Audley’s world is colorful, honest and full of possibilities. The 27-year-old singer/rapper just released his new album ROY—a glittery yet deeply personal offering that shifts between pop, R&B and hip hop sounds and combines introspective tales of love, pain and moving on.
Since Audley released Pink – his debut effort and ROY’s predecessor – in 2018, a lot has changed. The artist swapped an unhealthy environment in Cincinnati with a move to Dayton; left a high-intensity job in digital media after suffering burnout; and has spent the past few months flourishing in sobriety.
“It was such an organic movement, getting this album done, and I think it happened so fast because I’ve been holding in this expression for so long,” he told me over coffee in our socially-distanced interview. “These last three years, I was not confident enough in my art to finish it, and once I moved, slowed down and found my true colors, I became so confident in who I was, that no matter what I created – I wanted to share it.”
Color is everything to Audley. It began with Pink – a rosy love album that sent him on the path to streaming personal-bests, media attention and two Cincinnati Entertainment Award nominations.
“With Pink, we created this beautiful explosion,” he reflected fondly.
The artist admits he set out to create a kind of Pink 2.0 for his sophomore effort, but felt that colors – which were once a door to his emotional expression – were now boxing him in. He scrapped two potential albums rooted in other hues: Chrome, which was going to be an electronic album, and john. – a self-produced indie-rock album that made him think of the color brown.
Poetry became a new creative outlet for Audley, where he could put pen to paper without the limiting self-doubt that encumbered songwriting. After jotting down dozens of free-flowing poems, he decided to try them out against beats.
“I had hundreds of beats, all from people I really admire,” he said. “I decided one day that it’s a cop-out for me to think that I can’t write music right now. I would put a pack of about 40 beats from [producer] Luna (aka internetboy) on shuffle and just sing in the shower – every day.”
When verses turned into songs, Audley started recording three new projects inspired by the colors green, black and mustard yellow.
“They were all sonically so sporadic that none of those songs made it on to ROY,” he explained. “But, I think it’s really interesting that I wanted to do three colors, and then now ROY – Red Orange Yellow – is three colors. The vision was there, but it didn’t let me tap into it because it knew I need to do some more work before I was ready to receive that blessing.”
ROY first took form with “Right Now,” which is track No. 3 on the album and the first song he recorded.
“I was at the point where I was writing half-songs and thinking, ‘This is trash. This is trash,’” he said. “So, with track No. 3, I was like, ‘Just finish it and then sit on it.’ And it was like, the moment I finished that song, I recorded myself performing it and I sent it to Luna and I was like, ‘We’re gonna make an album.’”
“Right Now” opened the floodgates. As he began writing and recording his way through ROY, Audley also launched a campaign on Instagram, where he posted a new verse and video every day for two months.
“I’ve been creating so much and now it’s even bigger than that. I’m making clothes, I have my own LLC – it’s so much bigger than music,” he gushed. “It’s one medium of me, vomiting my truth into the universe.”
That truth found a home in ROY. Sonically, the album sees Audley deviating from his past hard-hitting raps and swimming to warmer pop and R&B shores – although he knows he won’t stay away from hip hop for long. A competitive yet tender voice in Cincinnati’s rap scene, he forewarns other emcees of his return with: “Let me flex on you by spreading love.”
“Utilizing hip hop sonics with the message being finding yourself and loving everyone around you is powerful,” he said. Laughing, he described his rap style as “so pristine that a 70-year-old woman is gonna listen to a good trap beat about spreading love” and say, “This is fire.”
ROY helped Audley find his way back to his world of color, too. Hues became a way for the artist to visualize his emotions and – when he allowed himself the freedom – he realized he could push the boundaries of that expression by showcasing more than one feeling; more than one side; and more than one shade.
“I realized that Pink was a piece of me, and all the colors of the spectrum are me,” he said. “If you look on the album’s cover art, you’ll see a pink gemstone. It is a visual representation that I proudly wear Pink as a magical gem right on my head; right in front of my mind. Pink is a part of me, but it’s not all of me. It’s just a beautiful tip of the hat to say, ‘We’re not disowning 2018 Audley,’ because you’re gonna hear that on the album, but it’s just so much bigger.”
Even after our hour-long chat, Audley is still buzzing with ideas. ROY is just one universe in his mind; he’s currently working on an experimental synth record, a rap album and two other projects, all of which he aims to release next year. As for their thematic hues – that remains to be decided.
“The next album, obviously, is gonna be rooted in color, but I don’t think it’s gonna be named a color because we’ve established the game we’re playing at this point,” he said. “Now it’s just, ok cool, what’s the next level?”
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