In an industry largely comprised of false advertisement and artists created by major labels out of thin air, Raz Simone’s to-a-fault authenticity sticks out like a sore thumb in the best way possible.
Hailing from Seattle, Washington, the 24 year old emcee has spent years building a die-hard fan base by being not only an amazing artist, but a real person as well. Now with legendary industry top dog Lyor Cohen’s new 300 venture behind him, Raz is set up to take his incredible talent and unique disposition to the next level.
Raz is currently out on the road with Rittz and Tuki Carter on Rittz’s OD Tour, so we had to chop it up with him and get some insight on his past, his art, and what he plans to do with all the buzz currently surrounding him.
Check out the full interview below.
You recently linked up with Lyor Cohen’s 300 venture, even though you’ve already got a solid following under Black Umbrella. What made that deal make sense for you?
First, because I have complete creative control. I can do whatever I want at whatever time.
It took a awhile for me to just like, decide if I wanted to do that partnership and make that link, because you know it was [the creative control] and then also that Lyor…I was talking with him for a while and I was saying, you know, “I don’t wanna just go out and get radio promotion and get on the mainstream radios and go out and just show up on everything,” because…not because that’s selling out, but because there’s a process and you want to have that organic growth as an artist for longevity, you know?
You don’t want to just pop up on a bunch of radio stations out of nowhere and then someone’s first experience with you is hearing the song on the radio. You get stuck with that one song, or the second song, or whatever, but I just think it’s a lot better when people hear about you elsewhere and your fans have a gem that they can bestow on people.
They can walk around like “No one has heard this Raz. No one even knows about him and he’s so dope. Have you heard this? Here you go.” You know? Being able to do that for a while and putting in work – just like Tech has put in his work, by word of mouth and all that stuff – it’s so much more powerful and such a strong connection that you have with your listeners than if it’s just like…someone pops up on the radio.
The other thing was I had to get the trigger in my hand – as Lyor says. Having the trigger in my hand and being able to pull when I want things to happen.
That’s super cool and I know that for me personally, I get way more passionate about an artist when it’s like my little secret, getting to impart that feeling on somebody else is awesome.
Yes, exactly, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.
Those were my two things – and back to the creative control – a lot of labels they see people and they…the term that gets used between pimps and hoes is like, you’re trying to put a pig in a wig. A lot of times labels they dress up these artists exactly how they want them to be, but I always thought that was weird. It’s one thing if you find someone and it’s like okay they’ve got the image. We’re gonna do this. We’re gonna put together this super single and whatever. That’s one thing, but if you find someone based on their talents…or maybe even their numbers or projected numbers like…why would you want to stop up something that was going beautiful? You liked them for that and now you wanna go and and dress them in something else. Maybe they’re not a pig, they’re a tiger or a lion or some shit, why do you want to change them? If you want that, go find a pig in a wig, but if you picked me up for my talents why would you ever want to change that? Just get behind me or in front of me. Behind me to help me push or in front of me to block and tackle.
You seem like you have an incredibly comprehensive grasp on the music industry and what you want out of your career. Where did that sense of direction come from? Is that just you doing you, or did you have someone coming up that kind of laid it all out for you and pointed out the potholes like “Watch out for that kind of shit”?
Man, I hate to say it…I’m trying to think of anyone I can give extra credit to. I didn’t have anyone coming up that could put that type of wisdom on me, it was always me trying to pick people’s brains.
Like, if I had more time with you I’d be chopping it up with you trying to soak up as much as possible. On tour with Strange Music it’s a blessing. I’m trying to chop it up with Grasher, the road manager; Adam, who does all the merch; DJ Chris Chrisis – I try to chop it up with them and pick their brains about how the operation goes, ask them questions. For example last night I stayed up talking with Grasher abot the Tech tour and what the production looks like – all that stuff. You know, just going through and getting all the different details and putting it in my mind.
I can’t take out my notepad because then it’s not quite a conversation, but I’m trying to put it in my mind, and having 52 cities with you guys is like a blessing. To be with two artists who are linked in and doing their thing and two well-known establishments it’s like, fucking A! I’m trying to soak up things like that as much as possible, but growing up in Seattle we didn’t have that. Sir Mix-A-Lot was there to talk to us about some things and that’s the closest thing we had.
Nirvana is like…not around. The closest thing you’d have is studios, we’re big on music and the production of it. Quincy Jones is from my neighborhood – fucking Jimi Hendrix – all that stuff. We’ve got dope studios that have recorded a bunch of different things, especially rock, but we don’t have the business side of things. Like, you’re hard pressed to find an entertainment lawyer in Seattle and if you do I wouldn’t trust it.
I learned everything myself – production, app design, web design – and then I had to go find a network of people who can do those things better than me. I can produce, but there’s people who devote their whole lives to that – no lyrics just production – so now let me link up with these guys and be able to create with and through them. All that stuff. I don’t have the time to be designing all my own graphics.
I designed my last CD cover but in reality I shouldn’t be having to do that for everything. If I’ve got a tour I should be able to throw the design to someone else or this or that. Being able to delegate is important.
That’s why even at this point I’m so hungry to sit down with cats at Strange like Travis and ask “How do you make this happen? You’ve been doing it for however many years now, how does this machine even work?” I know it’s not like a formula, there’s still some rough edges and things, but Strange does such a good job of using what they have and doing better than a lot of other people in the industry.
It’s cool to see that you’re taking so much advantage of the situation. I know touring is fun and it’s easy to get caught up in getting fucked up every night and just having fun but you’re using it as a learning experience.
Yeah, I don’t even smoke or drink man. I’ve never smoked in my life. I’ve never been a drinker. I didn’t even drink till I was like 20 or something like that and I tried it or whatever, but I’ve just kinda made a pact with myself I’m just not gonna do it again.
I don’t think it’s anything I ever even needed really. That’s where I’m at – so it’s easy to keep a clear head. I’m always about controlling as many variables as possible, so if I was super fucked up that’s just one more uncontrolled variable – and I mean to each his own. I’m not judging others, just with me and with the families I’ve grown up with, I wouldn’t want to do that to myself and chance it.
I know in the recent past you got caught up with a gun charge in New York, but eventually all charges were dropped. How did that rough spot make you feel in regards to your music and your business? Obviously it’s taxing on a personal level, but how did it affect your attitude musically?
[Editor’s Note: Raz caught a gun charge while performing in New York City for possession of a firearm that he legally owned. After dealing with the effects of the situation through out all of 2013, all charges were recently dropped]
It made me feel like 2Pac [laughs]. Nah, it made me feel like I need to record as much as I can so even if I’m gone for this many years, all my listeners can still be fed. It felt like I need to get some productions all lined up, let my mom or someone know just in case, like this is the order of things, this is that, this is that.
That’s kinda how things like that made me feel, especially when it’s in my face. I’ve had other things where it’s more behind the scenes, like when feds were coming around and things like that. That was way scarier. That was like let me get away and just be a hermit and not do anything, and that was crippling, feeling like I need to not do anything. Then I just overcame it, like, if it’s gonna happen it’s gonna happen. I just need to be on the straight and narrow and if they want to come get me they will.
But knowing that I have a court date at this time, this is gonna happen, I might get three to ten years or whatever. Okay. That was like okay cool I’m good, I’m either gonna get nothing by the grace of God, or I’m gonna get a few years or more. I know that, so I can deal with that. Okay I might be out when I’m this old, I might get this, I might get good time, whatever.
It’s almost like when you’re getting spanked as a child. I always looked at parents running around the house with a belt all crazy like “Get the fuck over here Johnny!!” I looked at that like, “That’s not scary.” My mom was way scarier, she waited until she wasn’t mad at me anymore. So I had to wait, it might be hours. Then she’d tell me, “Go find my belt and lay on the bed.” I’m laying on the bed with a bare booty, just waiting. I might be waiting there hours, I might be woken up to my mom coming over here saying, “I’m gonna spank you. I’m gonna spank you this many times cause you did this, this, and this.”
The anticipation kills me more than the actual punishment. It was the anticipation of it. Not knowing when, that’s the mind-fuck. So knowing that something is gonna happen and it has to get resolved in the next year or whatever, it’s much more comforting to the point where it almost didn’t bother me.
That’s crazy. What has the response been like for you from the fans on this tour?
It’s been amazing. It’s been really amazing. Every time it’s been great. The energy between all of us has been great, on stage has been amazing, the fans, the reception has been dope.
I look at everything like “No seed goes un-sown.” When you’re throwing out seeds on the ground, at least one of them is gonna catch. If you throw seeds out on the beach, let’s say maybe three catch, it’s the beach. If I throw out seeds on the tour bus, probably none of those are gonna catch except maybe one that gets it’s way into a dark moist crack, and the light shines on it in the morning and now there’s one seed that grows right there. But if I plant seeds in the fucking dirt, maybe like 100 might even grow! If I throw seeds out in some moist, fertilized dirt with some miracle grow, all that shit is gonna flourish. That’s how I look at it, I’ve always got seeds when I’ve got a show. Even if I do a show in front of 2 people, I’m gonna rock as hard as I can like i’m rocking at an amphitheater, and those seeds hopefully are gonna catch, at least one of them.
When I look at opening up for different artists, the majority of the people in the crowds are their fan base, so you’re always wondering how you’re gonna be received by the people you’re opening up for and their fan base. I was kinda worried at first because I’m not super similar to Rittz or Tuki. I don’t have the country thing. I don’t rap fast. I know Strange has the Juggalo movement behind it and everything, but being here, right now, and doing these dates with Rittz? It’s amazing.
I wanted to commend Strange – and commend Rittz, because he had his own following before – but commend the Strange and Rittz fan base for just having dope ass fucking people, dope ass fans. I fuck with that. I’ve heard that if you put out quality music, you get quality listeners. You put out some bullshit, you get bullshit, so having people who have open minds and are willing to sit there and listen, and if it’s good they fuck with it.
There’s been hella love, and it’s been a great embrace, and I want to make sure that my relationship with Strange is worked on and fortified and it’s understood that I really appreciate everything you guys are doing and even if I was just sitting back, it’s amazing.
I didn’t even grow up listening to music really, and before I even fucking bought my first CD – this is something that no one even knows. The only person that knows is my Polish homie and he might not even remember this. One summer I stayed with a Polish family when my mom went over to Africa, and my Polish homie came home one day with a fucking Tech N9ne demo tape.
He was like, “Yeah man this guy was passing it out in the mall for free. Here it is. Check it out if you want it.” I popped it in my fuckin’ CD player and it was Tech N9ne! I was like this is pretty dope! I wasn’t even listening to rap music, I didn’t even fuck with shit. I didn’t even think music was powerful, that was early early. No one even knows this shit. It had that song….[Sings chorus to “I’mma Tell“] that song got so many replays for me. The feel, the flow of it, it was just like…I was a sucker for melodies too.
If I was in a movie and there’s some sweet ass music that came on that made you wanna cry, that was my shit. Something that got you hype or angry, that was my shit, like movie scores you know? But even hearing that I was like “fuck.” Then seeing that – damn, this guy’s on his grind. I thought about that moment of having that CD in my hand, someone coming out physically to the mall pushing the shit. That just stuck in my mind.
Covering your bases and getting out there on that grind and that independent type of feel, it was like damn. I’ve already had admiration for y’all…and I won’t blow smoke. I’m not a dick sucker. I don’t even really give a lot of praise to people. I have to remind myself to tell people like, “Oh, good show,” or something like that. I do not suck dick at all [laughs] so me giving all this praise is real genuine, that’s real shit.
There’s not hardly anyone else that I give that type of praise to.
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RITTZ’S ‘OD TOUR’ WITH TUKI CARTER AND RAZ SIMONE!
- What do you think of Raz’s music?
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