Not everyone knows this, but my love for The Roots is not blown out of proportion (in my humble yet dramatic opinion). In fact, it’s almost ingrained, considering year after year, the iconic Roots Picnic falls on my birthday weekend. And yet, I never get hooked up with a press pass, not even as a birthday present! Instead, I get false promises and broken dreams of hanging out with Questlove for a few minutes. But this year, I got myself just a little bit closer.
I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Ray Angry, of the Legendary Roots Crew to discuss his newest track, “Mother’s Love.” You can listen to the full interview down below, and follow along with the transcript. Unfortunately, our conversation quickly derailed as we started talking about ending up on a yacht with our favorite creatives. Ray, please know I am banking on this and will be cashing in my invite as soon as possible. I love my Philadelphia, but Santorini seems a lot more like the place for me. My personal highlight from the lovely interview was organically connecting over J Dilla, who has his very own place on Ray’s newest album, Ray Angry Three. On the album, which is set to release in August, Ray uses his piano as his voice to pay homage to some exceptional people in his life. In addition to a tribute to the late producer, Ray also reminisces on other essential figures in his life, including his brothers, his high-school friend, and even his late mother.
“Mother’s Love” is the single off of the latest project, where the classicly trained pianist, composer, producer and arranger comments on the importance of the bond between a mother and child. The song can be streamed everywhere now, and you can check out the beautiful and heart-warming music video below.
“The love my mother showed me was the most important part of my development as a young man. This piece is an expression of my love for my mother who passed away several years ago. I can still feel her spirit with me now. My mother was my greatest hero and her love was powerful. I truly miss her. ‘Mother’s Love’ tells the incredible story of our relationship, which is about forgiveness, grace, passion, discipline and most importantly, love. I would not be the musician I am today without her. This piece is dedicated to all the mothers in the world, both near and far. Love you forever, mom.”
— Ray Angry
To check out my interview with Ray Angry where we spend 45 minutes manifesting our dream collaborations, nerding out over our love for J Dilla, peer-pressuring Questlove into adding Producer Mondays into the Roots Picnic, and roasting my nails, you can simply stream it down below and follow it with the transcripts.
Here are a few highlights from the interview:
Shaana: So how has this year’s experience been with the Roots picnic so far?
Ray Angry: It’s funny because as long as I’ve been with The Roots, seeing the evolution thereof is amazing. And, you know, working with Usher and the Isley Brothers and then hanging out with Lauryn Hill. Who I’ve worked with for a very long time. It’s just very amazing, and a privelege to be amongst the fold of creators.
Shaana: Absolutely. And Philly in general has such a creative hub to it. It has such a special place in my heart. I’ve worked on the industry side kind of outside of the city, and I have also worked more within it. And I’ve seen the difference of the love and support and admiration and just continuous desire to help one another grow and evolve.
Ray Angry: That’s funny you say that because there is a sort of like mentorship going on here, which I think adds to the fact that there’s so many amazing musicians that come out of Philly. I mean, Grover Washington Jr. inspired so many great horn players and musicians. I love him.
Shaana: And it’s so funny that you had mentioned The Roots evolution in general, just because How I Got Over is a super special album for me. One of your pieces from that album was sampled by Kendrick for “The Heart Pt. 2”. How did that feel?
Ray Angry: First of all, shout out to Amanda Seales, because she’s the one that told me about. And I was just so honored that he did that. My only my only wish would be to actually go in the studio and work with him. He sampled me, but I don’t think he, like, knows my music. But, you know, I love Kendrick Lamar. And then he used the same sound that he sampled on “We gon be all right.”
Shaana: Well, it makes sense for an artist like that to sample your music just because he is one of the few modern day artists that is so incredible at paying homage to older genres and the roots of it all. Really incorporating jazz, which is so important and essential for where hip hop is today. So for an artist like you, who, has built a career based off of incorporating those trainings of classical music and jazz components creates a perfect match. So how exactly did you make that transition from being more classically trained into these genres like Hip-Hop?
Ray Angry: I think trial and error and a lot of heartbreak. I always loved classical music and I feel like the classical world is so unlike any other industry. It’s very competitive. I didn’t want to put myself in a box. I don’t want to just do one thing. I saw music as being one big meal, one big presentation. And I just never wanted to do one thing. I love learning. Also, learning hip hop to me is the same amount of training I used to learn classical music because hip hop is different. It’s more than just notes on a page. It’s the feeling behind the music. The way J Dilla, he vibes and grooves. People talk about emcees having a rhythm or whatever, J Dilla has his own vibe. Busta Rhymes has his own vibe. The way they ride the rhythm of a beat. Nas has his own vibe, his own way of rhyming over, his own way of using rhythm. Hip hop is about that feeling. So it’s learning that language of self-discovery and finding your own voice because that’s what hip hop really is. Almost like jazz. In that you have to find your own voice. It’s like that in classical music as well, because Bach is different. And he’s different from Debussy, you know what I mean? And Beethoven. So everyone has their own footprint, their own blueprint that they put on the music. For me, it’s just about finding your own way. And, I just love hip hop. I always wanted for people to feel a certain way, whether it be happy or dancing. I want to be able to explore all those different emotions with the music that I create.
Shaana: And so with your new song, “Mother’s Love”, about your relationship with your mom, how have you found it to be different in terms of creating an album that is solely based off of your piano training and using that versus working with a group like The Roots and actually being able to incorporate vocals and more of that big band production?
Ray Angry: I think being able to use my voice as a composer is no different for me. It’s not like I’m a beatmaker, like I’ve got to find the beat. I sit at the piano and I play. So for me, it’s no different. I think the only difference is with my “Mother’s Love”, my mom passed away, my family passed away, the pandemic. There’s been so much loss of so many mentors that passed away. This record was different in that I wanted to create something that’s more personal. There’s no agenda behind it. There’s no hidden agenda behind it. It’s totally solely a dedication with the hopes that people would create stronger bonds with the people that they love because life is short. And I just wanted to use my art as a way to help heal the world. Although that sounds like a cliche, but I really do feel that way. I want to create some great music that allows people to reflect on who they are and also allows them to build stronger ties to other people. Because to me, everything is relationships. And I think sometimes we forget that, especially when we’re trying to achieve and we’re trying to get money and get the bag. We forget that. You gotta have strong relationships because those relationships will help you to get bags upon bags upon bags. And it’s more fun to have a laugh with your friends. I don’t want to be like Scarface, when he’s in the house and he’s in a tub. He’s got everything, but he’s talking to himself. I don’t want to be that guy. Because the way he got there, he was ruthless. And he destroyed a lot of lives. I don’t want to make money from that perspective. I don’t want to create music from that perspective. I want to create music. And it’s like. A hundred of us on a yacht somewhere. Everyone’s making money. And everyone’s creating the art. Although it’s a big idea, and not everyone’s going to. Not everyone has the same intention to do good in the world. But I want to do my part. Maybe there’s a young Stevie Wonder that doesn’t have an opportunity because now there’s no more. There’s no more artist development. Now you can be on Tik Tok and have like a 10 seconds thing, and now you’re famous. And you’re everywhere and you’re being exploited. And then a year later, you have no money and you’re back to doing what you were told before your viral fame. So for me, it’s about the long game. And that’s what I love about working with the Roots. You can see the long game that they’ve played.
Shaana: So going off this idea with your yacht, if you could have a dream collective. Who would it be? Any genre, any time frame. Or even just someone you want to collaborate with?
Ray Angry: It would be the most creative people that I’m drawn to. For me, it’s about creating opportunities and projects with brilliant minds that are open to the idea of world domination creatively, but are like ambassadors to the world. Which is what my Producer Mondays is, honestly.
Shaana: So your collective is basically United Nations?
Ray Angry: Yeah. Basically that’s why I started Producer Mondays. I wanted it to be a collective of people that want to take over the music industry and show people that hey, authenticity is great. You don’t have to sound like this person or sound like this record or chase this. Create the thing that you want to be. And create with people that you love.
Shaana: Who do you 100% have to have by your side then?
Ray Angry: Can I tell you two people that I would love to collaborate with? This might be weird, but. I would like to collaborate with Taylor Swift. There’s something about her that I really like. She was on The Tonight Show, and I work on the tonight show. There was a bit that she had to do where she had to write on the spot. And I was floored by, number one, how fast she was, and how creative she was. And I was thinking to myself, even though she’s a superstar, I feel like I could make something with her that she probably didn’t think she could do. And I also love Bjork. Janelle Monae is one of them. Of course. Questlove.
Shaana: Has working with him drastically changed your creative process in any way?
Ray Angry: Oh, hell, yeah. You know why? Because he’s such a student of music. And every time I’m with him, I always learn something new. How I Got Over is a prime example. That was the first album that I worked on with The Roots, and I did all the interludes on that record, and here’s how it went down. So Richard Nicols says, Hey, man, I want you to work on this album. You know meet Quest at the studio. And so I go to the studio and I’m nervous and I’m like, okay, I’m expecting, ‘like, ‘here’s what we’re gonna do’. I walk in the studio. He’s on the drums. Steve Mandel is on the board and I see keyboards, which I haven’t played. He starts counting off and I’m like, ‘woah. What? What are we doing?’ ‘Ah man, just. It needs some interludes, just play.’ And I was, like. ‘Play what?’ I lie to you not I never just play the keyboard. I pulled up sounds and in a matter of seconds I get this jazz voice. He’s like, ‘That’s cool.’ And so I’m playing and I go. Do do do. Do do do do do do do do do, do do. And I’m like, okay. And we do the whole take. And then he says, ‘Can you add a base to it?’ Okay, I play bass. ‘Can you do strings?’ Sure. 15 minutes later, the song is done. That was my first session with him. It taught me that with him, I can’t second guess my ideas. On my own, being a creative can be a curse as well. Prince talks about this. You can become a perfectionist and it kills the music because the music doesn’t come out because it’s not perfect. You recorded and rerecord. That’s why Prince is a genius, and I think Quest learned this from Prince, because Prince basically would record, Oh, next idea. Next idea. Next song. They record record record. Boom. If it’s not perfect, cool. That’s cool. So it’s really capturing the feeling. It’s not about being perfect. Sometimes even when I’m doing a film, like this film Descendant, I had two weeks to finish the score for a full length documentary. I did the score in two weeks with that same process of just whatever idea comes to me, just go.
Shaana: And so for your newest album, it’s the third installment. How would you say this has shown your development versus the first two?
Ray Angry: First of all, it’s my most personal album I’ve ever done with a solo piano. I’ve never recorded a solo album except for during the pandemic. I released something called a Protest, which was inspired by the George Floyd situation. And I just wrote from my heart. This album is sort of the same, except it’s all about relationships. People that you know who have passed away or people who were very instrumental in my career as I developed as an artist. I did a dedication to Prince, J Dilla, my father, my brothers. Obviously, my mother was the single. Yeah, I did a dedication to one of my dear friends from high school, Desiree. The piano is the instrument that I’ve always wanted to use as my voice to express how I was feeling and how I feel about those people that I mentioned. J Dilla is such a huge influence. There’s one song on the piano where the sustain pedal on the piano broke. Shoutout to Steinway, for giving me this piano. Eventually it got fixed, but I was so mad, so I was like, ‘Keep recording it’. I started playing inside the piano. I just started playing and manipulating the strings. And it’s the sound. It’s so fucking crazy. I can’t wait for people to hear what is. It’s definitely different. Playing inside the piano. Experimenting. That’s what the album is. Like a mixture of classical music, soul, hip hop and sort of meditative music.
Shaana: So is that track the J Dilla, track? Because when you mentioned that, I really wanted to deep dive into that.
Ray Angry: Nope, no. But, when you talk about creating music from a respective feeling, J Dilla did just that. He created from a space with an empty canvas, having a sound in his head and saying, ‘Yeah, I want to create this type of sound’. Opening up the cassette tape player and finding out, ‘oh shit, if I turn this knob here, I can slow the record down’. So he gets a wrench on Donuts, and when you hear that record slowing down, then all of a sudden getting faster and faster, it’s with the wrench on a tape machine. The idea of the bravery to just be crazy enough to try something that no one records, you know? But you couldn’t learn that at school. I’m a huge J Dilla fan.
Shaana: And tell me a little bit more about your producer segments. What led to the start of those?
Ray Angry: The owner, Yohan, would always see me and say, ‘Man, we should start a jam session’. And I would say to myself, ‘I don’t want to do a jam session.’ I turned him down several times. But then, I was in the studio working on the Roots album Endgame, which is going to come out at some point. I was working with a producer named Stro Elliott, who’s an incredible, incredible producer. I got the idea from working with him in a studio because we were just creating records. Our job was to go in and just create. And we did just that. We must have created at least 50 tracks. There was also this notion of people taking credit, ghost writers. So I wanted to create a space where people can be as authentic as they can be. The idea was to create music on the spot. If someone says, You’re a singer, they sing; there’s no ghost writing. You’re a writer, you’re writing, you’re creating. It’s a safe space for creatives to create. I wanted to create a coalition of artists that believes in authenticity and believes in doing great work, and also pulling ideas and resources together to create something that can affect people’s lives in a positive way. I’m sort of like Duke Ellington, composing the music on the spot, directing the horn players. Directing everyone just creating different moods and changing the vibes. And it’s different from a jam session because it’s more like you’re in a studio except in a studio, you’ll be like dialing down the faders. I’m doing it live this way with human beings. Everything’s happening in real time. And so that’s the gist of what the night is. I want to take this around the world. I would love to create a TV show. Although it’s hard for people in the film world and in TVLand to wrap their heads around what I’m doing. Because everything has to be explored and someone has to lose and somebody has to win some fucking contest, which I think is so corny. I haven’t found anyone who has the capacity to understand something that they’ve never seen before. I’m not going to give up. I really want to make it a television show that travels around. It’s almost like Anthony Bourdain. He travels around to different restaurants. He’s eating. No one is like saying, ‘oh, it doesn’t work.’ Also, think about these corporations that have the money to fund something like this because it’s doing good in the world, like Airbnb, Amex, Delta Airlines. They’re making billions and billions of dollars. Why not throw some shit towards the arts? You’re finding new ideas, you’re creating alliances. I view my group as musical ambassadors. If I want to go to China, Japan and find artists. Imagine what it’d be like to collaborate with Japanese artists. You talk about Madlib and Dilla sampling Bollywood music. What if you’re getting an original score where you have Bollywood musicians collaborating with American musicians in real time?
If you enjoyed this, make sure to check out the full interview above. If you’d like to connect with Ray Angry to follow along with his work both individually and with the Roots crew, you can find him below. And don’t forget to stream “Mother’s Love” out everywhere now.