It’s hard living up to the family name. There’s a looming pressure to push yourself harder in order to keep the rapport in good standing, and at times that can be debilitating. This is a familiar feeling for Ray Hammond, the grand-nephew of reggae icon, Beres Hammond. The 24-year-old is a native of Brampton who has always been immersed in the arts. It goes without saying that because of his family, he was surrounded by the sweet sounds of reggae throughout all of his childhood and adolescence. Many of the members of his family, which include reggae artists Courtney John, Len Hammond and, of course, Beres Hammond, are still very involved in the music world and Ray wants to be part of that.
Born Carray Hammond—he performs under a shortened version of his name—in the winter of 1994, the rapper’s entire life has circulated around music. “Even my grandfather, who’s Beres’ brother, as a kid, they would always show me things, teach me things or encourage me to sing and perform,” laments Hammond. ”When we had family gatherings, there was talent shows...I guess the parents wanted to encourage us to embrace ourselves and our artistic freedom.” He took up singing, dancing and acting and was even admitted and graduated from a regional dramatic arts program at a high school just north of his hometown. After graduating, he pursued acting and landed a few roles in a short and two television series, but even for the triple threat, making music had always been his true calling.
Though Ray is making records for an entirely different genre than the members of his family, he carries the weight of representing the new generation of Hammonds and is tasked with making sure he’s producing a catalog that’s just as strong. He shares, “The worst thing I want to do is tarnish the legacy. The track record’s pretty pristine. Everything [Beres] has is pretty much classic. There’s not much blemishes on his records. I don’t want to be the person who brings the family name down. I just want to carry the mantle.”
A very special moment between him and his grand-uncle is the fire that keeps him going. He recounts the details of a family gathering after Beres performed in Toronto a few years ago. His cousins were having a cypher performing in front of the family. Ray lingered in the background with his phone out recording and laughing at the display of enthusiasm from his immediate and extended kin. His sister mentioned out loud that he rapped, and even though he tried to shy away, he was encouraged to perform. He tells me he was nervous about performing and censoring himself so to not say any curse words, but he still was able to recite a few bars off the top of the dome. Afterwards, his grand-uncle pulled him aside where they had a heart-to-heart. Says Ray, “He pointed, hit my chest two times and said, ‘You have it. Just do it,’ and I was about to breakdown down the whole Canadian infrastructure and how it’s hard to do it and [how] rap is so saturated. He cut me off before I could even say anything and he was like, ‘No, I don’t wanna hear that. Just do it, that’s it. You have it, so go do it cause you can.’”
With these words, he continued to push himself and released a five-track EP called, PHX (pronounced ‘phoenix’) his debut into music and a transparent body of work where the artist teeters between grappling with his insecurities while showcasing his own lyrical bravado. The first track ,“Free,” is first to get a video treatment, spearheaded by Brampton-based director, Noor B.
So what does it mean to be free? For Ray, it’s a myriad of things: “It’s waking up and not being forced to have to do something that you literally feel like you don’t want to do, don’t have the energy for [and] don’t have the time for. It’s just waking up and having no worries. Doing things as if no one’s watching.” He dotes on the freedom he receives through involving himself in the arts, through his music, through his acting, through dancing, and it’s where Ray share’s he’s “in [his] element and it feels like [he’s] exploring and finding [himself].”
Ray is ready to craft a legacy in his own lane and has a clear goal for what he wants to be remembered as. Says the artist, “I want to be the answer for any situation where you feel emotionally distraught and music is where you go to. I just want to fill that void. I don’t necessarily care about being the most famous, I just care about making the most timeless music while I’m here and that’s pretty much it.”
Listen to PHX and watch the premiere of “Free” below.
Sharine is a Toronto-based writer. Follow her on Twitter.