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2020 needed a feel-good story, and it found one in Morray. At the tail end of October, the 28-year-old melodic rapper from Fayetteville, North Carolina broke through with the release of his celebrated debut single “Quicksand,” which showcased his distinctive rasp, razor-sharp wordplay, lucid storytelling. In the song, Morray dwells on poverty and other hardships that followed him from childhood to adulthood, transforming his struggles into a remarkable expression of resilience and joy. “Quicksand” was a revelation—it racked up 10 million YouTube views in a month and received co-signs from J. Cole, Rick Ross, and DaBaby. Almost overnight, Morray established himself as a powerhouse in the world of melodic rap.
Morray hasn’t missed yet. Soon after “Quicksand,” he released a series of four songs that fleshed out his complex backstory. On “Switched Up” and “Low Key,” he reflects his hardened past. On “Dreamland,” he remembers an impoverished childhood defined by crashing at motels and friends’ houses (“some carpet ‘cause it’s better than the pavement”) and holidays and birthdays gone by with no gifts. On “Big Decisions,” his first release of 2021, he ruminates on his responsibilities as a breadwinner for his family and a role model for his community. Morray has found a significant audience on YouTube in particular—each song was released alongside a music video that eclipsed one million views within a matter of days. He’s garnered praise from numerous publications. “Few crooning rappers have his polish, resonance, and soul.” SPIN noted. Pigeons & Planes featured him on its list of Best New Artists of December, writing, “with only four songs on streaming platforms, Morray has already proven he’s a hitmaker.” Born Morae Ruffin, Morray made his public singing debut at age 4, when his mother and grandmother called on him in church to bless the congregation with a rendition of his favorite song, “I Believe I Can Fly.” He would later serve as the lead singer of his church choir. In his 20s, he worked nearly every job imaginable just to make ends meet—Domino’s, hog plants, chicken plants, call centers, construction, Uber, PNC Bank. He found his voice at the beginning of 2020, when he asked his wife, whom he credits as his inspiration, to give him feedback on some music he’d been writing and recording. She affirmed his talent while pushing him to make something more personal and authentic. “She helped me open my eyes to what I need to write,” Morray said. Shortly after that conversation, he wrote “Quicksand” and “Big Decisions” on the same day. Still, even with these future smashes in his back pocket, financial struggles plagued him for most of 2020. “I was jobless, my phone was off, I was down on my luck,” he said. “My girl had a job, but she was barely holding on.” His life changed forever in October, the moment he put out “Quicksand,” which wound up on Jay Z’s list of favorite songs of the year, as well as Spotify’s Rap Caviar, The Realest Down South, and Most Necessary playlists and Apple Music’s Rap Life playlist. What’s amazing about Morray is the way his music ties seamlessly with his life story. He’s a 21st century bluesman whose music and videos exhibit a rare combination of vulnerability and natural confidence, of emotional depth and easy charisma. His songs are as honest as they are catchy. And though he’s become a local celebrity in Fayetteville, the deep sense of struggle he evokes in his music gives it a universal appeal. “I’m speaking for every person that has real emotions,” he said. “I’m speaking to everyone that has a heart. Every song that you hear from me is real feeling. I want people to cry with me. I want people to grow with me. I want people to understand where we’ve come from, and that we can always make it out of everything.” Morray is currently working on his debut album, which he plans to release in 2021.