Raury: soundtrack of my life

The young US rapper on the power of hard rock, Guitar Hero and making meaningful rhymes

Raury Alexander Tullis was born in 1996 in Stone Mountain, east Atlanta. He has been rapping since the age of eight and by 11 had taught himself to play guitar by watching YouTube videos. In April 2014 he released the song God’s Whisper, and when Kanye West saw the video he flew Raury out to meet him. Raury released his EP Indigo Child in August last year, and has since made singles with SBTRKT, Gucci Mane and Joey Bada$$. He came fourth in this year’s BBC Sound of 2015 list. Raury’s debut album, All We Need, is out on 16 October on Columbia Records.


Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)

This is when I first realised music existed, when I was three years old. It really made an impression on me: it got me wanting to imitate Michael Jackson. It’s one of the reasons I created my first songs when I was three. I was with my family, we were all crowded around a TV watching the video. It was terrifying: I actually believed everything Michael Jackson was doing was real, like when he turned into that werewolf. It was magical too, though.


2Pac – Hit ‘Em Up (1996)

When I got a little older I started listening to 2Pac. That got me really inspired to write rhymes, but not only rhymes, rhymes that had a message. I mean, I was eight years old, I would be rhyming about how I didn’t like school. But 2Pac was an artist that was at the same time political, a leader. He was the first artist I really got to know outside of music, I read his interviews and how he stood for black people, and how much my family respected him, from my mum to my older brother. I was sad that he was gone, I knew he would have done so much.


Aerosmith – Dream On (1973)

When I was nine I played Guitar Hero for the first time, and this was the first song I played. And not only did it inspire me to play guitar, it was about chasing your dreams: “Dream until your dream comes true.” I was starting to contemplate where I wanted to be in my life, I was on the internet looking up sports, or careers in science, and that song was like an anthem for me to find out who I was. It reminded me to pick up my guitar, it was something I could start then and maybe by 17 I’d be close to mastering it.


System of a Down – Chop Suey! (2001)

This was around the same time: I didn’t have an iPod or the internet, and for some reason I believed my brother had all the best music – all my favourite songs I would get from him through osmosis. He would never let me in his room, but I’d eavesdrop, and I’d be hearing the wildest stuff. When I heard this I thought rock was all devilish and satanic, and I didn’t like it at first, but then I realised I loved that song. The next thing you know I’m in the car shouting out the lyrics. It was so fast and immediate and exciting for me as a kid.


Kanye West – I Wonder (2007)

This was around the same age: nine was a pivotal age for me, I was diving into music. I didn’t even really know who Kanye was, but I bought the album because I liked the bears and the artwork. And I just love music about the imagination and becoming more than who you are. I wrote a verse to it at the age of 14 that I would later rap to my manager, Justice [Baiden], that convinced him to manage me. This song has stuck with me, I still play it today.


Linkin Park – In the End (2000)

This is another song about determination and being doubted, which is how I felt in Atlanta. The music I listened to was different to the people around me, so I’m looked at weird, my name is Raury, it’s not Josh or anything, I was a kid who was used to being against the grain. I played this song over and over, and I was starting to grasp that I wasn’t like everybody else, and for some reason we didn’t dress or talk the same. I was somewhat of a dark kid and I was into that kind of thing, and I still am.


Kid Cudi – My World/Man On the Moon (2009)

These are the two songs that really changed my life. By this point I was 14, and kind of depressed: my aunt had just passed away, she was like a mother to me. I had gone into high school in a completely different area to all my friends, so I was surrounded by a bunch of people who were even more alienated from me. And this album kept me sane. I’d listen to this really cinematic, powerful song, and no matter how many girls had rejected me, however many people didn’t want to hang out with me, I knew that eventually this would be my world. It helped me decide I wanted to become an artist and change lives through music, like Kid Cudi had changed mine.


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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