Sounds like: Andre 3000 as a motivational speaker.
For fans of: Outkast, Kendrick Lamar, College Dropout-era Kanye.
Why you care: Elton Cray has never cared whether hip-hop excluded him. He's openly gay, but that doesn't mean his music can't relate to the more macho ends of the rap spectrum. As he raps in âNosetalgia,â from 2014 mixtape Life of Mine Vol. 1, heâs âthe thug RuPaul.â
"Rap, to me, is the narrative of the defiant hero, and that's applicable on any level and any context," Cray says. "For me, that was accepting myself as a gay male.â
Cray's against-the-odds story goes beyond his sexuality. He grew up in Southern California with an absent father and a crack-addicted mother, both of whom tested positive for HIV just before Cray was born. He later escaped to Portland, securing a track scholarship to attend Warner Pacific College, where he got serious about music. He released In Development, his debut mixtape, last year, then followed up with the extensive Life of Mine earlier this month. Cray raps menacingly over laid-back beats, with lyrics more poignant than word-bending. "I heard once that freedom had a price," he says on "Acceptance," just before the remixed soul-pop beat kicks in. "Well, fuck it. You gotta be free, right? Oh yeah, and another thing: Donât let anybody validate you. You be you, itâs all you got.â
Rap may have been a genre that Cray says "grew on me," but he now talks about his career with a level of confidence to rival Kendrick Lamar's "Control" verse. "The life I've lived and ability is unparalleled to any rapper rapping, and I can confidently say that," Cray says. "I combine those experiences and stories with the ones in regard to my sexuality for a narrative no one is telling, nor are they brave enough to tell it.â
SEE IT: Elton Cray plays the Rose, 111 SW Ash St., as part of Green Luck Media Group's Rose City Cypher and Producer Showcase, on Saturday, Oct. 4. 8:30 pm. $7. 21+.