Ray J poses with a pair of his Raycon earbuds.
Courtesy of Ray J

Ray J Talks New Headphone Line, Diabetes Scare And Returning To School

Ray J is making moves in Silicon Valley with his new line of headphones, but he also has other challenges on the way: fighting prediabetes, returning to school, and fatherhood.

If there are only a few things that have been synonymous with the R&B star/reality TV trailblazer Ray J in recent years, they are insane controversy and big business. These days, despite his infamous sex tape with Kim Kardashian making headlines again (and again), he’s looking to keep it moving and focus on his push into the booming tech world.

Two years after Ray J struck gold with Scoot E-Bikes back in 2015, he and business partner Ray Lee of Cowboy Wholesale worked out a $31 million dollar deal to launch Raycon Global. While they have put electronic transportation plans on ice until later in 2019, Raycon has been making plays in the audio market with the release of their own wireless headphone and earphone lineup, including their budget-friendly model E50 Eardrums ($79.99) and larger, more flamboyant X90 Titan ($119.99).

“We’re in Silicon Valley looking at what [the future] is going to be for computers and we just wanted to make a cool wireless earbud that people can love and that you can switch colors from and fits better than the products that people are buying,” Ray J said. “I love Apple, I love Samsung, no disrespect. But the way we created these with the different styles, and colors, the bass, and the mic embedded into the headphones giving you this clear sound where you don’t ever have to pick up the phone, everything is hands-free. I can change the diapers, I can put [Melody] to bed while listening to 2Pac. The Raycon Earbuds, they give you a sense of peace.”

VIBE caught up with Ray J to talk about his journey into the tech world, his recent diabetes scare, returning to school, and how parenthood has changed his perspective on women.

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VIBE: How did you all craft these to make them stand out from other wireless earphones?
Ray J: The way they fit in your ear, we try to make them like in-ear monitors for performers. We tried to do the mold exactly like a human’s ear and we did them in a few different ways so if you get the X90s, they might fit in a different human’s ear [perfectly]. The E50s and the E80s, they’re going to be snug in any ear because we got this [gel-tipped] piece that feels like it magnetizes into your ear and then you can pull them out a little bit and still have oxygen in your ear where it’s not just all sound, and you can keep them in your ear all day and never take them out.

How long did it take for them to be perfected?
We’re still working on perfecting them. It’s like working on a car, the S-Class; [we’re] working on the 2019 S-Class. Every quarter we try to come out with a product that’s [delivering] a better sound. We listen to what consumers say in the notes and what professional producers and people who study these headphones [say]. They give us their opinion on what it is, and we just try to keep upgrading until people really feel like they’re perfect. Every year, even if we have the greatest product, we upgrade it anyway to make it better.

I noticed your prices for the earphones and headphones are budget-friendly. What made you focus on affordability rather than pursue the high-end market like other companies?
I think our earbuds are better than all the other companies. It’s a fact [considering] the way they fit, the way they sound, the way they feel and make you feel. I don’t think you have to take it to these levels of $190 and $150. It’s a bit much for something that’s really dope, high in demand, and high quality so we felt like we could dominate in the headphone space under $100 and it’s starting to work.

How involved are you when it comes to testing everything?
I’m [testing] all day, I got two more new ones in my hand I’ve been working with all day and trying to make sure we put these different color patterns to the headphones, too. When you have a jacket on you could put the red ones on, or the yellow ones on, or the black and gold ones on, or the blue ones. We don’t want to just make it about the headphones. We want to make it about the style and the synergy behind the look, too. So, it’s all important for me to just give my input to the experts that’s making them for us and they do what’s realistic, so I’m hands on. I’m hands on so I can be hands off, feel me?

Do you plan on expanding to wireless speakers at some point?
We’ve got the dopest wireless speakers coming. It’s magnetic, it’s see-through. You can almost see the music touching the speaker as it plays so I got something that’s going to change the game coming up real soon. Probably in January, we’re going to start promoting them crazy—and they’re under $100 as well.

Do you record with a lot of Raycon equipment?
Absolutely! I really record in a big studio on the Raycon H50s which is a bigger headphone that blocks the sound and gives you this dope comfort. With a lot of the studios, they got these old, busted down, big headphones with the leather rubbing off and so for me, I just want all the new studios to get the H50s if they can. Wherever I go, I always try to bless everybody with the H50s in the recording studios because that’s all I record with. Everything I promote and sell, I use on a daily or I wouldn’t sell it.

For you, what’s the difference between the music business and tech business when it comes to investing?
Running this Raycon business and all of the money that I put behind marketing, social media, and making sure everyone gets their product on time, it’s a real business. To put this music out, you have to put a real business plan behind it and that’s the only thing that [makes it different] from this music. You have to put the money behind the music, but how much money can you make from the music off the money you put behind it? It’s very risky and it’s something that my investors would tell me not to invest in because it’s just not as profitable as technology. But when you’re a musician, you still go in there, give it all you got and you let the spirit make the success for the music. In real business, there’s spiritual success and then there’s facts and just hard work and making sure you’re on point with the product. And with the music, it’s coming from the spirit so you never know what’s going to happen. That’s why these artists, when they come out, a million people might not like them over here, but 10 million people might like them over there. You just don’t know how it’s going to go and that’s a very dangerous business to be in for investors.

Are you still planning to attend Philander Smith College in January?
Yeah, I am. I’m trying to figure out if I want to get a house out in Little Rock or if I’m going to stay there and live in the dorms for a little while. Just for a little while [at least] because I want to feel it. When I went to PSC, they were the only school that really embraced me and listened to me and really was inspired by my story. That really touched me. That was the first speech that I ever did for a college and for them to embrace me like that was real emotional. I felt like I had a family and I had people that—no matter what my past is or what people say about certain things, they really just opened their heart and doors to me. We had a great weekend. I stayed five extra days and on my third or fourth day of just meeting everybody at the school I said, “You know what? I really want to be here and educate myself.” It’s a lot of big colleges out there, but again this college is bigger than any college to me because they embraced me [harder] than any organization on that level. It [has] inspired me to want to learn more and learn with them.

What brought you to them in the first place?
Well, they invited me to come to their homecoming and actually do a speech for them to inspire the students and I’ve never got that kind of invitation before. So I prepared for it and when I got there, it was much more than what I thought it was going to be. I had home studied my whole career and I stopped going to regular school when I was in [the] seventh grade. This gave me a sense of schooling and bonding with the people. It’s never too late to learn more.

You’ve had a diabetes scare recently. How have you been managing your health lately?
It’s still scary! I’m pre-diabetic and if I keep going the way I’m going, I’ll be diabetic. Some [medical experts] say I’m diabetic because I’m [at a] 6.5 [A1c] and [other experts] say I’m 5.9 so it's just their preferences. I’m just in the gym and I created a new team called the Limitless Team. We got a new fitness powder called Limitless Pre-Workout and then the Limitless pill that’s kind of like in the movie [Crank], but it’s a natural, organic pill that’s like—if you in a Honda, when you pop a Limitless pill then you’re in a Ferrari no matter what, and then you end up in a Ferrari.

Does diabetes run in your family?
I’m sure one of my family members had it before, but it’s not strong. It’s just me, I was drinking too many sodas and not getting enough sleep. Most people’s symptoms of diabetes are they either pass out or get tired. With me, I’m losing all my vision, I can’t really see as good anymore, so I keep my shades on. My shades is on all day because my future is so bright, so I’m happy. As long as I can see my baby, I’m happy.

 

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My beautiful baby girl @melodylovenorwood #FamilyFirst @princesslove

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Since you’re a full-time father and businessman, how do you manage your health? How do you schedule that into your busy lifestyle?
I just do three times a week in the gym, so I stay up two days in a row. I stay up two days, then I sleep for 10 hours and [after that] I’ll stay up two days straight, no naps and then during the weekend I’ll sleep a full 18 hours. After that, I’ll go back to either two or three days up, no sleep, and then a good [eight to 10] hours of rest. When I’m up for the three days I really don’t work out because I need a lot of water and it’s draining when you stay up that long, so when I sleep, next morning I get up and hit the gym.

What advice has your doctor given you so far?
The doctor, he was talking about my thyroid at first. He told me I needed to take these thyroid pills to get my thyroid right but that was easy. He said that the bad thing is that I’m pre-diabetic, I was eating too much sugar and I gotta slow it down, I got to hit the cardio every day. I was depressed by it and a little shocked by it because when you look into it a lot of people die from diabetes. It’s the fifth leading cause of death, not just in America but everywhere. You know I got to live right for the baby and slow it down. [But] it’s not intense because I’m not overweight, I just got a belly. Look like I’ve been drinking Heineken. I just got take it seriously and maintain my sugar.

Has being a parent changed how you view technology?
It gives me more time to create. When you’re a parent, you spend time with the baby. You look at the baby’s face and envision her future and what you have to do as a parent to make sure she’s financially good and that she’s comfortable inside of the family and that she’s positive and learning every day. It inspires you to go to work really hard because you know you’re working for something special and something new that really doesn’t have anything to do with you anymore. It’s all about the kids so it makes me work harder.

How has fatherhood impacted you as a person?
It changed my whole ways, fam. It changed the way I think about women, the way I think about life, It’s given me an opportunity to be more respectable in my brand, it changed the whole lane. Having a daughter, too, is even more special because when you’re young and lit, your moral values are all over the place. When you have a baby like Melody, it puts everything back into a positive perspective, to where even the crazy stuff you were attempting to do in the future, you cancel all of that. You just really start to see how important a woman is to society and how much you should respect them and embrace them in a very positive way. To me, they are the most special beings in the whole universe and you see that after having a baby. It’s a very spiritual revelation, [what] you have with your baby and with your wife, and once a baby comes out, you look at her like she’s the greatest in the world.

Considering how a lot of men say that they mature or gain respect for women after they have daughters, do you think that women should be more patient with men or vice versa?
I think men should be a little more compromising to women and know when it's time to hang it up. It’s a time where you are done with the first phase and it’s time for the second phase, and a lot of these men are scared to go into the next phase. They know that its time and when God is telling you that it’s time, don’t fight the feeling and don’t fight your intuition. Women can be as patient as they can be, but the more a man is disloyal, unfaithful, and really just not caring about how a woman feels in her day to day life…I’m putting it on the men because the men need to do better.

How does your wife Princess Love feel when she sees the sex tape back in the news?
I think it’s just old and I think she wants us to now start turning the page saying, hey, I’m done talking about it, I’m done even entertaining it, and now it’s time to start putting it to rest. Not just “to rest for now” but have a funeral, get it cremated, and then move on, dump it in the beach and let the sunset and leave the ashes in the water.

Do you think it’s that easy, though? Do you think you all can control it?
No, we don’t have control over that. We only can control how we react and how we comment and move about it. And for us, my job is to be a parent right now and to make sure my baby is seeing a positive image in what we’re doing. People ‘gon bring it up or have certain things to say, but for us we just got to keep staying focused on the prize, staying focused on the baby, and putting it to rest ourselves. Whatever somebody else does is on them.

READ MORE: Ray J Takes Philander Smith College By Storm And Enrolls

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Orange Is The New Black's Uzo Aduba took to the stage following Lee's welcoming statements. The Emmy-award winning actress and gifted orator delivered a passionate rendition of Mandela's May 10, 1994 inauguration speech.

"Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all."

Aduba, 38, continued, "We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil."

After guests dined, Graça Machel, stateswoman, activist and Mandela's widow spoke. Donning a small blonde Afro, a pink silk scarf and a navy blue knee-length dress, Machel expressed her appreciation to all those who continue to champion her late husband's work and even quipped about her love for leaders.

Aduba returned to the stage this time as a moderator leading an intimate conversation with representatives from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela's Children Fund, and the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital. Before the afternoon was over, guests were treated to live entertainment from Grammy-award nominated singer-songwriters, Chloe X Halle.

Two hours wasn't enough time to appreciate Mandela's legacy or even come to a full understanding of his life, but guests left thankful, full and gracious to have spent the afternoon honoring a man who showed the world, "It only seems impossible until it's done."

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Take Five: DJ Khaled Talks ‘Father of Asahd’ And #Summergram Partnership

DJ Khaled started the summer off right with the release of his 11th studio album, Father of Asahd. It’s the second consecutive album where his two-year-old son serves as executive producer after 2017’s Grateful. Although Khaled’s rollout remained quite a mystery, the mega-producer is now in the midst of a heavy promotional schedule, jam-packed with guest-heavy Saturday Night Live performances and summer collaborations with the likes of Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, SZA, and more. Possibly his most appropriate partnership is with Pepsi and Instagram’s #SummerGram.

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No one knows how to make a summer anthem or amass a faithful social media following quite like Khaled. DJ Khaled briefly spoke to VIBE about his latest partnership and walked us through his vision for Father of Asahd.

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VIBE: What are your thoughts about your new partnership with Pepsi's Summergram? DJ Khaled: This seems like the perfect fit. I am excited to work with Pepsi – they are always spreading positive vibes and the Pepsi #Summergram collection is a lot of fun to play around with. You know I’m always posting to Instagram and these new AR filters help bring my content to the next level. Look out for more Pepsi #Summergram filters from me all summer long.

It seems like you’ve been intentional with this album rollout even more so than your past projects. What can you tell me about your strategy for this rollout? I decided we can’t do anything dinosaur anymore. For this album, everything had to be big. From the music to the rollout, everything had to be big! And watching it all come together is just beautiful. And I love to see the excitement from my fans! At the end of the day, it’s all for my fans.

What was the toughest song to create? To work with so many different artists and so many moving parts, I imagine it can be challenging. Every challenge is a blessing. The toughest ones to make are usually the biggest ones. I’m blessed to work with great artists and be able to create beautiful music together.

Can you speak to your intentions on beginning the album with “Holy Mountain” and ending it with “Holy Ground”? Me and Buju have a special relationship and have been friends for years. The whole album is very spiritual so it seemed right to start and end the project with those records. The message of the album is to not only receive our blessings but to protect them, as well. Everything for my son, Mama Asahd (Nicole Tuck) and fan love.

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Courtesy of Think BIG

How CJ Wallace Turned His Connection To Notorious B.I.G. Into A Cannabis Brand

Christopher Jordan “CJ” Wallace was exposed to the music industry at an early age. As the son of Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans, the 22-year-old recalls growing up with countless musicians stopping by his family’s home studio. “We had a studio in our house when we lived in Atlanta. This is around the time [of] Bad Boy South,” he tells VIBE during a visit to our Times Square office. “Any given Tuesday, Usher might come over. It would be crazy.”

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And that’s when it hit him. CJ remembered the relaxed and joyful vibe that overcame his family’s old Atlanta studio. “It’s all about the energy and that’s kind of where for me – sitting next to the speaker, smelling the cannabis, smelling the incense – that was what started it for me,” he says.

Wallace went on to found Think BIG, alongside Willie Mack and Russaw. Think BIG, he explains, is a brand and social movement encouraging society to embrace the cannabis industry and realize its potential to heal and stimulate creativity. In its first plan of action, the brand launched its first product: The Frank White Blend, named after one of B.I.G’s many aliases.

Right now, there is a common focus on the recreational use of cannabis; consumers are flooded with images of kids, middle-aged adults, and celebrities sparking up to escape their realities or “have fun.” Prior to the arrival of Psalm West, Kim Kardashian threw a CBD and meditation-themed baby shower for her fourth child in April 2019. In addition to lifting you off the ground, however, Wallace, Mack and Think BIG want to introduce society to the healing and creative benefits of cannabis. Mack learned about cannabis’ healing powers in a major way during his youth.

“As a kid, watching [how] the AIDS crisis ravaged the world and seeing the LGBT community fighting for cannabis to help them with nausea during AZT [antiretroviral medication used to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS] was my first indication of [thinking] cannabis was a drug, but people are actually using it to try to stay alive,” Mack said, noting that he had several family members who were dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Similarly, Wallace uncovered the alternative nature of the plant when his family experimented with it as a form of medication for his younger brother, who was diagnosed with autism. After testing various strains, Wallace confirms they found the right balance, but since cannabis isn’t an approved medication, his brother is unable to use it publicly. “This is helping my youngest brother every day,” he insists. “It’s unfair because we can’t give it to him and let him take it to school and have the school nurse actually prescribe it to him so he’s constantly getting that regular medication. You can’t take it to school, but the kids in his school are being given opioids, which has crazy after effects.”

Creatively speaking, Wallace and Mack consider cannabis to be the “ultimate ghostwriter.” It’s no secret B.I.G. was an advocate. From numerous consultations with his family members, he learned his dad often smoked while recording. (Mack also notes famous smokers like Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Marley.) Just about every corner of the music industry has dabbled in recreational smoking, but no genre has been hit as hard as hip-hop. While fans love to watch Snoop Dogg smoke on Instagram Live or share a spliff with Kid Cudi during a concert set, the hip-hop community as a whole is met with backlash and often times targeted by police due to cannabis.

“I feel like anything associated with black men is just immediately going to be deemed bad or evil,” Wallace says, referencing the negative connotation rappers receive. It’s Wallace’s mission, however, to adjust that perspective. “I feel like it’s really up to us to change that narrative. That’s why I try so hard to stop saying words like ‘weed.’ Cannabis, it’s actually a plant," he continues. Both Wallace and Mack noted the terms "weed" and "marijuana" hold negative connotations and are commonly used in connection with minorities. "We were lied to for so long. If we were given proper knowledge from the start, I feel like the entire hip-hop community and the entire way we talked about it would’ve changed.”

Beyond educating consumers with their message and products, Think BIG also seeks to improve the criminal justice system as well as launch charitable projects. According to “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Such racial disparities reportedly exist in all regions, states, and counties around the United States and largely contribute to today's mass incarceration crisis.

In recent years, the U.S. government has made significant strides to correct this injustice. California, Nevada, and Maine are among the first states to legalize cannabis; states such as New York have already begun the process of exonerating offenders convicted of nonviolent charges and marijuana possession. Despite the steps forward, Wallace and Mack say there is a long road ahead.

Not only is it difficult to eradicate a vicious cycle that has left many black and brown people behind bars, but it is also hard to forge spaces for them to succeed in a rapidly changing industry. “Being able to understand how to navigate the industry that’s constantly changing and to do it without a bank account or full funnel of money, makes it that much harder,” Mack says. “Then on top of that, you got people sitting in jail who should be out of jail for nonviolent possession of cannabis. So, we’re faced with having to work four times as hard to make half as much because of the color of our skin. It’s a constant fight and we look at it as how can we set an example, share our knowledge, [and] show more information?”

It takes a group effort, Mac says. While Think BIG is setting a place at the table for black businesses in the cannabis industry as well as shifting the conversation around the plant, Mack suggests other ways to get involved that ultimately uplift the black community. “It’s much easier to enter into the market based on something you already know,” Mack insists, pointing out the opportunities for design firms, packaging, and communication firms to join the movement.

Wallace and Mack know the journey ahead is going to be a roller-coaster ride fit with many twists and turns, but they’re ready. “You got to dream big, as your dad said, and think big,” Mack says. “Everyone else in this industry is thinking about global billion-dollar companies, why shouldn’t we?” As for Wallace, he understands how difficult the process is and will be, “but, it wasn’t more emotional than the first 21 years of my life.”

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