Whether it be through hip-hop, a lecture or both, Rich Raw emphasizes the importance of unity, community, history and culture as crucial factors on the path of self-value and personal development.
As a highly respected emcee, the intensity of his message is reminiscent of KRS-ONE, though Rich will tell you not to put him in a box.
And how can you when you learn he came upon his intellect not through a university but by being basically self-taught through studying at the library and at home? Credit is also due to the elders who mentored him.
In spite of what might seem to some as a serious demeanor, Rich is a self-proclaimed hype-man when the need arises. Rich Raw has worked with Hezekiah and opened for Jill Scott. Currently he has a video for his single "Live a Lie." He just completed a mix tape called "The Start of a Great Finish," which will be available for free download next week on www.richraw.com.
In the meantime, he is focusing his energies on his organization and the full album release and listening party for his album, "The Renaissance," this May. Rich talked to us about his music and his foundation.
I've been listening to your music. Would you call yourself a storyteller?
I like to tell stories that are real stories. Things I have witnessed throughout my life. I used to be Hezekiah's hype man. That's really how I came on the scene. He introduced me to the whole Philly scene. I remember seeing The Roots when they were in their infancy and weren't even big. The first show I did I kinda opened for Jill Scott. She wasn't Jill Scott then. She was known around Philly but she wasn't real popular. I remember meeting Musiq when he was homeless. And Hez introduced me to all these people. And all of them were giving me inspiration. It was the neo-soul movement at the time. It was a great experience. I left from the neo-soul movement and going back to the inner-city, I'm from right on Market Street, I came back and I'm dealing with a whole different thing besides the neo-soul movement. I'm dealin' with the Jay-Z's and Biggie. And I think that's what helped keep me balanced.
How do you define yourself?
I think when you can define somebody you can confine them to a space, and so if you do something that is the opposite of what their perception is, they say you're contradictory. Me, I think all artists are walking contradictions. When people ask me, I allow people to define me from their point of view. I wouldn't define myself because musically I'll do anything. I might do a rock song or a pop song or a song with some poetry or some James Brown type stuff. So I would never put myself in a box. I think I'm a well-rounded and versatile artist who is willing to try anything.
Do you do any singing?
I do. The "Live a Lie" song I did some singing on that. I haven't put a lot of stuff out. I do have an alternative album I'll be putting out I'll be doing some harmonizing and singing. I have a reggae mixtape as well.
I understand you do some activism. Is that correct?
Yes, I started an organization called The Cultural Restoration Project. It was a way for us to promote and restore the history and culture of people of African diaspora. As hip-hop artists and as artists in general, we have a strong influence. And, you know me, I was privileged to learn about African culture and African history and I feel like that helped me a lot. It helped me to grow as an individual so I, as well as my fiance, we created an organization where we go and do a series of lectures and community work according to the principles of African unity. I have been doing lectures since I was probably about 16 or 17 years old on different subjects pertaining to African history, politics and what not. So I've been doing this for quite some time.
Where did you get your education on those topics?
I would say local groups like The Nation of Islam or The Nawaupian Nation or The Moors Science Temple; a lot of elders coached me through and gave me a lot of books. There weren't a lot of cultural things going on in school so I had to search elsewhere. It caused me to go to the library and search for myself and from there I developed a good memory. Hip-hop artists, we always memorize a lot of verses. I began to memorize Bible quotes and Qur'an quotes, and particularly things about African history, and that's been my focus.
Is your focus on educating youths?
We do youth as well as adults. We do a lot of community based projects. We're working on a multi-cultural festival right now. We serve the homeless every other week. We try to inspire the youth because they haven't been given the opportunity. They haven't seen a lot of arts programs. We try to introduce them to a lot of things that aren't available in their community. We just went with the kids at Bethel Villa. I did some music and then I talked with them. The music broke the ice so they were like "Oh. OK. He can rap." Then after the rap we had a conversation. I had an opportunity to build with them and share some of my experiences and try and inspire and motivate them to be greater than what they see. They see comedians and rappers and aspire to be that but I try to introduce them to people of the same ethnic background as them who have become lawyers and doctors and achieved greatness.