Faraji Wright is a walking paradox. The former Division I Boise State football player, who records under the name Rexx Life Raj, towers over most. His build would make any opposing line think twice, but instead of sportsmanlike aggression, he radiates a calm and humble energy. Wright is from the Bay Area, but his music is somehow both of and separate from the musical lineage of Too $hort and E-40. In song, he’s hyper confident and brash, but in person, his voice is direct and soft.
On Friday (November 17), Raj’s latest vision becomes a reality with the release of Father Figure 2: Flourish. Brisk, kinetic, and insightful, the project is a steady measure of a 27-year-old on the brink of something bigger. As the title suggests, the songs are punctuated by the voices of his father and mother. Imagine Kendrick’s parents on good kid, m.A.A.d. city, but instead of calls for dominoes, Raj’s father gives his son wisdom culled from his time as part of the Black Panther party.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
MTV News: How does a former D-I Boise State football player realize he can sing?
Rexx Life Raj: I was doing it before football. It just came with the family. My family were real singers, like gospel, like soul singers. On my mom side, they were a pretty known gospel group called the Marshall family. That’s her maiden name. But they were the Marshall Quartet, and they would go around singing. It was her, her sisters, my uncle, and my granny. Some of them played instruments, but they were like a really known gospel group.
So like I said, I grew up in music and growing up, I didn’t think I could really sing. That’s why I rapped, because my family could really sing like down-home, from-the-pits-of-your-soul sing.
My favorite song off the album is “Where I Belong” because of the way you use lyrics about anxiety and doubt and melody to evoke positivity in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Was this intentional?
Rexx Life Raj: I think I laid the album out that way with “Two Free” and “Where I Belong” because I feel like those two tracks kinda gave the best overall feel of the tape, whether it be sonically with, like, the openness of it and the melodic rapping. But also I cover so much base in those two songs because they’re more streams of consciousness.
I’ve read you’re a fan of Kid Cudi.
Rexx Life Raj: Yeah, Man on the Moon 1 is my favorite album ever.
What’s the best track off that album?
Rexx Life Raj: “Solo Dolo” is fire. “Sky Might Fall” is fire. I don’t even remember when I start slapping Kid Cudi, but I think I was late to the party. Like, it was a little afterwards, but, like, yeah, that was my favorite album. Used to listen to that shit on repeat.
What was it like growing up with a Black Panther as a father?
Rexx Life Raj: My dad is a really complex person, but he instilled in me that perspective of what it really meant to be a black man in America and how you’ll be perceived. It was always big for him that I pay attention and know it’s not gonna be the same for me as it is for everyone else and you need to know that, and that’s what life is.
There’s certain ways you gotta move. You can’t do certain things everybody else does. You don’t have that kind of freedom. You’re a big black dude. I think what I got from was just being hyper conscious of the way I maneuver through the world and move.
On “Feels,” your dad closes the song with the statement, “Bay Area got its own sound.” To the uninitiated, how would you describe the sound and legacy of the Bay?
Rexx Life Raj: It’s kinda evolving especially now with everything going on, but really like the SOB x RBE movement. But the Bay Area sound was wap. It was heavy 808s. The tempo was uptempo between 87 and 100. It was damn near trunk music for real. Shit that you could turn up and really go dumb to.
I put that there because it fades into “Fiji,” which is a Goapele sample of “Closer To My Dreams.” So I thought that was a good segue into that song because to me, that song was one of the biggest songs that shaped my childhood. “Closer To My Dreams,” we used to slap that all the time. It wasn’t even, like, the normal, like, mainstream Bay shit we were listening to at the time like E-40 or Keak Da Sneak. It was like something that still had that feel, but it was smooth. I like that song a lot and I feel like that song was a timestamp in the bay. So when people hear it, they’ll be like, “Wow, he flipped that. That’s crazy.”
On “Forever Lit,” G-Eazy raps “I knew Raj in '05, and it’s still respect.” I heard you and G-Eazy went to the same high school. Do you remember what he was like back then?
Rexx Life Raj: We went to the same middle school and high school. I don’t really remember him from middle school, but I remember him from high school for sure because like I said, we all had little rap groups and shit. He was in, I want to say it was called the Bay Boys with Marty Grimes, because they been best friends forever.
So yeah, I knew them because you knew everybody that was rapping. That was back in the day when Iamsu! and Show Banga and Hollywood Keith were in a group called the Go Getters. It was a lot of shit. It was crazy. Like, that’s when Lil B was in the Pack and the “Vans” shit was starting. Bobby Brackins was in a group called Go Dav, and Nic Nac produced all the shit. The Cataracts were popping. It was like a real culture that we didn’t know was going to blossom and be what it was today. You just thought n----s was rapping.
How did the G-Eazy feature come together on “Forever Lit?”
Rexx Life Raj: I got invited to a studio session. It was in West Oakland, and I hadn’t seen him in a while. Then I went in there, and he was just hella cool like back in the day, and we worked on some music then, a couple tracks that didn’t make any albums or whatever. Then we just exchanged numbers, and I didn’t hear from him for a long time.
Then I did a song called “Somebody That’s Lit,” and then I was like, “Damn, G [would] go crazy on this.” So I just sent it to him, and I’m like, “Yo, check this out when you get a chance. I think it could be fire.” Then he hit me back like, “Yo, I hella fuck with it,” woopity woop. So we did that. Then we kept doing tracks. Like, I’d send him something and then he’ll fuck with it, and so we have a few tracks outside of “Forever Lit,” but that’s how it kinda came about.
You speak a lot about manifesting your vision on Father Figure 2. What is your vision?
Rexx Life Raj: I think just in terms of the music, at some point reaching critical mass where my music could spread like nationwide or even globally. Sometimes I don’t even know what that is, and I say that in my music like, “I don’t even know what I’m shooting for, but I’m shooting anyway.” That was in “Handheld GPS.” I just know that for me, it’s something bigger than what I’m doing right now.
I could never really put my finger on it. It’s not a number of units sold. It’s not amount of money sold. It’s just like, I don’t know, a continuation of what I’m doing with my life in terms of music and just growing and growing, like, music sonically, but also me growing as a person and putting that in my music so people can hear it.