Rexx Life Raj Wants You To Shoot Your Shot
Rexx Life Raj has been on a mission to flourish. The Berkeley, Calif. native who graduated with a degree in communications and used to play Division I football at Boise State University is now checking items off his goal lists as a hip-hop artist.
His most popular tracks, “Handheld GPS” and “Running Man” as well as both installments of his Father Figure series (the sequel, Father Figure 2: Flourish, is out today), detail his inner dialogue while also showcasing his acute observations about the Internet era. “Black lives lay on the curb/ They say we matter, that’s only words; Watch us swimming in pools of blood/ While the world seems undisturbed,” he spits on the latter.
It’s this freedom of expression and not-so-preachy consciousness — a product of being the son to a former Black Panther father and church-loving mother — that has made his music not only easy on the ears but a mirror to who we are and, if lucky, inspires us to shoot our shot.
Get up close and personal with Rexx Life Raj below.
How did being from Berkeley influence the sounds that you were into and how you make music now?
I appreciate the Bay because it’s real diverse. When we were coming up it was like the hyphy movement was everything, so of course my early music was real hyphy. I was talking crazy, jumping on cars. I didn’t have dreads at the time but I was still going dumb. It was really formative with icons like E-40 and Mac Dre and all that kind of stuff, but I feel what shaped me the most from the Bay was 102.9 KBLX, which is like an old school soul, jazz type station that my parents would listen to a lot in the car, and 98 Kiss FM, like the oldies but goodies type station.
Was there anybody specifically who inspired you to take music seriously as a career?
I think it was just hella people in general. Just like I said, coming from that side with my family and them all seeing I was singing really early. One of my favorite albums growing up was Harlem World by Mase, like I really loved that album, it made me wanna rap hella bad [like] the “Cheat On Me” song. That’s when I was really in my 112 phase. There was an album by a guy in the Bay at the time called Immaculate by Mac Mall. I liked that album a lot.
What was it about that album?
I don’t know. It was just the way Mac rapped was hella smooth. I just really liked Mac Mall at the time. And then I went into a neo-soul type phase like Musiq Soulchild, and I got really into Erykah Badu and I think that really influenced me. I think growing up to 102.9 KBLX and [listening to] Luther Vandross, Eric Clapton, the classics translated a lot into the neo-soul movement. I’ve always been attracted to rappers who could sing a melody to their raps.
What inspired the title for your project Father Figure 2?
I look at at a father figure as someone who people respect but also someone who people can get game and get wisdom from in a positive light. A father figure is someone who’s dropping gems for you, you can learn through their life lessons so you don’t have to go through the same shit that they went through, all the mistakes that they made and a father figure doesn’t have to be a man, it could be anybody. It could be a woman. You wouldn’t call her a father figure but the idea is that she’s somebody that teaching you something, someone you can learn from.
So for me, in terms of my music, I named [my project] that because I listen to a lot of music, and it’s like, dudes have these big platforms and there’s not that many dudes who are saying real, positive shit. I guess it is, but it’s more negative shit being said, and it’s not the messages that I would put out. So I’m using mine as a platform like yo, I’m going through whatever I’m going through, growing in the music business, this game, in life in general and this is the shit I’m learning and you can learn from it too. I battle with not being too preachy, it’s like trying to put the medicine in a candy, so people can hear it and not really know that I’m trying to preach to them but it’s easily digestible in a way you can still learn from.
On your song “Running Man,” you have a line that goes, “Stand up guy but I could have been a criminal.” What was going through your mind when you said that?
It’s just the sentiment of being where I’m from. You have so many opportunities to fall victim to hella shit whether it be like, you go to a house party and niggas shootin, you get shot, or you in the car with the wrong niggas, get pulled over and they got a gun in the car. There’s a lot of situation where it’s like being young and dumb. I remember niggas just hitting licks for no reason, running in houses, selling weed for no reason. It was so easy to succumb to that because you wanted some quick money, and niggas was doing that.
So to make it through and not have to do that, I think is a blessing. A lot of times, I don’t even necessarily look at it like it’s a bad thing that they’re doing that, but it’s the system that forces them to do that. If the system was set up where niggas could get jobs easier or niggas weren’t discriminated against, they would be doing the shit that they doing. Luckily, I was in a position where I didn’t have to do that, so it’s just speaking to that.
What prevented you from falling victim to your circumstances?
A lot of it was love from the family I was born into. From my dad being the stand-up guy that he was and being based in principles and morals to my mom being really spiritual and Christian and the values that she held. Luckily, I had friends who were kind of in the same realm as me who weren’t out doing too much crazy shit, so a lot of it was just luck, but I really think it was my parents. I had parents who kept me on the right path without being too constraining.
How did it feel to meet Pharrell?
Meeting Pharrell was crazy. So it was a guy named KP, who is one of Pharrell’s homeboys. He works on the platform, i am OTHER, with Pharrell. He was at the EMPIRE office, and Nima [Etminan] was playing him artists and he fucked with [my music]. He sent Pharrell some links [of my work] and Pharrell was like, ‘Yeah, I want to meet him.’ So we just mobbed out to L.A. to meet him like a week later. We went up there, and It was crazy because Pharrell was recording hella early in the morning because he had just had his twins.
The first day we met him he was hella cool. Pharrell is the type of guy who came across exactly how you would think he would come across as — hella positive, soft spoken, a lot of wisdom, really inquisitive, he asks questions, he was cool. So we played him some music and he fucked with it. The next day, we got to sit in on a session when he was making beats and creating.
Did you hear “Lemon”?
No, I ain’t hear shit early. I heard something but I don’t know what it was. One of the things from Pharrell that blew my mind was the next day, we came into the studio session and he was making a beat and using a sample. At the time, something had just happened in Baltimore and [people] were rioting and protesting. There was this clip of this black teenager, and I don’t remember exactly what he was saying but it was something to the sentiment of ‘They cant keep killing us on the street, we not gon’ stand for this’ and that clip had gone viral. He’s making the beat, and I hear the sample he kind of manipulated it in the back and I was like, ‘Is that that kid from Baltimore?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, what I do is sample the kid and I’ll put him in my music so I have to pay him money to support him.’ And I was like, yo that’s crazy because I never would’ve thought to do anything like that. That just shows the kind of guy he is.
For the people who are going to be listening to you for the first time with Father Figure 2, what do you hope is the biggest takeaway?
The biggest takeaway from this project is growth and that’s why I called it Flourish. One of the underlying messages of the project is growth and striving to grow and striving to flourish because that’s what everybody’s doing. Most people at least are striving to be something better than what they are right now, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why people gravitate towards my music because sometimes I sound unsure.
Sometimes I sound like I don’t even know what I’m shooting for but I’m shooting anyway. I feel like a lot of people feel like that. A lot of people don’t know exactly what the end goal is, but you know that there’s an end goal and it’s something bigger than you are right now and everybody who’s about something is on that same trajectory trying to figure it out and get there.
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