Astray is a talented rapper/singer/producer that has paid his dues in the music industry. From his early beginnings in the local music scene in Saginaw, Michigan to getting a coveted publishing deal with Shady Music. I spoke with Astray about his entry into the rap game via Saginaw, his music influences, and his years of hard work before landing the Shady Publishing Deal.
Where did you come up with the name Astray?
I came up with the name Astray right when I started taking rap real seriously. I came up with it for a couple of reasons, the word astray means off the path right? I feel like with my music career and living by my talents as opposed to living a normal get up go to work, have a family, and die when it’s all over; that didn’t seem appealing to me. I have these gifts and wanted to use them and wanted to do my thing. Live out my dream, most people don’t do that, they give up and settle for a normal life. Plus, I feel like I’ve been astray since my birth because I was adopted, I was given up for adoption at birth so right from jump was like your not going this way your going this way, so I was put on a path that might not have been the path that I was meant for.
What was it like growing up in Saginaw? What were some of the obstacles you faced trying to get into the music industry in Saginaw?
Saginaw was cool growing up there. Some of the best times of my life. I’ll definitely always have love for Saginaw even if I’m not there. As far as obstacles and getting into the music industry in a local sense there was none. On a more broad sense, Saginaw is not a hub by any means. I wouldn’t even consider Detroit a hub and that’s where I reside now. The local scene was very easy I never had a problem hopping in the game and felt accepted right away which I attribute to being good. As far as industry wise its a small chance of making it from Saginaw, people aren’t looking at Saginaw, Michigan.
Did you feel it was hard to get taken seriously initially?
No I never had those complications of being taken seriously. I just left a that kid was just dope impression. I did have the Eminem comparisons initially who was a huge influence on me from 1998 to 2003. Sometimes you end up sounding like your influences because those are the people who taught you initially, you don’t even know you’re doing it.
As an independent artist what were the ways you found most effective to get your music out there?
I had really good sale numbers for a few of my albums, especially the third one. I give credit to the label I was independently signed to. My manager throughout my career was really good at strategically marketing, sales, and knew how to get those distribution deals and knew how to get my record in stores nationally and even build street teams on a national level as a result my third album “Who’s Coming With Me” ended up doing 6,000 sales in the first week and got me number 67 on the Billboard charts and number 5 on the Heatseekers Chart which was a huge accomplishment. Selling CDs hand to hand I took that so seriously I made that into a job. If I wasn’t working on music I was selling CDs whether it was me solo or some of my friends. I would pick a spot like a mall or a fair. We would go to Indiana or Ohio. If the fairs weren’t popping we would hit the mall and have to duck and dodge mall security. I actually got banned from life from the Genesee Valley Mall in Flint, Michigan for selling CD’s.
Where did you come up with the idea for the Entourage mixtape?
I just could relate to every aspect of all the main characters on the show. I could identify with Vinnie Chase an up and coming actor cause I’m in the same position just music and I could also identify with the character Eric. Sometimes Vinnie Chase was more carefree and didn’t give a shit about certain things and Eric was always stressed out and very particular about stuff; which I could relate to about being extremely professional with what you do. My manager Nick was always like an Eric Murphy or Ari Gold type. So I was going to do a mixtape to this because back then people were doing themed mixtapes and I put out the mixtape and people liked it.
You speak about being discouraged over losing the deal with TVT, how did you get over that?
Remember how I told you earlier we sold 6,000 the first week and ended up on the Billboard charts? So that was how we gained the attention of TVT. What we used to do before I started making my own beats. We would go on Soundclick and download the beats to all these producers, it wasn’t like we had great producers we could reach out to in Saginaw. So we would go on Soundclick and download a bunch of beats we never took notes or anything like that. I ended up putting out “Who’s Coming With Me” and only owned one beat out of eighteen songs. This was when Lil Jon and the Eastide Boyz and Yin Yang Twinz were first popping off but when they found out I didn’t own all the songs they came back with a counter offer which wasn’t worth it. It was devastating but I just kept going and a year later came out with the Entourage mixtape.
Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
When I was young people that really stick out before I started or just getting into rap I always liked Michael Jackson, Prince, Guns & Roses, Nirvana, Hall & Oates. Stuff that my parents would listen to that I would soak up in the backseat. My cousin introduced me to the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, NWA, and Ice Cube. I was just fascinated with it. Those are just some of that people that grabbed my attention at an early age and I never let go.
How did you end up meeting King Gordy and working with him?
So we all had a show in Pow Wow. So whenever I would go these shows I would always find a way to go backstage and hand off my album to rappers who would come through touring Michigan. When I started producing I started handing off my beat CDs instead. I gave King Gordy a beat CD and the next day he went and recorded seven songs off of it and thats how our relationship started. After that he did this whole album (Van Dyke and Harper Music) which I did the majority of production which is considered a classic hip hop album out of Detroit. And King Gordy was on a label that happened to be in the same building as 54 Sound in Ferndale, Michigan where Eminem used to record out of thats when I got my internship out of that studio and was able to sit in on mix sessions and just learn and I met Eminem for the first time.
You got a publishing deal with Shady how did that come about?
That actually had nothing to do with the publishing deal. People always think, Eminem has known about your music since 2006 or 2007 since I was an intern but I always heard stories how people would try and cut in and say I rap and they would get kicked out of the studio. So I always tried to play it cool and never mentioned myself to be a rapper at 54 Sound, he always knew me as a producer. Paul Rosenberg heard my music from a mutual friend which had nothing to do with me working at 54 Sound and was like he wanted me to write songs for different artists.
Who are some of the artist that you have worked with?
I’ve worked with a lot of big producers. I went to New York and worked with Wiz Khalifah, Rittz, and Jelly Roll. I haven’t landed a huge placement yet but have been extremely close.
You sing on some records like “Bedroom Bully” and “Ballad of Bobby Boucher” did you take vocal lessons? When you make records like that how conscious are you of making songs for radio?
Yeah I’ve taken vocal lessons from an actual vocal coach and there are CD’s you can buy to learn. I’ve learned some stuff off them. I’m not conscious of making records for radio at all, on a scale of one to ten like two. I try to make things catchy. I don’t even listen to the radio. I only listen to music that inspires me. I think a lot of producers try to follow whats new, everybody wanted to be DJ Mustard a few years ago but that initial sound he came out with is dead, DJ Mustard is still relevant. You don’t want to mimic. I try to go off my influences and whats in my head.
What is next for Astray?
I just been honestly working on my own stuff rapping and singing because I want to be known for both as well as producing. I’ve been sitting on songs I want to put out until I have the time to focus on promoting it.
Ryan Glover is a contributing writer for www.audiofuzz.com Follow him on Twitter @RyanDavisGlover, “Like” him on Facebook and add him to your Google network