Ray J is cruising down the Hollywood Freeway in his black Lamborghini when fans in a passing car recognize him. The singer/actor/sex-tape star slows down so they can snap a photo. The fans giddily check their digital camera as the $200,000 sports car speeds away.
Ray J, born Willie Ray Norwood Jr., started acting at age 8 and released his first album in 1997. But Brandy’s little brother became freeway-photo material just last year, when his homemade sex tape with Kim Kardashian hit the Internet and he was linked with a freshly divorced Whitney Houston, Lil’ Kim and tell-all seductress Karrine “Superhead” Steffans. Now the 27-year-old hopes to shift the focus back to his music with the release Tuesday of his fourth album, “All I Feel.”
If it’s a hit, Ray J will have effectively slept his way to the top.
“My main goal was to make sure I got my music out there and make sure I put my acting skills back out in the forefront because that’s what I can do,” he says. “I really know how to sing and create and put things together that entertain ... be it controversially or be it from music or acting.”
Though he says he’s not sure what impact his salacious reputation will have on his career, he clearly enjoys his sex-symbol status.
“The energy around Ray J and the movement is just very sensual, sexual. You can feel it in the air when you hit the club,” he says (yes, referring to himself in the third person), adding that he’s turned down offers to direct adult films and serve as “the face of the X-rated world.”
‘Letting it all hang out’The infamous sex tape, which also shot Kardashian to a new level of notoriety, was made in Cabo San Lucas on the socialite’s birthday five years ago. Ray J says the two had been a couple for “four years off and on,” and insists the video was made strictly for private purposes.
“We were just having fun, letting it all hang out,” he says. “But I didn’t think they were going to see it actually hanging out.”
He says he doesn’t know how porn purveyors Vivid Entertainment got a hold of the video, but he and Kardashian filed lawsuits after its release. Both reportedly settled for multimillion-dollar sums.
The experience and its aftermath inspired his new music. He says that Lil’ Kim lured him into the studio, and his mom and manager, Sonja Norwood, urged him to release the album on his own Knockout Entertainment label.
Mom just hopes people are as interested in the album as the sex tape. “I can’t say whether it’s done good or bad for him,” she says. “I can say there has been more exposure for him because of it.”
That’s the manager in her talking.
“As a mom,” she says, “I wanted to kill him.”
Musically, things are looking good so far. The album’s single, “Sexy Can I,” is a legitimate hit, currently sixth on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and the video is getting play on MTV and BET.
Can a sex tape translate to music success?But blog editors say sex-tape celebrity doesn’t typically translate to record sales.
“You get the young girls who say, ‘Oh he’s adorable,”’ says Karu F. Daniels, senior entertainment editor at AOL’s BlackVoices. “You get the guys who say, ‘Ray J is my idol. He’s having sex with all these celebrity women,”’ but no one is writing about the new record, he says.
Fred Mwangaguhunga, managing editor of MediaTakeout.com, says most readers on his popular gossip site aren’t aware of Ray J’s new album. But the popularity of the sex tape, and the new single, could pay off.
“It’s definitely one of the hottest songs out now. If the rest of the album is like his single, he will have a lot of success,” he says. “Whenever you have publicity, it’s always a good thing. A lot of celebrities now are fighting it, particularly when they might not be seen in the best light, but in long run it’s always best to have your name out there.”
A story about Ray J’s run-in with Kardashian’s new boyfriend, football star Reggie Bush, was one of the most read stories on the site last week, Mwangaguhunga says.
Ray J says he expects to work hard to make his album and his label a hit. He plans to tour — he hopes with Mariah Carey or Usher — and develop new artists through Knockout Entertainment. Then he wants to get back into acting, and possibly even produce and direct.
“I already had my directorial debut,” he says with a laugh. “I just want to continue to tackle the industry.”