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Ray Cash

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What do you know about Cleveland, Ohio? Maybe you know it as a symbol of urban pain and neglect, a city with a troubled history of race explosions, police and community tensions and damn near every ill in the inner city handbook. Or maybe you know Cleveland as the birthing ground of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, the quick-rapping foursome who exploded in the mid-nineties and helped put the Midwest on the Hip-Hop playing field. Or maybe you don't think about Cleveland at all, it's just some city floating out there in the great American nowhere, a lost land between the East, West and South coasts. Well, whatever you think, or don't think, of Cleveland, twenty-five-year-old MC Ray Cash is here to give you an answer.

"I'm from the Eastside of Cleveland," Cash muses. "Grew up in this spot called 'The Hill,' directly across from the projects. I was a young cat, seeing everything that was going on. My mama would tell me, 'Don't take your aIs across the street.' But I was a kid, you know, so I was fascinated. Back then it was real heavy with the crack and the guns and everything. Cleveland ain't nothing but a big ghetto anyway, man."

For young Ray, the street offered the same cocoon of acceptance, inspiration and lure that it dangles in front of young men all across America. "I didn't have any older brothers," Ray confesses. "So as me and my people got older we started hanging out around them older cats. Even after my mom finally got stuff together for us to move, I'd always be back there, f**king with them cats."

But that environment also provided the groundwork for Ray Cash the MC. "I got into Hip-Hop from hanging around the older dudes," he remembers. "Listening to Scarface. Listening to NWA. The s**t they were talking about, the guys I hung around with were actually doing. When I got to high school, I would dib and dabble with it. My man would beat on the table and I'd bust a freestyle. People would say, 'Man, you can really rap.' But I'd say 'Get the f**k outta here.' But when Jay-Z came through Cleveland for the Hard Knock Life tour, that made me wanna rap for real. I was always a Jay fan, but seeing him be himself on stage, so cool, so laid back. He was just doing him. To see somebody do him and see people respond to it. That's power right there. It just clicked with me."

Cleveland's geographic centrality fed Ray's development and the music he makes today. Growing up in the Midwest the influences come from everywhere. Ray's mental mixtape was packed with the NWA's, Jay Z's, Eightball and MJG's, and UGK's, a cross-regional menu that's certainly influenced Ray's mic steelo, a silky baritone that flits from topic to topic with a natural, almost old school comfort. "When I came up people just cared about putting out good music. Didn't seem like they were hung up on whether they sold a million the first week. You don't get that kind of feel no more. The other day I was watching videos with three of my dudes when 'Big Poppa' came on. And everybody just stared like they were in a daze. You miss it. A cat telling you some real honest s**t. You don't hear that no more. And that's part of why my approach is the way it is. A lot of people only know what's on the radio, and they accept it. I don't wanna just accept it."

He certainly doesn't accept it on C.O.D.: Cash On Delivery, a triumphant debut propelled by beat-smiths like Rockwilder, Rick Rock and Knoxxxx. From the rambunctious "The Bomb" and the playfully humorous "Sex Appeal" to the poignant hometown statement "Payback," Ray Cash hits the worn out rap scene with a mainline hit of reality. Then there's the incendiary "F**k AmeriKKKa," a record that recalls rap history at its middle-fingered best, combining the defiance of Ice Cube with the street prophet's poetic lens of young Nas.

"N***as don't let they nuts hang no more," Cash says. "It's rap: say what the f**k you wanna say. Luke said it. Cube said it. Man, I'm from Clevela