Published Sep 19, 2018Macy Gray knows it's a new day, and she's not afraid to sing loud enough to drown out anyone denying it. The 50-year-old Ohio-born soul singer, who first hit it big in 1999 with her melancholy smash hit "I Try," is belting out an equally impassioned, far more assertive anthem all these years later. On "White Man," one of the singles on her new LP Ruby, she croons with smouldering wrath: "I'm just a lady but I think like a man / You hatin' me and I don't understand," over an aged jazzy bass line and horns melded with slick modern studio production.
"It's just a response to how things are changing, and how it's sad for people that aren't caught up to that," Gray tells Exclaim! of the searing racial themes on "White Man." "It's about how I'm not my grandmother, I don't have to sit back and take it, and you're not just going to get away with it like you used to."
However, Gray knows such progress is anything but a given, and that the risk of backsliding is greater than ever, despite her inability to grasp the root of ugly bigotry. "To hate someone, and wish them bad, and act on that hate, it just goes way over my head. I don't get how you can feel that way in 2018, it's just such a dated place to be in your heart," she says, before admitting that backlash to such progress in the Trump era is brutal enough to embolden her.
"We're in a time where prejudice [is] blatant, it's in our faces more than I can remember for a long time, and it's very troublesome. Our ancestors had to fight, and we have to fight too to make it better, to make change, because it obviously won't change on its own. So that's the message on that song, that we always have to respond."
Gray not only feels compelled to speak out and sing about such issues, but also to make herself heard in such regard on social media. Prime example: posting a photo of herself wearing a baseball hat that read "Make Kanye Great Again," in reference to the rapper's notorious sporting of a Trump MAGA cap, not to mention his incendiary comments about slavery being a choice earlier this year.
"His statements lately, that's just foolery, I don't get it," she says, before quickly countering one popular narrative about Kanye West's behaviour: "It has nothing to do with mental illness. Mental illness does not affect your views on race and the world. To endorse an administration that is so unsupportive of culture and people who are struggling and suffering, it was an insult to all of us, not just black people, but to everyone when he put on that hat."
Public figures are obligated to do better, in Gray's eyes. "It's not like I sit around thinking about my platform or anything. It's just about being aware of what's going on and being supportive of making things better, and not taking us backwards," she says.
To that end, she not only wants to speak to society's ills in interviews and with her music, but to lift her listeners up with impassioned, powerful songs. So she, of course, had no shortage of motivation while working on Ruby, be it singing about how it doesn't matter if you're "gay or straight / it's the love you make" on key track "Just Like Jenny," or seeking out soul-stirring production like the reggae and tribal elements on "Witness," or the trap beat laced with throwback jazz on lead single "Sugar Daddy."
"My intention is to never preach to people, but I do I think music should make you feel something," Gray says, adding: "I think music should just go deep in you and touch you."
Ruby comes out September 21 on Artistry Music.