Raury On Making The World A Better Place, One Step At A Time
Upon the release of his latest album Strawberry Moon, a project that was released timely for the reddish-pink supermoon, genre-bending musician and producer Raury has proved to us that he is one of the most open-minded and celebrated artists of our time. Moulding dreamy hip-hop with funky sonics, he touches into spirituality, determination and his love of bringing people together through his musical journey.
With his tap into music beginning at the age of three when he would mimic Michael Jackson, his song-making began at the age of eight when he discovered 2Pac. Through connections, he was able to find a studio to work in whilst he was in high school and began to propel his career to working with Mr DJ and OutKast producer David Sheats. Raury also chatted with us about how it was growing up in Atlanta, the rhythms of southern America and how he takes time to include and educate the children with his 'Recess' community. Fuelled by the arts, it exists to focus on sustainability and veganism. Raury makes it known that he cares about the planet and that he's doing his part to make the world a better place, one step at a time.
Read his interview below.
Hi Raury! How are you doing?
I’m good, just got done eating some avocado toast.
I’ve heard of you before, so this is a really nice opportunity to speak with you. Where are you based right now?
Thank you, you guys have a really dope publication. I’m in Atlanta, born and raised… I’m guessing you’re somewhere in Europe?
I’m planning to go back out there; it’s been a while.
When were you last out here?
I was touring through the whole of Europe opening for Macklemore doing stadium tours so that was cool. That’s probably the most impressionable memory I have being out there but I have a nice amount of friends out there too.
So, the first thing I wanted to ask you actually was where you’re from but since you already said you in Atlanta, Georgia right now, what was growing up like for you in the area?
So yeah, I’m actually on the outskirts of the more eastern side so it pretty much still qualifies as Atlanta. And it was pretty simple man… like there’s so much to it, there’s cookouts, there’s the music and the culture. People who want to travel and people who wanna be in the nature and people who are into all types of shit, you know what I’m saying? So, it’s just like, growing up there was southern culture. When I think about it, it was what it was. I remember going to legendary cookouts and I remember the music like when OutKast was popping and T.I and Future started popping. There was an evolution of the city and culture and what people were into. I went to Clarkston High School for a little bit, and Tucker High School I graduated from. Clarkston was on the East Side and it may be the third most diverse town or city in America. In Atlanta, we had Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and it’s one of the biggest or busiest airports in the world, so you would have a lot of people travelling in that were maybe seeking refuge or seeking asylum from different countries. A lot of them ended up at Clarkston so they were more focused on teaching the kids English and it was kinda fun because you could just skip all the time [laughs].
Obviously there has been a running theme of iconic artists coming straight out of Atlanta like you mentioned, so when did you first get into music yourself?
When I was three and my brain started to develop, I knew about four things: my mom, Jesus, Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson. And at that point I was trying to emulate everything that I saw. I had my head shaved bald all the time because of Michael Jordan and would dance because of Michael Jackson. I just started making up songs and by the time I was eight, I started listening to 2Pac. I believe 2Pac made a really strong impression in Atlanta in general because he lived there for some time before he passed away. There was The Tupac Amaru Shakur Center not too far away from my home and my mom was a really big 2Pac fan so I would listen to a lot of him growing up. By the time I was eight I was writing raps and I was in this little neighbourhood gang and we could just ride bikes and go to skating rinks and try to pick up girls – it was nothing too serious. By the time I was nine I started asking for a guitar and realised that college was not for me so I thought about what I could do now and master by the time I was 17. So, I picked up photography, any sport I could do to allow my mom to retire early. But music was that thing. I didn’t get a guitar till I was 11 and I never put it down, I carried it everywhere like how Magic Johnson carries a basketball. You can ask anybody at Tucker High School, I was that kid with the guitar on his back and it was irritating because I was always whacking people when I would turn around; I was just glued to that thing.
When I was 15, I started putting together a band and put papers all over the school looking for a drummer and it was handwritten, I wasn’t even printing that shit out. I handwrote a bunch of them and taped them all over the school and got in trouble for it. But eventually I put together a band and that then emerged into a more developed band, and we were like the house band for the talent show and what not. In my 10th grade year, I took my sister to prom because she wasn’t going with anyone and I met Kipper Hilson who was Keri Hilson’s little brother, because she graduated from Tucker High School as well. Kip was DJing at the prom and I told him I made music and the next thing you know I stopped eating school lunches to save my money just to get one hour of time in the studio so I could just be there and watch him how to produce. Kip was moving in with Justice Baiden who is now one of the founders of the label Love Renaissance and they had an artist who needed a band and someone to rap so I just kept blowing him up and he decided to work with my but only if I stopped selling weed. So I stopped, and the rest was history. By the time I was 16 I produced ‘God’s Whisper’and I was going to school, get home then get the public transit and meet Justice in the middle of the city producing till the AM my entire junior year at least three or four days a week.
So, I guess it all just fell into place for you by making all these connections and you’ve obviously worked so hard to get where you are today. But you seem like a relatively relaxed and tranquil person online and that’s really echoed into your music. What else do you like to get up to in your spare time?
Well, I found myself into meditation and things like that because I had some serious anger issues growing up and even now in my spare time, I use that to practice to maintain this high velocity lifestyle that comes with being an artist so I can be on top of things. Be on top of the creation of my music, the creation of my videos or even my taxes all kinds of shit that’s hard navigating in life. I’m always just optimising myself for figuring out what the next step is and learning. Everything in its own right is spiritual but not everything spiritual is necessarily angelic or good because of demons and spirits. I try to look at myself as a balanced individual and trying to stay balanced. In my spare time I’m just trying to get my friends together to jam or take a little skate down to beltline or you know hang out with a cutie or making plan… watching anime, I watch a load of anime or cooking vegan food and doing cookouts to bring people together.
While I’m in Atlanta, I’m trying to get to know thousands of people personally and have that connection with my city. One thing I do believe is that God exists in you, me and all people that will listen and all the people in my city so I’m kind of in a way getting to know God and servicing God through doing free vegan cookouts and creating culture. I’m like a virus that’s updating the matrix that already exists. There’s already this infrastructure that allows everyone to go to clubs and get drunk and do this and that and I feel like it’s out of balance and that there needs to be more infrastructure around things that are good for us so I’m doing ‘Recess’ which is just getting kids outside and doing shows in the woods which is all about getting the veganic farms, sustainable communities and venues that are fuelled by the arts to create a community. So, we have all the means to do the shows and get people out. I don’t really look at any time as spare time, I’m always time travelling and making the most of it and idle time I have I’m planning.
So why do you take such a big interest in sustainability and veganism?
Well, I’ve been told that heart problems run in my family and people who died of heart attacks from an early age. My aunt who was damn near like a mother to me passed away when I was 14 and I just figured I don’t want to pass, I don’t want to have a heart attack so let me just try and vegetarian diet and when I tried it, my eyesight got better, I could wake up easier and I just felt more fluid and felt more light so I just stuck with it. Then when I was 17, I went ‘ham’ and started eating meat again but then I went on tour and realised that the dairy affected my vocals, so I just stopped. I watched Cowspiracy by Keegan Kuhn, I recommend everybody watch that, and I saw it’s impact on the Earth.
My concern for sustainability comes down to my understanding that this Earth is a living thing and a fragment of God, and our ancestors live in the trees and grass and all these things. There’s just a bit of war on nature that’s taking place and people don’t really give a fuck. The way people are in control of this planet, you would think they’re not from this planet. Kind of like when someone comes to your house, and they don’t give a fuck about it and they ash on the floor or something like that because they’re not sleeping there. When I look at how shit is set up, I just think it’s strange and I’m just trying to do right by God and all that is living because I want to leave this place a better place or at least a more balanced place. I got nominated for a camp programme where you go every night during the summer till you graduate High School and they take you out into the woods whilst you’re in school and it’s like to see leadership potential in yourself and they let you think about how corporations you know are running the government and put you on game and show you how to use a compass things like that and that fuelled my love for nature and want to balance shit out.
One thing I’ve noticed is that you mention God a lot when you speak. Did you grow up with a religious background?
Yeah, I grew up Christian, but I wouldn’t consider myself religious. I think it’s an understanding that you have and see everything is connected and it’s an understanding from the past and future. I’m more of a spiritual person but also, I’m just a real-ass fuckin’ person. I don’t like labels and all that and I don’t try to understand what God is, but I have an idea and I just call it how I see it. That’s my perspective and it works out well for me.
As well as God and spirituality being very impactful in your life, going back to the music here, who would you say are you most influenced by?
I would have to say Lauryn Hill, Andre 3000, Justin Vernon from Bon Iver; I would say those are my big three. But I do love Queen you know like Freddie Mercury and that giant stadium sound. I love Fleet Foxes, Kid Cudi, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and System Of A Down.
Would you say that you have a greater interest in bands then since the first instrument you learnt to play was the guitar?
I think I just have a great interest in music in general and even stand-alone artists work with bands. I don’t really see a separation. I think the industry creates a lot of separation like who’s a rapper, who’s an artist, who’s a band or whatever. It’s just as complicated as genres and I‘m just here making music that I love, and I see the oneness.
That makes a lot of sense!
And that’s how I’m able to create so many genres because I just see one thing.
I wanted to talk about your single ‘2020 Vision’ which came with some really lovely visuals of a girl roller-skating along the coastline. It felt almost nostalgic in a way, and I feel like that video was like the epitome of what we as non-Americans think about when we think of coastal states like California; the girls on roller-skates and pop-up stalls on the side of the beach. What was the creative process when making the track and the visuals?
I directed this one and I’ve directed a lot of videos that are coming for this album. What I wanted to do was give people a glimpse into a continuous reality like check this: a beautiful black woman skating down beltline and just having a goof time… and that’s it! I’m like a chef that doesn’t care to use too many ingredients because I want you to actually taste what’s there. It’s like being in a pocket of what’s happening like a Rick and Morty episode where you’re looking into what’s happening right there and then. You could pick any song to go over this video and it would be amazing! It comes back to that oneness because people have imagined this in their heads and have had to come to California to see it and low and behold, there it is. I also just wanted to highlight a black woman and use a video that doesn’t objectify her and show her off like “look how awesome she is”.
She looks like she’s genuinely having fun as well.
I think sometimes less is more, and a lot of songs and videos tend to do a lot. I think it was Rick Rubin that said good art is like a sidewalk, like a service that you can use every day. I also feel like it’s not demanding your attention but it’s pulling your attention or you’re going to want to pay attention because you want to or like it. Not because of all the bells and whistles and all this shit going on. And when you can enjoy something that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles and all that extra shit, that’s when you know it’s really good. Like imagine you have a plate with some chicken and rice, and you think “this is really good”, that’s how you judge a restaurant. I always judge a restaurant by their French fries because if you go to a restaurant and their French fries are not hitting… The restaurants that make their French fries the best probably make the best food in general because they care about the minor details and make the most the most out of just potatoes and salt.
So, what is your creative process like in general when you’re making tracks? Are you making a project right now?
I’m currently in residence at Mr DJ’s house, shoutout to Mr DJ. He worked with me and coached me through producing Strawberry Moon. I’m just going to shout him out real heavy man: David Sheats! Remember the name. Y’all probably heard of him before but he’s with the Dungeon Ramily and he produced some amazing Outkast records and some of my favourite Outkast records of all time such as ‘Da Art Of Storytellin’’, ‘Elevators’ or ‘Rosa Parks’ and ‘Ms. Jackson’. He’s cold! And now we live together and I brought a lot of my instruments into his studio and we’re about to go H.A.M. We’ve got everything we need and my goal with this album isn’t to become Drake, you know… I want to put myself into a position to create as much music as possible for the rest of my life and as long as I can do that, I’ll be unstoppable. I wanted to be in a position where I can express all my abilities without a label breathing down my neck or a manager trying to tell me what to write about. I’m free. I took like a five-year hiatus from 2017 to today and became a man, learned a lot of things about engineering, about the music business and how I can navigate through this shit like a real G and like a real boss. I’m really happy because I’m the pilot of my own destiny.
Did the pandemic stunt your creativity in any way?
Actually, DJ and I, we started working right when the pandemic hit. When I was in LA I was working with somebody else and I thought, let me work in Atlanta man. Let me work in my city. I found a way to get in touch with DJ and wanted to see if he was even willing to work with me because he was also worried about covid. But we both spoke volumes about how we both felt inspired by each other. Everybody was scared and we were just on edge but we still got together and if anything, it spurred our connection and for us to represent a new sound and wave to represent Atlanta for the next decade to come.
Is there anyone you would potentially collaborate want to collaborate with in the future?
I’d love to work with Sade, King Krule, Dijon, PinkPantheress, Baby Keem, Don Toliver – I think they’re really dope and I have a lot of respect for what they’re doing.
What would you tell a young budding musician who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Pick up an instrument and learn it. Be the whole damn artist not just a ‘partist’ because that’s how people play with you. They’ll say that you have to follow this sound because this is what’s cool and this is what the producer wants. Just create your music. The most powerful musicians, they do it all. Like Kanye or Kevin Parker. They play their instruments, engineer and do the whole damn thing. There’s something to be said about the way they create a sound that doesn’t really exist anywhere else.
RAURY’s new album Strawberry Moon is out now!