A few hours before I spoke with Rexx Life Raj, the Louisville AG issued his disheartening verdict in the Breonna Taylor case.
Faraji Omar Wright grew up in the church, with his father closely affiliated with The Black Panthers. As a result, Rexx speaks with candid transparency. His thoughts appear fully formed as they leave his lips, even in regard to unfolding situations like Breonna Taylor’s. “That’s definitely not the type of sh*t you wanna wake up to,” Rex said. The melodic rapper has been laying low for the last few months, sprinkling the final touches on his upcoming EP, California Poppy 2 at his home studio in Vallejo, California and spending much needed time with his mom, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Despite the hardships, he views quarantine as a “blessing in disguise.”
“Everyone’s cool,” he reassures me. “Everything happens for a reason. I was definitely supposed to be home right now.” Faith is paramount to his character. “I don’t care what you believe in or what the name of your God is, but believing in something bigger than yourself is pivotal when sh*t hits the fan,” he said. When asked how his faith has been tested in instances like Breonna Taylor’s, he reminded me: “None of this is new. We see this sh*t all the time. But this is bigger than it’s ever been. Now it’s on the grandest stage.” The rapper recently released “Optimistic,” an empowering D smoke collaboration that appeared on Empire’s varietal album Voices for Change Vol. 1. All the proceeds from the album will go directly to the ACLU, and Rexx released the single a day before the Taylor verdict. He admitted he was still trying to remain optimistic and to stay focused on the silver linings. “Everything happens for a reason,” he repeated.
It feels like your last release, Father Figure 3: Somewhere Out There, was a lifetime ago. How have things shifted for you creatively since that project came out?
For me, this is the perfect time to be dropping hella music and hella content. The bigger artists are mostly waiting till 2021 to drop so they can go on tour and do a press run. So the artists in my space who are still growing, now is the best time to drop music because everyone is at home on their phone right now.
Your two new singles, “Canvas” and now “Optimistic,” seem very telling of your 2020 headspace. This duality of being desperate to find creative outlets to relieve stress while on the flipside trying to believe that things have to get better. Take me through the journey of these two records because, thematically, they feel very connected.
All my music is just a stream of consciousness of what I’m feeling or going through, and actually, I wrote the hook to “Optimistic” a week after my mom’s diagnosis. When we got the news, it was such a downer, so I felt I needed to write something about being optimistic, because if you’re not optimistic about what’s going on, you don’t really have a chance ’cause sh*t is so dark. The art is just my reflection of how I see the world and what’s going on. I look at music like it’s my journal.
Marcus Mitchell Jr.
With all that in mind, what’s the difference between your California Poppy series and your Father Figure series?
California Poppy is definitely more fun and less of me thinking about the messages. My Father Figure series is really intentional about the message. But actually last night, I was just in the studio with my manager finishing California Poppy 2, and sonically it’s a lot darker, and my manager looked at me and said: “Bro, the world is darker.” But that’s how I’d distinguish it, California Poppy is more of a feeling.
What do you mean by “darker?”
The chord progressions are a little darker. It’s a lot of low ends; it’s not even like I’m being dark. I’m still having fun. Anyone that knows my old music knows that anything in California Poppy realm has a lot of bright chord progressions and upbeat tempos–ah, I can’t even really explain it here.
I can see what you mean. The lyric “Survivor’s guilt been having its way with me” on “Canvas” especially resonated with me, because I didn’t really realize that so many of us are experiencing that feeling in some form or another whether we lost a family member directly to the pandemic or not.
For sure, I agree, but I was mostly just speaking on where I’m from. My best friend got killed my first year in college, then a year later my other best friend went to jail for 25 years to life. Being where I’m from, you see so many dudes die, you see so many dudes go to jail.
Growing up I was the only friend that had both my parents around that were married. I ended up playing D1 football, went to college, and all this time when things were going so well I’d see homies die and go to jail, and it’s always been a bittersweet feeling. For all of my accomplishments, I got homies out every day risking their lives cause they gotta make some money. To be fulfilled in myself, I gotta figure out a way to put other people on. Accomplishing goals doesn’t make me happy.
Marcus Mitchell Jr.
But creating music in this day and age is so goal-oriented. Streaming and numbers are so important to an artist’s career. How do you stay focused on just making music and not get distracted by that aspect?
My music is my passion. I would be doing it regardless. Luckily I can get paid, but I’d be doing it either way. This game is interesting because I think there are a lot of rappers who if tomorrow what was lit was people just doing canvas paintings, tomorrow you’d see a lot of rappers trying to be painters. They’re not doing it for the art; they’re doing it for the things it brings, whether it be clout, women, or fame. For me, music is all I’ve ever known. I grew up in it.
Right. You grew up in the church, and you had some pretty talented singers in your family, right?
My whole family can sing. Every Sunday my family sang in a quartet called The Marshall Quartet. Actually, everyone in my family can either play some type of instrument or sing. Growing up, I didn’t think I could sing, so I played the drums a little bit. To also top it off, my parents own a delivery service, so I grew up in the back of the car when they were listening to Luther Vandross, Parliament, The Isley Brothers. I’ve always been around music.
Your father was also affiliated with the Panthers. What did you learn from him growing up, and how are you guys handling the current moment?
Well, especially with my dad, none of this is new. It’s been everyday life for us. We seen this sh*t all the time and now it’s on the grandest stage thanks to camera phones. What’s happening was the perfect storm. But now when you see a protest there be hella white people and sh*t, but n***** been knowing what’s been going on. It’s just publicized and politicized, which is making it crazy, but I f*ck with it cause the awareness is at an all-time high. I think a lot of things are changing, that’s why it’s so chaotic right now.
I do wonder too though, especially within the case of Breonna Taylor, that because these matters are so prevalent right now it’s become almost trendy. Do you think the trends surrounding BLM and Breonna Taylor are beneficial? Will they lead towards change?
I was actually just talking to my girl about this. If anything should be trendy, it should be this. Make this sh*t trendy. It raises the awareness of it. It’s forced on you now. You have to learn about this now. We gotta understand how symbolism works. When you see the NBA players with “Breonna Taylor” written all on ’em, like, they ain’t talking to you bro; they’re talking to the world. They’re on the world stage.
You got people in Africa now saying: “Who is Breonna Taylor?” All that attention and pressure is what draws change. Even with what they did this morning, it’s gonna be insane. We already knew it was gonna be insane. It for sure rubs me the wrong way sometimes, but I try to look at it through the lens of: At least it’s raising awareness of something that I care about.
California Poppy 2 is slated for release this November.