It’s hard to nail down exactly where Raury is headed musically. His inaugural offering, 2014’s Indigo Child, stood as an artful project drawn with a muddied paintbrush creating pictures out of the fury, ambition, and hope that pairs with being an African-American youth by default. Raury’s music is unapologetically black, which may sound discernible but is clearly a controversial statement. Much of Raury’s criticism upon his introduction to music was that he was sonically amiable and geared to succeed as some sort of industry plant or synthetic pop machine, reaching at the fact that he’s a black kid from Stone Mountain, GA, but he dresses like he’s a hippie, caucasian dude with a guitar posted up at your nearest boardwalk. In other words, white music critics were complaining about how Raury’s music was too easy for white people to like.
Raury seems to not give a fuck, though. “I’m a black artist, man. I’m hip-hop,” he stated without flinching at The Breakfast Club recently. He’s right, but he’s also not putting up much of a fight against these critics and their flat, uninspired remarks. Raury’s studio debut, All We Need, is a spiritually proprietary record that answers the question the title seemingly asks. Lyrically, Raury becomes a lot more precise about his message than ever before, as the album promotes the simplistic remedy of love to prompt peace. This message, translated in different ways within different narratives, different instruments, and different song structure, comprises the bulk of Raury’s debut—and although his music and it’s racial ambiguity may put people off, rather than trying to spread his socially conscious savvy through his own race and own bloodlines, Raury is adamant on addressing his audience as a holistic humanity.
Thematically, All We Need doesn’t exclusively cover the surface area of those who share his pigment or his background, but really, it is designed to reach those that identify with his generation. Raury’s always promoted a conscious vibe within his music, but in this album, it’s full-bodied and wholesome. ‘Peace Prevail’ sees Raury stepping back to asses his own past and his own insecurities, as he wonders what he will look like when he’s ninety or if rap will ever be a white-genre just like the other genre’s that were initialized by people of colour. It’s a slow burning, paced song that lets his message simmer and float atop airy production. On ‘Revolution’, Raury’s outlook is more panicked and immediate. As he chants incessantly over a popping African drum-beat, “Lord save this burning Earth”, he is joined by a pounding 808s pattern, opening it up for Raury to expound on his message with more conviction.
‘Woodcrest Manor II’ sees Raury build an immaculate and personal story, piggybacking off of the first instalment seen on his last project. It thumps with a trembling force, but Raury’s vocals are splitting and serene. It’s at this point on the record you really notice the effects of the improved production. ‘Trap Tears’ appropriately featuring Key puts a folk twist on the trap habitat within Atlanta. It borrows the refrain melody from Nicki Minaj’s ‘Beez in the Trap’ but replaces her words with a message a little more stark and realistic. RaurY points out that while consumers and onlookers might glorify the logistics and lifestyles of the drug ridden, gang-infested street-culture of ‘trap’ music, these hoods themselves that are artistic muses are really evidence of systematic oppression and lifestyles that no one is genuinely proud of. A similar emotional side is brought forth in CPU assisted by Wu-Tang ringleader and hip-hop legend RZA, lending vocals that are in a similar vein to his unforgettable appearance on James Blake’s Overgrown album. The song is admittedly a little plain to really cause for any head-bobs, but RZA’s voice alone and presence as an MC still makes it worth a listen.
Song structure, without a doubt, is the most capable muscle on All We Need. The nature of Raury’s preaching on this album can lyrically weigh it down at times, as his socially vigilant voice can sometimes only be heard from an angle of moral superiority. This holier-than-thou approach is what makes a large chunk of a guy like Lupe Fiasco’s discography as flaccid and feeble as it is, and is a fine line to walk when you grasp the responsibility of deeming yourself an ‘indigo child’ while still trying to speak democratically for your audience. Song structure, though, is the album’s saving grace time and time again. Album standout ‘Forbidden Knowledge’ might be Raury’s most powerful creation to date, just based on the potency of his lyrics combined with the flawless song mechanics. Raury plays André 3000 doing slam poetry and Big KRIT guests as his makeshift Big Boi to offer a different hue of the same colour—their angles being vastly different on the same subject. They both take turns questioning man’s ability to use knowledge with integrity rather than using it as a way to abuse power, and institutionalism within neighbourhoods and more macroeconomic scales, among other things.
It becomes very clear very quickly upon listening to All We Need that Raury has grown wiser beyond his years, and has used his dynamic strengths as a musician to overshadow his sometimes flat songwriting that showed up on Indigo Child. Here, though, we are treated to a much more compelling and exceptional Raury that is able to balance making an album with social and cultural impact, while also allowing the listener to truly believe for every second that Raury is really living what he is writing. On his last project, he’d often deliver a social message with lacklustre poise and sound like he was biting off more than he could chew, but All We Need is proof that Raury has damn near mastered being a substantial writer as well as being an interesting one. Simply put, this is a very interesting and important young artist’s most articulate, powerful work to date.