Some stories are told but carry no substance or meaning. Other stories need to be told to help inspire others to rise above their circumstances and follow their dreams regardless of how harsh their reality is. This is the story of Elton Cray as told by his good friend and band mate Cameron Schutz.
“There are few struggles in the United States more difficult than spending your childhood subjected to navigating the gangs, killers, con-artists, abusers, cops, orphanages and group homes in Compton. Did I mention, doing this all while secretly knowing you are gay?
I’m getting ahead of myself though because Elton Cray, originally William Cody, was born in Manhattan, NY to Jacquelyn Cody. At the time of his birth Jacquelyn was already infected with HIV and had abused drugs throughout the pregnancy. Needless to say, Elton has been defying the odds from the very beginning.
Elton and his mother survived by living in shelters, cars, orphanages and other less-than-desirable locations before a friend helped move them to sunny Southern California where they settled into a white-wash apartment building with a green door just off of Rosecrans St in Compton. It’s here where Elton remembers a revolving door of strangers including drug dealers and men who abused his mother.
(Me) “Did you ever know your father? ” (Cray) “No” (Me) “Did you have a positive male role model in your life” (Cray) “Nothing consistent and the ones that were there tried to force Christianity on me.”
Elton’s mother was an addict who despite her HIV diagnosis was using until the very end. Painful memories are all too common in these scenarios. Often she would steal his welfare check use it for drugs and leave him to fend for himself.
Not all the memories are bad ones though. As a child, Elton’s first memory of music was singing to N’Sync and vividly remembers his mother telling him he sounds like the boys on the radio. (ANY OTHER POSITIVE MEMORIES??)
When Elton was 11 years old his mother passed away. The next 3 years were gruesome. Group homes were rampant with mental and physical abuse, from adults as well as his peers. These situations were also void of any positive role models for Cray. On multiple occasions Elton was pushed so far as to fake attempts at suicide in order to be granted a transfer to another home. During these years he even spent time in juvenile detention facilities and psych wards. When he was 14 his sister was able to step in as his legal guardian and lived with her until he graduated from high school….and then he could finally leave Southern California.
Elton knew he was gay from a young age. He tried to “be like” everyone else and pursue the opposite sex. During his senior in high school following the completion of the football season he made his first attempt to come out to friends. No one believed him. Everyone knew Elton as athletic, strong, handsome, funny and smart but not gay. To many, this was seen as a joke or a lame attempt at attention.
Elton received a scholarship to Warner Pacific to run track in Oregon and knew that was his real opportunity out of Southern California and the closet.
This was when he also found an outlet for all of the pain, depression, suppressed feelings and ideas he’d kept inside for all the first 18 years.
He started writing raps, bars, poetry and found some like-minded friends to start rapping with. In the beginning people told him he wasn’t very good. His lyrics lacked substance and flow and rapping just wasn’t his strongest skill. One thing you need to know about Elton is that he is one of the most passionate, dedicated and driven people I know. He has the ability to transform adversity, pain and heartache and used it as pure motivation. Although he is still gaining popularity with the general public, he is one of the most respected rappers in the Portland hip-hop community.
In 2013 he officially came out as gay and begin a new career path in music by enrolling in the music program at Portland Community College. During this time he began to outline several ideas for albums, while continuing to study the dictionary and work day and night to hone his lyrical craft. Near the end of 2014 he finished recording Life of Mine Vol.1 and his song Nostalgia was voted as one of the top picks for the year by the Willamette Week (a well-respected, top weekly newspaper distributed in Portland).
By this time Elton was rapping all over town, making appearances on other albums, incessantly writing and continuing to earn respect . This is the point when I saw Elton’s music video, Letter to My Father. Before the three minutes and nine second video was finished, I knew I had to meet the person in the video. We made an immediate connection and two days later I found myself sitting on a twin bed in a small hot room where I played him piano while he flipped through several hand-written notebooks filled front to back with lyrics, random bars, album ideas and the occasional sketches. Picture an already cramped room with stacks of classic novels, dictionaries, notebooks, binders and other random books scattered all over the room. Elton still writes a minimum of 100 bars of lyrics every single day.
About 2 months later along with 3 other very talented musicians, we formed what is now known as Elton Cray & The Pariahs, a live hip-hop act. We currently play in Portland and around the Pacific NW.
What is special about Elton? He is real, he’s relatable, he’s a masterful storyteller, he’s vulnerable, he’s a compelling speaker, he’s insanely driven, he’s never satisfied, he’s the most talented rapper I’ve ever seen and he knows exactly where he’s going. While pointing a steady finger square in my chest he said with more conviction than I can convey, “There is no other path for me. This is what I’m supposed to do!” This is the reason he doesn’t waste a single day and each calculated move is meant to get him one step closer to his dream.
Unhappy with how the hip-hop community views, treats and portrays homosexuals, Elton is poised to make a change through not only his words but proving that he will in fact be the first openly gay rap star.”
For more info, music and news check out www.eltoncrayandthepariahs.com