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Local Love: Raj the Rapper

Local Love: Raj the Rapper
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By Catalina Campos

It’s been over a few years since I met Rajesh Sekhar at a Midtown club through mutual friends. Apart from his notorious and signature afro, I have heard of Rajesh prior to having met him. Friends played Raj the Rapper’s songs before I even met the guy, with “Girl from Miyakos” as the very first track that introduced me to an unorthodox rapper. Originally from Madras Chennai, India, Raj is part of a subtle movement towards a change in mainstream rap and hip hop. His versatile and consistently developing style is mainly due to his eagerness and determination to break boundaries.

His 2012 release of mixtape, “Hot-n-Ready”, shows Raj’s first professional dip into music with his album produced by Hydraponik Productions. His tracks, resonating with a heavy influence from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, hold a similar vocal ability juxtaposing a rapid yet chill rhythm. Yet, he doesn’t identify himself with one specific style and is still experimenting with sound in the studio. Listeners should be eager, a two year gap shows promise to a more developed Raj the Rapper.

Before his April 10th show at Warehouse Live, where he opened for T. Mills, I had the chance to dig deeper into Raj’s mind with a one on one.
What got you into thinking of rapping as a possible career for you?

I was in the drum line in high school and on away games we would have these really long bus trips. So we would sit in the back of the bus and people in the drumline would just kinda freestyle and, you know, just kinda rap and pass the time. It was a fun hobby that I turned out to be good at.

I never really envisioned myself as being an artist or a rapper, but thats where it started. I always had music be a really big part of my life. I’m Hindu and when I was younger, I used to go to these prayers at people’s houses where I would always sing. Later on, I taught myself how to play the guitar but it all really came together whenever I went to UH. I met some people that  would tell me this is gold, that my freestyle is really good. Through the years, through networking, I started recording a little bit here and there and messing around. That’s when my career finally started gaining momentum and started taking things more seriously. Right now I’m about to finish a Marketing degree at TSU and thats because music and marketing go in hand and hand. I can’t just drop out of school and pursue it solely because it’s really important to my mom and family that I finish school. Family is really important to me.

You’re a pretty unorthodox rapper in the sense that you don’t see a lot of Indian rappers. With the given stereotypes in the rap and hip hop industry, do you ever get any criticism?

I always liked the challenge. Being myself, I have always been a little bit different. I’m not really in just one type of crowd. Going to Stafford High School exposed me to different cultures. Indians might be the minority, but theres a little bit of everything mixed in.  The way I see it in the rap industry is that there’s a lot stereotypes but it’s a challenge I’m willing to take on. I really want to break that barrier because somebody’s gotta do it. There was a point in time where people said that white people can’t rap, and you see Vanilla Ice come in and he did kinda open it up a little bit. Then there’s Eminem who created a whole new style, completely breaking  the genre apart. He’s gone through a lot of criticism, being stereotyped, and discriminated against. It’s gonna be hard, I don’t expect things to be easy but I know the role that I’m taking on because someone’s gotta do it and I’m hoping, God-willingly, that I’ll be the one to do it.
What are your musical influences and how do you transcribe that into “Hot-n-Ready”?

You can tell Bone Thugs N’ Harmony is one of my influences but I really like Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West. One person that I think is underrated is Big L. Big L really influenced my style just because I like the lyrics, the bravado, and his delivery. He has a huge persona that stands out. I really like Pharrel, I like the way he approaches a song. He’s not trying to be hard but just goes with the mood and the melody of his music.
Do you have any upcoming releases that we should anticipate?

The two projects that I’m working on run together as a double disc project. One will be called The Supply and the other will be called The Demand. I think that with The Supply I want to flood people with a lot of music and a lot of different styles. This is The Supply, take what you want. I want The Supply to really create The Demand. The Demand is going to be what people really want. I believe that people don’t know what they want, you gotta tell them what they want. The Demand is crafted to be a bit more of a unique project. The demand is, “This is what Raj is all about.”
Hot-n-Ready was released in 2012, how will your new projects differ from your first release?

Hot-n-Ready is my beginner, novice mixtape with a lot of songs made at the age of 19, but I’m 25 now. The reason I still put it out there is because I have always liked to see the progression of an artist, how their style was before all of this, and how they were when they were trying to make it. I have always been really interested in seeing this. The next project you’ll hear a difference in both productions as well as just overall composition of the song and delivery. The Demand is really going to deliver on substance, on hitting different types of topics and subtexts. As an Indian Rapper, and Indian American, I have a completely different perspective on a lot of things in life. It might hit a little bit closer to home to people who know the base where I come from. I believe that every day I will improve and get better. As I release projects I want to display an evolution in sound.

Do you think you will stay the independent route or hope to sign up for a major record label?

I’m in the process of starting my own company, kind of like my own artist development brand. I do songwriting as well and I want to take the independent route, yes, but at the same time I know that I will have to go through distribution. I’m trying to build up my leverage so I can get a better publishing deal in the future. I’m going to have sign on at some point, but right now I’m going to stay the independent route.

If you missed Raj the Rapper open for T. Mills, he will be opening for Devin the Dude at the Buds and Suds Tour.

To download a free mixtape, click here.

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