Macy Gray - Biography

By Marcus Kagler

At one point Macy Gray was so famous she had a cartoon about her life story in development despite the commercial flop of her second album The Id (2001 Epic). Of course, Gray’s fame went almost as fast as it came and the cartoon never got made but sometimes it’s easy to forget that in the spring of 2000, Macy Gray had one of the most successful debut albums in recent history. Yet the cautionary tale that is the career of Macy Gray also supports the old adage: too much too soon. Although the neo-soul artist with, arguably, the most unique voice since Billy Holiday never approached a Britney Spears level of public meltdown, Gray did fall victim, not only to the wretched irony of fame, but remarkably poor timing as well. By mixing the classic soul sound with hip hop swagger, Gray helped ignite a neo-soul renaissance at the dawn of the millennium only to be overshadowed by younger (and more tabloid friendly) R&B starlets soon after. A series of public relations disasters further derailed the Macy Gray gravy train but after a near 7 year slump, Gray made an inspired return to form with her fourth album, Big (2007 Geffen/Will.I.Am Music) a massive critical success and the beginning of new chapter in Macy Gray’s ever eclectic career. 

Macy Gray was born Natalie McIntyre in Canton, Ohio on September 6, 1967. A shy and introverted child, Gray was often tormented by other kids because of the high pitched raspy voice that would later become her artistic trademark. Gray relocated to Los Angeles in her late teens to enroll in the USC screenwriting program, and shortly after made her first soiree into the world of music when she agreed to pen lyrics for a friend’s original songs. When her friend failed to show at a scheduled demo session Gray stepped up to the mic and recorded the songs herself despite insecurities about her singing voice. Surprisingly, the demo was well received upon making the necessary rounds and Gray took a job as vocalist for a jazz combo who performed in hotels around Los Angeles while continuing to cut demo session material. During this time, young Natalie McIntyre married and adopted the stage moniker, Macy Gray, a name she borrowed from that of a neighbor back in Canton, and founded the popular coffeehouse live series, We Ours, where she also often performed. Sometime in the mid-to-late 90’s, Gray was signed by Atlantic Records but the label rejected her debut full length upon completion. Pregnant with her third child, recently divorced, and disillusioned with the music industry, Gray returned to Canton to regroup even though her latest demo was still creating quite a stir back in Los Angeles. After signing a publishing deal with Zomba Label Group, Gray made her prodigal return to L.A. and signed to Epic in 1998, spending the better part of a year writing and recording her debut full length, On How Life Is (1999 Epic) with producer Andrew Slater. Despite positive reviews, On How Life Is was largely ignored upon its release in the summer of 1999, with lead single, “Do Something” barely making waves on the charts. The album, however, was generating a strong word of mouth buzz and despite sluggish sales Gray garnered two Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Female R&B Vocal the following year, giving her career a much needed booster shot. The infectious neo-soul anthem, “I Try”, became a massive international hit with sales of On How Life Is going triple platinum by the end of year. In one whirlwind year Macy Gray had gone from single mother of three with little prospects to international megastar.

The following year Gray appeared as a guest vocalist on the Fat Boy Slim album Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars (2000 Astralwerks) and The Black Eyed Peas sophomore effort, Bridging the Gap (2000 Interscope). Gray also collaborated with Slick Rick on, “The World Is Yours”, for the Rush Hour 2 Soundtrack (2001 Def Jam) and made an impressive acting debut as the disgruntled wife of a drug dealer opposite Denzel Washington in Training Day. Around this time Gray also began playing up her flamboyant (and sometimes flippant) public persona, often giving surreal interviews and making outrageous fashion statements, characterized by the press as a cry for media attention. Whether it was intentional or not, Gray’s notoriously flawed rendition of the U.S. national anthem at the Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibition game in 2001 was as public relations disaster that resulted in her being booed off the stage, severely tainting her public image. In an ill-advised move, Gray played up her “freak” flag image on the sophomore full length, The Id (2001 Epic).  Featuring high profile guest artists like Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, and executive produced by Rick Ruben, The Id was a sleek party album that focused more on hip hop beats and computerized bells and whistles than classic soul. Released only a week after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, The Id couldn’t have dropped at a worse time, and quickly fell off the U.S. charts despite the moderate success of first single, “Sweet Baby”. Gray returned to her film career the following year by appearing in the much hyped first installment of the Spiderman franchise.

The Trouble With Being Myself (2003 Epic) mined a similar vein to its predecessor with similar results, although singles like “When I See You” and “She Ain’t Right for You” remain fan favorites. Despite generally positive reviews, The Trouble With Being Myself didn’t break the U.S. Top 40 and was ultimately characterized as the flop that put the death nail in Gray’s otherwise promising career. Gray spent the next four years uncharacteristically quiet, only releasing the greatest hits compilation, The Very Best of Macy Gray (2004 Epic) and the live album, Live in Las Vegas (2005 NuTech Digital) respectively. At the beginning of 2007, however, Gray once again found herself the victim of negative publicity after one of her concerts in Barbados was shut down after she used profanity on stage, not realizing foul language is against the law on the small Caribbean island. Gray caught a break a few months later when her long overdue fourth full length, Big, received the best critical reviews of her career. Produced by Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.I.Am and featuring a diverse staple of guest artists like Natalie Cole and Fergie, Big traded in the overused hip-hop framework for the smooth sounds of contemporary quiet storm soul with inspired results. The singles, “Finally Made Me Happy” and “Shoo Be Doo” were moderate successes, with the track “What I Gotta Do” appearing on the Shrek the Third Soundtrack (2007 Geffen). That summer Gray performed at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro for the Brazilian leg of the Live Earth concerts. During the show Gray sported a dress that read, “Darfur Red Alert” to raise awareness for the millions of Sudanese people affected by the unspeakable violence of an ongoing civil war.  




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