The Midwest is full of wide open spaces, but don’t be closed-minded. Much more than just artificial suburban developments and dairy farms, America’s heartland houses 22% of the country’s population, many of them in some of the world’s grittiest cities with a history all their own. Cleveland sits next to Lake Eerie, about halfway between Pittsburgh and Detroit, where the majority of the city’s population is Black. Still, there are few artists out there telling their stories to the rest of the clueless country. Enter 23-year-old Sony Records rapper Ray Cash, who is poised to make Ohio heard.
Signing with influential music executive Kawan “KP” Prather’s Ghet-O-Vision imprint on Sony, Cash first hit the national radar with his single “Sex Appeal.” But it’s his second, single “Bumpin’ My Music” (featuring Scarface) that truly seems to be taking his movement national. Now, with his album, C.O.D. (Cash On Delivery), set for a summer release, Cash is poised to not only cash in, but to make sure Cleveland returns to the prominence it once tasted when Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony broke pop radio in the mid-’90s. And with mixtape DJs like Mick Boogie and Joey Fingaz (who is also Cash’s DJ) gaining national popularity, and upcoming producers like the Kickdrums catching beats on big-selling blockbusters, there is clearly a support system for more Cleveland folks to lean on. C-Town is here and they refuse to sit down.
Ray Cash “Livin’ My Life” (From Cash On Delivery) [audio:http://www.xxlmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/06/RayCashLivinMyLife56K.mp3]
Ray Cash feat. Bun B “P.A.N. (Pussy Ass Niggaz)” (From Cash On Delivery) [audio:http://www.xxlmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/06/raycashpan56K.mp3]
Ohio is known as being the OT spot to New York folks. What do people at home think when they hear Cam rapping “Dayton, Cleveland, Youngstown, Cincinnati”?
I mean, people know Cam’ron is from somewhere in Ohio. I think he was born here or something like that. As long as a nigga show us some respect, that’s cool. As long as it ain’t no, he was comin’ up here moppin’ niggas, nah. I can’t speak for the other cities, but Cleveland? Nah. We got our own street niggas. We got a big Jamaican influence, so those are the niggas killin’ the streets, bringing that shit. But I heard Cam got his shit poppin’ in Columbus, so it’s cool. If you get money, you get money, nigga. It’s a respect thing and I don’t think he be disrespecting.
So if you have a lot of New York folks coming into the state, there must be a certain amount of influence in the culture.
Just like anywhere else, you got niggas that want to be from there, so they talk the fake “Nahmean?” But them niggas is not real up top niggas. They not really Cleveland niggas. You look at me, my swag, my bop, that’s a Cleveland nigga. White T-shirt, chain. Not too pretty, but always clean. We’ll rob you in a heartbeat [laughs].
At this point, you’re pretty much Cleveland’s most prominent MC. I know I hear a lot of times when one guy is getting a lot of shine there can be a lot of jealousy. Is that something you’re seeing?
Yeah, you get that. I been seeing it. I always got the respect ’cause niggas knew dude was nice. We used to hear about people getting signed, but you never hear nothing else after that. So then I get signed and it’s like, “Oh shit, someone got signed.” Then I come out with a video, but they still see me around the hood and I’m chillin’. They don’t know, but I’m putting together a master plan. Then I come out with another video that’s bigger than the last one and I’m starting to get the hype and all that shit. So my niggas is like, Yo, this nigga really did that shit by himself with no help from nobody in the city. They can’t say they did this for him, he really did this shit on his own. So my respect level is kinda crazy now. Niggas look at me as the nigga that’s showin’ niggas how to do this. If you wanna rap, you gotta take this shit serious. A lot of niggas, they get they deals and are so happy to be so-called “out the hood” that they do anything for it. Niggas see me and I don’t sell myself for nothing. I don’t give a fuck what you sellin’. I’m tryin’ to show them how we keep it gangsta, and represent Cleveland the whole way through.
Your single is a tribute to music you love. These days, it seems like it’s trendy for artists to say “Fuck these other rappers. I only listen to me.”
Somebody had to inspire you. You didn’t just wake up and start rappin’ like, “Fuck these niggas.” Where I come from, they call it “cappin,” which means you lying. You know cats is cappin’ because rappers recycle so many lines. How many times we use Jay lines, Nas lines, Scarface lines? C’mon man, you only take a line if you respect that person. How can I talk about what I talk about and not have respect for the niggas who showed me how to talk about it? C’mon, that don’t make sense. 8ball & MJG, UGK, Hov and B.I.G. are the ones that really taught me how to get in. ’Face taught me you can talk about real shit. He was the first rapper I ever heard speak on God in a way that was humble and really put his heart out there.
Cleveland is known for being a real blue-collar city, so people out there must have that hustle. Why haven’t any Cleveland rappers hit the national scene in a minute?
I think a lot of the problem is that we don’t get outside of the city to understand how to move. I was going out of town before I was doing this shit, so I was seeing other shit. I think a lot of niggas get overwhelmed by this shit, because Cleveland is a laid-back place. We do the same shit, we just do it a little behind ’cause we too laid back. Niggas wasn’t really focused or understanding what it was. We had to have people get a deal and fuck up, to show niggas how to do it. I didn’t want to be the one who they learned the mistake from.
Is it possible for a musician to make a living on a local level out there?
Now it could get to that point, ’cause niggas is starting to be more accepting to local Cleveland artists. Before, they didn’t want to hear nobody; now they want to hear more niggas, so they got somebody to compare me to. Let’s get it moving; let’s see if we can do what Atlanta do and all them other muthafuckas.
I’ve heard people complain about how maybe Bone Thugs didn’t do as much to bring up the city as they could have. Do you think that’s a factor?
No, but people say that. But you don’t know what was going on with they situation. This ain’t a game where you can just put everybody on. It don’t work like that. I understand that, so I don’t feel that way [towards Bone]. They did what they did and they worked with their situation. They showed me that a nigga from Cleveland can win a Grammy too. We can go far on this. I just want to be more in tune with the people of Cleveland. I don’t want to leave no room for anyone to ever be able to say nothing like that [about me]. But don’t think Bone Thugs is gone, ’cause they coming back this year. It’s gonna be a lot of shit happening for us. We got the local kids back home doing they shit, so it’s gonna be a big deal for Cleveland. You got the young kid Fat Al, you got the boy Chip The Ripper, you got the group 216. You got 71 North. There’s a couple people doing they thing, but I feel like I gotta be the one. Ya’ll gonna fuck with us sooner or later. If the city doesn’t pop up behind me doing this, it wasn’t worth it
Do you feel like Cleveland has a unique sound?
Yeah, we do swang music. When I say “open up your doors,” and “door action” and all that, you open up the doors to the car and play the speakers in the door panel. We swang and we stay cappin’. Cappin’ can mean two different things. It can mean you lyin’, or it can be like “frontin’.” With the whole culture and the cars and shit, you open your doors, you got the loud music, it’s looking good. It’s a swagger. Your chains on, your fresh kicks. I’m cappin’, I’m coming through clean. And the sound, you got the young kids they call S.L.A.B. They say it’s slow, loud and bangin’. Shouts to them niggas. That’s probably how you could sum it up.
In an interview, you said you do music because you had love for it, but you may not have that crazy-action movie story that a lot of these rappers pretend to have. Has that been difficult for you?
I mean, I’m a regular nigga. Check my background. I hustled, but I ain’t doin’ it every damn song. When the next album comes, where you gonna go? Everybody know if you lucky enough to have that second album, you got a big budget, so you ain’t selling crack no more. I did all that, but I also know how to fill out a job application. I’m an honest dude. I keeps it 100. If I did it, I’ma tell you where I come from. If you did it, you did it; if not, you shut up. I stay in my lane so you can believe what I’m saying. My word is bond, ain’t no exaggeration going on.
In order to get people’s attention these days, it almost seems like a necessity to join up with a crew that’s already well known. How hard is it to be a dude with no affiliations like that?
I ain’t want nobody’s affiliations. If I had an affiliation, I would want it to be somebody that was just respected in the streets ridiculously, not just somebody that got a crazy label poppin’, ’cause if you don’t do right, you out. They probably don’t respect you that much anyway. I wanted my affiliation to come from niggas just liking what type of nigga I was. I go down to Houston now and Face’s brother hit me up, “We got on the radio.” He come get me that night. Niggas fuck with me ’cause they seen I’m sincere with it. I’m honest with it. I was determined. Cleveland niggas stand alone. Ya’ll thought we was wack? I’ma show you my goddamn self, and then there’s a mob behind me. There’s a whole movement in this city that I got something to do with. I’m the leader. If you want to deal with the city, you gotta deal with me.