Raz Simone really does wear eight rings. Each of the twenty-four-year-old’s hands bear gold bands big enough for Don King’s collection. With these hands, Raz, born Solomon Simone, has not only fought battles to feed his son, but also penned the verses and co-created the beats of his debut LP, “Cognitive Dissonance.”
“I would hear my mother’s words whispering into my ears, tiptoeing around my head and down into my chest, attempting to keep hold of my heart to comfort and coddle it with her pure, ignorant love. Gripping my hand to display her solidarity and unconditional loyalty. If only she knew the things these hands had done.”
After meeting Raz following one of his epic street performances at SXSW, I took a trip up to Seattle to visit the office of his independent label, Black Umbrella.
“After SXSW it’s been crazy. I’ve been doing so much business stuff, I can’t wait to get back to the booth and create” Raz says.
But with a recent partnership between Black Umbrella and the New York label 300 (founded by industry executives Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles and Todd Moscowitz) and an amicable buzz surrounding the Seattle native, Raz isn’t worried about catching fire. Rather, he’s concerned it might happen too fast.
“When shit happens you have to roll with it. It’s a good problem to have,” Raz says.
Raz fittingly describes "Cognitive Dissonance" as "hope at the end of the tunnel." Yet he says some listeners wince at the complexity and depth of this album compared to 2013’s "Solomon Samuel Simone" EP.
"When you're in the darkness, things that I'm saying and the music I'm making looks like light in that darkness. It's very sobering," Raz explains.
Raz has focused his sound with intention to convey the heaviness in his everyday life, or the “passion and frustration that comes with the cognitive response of two conflicting ideas.”
The brutal honesty of “Cognitive Dissonance” is transparent from standout tracks like “Natural Resources” and “8 Rangs.”
While the album is peppered with images of dope flipped and shots fired, it’s ironically fitting that Raz is straight edge, almost. While Raz doesn't smoke or drink, a decision he made early on while watching the effects of these vices on older members of his family, he doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of his past.
"The music I'm making now is dark. There's a lot of [upcoming] music I have that's more celebratory, so seeing people are already connecting with it is really dope."
Raz had a very eclectic upbringing, citing both public and private school along with memories of being the only black student or being surrounded by all black students. Yet regardless of who was around, Raz always felt like an outsider.
"My mom was Christian, so I've been through all white churches, all black churches. I thought I was a loner, not in the cool kid category. I skateboarded when it wasn’t cool, I wore big raver pants," Raz says.
Songs like "Swim Away" illustrate the artistic void that Raz embodies, which can't be filled by coffee, food or drugs:
“And the hunger in my stomach is more than enough to keep me awake, so even if I eat this food that I took time to choose and make, I still have that same hunger because that hunger cannot be replaced, but everyone else at the table is full, I cannot relate.”
Although the Northwest, with it’s fog and stoney satisfaction, is his home, “Swim Away” makes it evident that Raz has long-been striving for something more.
This bittersweet dichotomy of this album culminates on “Hometown,” which tastefully samples Adele’s “Hometown Glory.” Here Raz reveals his juxtaposition: the weight of the city that built him against the demons of his past.
But Raz punches through rain clouds and shines his hardest. He erupts over the slow-spinning synths, using frustration as elation and the lingering venom of burned bridges is lifted by a citywide support system.
As he stops at a corner to drop me off, I ask Raz if his goal is to leave Seattle or stay and build it.
“Build Seattle,” Raz replies without flinching. “But in order to build it, you gotta leave first.”This article was taken from our printed magazine E&E. Like whatcha read? Pick up a copy for youself!#PRINTEDEANDE