, “Quicksand.” They are immediately followed by three sequential and soulful hums separated by lone deliveries of the word, “yeah.” Those sounds of “hmmm,” all different and building, act similarly to a slick one-liner by a salesman to keep you listening. They hold an underlying depth to them and an innate understanding of pocket and tone that creates unrelenting expectation and an open lane to deliver upon it.

Morray over Zoom tells me about them, “For a lot of my songs that’s how I set the tone for how my voice gon’ sound. Whenever I come into a song ad-libbing, I’m tryna figure out what pitch and tone to use. It just so happened those examples were dope so I kept ‘em.” When I inquire deeper about the sort of quiver behind them that also exists on many held notes throughout his catalog he says, “My mom has it too. I think they call it a tremor. I can’t control that shit so it just comes out real shaky. I know what I’m doing, but I don’t.” This semi-subconscious desirable delivery, whether intentional or not, set the tone for where Morray is now. The “Quicksand” video is at above 60 million views, he’s on the cusp of releasing his debut body of work Street Sermons through Pick Six records partnered with Interscope, and Morray has also earned the title of Apple Music’s Up Next Artist. 

The hums are just the set-up, but the spike and score of the hit single comes in four parts. The visual for the song is undeniable and was shot in Morray’s neighborhood in his hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina where he still lives. The joy he exudes through his big goofy smile and wide array of two-step dance moves adds a necessary layer of exuberance to the song’s dark reflection. The hook is also as catchy and bright as anything that exists in modern sing-rap styles and displays the concept of “Quicksand” craveably even though it’s about some of Morray’s tougher times. “’Quicksand’ to me is like the end. Like you’re slipping into something you know you can’t get out of,” Morray says about the concept. “I been in the quicksand. It made sense to me ‘cos I went to the beach a couple of weeks before I wrote the song.” This closing funny anecdote about the song’s creation is wholeheartedly felt in its execution. Delivery-wise another key to the song’s structure is a repeated pre-chorus flow switch, that is equal parts surprising and intriguing. “I wrote that part differently than how I recorded it,” Morray explains. “I recorded it on the fly with the rhythm. It just happened in the studio cuz I wrote it way differently. When I heard the beat I was like that shit gotta go faster and crazier.” When the flow switches, you realize the initial hum that snagged your attention has turned into a full commitment with the pre-chorus.  

Lastly, there is a storytelling element to the track that seals the deal as he tells a different one for each of the verses. For the first verse, Morray alludes to a friend Bobby setting him up for a “quick lick,” which sent him down a path that could have led to worse crimes he luckily didn’t follow through on. Then for the second, he chronicles multiple situations that ended up in physical fights. This includes being walked in on while cheating with another man’s girl. “They’re two stories and two events that happened at different points in my life,” he says. “Each verse came from me living what I’m writing. It made it easier to write cuz I remember it. It happened. That’s why the verses sound so different cuz it’s really my life.” 

The Morray of then and now is the embodiment of the phrase “night and day.” He is now happily and faithfully married with kids and puts being a father and husband above all else. “It helps the most cuz I’m not intrigued with the normal rapper shit,” he claims. “I’m a husband and a father so I’m not tryna go to every crazy party and get fucked up. I understand that this is my life and my dream, but it’s also my job and my career. I wanna be as professional as possible.” Morray is 28, so he got his youthful debauchery out of the way pre-success. Though even with that, his now busier life makes his hopeful balance at times difficult to maintain. “The best thing to prioritize is your time. I’m starting to notice now that I may not have as much time as I thought I was gonna have,” Morray explains. “After this interview, I’ll probably go FaceTime my kids just to let them know I’m in the room. I wish it was more, but that’s how I’m doin’ it till I go back home. No cap, I just gotta be in the room.” 

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Communication with his children is clearly a key concern for him, though even with his desire to establish a consistent connection, he also makes sure they know his role. He says, “I think nowadays people are more focused on being their kid’s friend. That’s not the case with me. You’re here to teach your kid how to be a human being and an adult. Understand what you’re about to put in the world. If you’re trying to be your kid’s friend at 3 or 4, at 16 they’ll be tellin’ you, ‘Fuck you.'” Morray believes firmly in the principle of teaching responsibility, especially monetarily. So he and his wife have crafted a clever technique. “My kids when they buy snacks, we use Monopoly money,” he explains. “I give them Monopoly money in allowance. You want a snack, you want a juice, that shit cost a dollar. You spent all your money and your paycheck is gone? Then you gotta do some more chores, some more homework, and then you can get some more bread. Since they were little kids I been doin’ that. You gotta be stern. Show your kids you love them, but you can’t take it easy on them cuz this world not gon’ take it easy at all.” 

This type of household leadership and necessity for resilience training seems to have been instilled by none other than Morray’s mother, who also led the church choir he initially learned to sing in. “My mom always did the best that she could. That’s one of the best leadership qualities you could have. When you make your lemons lemonade or your beef, beef stew,” Morray expresses. “That’s a quality everybody can’t have. Everybody likes to cry over spilled milk. But when you can say, “Fuck it I can clean it up and start over,” that just makes you a better person. That’s one of the best qualities about my Mom. I love her.” 

Morray’s feelings about his father are a bit more conflicted. On one of his standout track’s “Dreamland,” he is very open about the difficulty surrounding his existence in his upbringing when he raps, “Living in a motel, mama couldn’t make it/ Daddy had another bitch, guess he couldn’t face it/ Anything we ever gained he would try to come and take it/ If she ever spoke about it he would lose his fuckin patience/ Several different ways to beat her, can’t believe he’s so creative/ Sad to say it to this day I still really fuckin hate him.” Morray’s vent about the situation provided him with some serious clarity about his own parenting. “The song came up as an accident. I didn’t even mean to put my real feelings and it was so weird how it came out. It was a freestyle and I don’t even freestyle,” he explains. “Me seeing that shit growing up, I would never do that shit. I took that as a personal challenge to be nothing like what I saw. No disrespect to my Pop or whatever he got goin’ on, but I take certain shit people do as a learning experience.”

Morray is not only a peacekeeper in his household but now a full provider. When I asked what makes him most happy being a husband and father he says, “The smiles. The fact that I can call my wife and kids and be like, ‘What y’all doin’?’ Then they at an Airbnb or some resort or doing something they always wanted to do, I love that shit bro. I wish I was fuckin’ there, that shit crazy.” Funny enough, the songs his family love the most express how much he loves them and wants to provide for them. He says, “My wife’s favorite song hasn’t even come out yet. It’s a song called ‘Never Fall.’ It’s about my kids and her. Hopefully, I get to put that out soon. My daughter loves ‘Kingdom.’ She will sing that all day. She makes me tired of my own song. Real shit. I’m like, ‘Baby girl play something else.’” On “Kingdom,” Morray raps about wanting to create a college fund for his daughter specifically, thus the obsession with it, I assume. When I ask him how it’s going with the funds for it he smiles big, laughs, and says, “Too fire. No cap, I don’t give a fuck if they don’t pass the SAT they still gettin’ into MIT.” 

“Kingdom,” “Quicksand,” and “Dreamland” are all essential tracks on Morray’s new mixtape Street Sermons. Another previously released track that holds weight on the project, “Big Decisions,” maybe more than any other puts Morray in the role of preacher. He sings on the hook, “Do everything the right way/ But the wrong way so damn inviting/ I got a family to feed.” At the end of the track’s music video, Morray even does a quick routine as if he was a preacher himself, while seemingly standing with his friends on his block. When I asked Morray about it he said, “No cap, that’s just God bro. If you grew up in the church you can imitate a pastor no matter what.” Though this was a bit of joking, the actual role of a preacher who gives understanding sermons on the street is something Morray embraces fully. “A preacher is someone that doesn’t mind goin’ to the community and tellin’ people what it is. Goin’ door to door tellin’ people about God or whatever the case may be. I don’t wanna push it down your throat, but I want people to understand I’m still saved,” Morray says about his purpose. “I love God to death and I will still slap the fuck out somebody, but then tell them I love you.”

Morray is heavily influenced by the gospel he was raised by and is motivated to organically flip its energy to fit his truth on this mixtape. “You wanna hear some real struggle, pain, and I overcame it? Gospel will give you all of that and more,” he proclaims. “I’m trying to bring that shit to a world where if you’re saved you can still bump my shit. You know where my heart is so we lit.” Morray has faith the streets will be drawn to his gospel essence, but he doesn’t want to leave out those who only listen to secular music. On a standout new cut off the mixtape “Can’t Use Me” Morray may grab those potential listeners as he sings about the therapeutic benefits of processing his pain through making music. He says about what’s expressed in the song, “I keep a lot of things bottled up. Every song I put out has an emotion that I was feeling that I finally got to release.” Morray further explains, “I’m not a person that would tell everybody my business. But in music, I feel like I can cuz it’s art now. So that’s my therapist. When I go into the studio I may make a song about something that happened to me five years ago, but I’ve been holding that shit for five years. But now that it’s gone, I done cracked another smile.” This song and this sentiment feel like they correlate directly to the practice of confession. Through the routine and work of music-making, Morray has given himself an outlet to forgive himself and those around him he had ill will towards. 

On another new track “Mistakes” he raps, “Time heals all is a lie, cuz I see the pain every time I close my eyes.” He expands on the previous idea with his own philosophy that healing can only occur through effort not solely passage. He says. “People will say give it time to blow over or put it under the rug. But if somebody hurts your heart, every time you by yourself you gon be like, “This motherfucker.” You can’t help it. Time only heals when I work for it. I’ve been working for it and I’m starting to feel the healing.” 

He still does have a lot to heal from. Besides the previously mentioned issues within his childhood home, Morray openly speaks about leaving Fayetteville to move to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, which was much more of a rough city environment. This move caused Morray to have to develop a hard exterior, and it pushed him into a follower attitude which got him into trouble. As a 12-year-old kid, he just wanted friends, but at the same time needed to find a crew and to present as a tough guy for survival. “Living in the city it’s always like that,” he says. “When you walkin’ through the streets goin’ to the store or the bodega you gotta be a different person, cuz it’s n***as plottin’ on you and watchin’ you. If they smell that you’re soft or weak they pressin’ you. Being a follower was easy because the n***as I was following was just like that.” 

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Though this time had residual effects, there was some solace gained when Morray was able to move back home. “In Fayetteville, you either with your click, or you with yourself,” he explains. “Moving back gave me self-reflection time to say, ‘I don’t have a lot of friends, let me love me a little more. Understand who I am and what I need to make myself happy.’” Though this transition was the first step towards centering, even being in his space of comfort didn’t relieve Morray of life’s tribulations. He married young and started a family, even before the one he has now. To support them he had to work countless jobs including a month-long construction stint where he walked 2-3 hours to and from work each day. On top of this, he had to deal with the hurtful elements of young love. On my personal favorite new track from Street Sermons “Nothing Now,” Morray dives back into that time. “That’s from before my (current) marriage. You go through bad breakups and you go through bad shit. That really helped the song come out,” he explains. “I was in LA looking at my wife now and was like, “You really didn’t put me through none of the shit people before have.” 

He is keenly aware of how much his wife is his golden ticket. She pushed him to make songs from the heart that represented his real experiences, which led to all of his musical success. Along with that, she also helped him gain a new perspective on what’s really important. “I ain’t gon lie, settling down made me really understand life is not about impressing n***as,” he says. “That’s what I was big on. I really wanted to let n***as know I could do this shit. Now I’m just like, smiling is enough. I don’t think people realize how much a smile can change your life. If you can wake up with a smile you’re doing better than 35 million people. Understand that shit. You should be happy off that by itself.” 

Nothing makes Morray smile more than talking about Fayetteville. He knows, in addition to his wife’s love, his town’s existence as a home for him is what really helped him build his new life. When I ask him what he loves most about it he says, “I love the diversity. My city has everybody. It’s a military town, so you get n***as from Germany, n***as from Hawaii, n***as from Afghanistan, n***as from Canada, New York, LA, everywhere. We a big mut. I just love the culture.” That culture also makes the town truly communal and loyal. “In my city when you build a relationship with somebody that’s your homie for life,” Morray says. “Even if we fall out. I may call you a fuck n***a, and we may even fight. But eventually you my n***a, and love gon’ conquer everything. That’s what my city’s really about. N***as will hate on you too, n***as will get really grimy. But at the end of the day, they doin’ that for somebody they love.” 

However, that core of love is often overshadowed by Fayetteville’s issues with violence. Morray says, “The bad always outweighs the good, even if it’s more good than bad. That one bad thing will erase ten good moments.” On a mixtape song “Trenches” Morray combats this unfair portrayal pushed by the media of a place he finds overwhelming joy from. “You can have a block party on yo block, cookouts for like two days, birthday parties, everything is good. One n***a gets shot and everything is canceled,” he says about the rigged perspective. “All that good get erased for that one bad and I think that’s what n***as gotta stop focusing on. We gotta stop the bad from happening, but understand it’s gonna happen cuz of where we at. You put people in an area and we all hostile and volatile cuz of what we’re lacking. We are all feeling suppressed or oppressed in a situation we can’t get out of. It’s gonna be tension and animosity. But it’s not every day. Every day is not a bad day.” 

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Morray only sees good days ahead for his area and for himself. With new levels reached comes new access and potential. He’s gotten cosigns from North Carolina star rappers J. Cole and Da Baby, and he told me Charlemagne Tha God from The Breakfast Club (a South Carolina native) put him in touch with legendary Carolina producer 9th Wonder. However, no potential collaboration made Morray light up more than when I mentioned a possible future one with North Carolina legend Petey Pablo. “Respect to the OG, he says. “I would love to do a song with Petey, no cap. He is the goat!” With this said Morray had a motivated intention to only feature his own voice on his debut project. “I wanna do a song with everybody, but I’m very adamant about this first tape just being me,” he proclaims. “Not that I’d turn anybody down, but I just want people to know me first. If you went on a date you wouldn’t bring yo homie. Nah, I wanna talk to this girl by myself and let her get to know me. Let me get the cheeks first, then when we have a party I’ll introduce you. Let her fall in love with me first, don’t take my shine.” This metaphor equating his fans to the girl he’s on the date with is not only hilarious but oddly astute. He knows the path to real long-term success is through his own merit and Morray will not compromise because of it.

Morray, as an artist who came up in the pandemic, has little to no live show experience with his music. That said as festival dates are appearing he is vehemently looking forward to potential performances. We even mapped out together his dream stage setup. “I would love to have a full band,” he says. “Guitar, drums, bass, keyboard, a fuckin tambourine, a xylophone, I don’t give a fuck. I want all that shit and a choir behind me singing my adlibs. Hittin’ my runs for me. Bruh! Hell yeah!” Morray’s other wants coming out of this project are simple and straightforward. “I want this mixtape to reflect that I have become this better person in the end,” he says. “I want you to listen to me and say “Morray really gave us him. He didn’t try to be too cool. He didn’t try to be this guy. He was himself, he was genuine, and I fuck with him.” Fuck wit a fat n***a my boy, that’s it!”

Though these prospects for the music are yet to be determined by the fan’s reaction, due to the response he’s already gotten Morray has now been able to endeavor into a lifelong dream. He’s looked into buying a house. “Bro no cap, looking for houses is so fun. I don’t give a fuck what nobody say,” he says. “The fact that I might be able to buy this shit, n***a are you crazy?! I’m looking at every single one. I’m doing three tours, FaceTiming with the fucking agents, ima see everything I don’t give a fuck. That’s been the most exciting part sitting down with my wife being like, “We bout to get this shit. We bout to walk up and down the stairs butt naked if we want to, cuz it’s ours and we own it.” This feels like the true culmination of Morray’s journey thus far. It’s a reflection of the human path he has ventured upon and will continue to. Morray’s up next, but thankfully up now more than he’s ever been.