Raury is a new kind of artist but when you hear him you understand. In the tradition of Kanye West or, say, Taylor Swift, the very existence of the 18-year-old singer/songwriter/rapper/guitarist/producer seems to represent another nail in the coffin of the idea of genre purity. His songs are seamless amalgams of a dozen strains of American music stretching back half a century — all woven together by someone who never saw them as separate.
Last week, Raury held an event in his native Atlanta called Raurfest, which doubled as both his first ever official performance and his 18th birthday party. This morning, he was announced, alongside Kid Cudi and Childish Gambino, as an opener for Outkast at their homecoming show there in September. Later this summer, he’ll release his debut EP, Indigo Child, which he characterizes as a kind of call to arms for the YouTube generation. We caught up with the rising star the day after Raurfest, the buzz from which had yet to wear off. This is his story in his own words.
Raury: Everything went so perfectly. I used to be so nervous about performing to the point where I was worried about how it would affect my career. But I kept practicing and now I love being on stage. When we got to the venue before Raurfest, I wasn’t nervous or scared. I just felt like “It’s time! Let’s fuckin’ do this shit!” It was like something took over my body. I was in the zone.
The venue had a capacity of 300 people and it was packed. We had to turn away a lot of people. There were A LOT of girls. I crowdsurfed for the first time and the crowd almost dropped me! And a girl threw her bra up on the stage, which was awesome. I want to make Raurfest an annual event and bring other dope artists to play next year.
Backstage, I got a medieval sword with my name engraved on it from my photographer. And Andre 3000’s niece Malia gave me some Pokémon cards, which was dope. After the show, I walked to the after party and everybody followed me. It was a crowd of like 200 people filling the streets.
I grew up in a town called Stone Mountain, which is sort of the suburban outskirts on the east side of Atlanta. It’s like the same area where Childish Gambino grew up. There’s nature and not too many big buildings — lots of lakes and woods and trails. I’m an outdoorsy person, so I prefer that anyway. Instead of moving to New York or L.A., I could see myself in, like, a cabin in Alaska 10 years from now.
When I was little I used to look up to Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan. All I knew was that I wanted to be that fucking awesome. I wrote my first song when I was like 3 years old. It was called “Oh little fishy.” Since then, I’ve always been doing my thing. I’m the youngest in my family — I have an older brother who’s 27 and in the Marines and a sister who’s 20 and has her own fashion line called Black Pool. Nobody else in my family was musically inclined.
My mom works at the post office, and when I was 10 years old I begged her to buy me a guitar. When I was 11 I finally got it. I taught myself how to play using the internet and watching YouTube videos. With the internet now, there’s so much kids can do to make something out of themselves. I still have a lot to learn, though. I could be at a way better level than I am now, honestly.
I always had an ear for all types of music. I used to eavesdrop on my older brother who would listen to cool shit like Red Hot Chilli Peppers, System of a Down, Kanye West, Bloc Party, all kinds of things. And my mom would listen to Sade and Anita Baker and Celine Dion and Beyoncé. And of course Tupac and Outkast. I picked up on it all.
I think the internet has changed music. People like me grow up listening to everything and the genres begin to blend and disappear. You’ve got people like King Krule and Travis Scott and Lorde and myself. There are so many genreless artists now. But if calling it “alternative” helps you sleep at night, then so be it.
I call my album Indigo Child because it’s for the generation who grew up in the Internet Age with infinite knowledge. We have access to everything now so we should be aware of that and really make the best of it.
On the internet, you get exposed to all different races and sexualities and religions — all types of people. So before any parent or cultural standard tries to influence you or make you think some type of way, you can form your own opinion. People are different, but that doesn’t mean that they’re monsters or that they should be discriminated against or talked down to.
I graduated from high school three weeks ago and it’s the best shit ever to be free. I fucking hated school. I was one of those kids that school wasn’t for and I feel like there are so many people like that. Teachers can be so narrow-minded. They’ll decide someone is a bad kid and then treat them in a way that just feeds that behavior. I think a lot of people become failures because the school system is all they know and they think “I must suck because I don’t have a 4.0.”
The only thing that got me through my freshman year of high school was Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon album. When I was doing my music, teachers would always say “Make sure you have a backup plan!” I think having a backup plan is good advice, but their general attitude felt like “You better have a backup plan because this shit ain’t gonna work out for you.” I don’t think it’s that hard to put the fucking work in and do what you want to do. They just instill so much fear in kids about pursuing their dreams. There should be a better method for helping people find their way in life other than just school.
I attribute a lot of who I am to being in this program called C5, which is like a youth leadership organization owned by the Coca-Cola company, which is based in Atlanta. They pick 72 7th graders every year, and every summer for five years after that you go on these outdoor camping trips and learn leadership, communication and problem-solving skills.
We would do wild, like “Survivorman” shit. One year, we went to North Carolina and had to bike 13 miles, hike eight miles and then white water raft for another eight miles. Another year, we went on a 50-mile hike through Yellowstone National Park. That’s when I first started wearing my sunhat. Shit would get mad hot out there.
Getting a shoutout from Lorde on Twitter was cool. She DMed me and we got each others’ email, so I’m excited about that. It was a surprise, but I knew it had to happen at some point. I’m glad that she likes the music.
I actually learned about collaborating from Mac Miller. We were in the studio with Thundercat and Flying Lotus and Thundercat got pissed at me because I told him how to play bass. I didn’t even realize it was that big a deal! Mac said that sometimes you have to let people do their thing, because that’s how you get the best out of them.
With my music, I want to create a movement. I don’t just want to release an EP or an album or a mixtape. I want to become a phase in peoples’ lives, just like the artists that I grew up on were for me. I want to inspire people to go out and challenge the world. Challenge everything and question everything.