My teeth had a lock
I learned people will speak if you don't
They'll speak if you don't
They'll speak if you don't
But me, I'm a rolling stone
We all strive for internal consistency, searching for peace of mind through the simplest of interpretations. Spoon-fed absolutes become our credo, but our ever-swelling scope of the world around us inevitably gives birth to cognitive dissonance.
Raz Simone is a man who is using vowels and consonants to find consonance in latitude. Eschewing the black and white for a more vibrant spectrum, the Seattle native’s debut LP expresses a mind forged from a convoluted past, unwinding toward a more lucid future. And it’s no wonder, Raz recently inked a deal between his independent label Black Umbrella and music mogul Lyor Cohen’s latest project, 300 Entertainment. The first signee, the rapper’s thrust into the spotlight is the result of a career built from his bootstraps.
However, music wasn’t always on Raz’s radar. Growing up, the only time Raz listened to or participated in music was at church. Otherwise, music held little weight, especially hip-hop. Devoting little time to TV or movies, he's a self-described tabula rasa who defies all logic of 21st century pop culture. There was a point in time when Raz tagged along with a friend -- who was on an unfortunately promised date -- to go see “some vampire movie,” expecting to see a horror flick.
"I’m sitting there watching it and it’s not even scary, which made it pretty funny,” Raz said. "I keep waiting for something to happen, for the music to change or anything. I get out and I’m telling people how I saw this movie and it wasn’t even scary at all. Turns out, I was watching ‘Twilight’ the whole time. I knew nothing about the whole ‘Twilight’ saga because I live in such a cave.”
What Raz did have a passion for was poetry and storytelling. Writing became more and more of an outlet for him as he progressed through adolescence. The more he transitioned from an observer to a participant in his surrounding environment, the more he wrote. Then, during the few times that he sat down for a flick, Raz noticed himself hypnotically reciting his poetry to the movie's score.
"I realized how the music was the biggest component of a movie," Raz said. "The character development is important and everything, but it’s the music that really brings you in. Eventually I realized that this was more than poetry now, that I was essentially rapping. That was the moment I realized that this was something that I was passionate. I was already passionate about the writing, but this was everything. This is what I’m supposed to do.”
It was Raz’s theory that if he consciously blocked other artist’s from his ears, he would truly craft his own sound, and so he remained cut off. He wouldn’t even allow his friends to play music in their cars once he got in, plugging his ears, yelling “Turn it off!” until they conceded. But more recently he has opened himself up, willing to listen to anything and everything, aware that as a signed musician, he will be exposed to all of it now, whether he likes it or not.
Who are Christians because they came from a house of Christians
I stopped following when I couldn't figure out the difference
Between us and Muslims, us and Buddhists, us and Jewish customs
And who the fuck is to tell me that I'm closer to hell because I'm becoming wealthy
Like I should perform less efficiently, take a small turn
Or that lesbians and gay men will all burn
We all turn to some higher power at that last hour
Hopefully out of love
Not because you're a scared coward
Raz has been hustling all of his life, and he’s done just about every kind of hustle he can think of. That doesn’t mean just illegal stuff, either. As he explains in “Don’t Shine,” he owned a club in downtown Seattle when he was just 19 years old; he operated an ice cream truck business, which included PA systems, mics and a DJ.
He also participated in a lot of work with non-profits, becoming a face in the neighborhood for different organizations as a teenager. He went to town hall meetings, made the connections people needed and created job opportunities for others. However, different circumstances called for different responses, and so when Raz’s son was born while he was still underage, he had to do whatever he could in order to provide for his child.
“I still had character; morals and rules that I set for myself,” Raz said. "I realized that if I’m not running with these rules, then I can’t throw out all the rules because everything just goes to shit then. Of course, you don’t want to be selling dope to your auntie, but once you enter the whole cognitive dissonance realm, you begin to think to yourself, 'Well if she doesn’t get it from me, she’s going to get it from someone else 'cause she’s an addict.’ It could be cut with something else, she could be out selling herself on the street again, she’s going to be putting herself in harm’s way. So, at that point you have to think, ‘I might as well be the one to give it to her.' You can’t overthink all of these things because it will kill you, but you can’t not think about them enough, because then you become this mask that you were just putting on.
"I don’t want to glorify it,” Raz continued. "This is just my outlet, and this is what was going on. I write these things in the hopes that this will really touch someone who’s been through it all. It’s telling the stories, but it’s more so telling the emotions behind it. That’s more unique. How many times can you hear about the dude who’s on the block selling dope? It’s tiring. It's the reasons behind why you’re even on the block; what you’re doing it for -- hopefully you have some reasons. I want people to see the transformation. It documents where I’ve been at, where I’m at now and where I’m aspiring to go to. Everything I’ve ever done has been a means to an end."
Raz’s beats are like throwing darts at a map, and purposefully so. He raps over top of Hans Zimmer’s main theme from “Inception” on opener “They’ll Speak,” dancing strings lead the charge on “8 Rangs” and “Thirsty" provides the album’s sole banger -- a menacing one at that. While many rappers are comfortable labeling themselves as gangster rap or conscious rap, Raz believes that such narrow alignment could only marginalize his message.
“I try to be as transparent and honest as possible,” Raz said. "If you really want it to be genuine, you also have to think about how other people look at you. What you’re experiences look like tour another’s eyes. In no way am I a righteous man. In no way am I doing all the right things. I have to document the positive thoughts and I have to document the negative thoughts. I have to make sure I document all of it."
Raz’s infectious hooks, unique tone and gorgeous production all shine on the album, but it is his replacement of right and wrong for the whole that elevates “Cognitive Dissonance.” Urgency driving each word, Raz discussing experiences with drug dealing, violence and prostitution, without fear or restraint. Countered by promotions of philanthropy, materialistic rejection, and community empowerment, the album is just as much a confession as it is an odyssey for wisdom; an ogred Adonis.