Raury: Talent trapped between genres

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“I could be MLK, I could be Juicy J.”

Raury rapped that back in June on “Devil’s Whisper,” the first single from his debut album “All We Need” that came out last week. It was an optimistic statement coming from a young artist trying to break into the mainstream hip-hop scene.

With the release of his new album, I have to acknowledge that this kid meant what he said: He’s inciting a revolution for peace in one song and analyzing drug culture in another. Even more impressive is that he’s only 19 years old and already has a unique indie-hop style comparable to Kid Cudi or André 3000.

But despite sticking to his word, Raury is trapped by his own unique mixture of genres.

See, Raury came up in the music industry as a hip-hop artist. He was a part of XXL Magazine’s Freshman Class of 2015 alongside the likes of Fetty Wap and Vince Staples, and earlier this year he held his second annual Raurfest, which featured many rappers such as Trinidad James and Post Malone. I had only listened to Raury a bit before this week, but I, for one, picked up the album expecting to hear some conscious southern rap.

Instead, I got a surprise folky, alt-rock album with some rap and other hip-hop elements thrown in. It’s like he took hip-hop by the hand, gave it a straw hat to wear and taught it how to play the Spanish guitar to the tune of Fleet Foxes.

It may sound like an odd concept, but it fills “All We Need” to the brim with the warmth of the Georgia backcountry. The album’s goal is to paint a picture of his dreams and southern life as vividly as possible. Raury isn’t afraid to imitate the singing and instrumentals of anyone from Kanye West to Queen as means of accomplishing this.

The outcome is an incredibly stylistic mixture of genres that presents Raury with a unique opportunity to project his emotions and spirituality over a potentially enormous audience compiled of hip-hop, folk and alt-rock enthusiasts. Fans of Bon Iver, Kanye, J. Cole, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Queen, OutKast, Fleet Foxes, Kid Cudi, Passion Pit and Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment will all find something to enjoy in “All We Need.”

Unfortunately, he forgot his audience is hip-hop fans. Just hip-hop fans. And “All We Need”‘s mixed genre sound is not what his audience wanted. They don’t care about half of the previous artists listed.

So now, he’s stuck in a situation where his supposed fans won’t listen and fans of folk or alt-rock don’t know he exists. His album won’t get the credit it deserves because he’s simply too creative for his own good and decided to dabble a bit too long in the wrong genre. What’s worse is that Raury has the capability to be a powerful voice of our generation — he just needs to match his style with his audience if he wants the world to listen.

Benj Salkind is an undeclared sophomore. He can be reached at salkind@oxy.edu.