Rayana Jay’s Ascent

The husky-voiced Richmond singer had a fortuitous 2016.

If you’re under the age of 30 and are (or have ever been) single, then the prospect of having to text the phrase “sorry about last night” to a crush, ex, fuck buddy, or Tinder date is probably something you’ve had to do. At least it is for singer Rayana Jay.

“I realized that ‘sorry about last night’ was one of those phrases that I repeated more than twice a week,” the 23-year-old tells SF Weekly. “Especially after a night of drinking and calling exes and spilling my feelings.”

In her October 2016 EP, the Richmond native shines a spotlight on these cringe-worthy morning-after texts, even going so far as to use the phrase for the record’s title. The result is a languid, slinky project steeped in jazzy instrumentals and soft R&B undertones, with in-theme track names like “One Missed Call” and “Nothin’ to Talk About.”

“The whole project is a collection of drunk thoughts and rants,” Jay says. “It’s me saying, ‘Hey … sorry, LOL.”

And to think, the record almost never came out — or existed at all.

Jay started recording songs after attending a beat production program at the Oakland nonprofit Youth Radio as a junior in high school. She recorded her first track, a smoky neo-soul number called “Marty McFly” in 2012, and followed that with her debut EP, XXI, in February 2015. But though XXI did well in terms of streaming figures — the most-listened to track on the record has more than 20,000 plays on SoundCloud — Jay was feeling

disgruntled and began toying with the idea of abandoning music altogether. “It got a lot of underground Bay

Area buzz, and I got hit up to use some of my songs in some YouTube shows,” she says. “But other than that, I didn’t see anything from it.”

Jay, who now lives in Vallejo, was also feeling stressed out by the whole music making process, especially because at the time, she was doing everything on her own.

“I was like, ‘Well, I don’t really know what I’m doing,’ ” Jay says. “ ‘I don’t have any guidance.’ ”

Fortunately, her prayers were answered, and in the summer of 2016, she met Evangeline Elder, who is now her manager. And from that point on, things have only improved.

“Sleepy Brown,” the first single released from Sorry About Last Night, got picked up by Solange Knowles’ arts and culture website, Saint Heron, which premiered the track last July. The velvety, synth-punctuated song was written as a tribute to the Georgia singer-songwriter, Sleepy Brown, who, along with the other two members of his production team Organized Noize, helped create such hits as TLC’s “Waterfalls” and Big Boi’s “The Way You Move.”

To Jay’s surprise, the morning after the track dropped, Brown mentioned her and the song in a pair of tweets. “I must say I love it,” he wrote. “Very funky. Great job.”

Jay’s next achievement occurred when “Sleepy Brown” popped up in a curated iTunes playlist called “Breaking R&B” that included new releases from artists like Rihanna and Kehlani. Thanks to Elder,

Jay’s second single, “Nothing To Talk About,” was premiered by The FADER in September, and then in October, she found herself performing with a live band for the first time in her life at the Oakland Music Festival.

“I never went into it telling myself, ‘You’re going to be a soul singer’ or ‘You’re going to be a neo-R&B singer.’

It just happened like this,” she says of the fame and successes that have recently come her way. “This all feels like a dream I don’t want to wake up from.”

Jay ended 2016 on a high note, performing at the Bay Area collective Wine and Bowties’

blowout New Year’s Eve party in downtown Oakland, alongside bigger acts, like Syd of Odd Future and the Internet fame and indie rapper Duckwrth.

“That was really big for me,” she says. “I still can’t believe it.”

For her next project, Jay plans to release a debut album, and thanks to her experience working with musicians at Oakland Music Festival, hopes to incorporate live instrumentation into the project. She realizes that just like she did when she was flying solo, she might get overwhelmed and discouraged while crafting the album, but at least now she has Elder in her corner and more experience under her belt.

“I get overwhelmed when I’m doing a lot of stuff,” she says. “I can’t even sit in the back of the car and text and drink coffee at the same time. So I’m absolutely going to take my time. And no, I have no idea when [the album] is coming out.”

Jessie Schiewe is SF Weekly’s music editor.

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