Want to have every negative stereotype about millennials shattered in the space of 20 minutes? Have a conversation with Raury.
Because that’s not really an option for everyone—the 19-year-old hip-hop/folk artist only has so much free time on his hands—the Straight’s recent telephone interview with him will have to suffice. When we connect with the Atlanta-based performer, he’s at Toronto’s Analogue Gallery, doing a day of interviews.
Boomers and Gen Xers may have his generation pegged as a bunch of lazy, apathetic narcissists, but Raury is clearly anything but.
Back in September, he made his national-TV debut on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, on an episode that also featured the host’s interview with Donald Trump. Raury silently took a shot at the Republican presidential-nom hopeful, who has promised that when he’s sitting in the Oval Office, he’ll round up some 11 million illegal immigrants, many of them from Latin America, and deport them.
For a performance of his gospel-tinged stomper “Devil’s Whisper”, Raury wore a green jersey with “Mexico” on the front. He turned around to reveal the name Trump on the back, with a big red X over it.
The singer and rapper tells the Straight that he had no personal interaction with the Donald, but adds that he wouldn’t have had anything to say to him regardless.
“He is who he is,” the artist born Raury Deshawn Tullis says. “No angry or snarky comment, or whatever I could say, would make the situation better. But what I could do is stand up for an oppressed people. Colbert couldn’t be as active as he wanted to be. I know Colbert wanted to tear him apart even more but, you know, I’m the young 19-year-old kid that’s going to get up there and make my statement about how I feel about him, because nobody else can. It’s up to young kids to go up there and let it be known that, like, ‘Yo, we’re not with this.’ ”
Clearly, Raury has something to say, and he says plenty on All We Need, his major-label debut. Coming on the heels of last year’s independently released mix tape Indigo Child, the record is impossible to slot into any single category; it touches on ATL trap, after-midnight R&B, coffeehouse folk, and guitar rock—sometimes all within the space of a single song. All We Need is a true product of the Internet generation, a snapshot of a teenager whose tastes were shaped by the type of boundary-free discovery that can only happen by online serendipity.
Sometimes Raury keeps things personal, as on “Mama”, which has him promising his mother that he won’t turn out like his dad, and “Woodcrest Manor II”, a lament for a childhood friend lost to the world of gangs and drugs. At other times, he has his eyes on larger issues; the title track looks at social inequity in the U.S., while “Revolution” is an all-hands-on-deck call for a movement to save “this burning earth”. The connecting thread is a deep empathy for the downtrodden and the marginalized.
The main criticism that has been lodged against Raury is that his vision is inchoate, and that he points out societal problems without offering solutions. To the artist himself, such critics are totally missing the point.
“They don’t see that this music is being heard by an 11-year-old somewhere,” Raury suggests. “The young kids are hearing this, and they’re embodying this music, and they’re embodying the values and whatnot that this music carries. This culture is going to shift, and who knows, 30 years from now the politicians in office might be Raury fans, people that listened to Raury growing up. And they may see things differently. They may have a lot more compassion for the world. And things may be less corrupt.”
Of his naysayers, the impassioned tunesmith says, “These are people that only see music as an outlet of entertainment and not as an outlet of inspiration that really affects how someone sees the world, how somebody wants to interact with the world. And all these interviews—this is my solution. This is my contribution, putting out that kind of thought into the world for kids to digest and to grow into.”
Raury plays Fortune Sound Club on Tuesday (November 17).