I had scheduled an interview with Augie Ray for 11am, aiming to bypass the notorious Los Angeles rush-hour traffic. I figured a good 20 miles to Chatsworth would only take me a 30-minute breeze down the 405 freeway. Little did I know, what I thought would be a 30-minute breeze turned into the infamous symphony of honking horns and bad drivers. No pun intended. Well, kind of.
But luck was still on my side. I had Augie Ray’s album “SoRry BuT NoT SoRry” as my musical companion. As I inched my way down north of the 405—by saying “inch,” I’m being generous here—the untuned traffic symphony turned into a sonic journey of pulsating beats. Each track offered a blend of drum patterns, synthesized tracks, and samples that opened a door for social commentary. As I exited off the freeway, I couldn’t help but feel that this would be the musical prelude to a thought-provoking conversation with Augie.
Augie Ray is a Grammy award-winning producer, painter, author, Hip-hop professor at Cal State Northridge, and owner of Hype Studios LA.
“I put a lot of stuff in my music that I want people to listen to and enjoy. But I also want them to reflect and think,” Augie shared, sitting as cool as a fan on the couch in his Chatsworth studio.
There is much to think and reflect about in his album. The first track, “Intro,” kicks off with a sample from a conversation Muhammad Ali had with a white woman who claimed to not like his arrogance. He responded that it’s because he’s Black, and that she would rather see a Black man get his butt whooped than speak with confidence.
In another track titled “Love Me,” Augie samples Kanye West saying “…you don’t have to be racist anymore, it’s called self-hate. It works on itself. It’s like the real estate of racism.” These samples, along with others, force me to ask: what does confidence in the US feel like for Black men? Are they allowed to have it? And if so, can they claim to be “The Great” like Muhammad Ali? But while alive and doing well. Or are they denied the right to be confident while alive and thriving? Or is Muhammad Ali still right today and would America rather see Black men beaten and down on their luck?
Sure, we’re not all Kanye fans, but there are some things he has said in the past that make us stop and think. Many that we would rather throw away, and yet there are others that we can’t deny still resonate with us.
“Self-hate was something where you felt as if you weren’t accepted, and you [started] to kind of destroy yourself. You know what I mean? And it wasn’t until I became older in life where I was able to change that perception of myself and say, ‘I am not this, but I am this,’”
Augie reflected. “I definitely think that the things we tell ourselves, like with our words, are very powerful in that way because they have the power to destroy you.”
Augie’s thoughts on self-doubt go back to his childhood when a teacher once told him that he couldn’t read. “SoRrY BuT NoT SoRry” offers a glimpse into his formative years. “Nestle Ave” features both as a track and the street he grew up on where he learned to make beats. The album’s childlike cover art, designed by Augie himself, reflects this personal journey
Augie Ray has recently coined the term “The Pluralist.” He is not just a musician, but also a talented painter who also enjoys running and traveling. “So being a pluralist means being multiple things and not defining yourself as just one thing,” Augie explained.
When I asked Augie if he had mastered any of his talents as a pluralist, he responded, “No, I think that I have a mastery in music, you know? Like, I understand it. I’ve dived into it, but… I think mastery is forever. I don’t think that when people arrive, that’s it.”
As I found myself stuck in yet another bout of LA traffic, this time headed south, my thoughts delved deep into the concept of pluralism. Why should any of us limit ourselves to one thing? My interview with “The Pluralist” was more than a conversation about his album and art, it was an invitation to explore my own infinite possibilities.