Issa Ray, whose five-season career ended with HBO’s “Insecure” this weekend, has plunged more than a finger into the world of music. She has started her own record label, Raedio, and is producing a new show about aspiring rappers, using her current career to help launch music shows. But instead of being thrilled about getting involved in another industry, Ray makes it look like she’s entered a snakes’ den.
When asked if music is “a place where good ideas thrive,” Ray replied, “Absolutely not. It’s probably the worst industry I’ve ever been in,” said Mikael Wood of the Los Angeles Times in a Q&A about her personal and professional experiences with music.
“I thought Hollywood was crazy,” Ray continued. “The music industry, you have to start over. There are a lot of conflicts of interest. Outdated mindsets. Villains and criminals! It’s an addictive industry, and I really feel for artists who need to get involved in it. … It was a shocking thing” to discover.
Ray hasn’t caught up in her dread with music business going beyond generalities, but has indicated that her feelings were based on a combination of her own experiences making soundtracks and listening to artists about what they deal with on a regular basis. “I don’t want to be too specific, but even with our own appointments [for soundtracks] With labels or artists, it would be very complicated. And to see how artists are treated on other labels… When I’m creative and know what I want in terms of a relationship with a production company or a product, I like to think we’re much friendlier to the artist than other brands and companies out there. I want to renew things.”
Ray also knocked out a Grammy Award in the interview, single out one record in particular that she thought was being unfairly ignored. “What really bothers me—and this goes with Hollywood—is the way music is rewarded. When I think about the Grammys and these other systems designed to reward artistic creativity and fine artists, I just feel like, ‘You wouldn’t get it.’” What do you reward? That’s stupid, but I’ll say it anyway: a song like [Wizkid’s] “Essence” – just an absolute power, yet can’t be properly recognized by the institution that is supposed to celebrate the best in music – that blows me away. To see black people and our contributions to music not be celebrated the way they should be — I mean, these are not our institutions.”
Wizkid’s “Essence” was nominated for a Grammy for Best International Musical Performance, but not a record for this year. Asked about the omission in a recent interview with Billboard, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said, “It’s an amazing record. He’s a very talented artist. I can’t speak to why it didn’t work, but I really love recording.”
Ray had a lot of good words for the individual artists in the interview, as he, of course, singled out the successes of 2021 for Jasmine Sullivan, who recorded the lead single for “Insecure” in season two with Bryson Teller, saying, “She’s an absolutely pure talent.” He also cited Ray also named Don Toliver and Cleo Sol as personal musician favorites of the year.
Looking at the series, Ray said, “We’ve featured female singers and rappers in a distinctive way when others haven’t – I’m thinking TT the Artist and Kari Faux in season one… That was one of the mandates – LA artists, indie artists. Kier put me on (Lehman, Musical Supervisor on the show) Got so many new artists that I felt like they were getting the sound of the show. And then, of course, I dig around for the people I love. As a music lover, nothing excites me more than feeling like an artist first.
In a separate interview with the newspaper, Ray spoke about the HBO Max series that has just completed filming, “Rap Sh*t.” The new series, in which she does not appear in front of the camera, features two members of the hip-hop duo City Girls as executive producers.
“It’s set in the world of indie music and it’s a whole different world, a completely different story about enduring friendship, but trying to make it an industry you don’t see,” Ray told The Times. “So, in some ways, there are similarities with my own journey, but the world of music is so different, so wrapped and crazy, because I’m learning by myself.”
Ray announced her partnership with Atlantic Records for Raedo in October 2019. Top artists on the list included TeaMarrr and Young Baby Tate (who later shortened her name to Baby Tate and moved to Warner Records lineup). Raedio’s latest release, “Insecure: Music From The HBO Original Series, Season 5,” was released on December 5. The soundtrack for the final season included a new track from TeaMarrr and a new Saweetie song, “Get It Girl,” as well as contributions from Thundercat, They, Nnena, Josh Levi, BK Habermehl, Mereba, and others.