Ray J wants more of D-Money.
For much of his career, the singer and television personality has been part of the family business. An early brush with fame came playing a wannabe rapper named D-Money in “Moesha,” the late ‘90s sitcom helmed by his sister Brandy, one of the most successful female recording artists ever. Then Ray J, whose real name is William Ray Norwood Jr., became broadly known after a sex tape with his then-unknown onetime-girlfriend Kim Kardashianleaked.
More recently, Ray J has been pursuing a different tract. Last month, the 36-year-old inked a deal with Cowboy Wholesale, an electronics distributor for the likes of Sony, to create Raycon, a brand retailing everything from $19 wireless earbuds to $119 remote control drones and $499 electric scooters. Ray J is the face of the label in return for a $31 million cash-and-equity investment from Cowboy.
“I’m the kind of person who likes to be first and see what’s happening 10 years before it happens,” he tells Moneyish. “Everybody loves tech. It’s the greatest gifts you can get and I’m excited to be ahead of the game.”
This is not Ray J’s first attempt to get into the electronics business. About four years ago, he discovered an electric bike in China that he subsequently brought to the United States for distribution. “I invested all my money into the Scoot-E-bike,” he says. “I just fell in love and felt I had something unique that nobody else had seen in America.”
The bike was a hit with celeb pals. Ray J, who spends most of his time on the West Coast, gave away versions to friends like P. Diddy, Justin Bieber and Stephen Curry, who were only too happy to flaunt them in public. But with only limited capital and experience, he found it challenging to grow bigger. “It’s very expensive in the tech world and if you invest all your money, it can be really dangerous,” he says.
Enter Cowboy Wholesale, whose offices Ray J dropped by while filming a video in New York this past summer. Coincidentally, Cowboy had been looking for a celebrity to work with for a while. “We saw someone who understood tech down to the details,” says Ray Lee, a senior exec at Cowboy, who recalls his first conversation with Ray J revolving around the Chinese manufacturer of one of the products he distributes. “I was taken aback by his knowledge. Only specific [people] in the industry know that sort of detail.”
The two began meeting regularly, with Ray J sometimes turning up at Cowboy’s offices even before 6 a.m. Raycon began selling products in November and plans to branch out worldwide next year via Cowboy’s offices in Asia and Latin America. The plan is for Ray J to ensure the brand is seen as a celeb’s electronics maker of choice, as Raycon continues investing in R&D and logistics.
“Just because people know your music doesn’t mean they open the door,” Ray J says. “It’s the opposite. They criticize it more than someone with a fresh business. But I’m just going out there and working it.”
Raycon is hardly the first joint tech venture between a celeb and a savvy entrepreneur. Like everyone else, it aspires to be like Beats Electronics, the partnership between Dr. Dre and record exec Jimmy Iovine that Apple purchased for $3 billion in 2014.
“Beats is a shining example of a tech brand that’s transcended technology to influence culture with a celebrity-fueled approach,” says marketing guru Chuck Welch, founder and chief strategy officer of Rupture Studio, though he hastens to add that such successes are rare. “Ray J may help you connect with young people [but] the strength of that influence likely isn’t that strong.”
That said, Welch doesn’t think Ray J’s notoriety as the male protagonist of “Kim Kardashian, Superstar,” the leaked tape of him having sex with the world’s most famous social media personality is going to be a hindrance. Though Ray J has talked about the video as recently as a year ago, when he starred on “Celebrity Big Brother,” he’s now keen to move on.
His business partners “sometimes bring it up as a joke,” says Ray J, laughing nervously. “But I’m way past that now. I’m married and excited about the kid coming in 2018. My main focus is my family and from there, building this business for generations to come.”