Lady Wray (photo by Sesse Lind, PR)
As WFUV honors Women’s History Month, we’re also announcing a handful of “Ascending Women” musicians who are writing their own history with exceptional new music. Some make returns; others are at the very beginning of their career. We asked these artists to write about the “five essential albums” that have shaped their own path.
Nicole Wray, who records as Lady Wray, must have mountains of advice on how to survive in the music industry – she is the essence of perseverance. Almost 25 years after his first album, 1998 make it hotand six years after his second, queen aloneWray’s third album, A part of me, was released in January on Brooklyn’s Big Crown Records label, produced by label founder Leon Michels. You’ve probably heard one of the album’s singles, the sultry and flamboyant “Come On In”, on FUV.
It’s an album steeped in the classic sound of 90s R&B and hip-hop royalty, 70s soul and the heartbreak of 60s pop – but squarely set in the 2020s. Wray slowly unfolds A part of me since 2019, the teaser single by single. But the finished project is cohesive, a full return for this vocally commanding and tender singer and songwriter, reflecting the battles waged on songs like “Joy and Pain,” “Storms” and “Through It All.”
When Virginia-based Wray was just a teenager, she was signed by Missy Elliott to Elektra/The Goldmind Inc. and landed on the rapper. Super Dupa Fly, singing on “Gettaway”. Wray’s single with Missy Elliott and Mocha, “Make It Hot”, fell two years later and went gold, climbing to No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Wray’s album make it hot stopped short, simmering just halfway through the cards.
Although she toured with Elliott as a backing vocalist, Wray’s solo trajectory was stalled. There were shelved albums and hopeful transitions to other labels, including Roc-A-Fella and Def Jam, fueling the roller coaster of a lifetime of dizzying ups and disappointments (which Wray recounted via “Throwback Backstories,” posted by “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” the week she performed “Come On In” on the show).
Over the years, Wray has been a go-to vocalist for artists like The Black Keys, Lee Fields and The Expressions, and Cam’ron, but it’s a triumph to see Wray rise again on her own terms and songwriting, especially with A part of me. “My goal is always to help and heal people with singing,” Wray said of the new album in a press release. “Part of it is trying to bring back real music, real singing, so people can feel something again.”
When we asked Nicole if she could contribute to “Five Essential Albums” for our “Ascending Women” series, we were thrilled she agreed — and she gave her choices an autobiographical spin:
Lady Wray: five essential albums:
Mary J. Blige, My life
This album shaped me as a teenager. My mom was a single mom of three and my dad wasn’t in the picture at that point in my life. I would put this album on and dance and cry and feel something good about my own young life — and how to navigate the world as a young black girl.
Wu Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 rooms)
This album and these men were an integral part of my childhood, my meetings and my football games in high school. Learning the streets and the lingo was the “it” to be part of. It was just raw, innovative, and it brought out my tomboy side.
MichaelJackson, On the wall
I listened to young Micheal and The Jackson 5 a lot growing up. When I tasted On the wall with his newfound individuality and all of his brilliance and creative juice, I lost my mind and immediately wanted to be a star.
Snoop Dogg, doggy style
This album was so scorching – and also a conversation piece – then and now. It was very daring and moving at the same time. I loved the R&B singing over LA gangsta style hip-hop.
Jodeci, Diary of a mad band
This group is how some of us were created, thanks to your mom and dad. A very sexy and sweet song with a powerful voice that will make everyone sing in a very good karaoke bar.
On March 12, Nicole will celebrate the release of her album with a concert at the Sultan Room in New York.