In an age when brief pops like retweets and viral videos reign supreme, Seattle rapper Raz Simone has chosen a more maintainable route—one where numbers aren't the driving force but the viability of making art is. Simone's is a trek that susses out the complete character and depth of his work in music, and his mission is one of personal and creative sustainability. "My career," he explains, "is going to be a longer battle. But it's going to be very worth it."
Over the past 12 months, Simone has released or recorded dozens of new tracks; purchased a building in Sodo he calls "Headquarters" for his label, Black Umbrella; and has toured with local pop star Macklemore, personally bringing along dozens of his own fans for the ride. And the prolific lyricist most recently released his latest single, "Rare," an aggressive-yet-tender six-minute track promoting ideas of autonomy while also honoring the legacy of friends who have passed away.
"With that song," reflects Simone, "I purposefully wanted to do something that was not a predictable radio record. The song hits the people who are there for all the right reasons. The song is booming off in all the trenches and the slums, and it's going to multiply and become a hit there in the streets first. Then, later, it will become so popular that pop culture can't ignore it."
Simone is quite calculated. He certainly does not make career moves blindly. But the choices he makes are also somewhat intentionally erratic. Rather than work to skyrocket straight to the top, Simone attempts to defy the expectations of his ever-growing audience. "I care about monitoring my blowup," the rapper admits. "I've been slowing down my own blowup so long with all the different moves I've made. I've literally stopped people from putting my shit on the radio. It's a slow boil. But I'm not just thrown together. Now when someone hears me for the first time, I have a whole catalog—like 10 albums—that tells my life story, emotions, thoughts. I'm playing the longevity game."
While Simone has written and released songs that fit the pop profile—like the recent singsongy single "Missin Joogs"—"Rare" acutely challenges the ear and intellect. His voice on the track is remorseful, lamenting, even angry. Rapping over a quickened snare drum and hypnotic, ethereal piano riff, Simone says, "Everybody wanna eat, but none of them wanna cook" and "If I let you tell me about me, I'm a monster I didn't love."
The track is part of an upcoming album, Closer, the release date for which Simone plans to announce in a matter of weeks. Closer, he adds, may even end up being a double record. "I had four different albums in my mind," he says. "Closer was one of them. But then I created 'Rare' on the fly, and my whole team believed in it, so I decided to change it up. I'm going to be giving people the most songs on this next album I've ever given. More than I can count on a couple hands."
And while Closer is the next big step on the artist's creative horizon, there are many other pieces to the big puzzle that Simone is working to complete. One of those pieces is his "dream factory," the building he recently purchased in the city's stadium district, which is meant as a place for creative visual developments for artists on Black Umbrella. "I want it to be a stake in the city," Simone explains. "It's like a think tank. You know me, I'm always doing something weird."
But the weirdness is clearly working and paying off for the rapper. Simone continues to distinguish himself, and the numbers of his songs' streams and plays—even though he says numbers don't mean much—continue to grow, with some tracks clocking in at nearly one million plays on SoundCloud and others topping 500,000 plays on YouTube. In addition, Simone's music is streaming in more than 50 countries. "I'm the best person at being humble," he jokes. "No, but in all seriousness, sometimes my team has to remind me of all the good work we've done."
While the work has obviously spread its wings and found homes worldwide, Simone admits that he often finds himself removing himself from networking engagements other artists might jump at "unless I can have a good conversation with people, have some kind of heart-to-heart and learn from them," he says. "Otherwise, there are better ways to use my time and my life."
Besides, he explains, the world is fractured; it's different today than it was, say, a decade or two ago. It's a new age—one in which the tastemakers on a massive level are not what many in their 30s and 40s grew up with. "It's 2017," Simone says, "and Kim and Khloé Kardashian have way more pull than MTV."
Nevertheless, Simone says he wakes to each new day with one overarching aim. "My biggest goal," he says, "is to push the culture here in Seattle. I want to be able to have a hand in the creativity of a nationally vindicated scene here. That's my number one thing. When I wake up and go to sleep, that's what I'm thinking about."