In December 2017, Solomon Ray emerged as a dark horse of reggaetón romántico with his single “El Otro,” racking up over 100,000 plays on YouTube in a month while virtually unknown within el movimiento. But the single’s success was no viral fluke. Formerly known only as Solomon, the singer-songwriter, rapper and producer has been active since 2008, cutting his teeth in New York City’s competitive hip-hop and R&B underground and building his fanbase with a string of mixtapes and EPs over subsequent years. Dipping into everything from rock to electro-pop on early singles like “Life Goes On…” and “The Way We Were,” the release of his 2014 EP Le Garçon left Solomon emotionally and creatively fatigued, leading to a hiatus from music and the industry which he ended with the release of “El Otro.”
Rebranding as a reggaetón ingenue allowed the San Diego native to go back to the drawing board, exploring a new creative voice in Spanish while reconnecting with his mixed Mexican-American and African-American heritage and reassessing his relationship with the music industry. Singles “Así Así” and “Over You” unspool Solomon Ray’s bilingual, biracial experience over lush sonic canvases of towering synths and unrelenting 808s, all while casting him as a perpetually heartbroken crooner. Last year, he released an acoustic cover of Rocío Durcal’s classic “Costumbres,” proving there is still plenty of sorrow in his heart while shaking up genre expectations and announcing a brand new EP titled La Mala Introducción, out today.
La Mala Introducción is co-produced by Solomon Ray and Colombian hitmaker Daneon, and features all previously released singles including “Llama a Tu Novio,” his cumbia and electric guitar infused collaboration with Mexico City reggaetón fashionista MANCANDY. The EP also comes with a brand new single titled “Muévete,” sampling Frankie Boy’s classic “Boom Boom Mariguana,” and coinciding with the July edition of Bandcamp Friday, a fundraising initiative aiming to aid independent artists affected by the Covid-19 crisis.
In order to properly contextualize this new era of his career, we talked with Solomon Ray about La Mala Introducción, his experiences with colorism and homophobia in the music industry, and why reggaetón is just the gateway for a new era of creative expression.
We fell in love with your music in 2017 with the release of “El Otro,” but you’ve been in the game much longer than that. Tell us about the early days of your career and the path that led you into reggaetón.
Thank you. Yeah, I started out as a rapper in 2007 and gradually evolved into an artist that blended various genres. After my last English EP, Le Garçon, I had put so much of myself emotionally in that project that I felt depressed and quit music. I’ve wanted to make music in Spanish since I was a child, but reggaetón wasn’t necessarily the direction I was aiming for. Coming from a hip-hop and R&B background it was natural to land here, and I fell back in love with [making] music in the process.
I’m not sure if I will keep making reggaetón. I’m a producer first, songwriter second and a singer towards the end, so I like to be challenged and have the ability to blend genres and tell deeper stories. I also like constructing my own sounds, like in my previous records. I’m really proud of what I’ve created in this genre, but I want to go a little deeper moving forward.
Your new EP is titled La Mala Introducción. Is this a sort of re-introduction to longtime fans and new audiences? Also, why ‘Mala’?
It is a re-introduction, somewhat. I feel so new, despite having created music for a decade… It’s a new chapter for sure. For years I was afraid to do music in Spanish based off what others would say. And then to make reggaetón and be Mexican; but Mexican-American. To be half African-American, but not fluent in Spanish. And to be openly gay on top of it all, – it’s almost like a bad introduction. So much of what this genre represents and where it’s rooted isn’t me, I feel like the wrong poster boy for reggaetón.
La Mala Introducción features a number of samples and collaborations with the likes of MANCANDY and Daneon. Can you break down the different elements and creative partnerships that went into making this record?
I would always write songs, create the melodies and send them to Daneon. While very strict in structure, there’s a rhythmic and musical fluidity in reggaetón different from hip-hop, so I needed his guidance production-wise. It was also important for me to still find a way to sample and use elements from Hip-Hop. For instance, in “Muévete” [my new single], I really wanted to sample an old playero track. With “Llama A Tu Novio,” I wanted to create a reggaetón track with a cumbia flavor, and also use electric guitars and a sample of a baby crying. I tried getting clearance to sample a Robyn track [“Call Your Girlfriend”], but it was too expensive.
Daneon is so well versed as a producer he was able to implement all that and build tracks that resonate with many audiences. And as for MANCANDY I’ve always admired him, and after working together I love him even more.
What has been your experience as an openly gay artist trying to break into mainstream reggaetón? Have you faced any challenges or backlash for your lyrics, aesthetics or suggestive videos like “Llama A Tu Novio??
Well, my video for “Llama A Tu Novio” was flagged as porn and I wasn’t able to submit it for any YouTube/VEVO playlisting unless I created an edited version. It’s wild because straight rappers and reggaetóneros can have women in bathing suits and it’s ok. It’s actually encouraged. But we don’t get that same privilege. And also, there’s still editors and gatekeepers who are homophobic and actively exclude artists like me.
You’ve also called out colorism in the music industry, and specifically in reggaetón, via your social media. Can you share some of your experiences?
I remember after doing a shoot in 2017 this one guy who works at Universal, after seeing the photos, told me to stay out of the sun because I’m on the “Selena range” of darkness, where I was light enough to get ahead but on the cusp of being too dark. That night I went to every single mainstream artists’ page and realized he was right. So since then I’ve spent even more time in the sun and remind people I’m half Black every chance I get.
This EP release coincides with the July edition of Bandcamp Friday and you’ve been very vocal about the benefits of distributing music via the platform. How do you think the music industry has changed in the age of streaming and why is Bandcamp the best resource for artists trying to monetize their music?
OK, so last year I bought a Kindle. The most expensive kind with all the bells and whistles. I’ve yet to complete a book on it. But in the interim, I’ve read over a dozen physical books. It made me realize consuming art sometimes needs to have a physical memory or action. Streaming music is great. But having a physical item like a CD, vinyl, a t-shirt or a sticker gives fans something tangible they need. Bandcamp is great for that and really streamlines purchases and lets fans engage more and build that connection. Also, Bandcamp gives fans the option of paying more for music, and I’ve learned most fans will.
Listen to/buy La Mala Introducción here: