Photo by Javari Jackson, courtesy of Rexx Life Raj
On the first track of his new album Father Figure, Rexx Life Raj has some kind words for his barista's flat white, and, sure, there's probably an easy joke to make about a rapper from Berkeley, California, making time for an interlude about coffee in his music. But there's also the simple fact that this is what Raj's music is like. Trivial daily details get painted with a generous eye and addressed in smooth tones on songs that feel like falling into a pile of pillows. Raj is perceptive, empathetic, and open about his feelings; he's also quick to tackle the tropes of contemporary rap with a winking eye.
Thus, we get a gorgeous love song like "The Plug," which flips two familiar conceits (love as a drug; rap songs about the plug) into something fresh: "If I’m being honest your love is the worst kind of drug / I got my fix fucked around and fell in love with the plug." We get Raj crooning about drugs with a hint of trepidation on "Shit N Floss": "Off the xans at 10 in the morning / I think he’s addicted / he said Raji we’ve been working, we deserve it / fuck if we lifted." We get matter-of-fact observations that may not be the most morally sound but mirror the ways the human mind works, like when Raj chastises a girl for driving drunk to come see him, quipping, "girl that’s dangerous you should be a little more cautious / but being wild like that make me want to pull up just a little more often."
Raj's music is pretty. It is familiar yet new. It's a bit like what Drake's music might sound like if Drake were a hundred times more grounded. It's poised for breakthrough success, and it's already seen a little off the strength of single "Moxie Java," featuring fellow East Bay talent Nef the Pharaoh. But the form that success takes could be one of many—Raj, a former D1 football player for Boise State, is a man of many talents. Raj offers a few helpful benchmarks, counseling, "in a year just don't be where you was." He notes, too, that "There will never be another Jimi Hendrix / but we do need another Huey P," drawing on his own father's legacy as an activist and Black Panther.
Accessible, relatable, and deftly political, Raj's music is special stuff, and he knows it. "I made this album for anyone who likes breathing," Raj explained. "So if you fuck with the idea of breath you'll probably enjoy this." Father Figure is out officially tomorrow (pre-order it here), but you can stream it on Noisey right now.
Noisey: What's this project about? What is the significance of the title Father Figure?
Rexx Life Raj: This project is a about growth. Growth in the music I'm doing and personal growth. It's about giving some of the game that I've learned over these last few years to whoever is listening. To me a Father Figure is someone you look to for guidance, someone who gives game and drops gems. That's what I wanted to do in this project.
Are there any songs on here that have special significance to you? Why?
“OJW3” is the most personal song on the project. It's a song to and about my father (Odis James Wright 3rd). I wrote it for him on Father’s Day of last year. It's a song that I pray outlives all of us because he deserves it.
What is your impression of the music scene coming out of the Bay right now?
The Bay is lit right now. I feel like for a long time the Bay was just known for the hyphy shit, which is dope, but there's definitely a lot more to us. There are hella bubbling artists creating their own lanes and making names for themselves. The Bay has always been a melting pot of culture and now you're really seeing that in the music. I'm super excited for the future.
What's a cool fact you learned recently?
I wouldn't consider it cool, but the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, most of which look like Raj.
What did you do today?
Slammed a fire ass burrito bowl from Berkeley Bowl with the brown rice, black beans, and grilled chicken. Baby hooked me up with extra chips and salsa because I'm a regular. I'm forever grateful. [Ed. note: The lyrics of “OMG” support this.] That's the only memorable part of my day because I’m fat. But fat niggas winning right now, so we lit.
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.