Rexx Life Raj talks Bay Area artistry, ‘California Poppy 2,’ cannabis disparities

Photo of Rexx Life Raj
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Rexx Life Raj has assumed many roles throughout his life. Raj, at one point, was Faraji Omar Wright, a Division 1 athlete with musical aspirations and the son of a Black Panther. The Rexx Life Raj we know now is a critically acclaimed rapper who has self-proclaimed the role of the “Berkeley superhero.” 

He insisted it wasn’t deliberate. According to Raj, his nickname was simply a line from one of his songs that just so happened to stick. It could be daunting to some, the act of forfeiting normal life and taking on a Herculean title. It’s a role one could imagine belonging to more elaborate cinematic universes. Raj, however, explained it simply giving back to the Bay Area just came from the desire to help others, to be a figure the community could look up to. 

Since picking up a Casio keyboard to bang out a few beats, his passion for music hasn’t waned. Even as a football player at Boise State University, music was on the brain. And now, during the pandemic, he’s found solace in music-making. “It’s kind of like my escape when I can’t leave,” Raj said in an interview with The Daily Californian. 

Recently, he’s been in and out of studios from Los Angeles to the Bay, recording his newest album California Poppy 2. Raj has been working to perfect his sound with this album. He’s refined the details of California Poppy 2, speaking his truth and hoping others will find their truths as well. 

“That’s what I love about rap,” Raj said. “It’s storytelling. And then what you take from that story and how it inspires you is different (from) person to person.”

The Berkeley-born rapper notes, though, that nothing quite beats the signature sound of being in the Bay Area, working with local artists. “When you look at what music is doing and how it shape-shifts and moves, it always eventually comes back and sounds like something that the Bay was doing maybe five or 10 years ago,” Raj said. “The Bay doesn’t get their shine.”

The prospect of dropping his new project, a sequel to 2018’s EP, has become exciting to him. It seems that he no longer recognizes the nerves and self-doubt from two years prior. Instead, Raj explained that he found assurance from the positive responses to his music thus far, trusting in himself to deliver the music listeners adored in his earlier project. 

Even with the confidence in his work, however, Raj noticed a shift: He discovered his music had become much darker and grittier. Compared to the original California Poppy’s brighter tunes, the continuation bore little thematic semblance. After mining through his thoughts with his manager, Raj explained, he came to a realization. 

“The world is going dark,” Raj said. “The world kind of seeped into the project.” As the world around him hurts, he made music to not only heal himself but to pick up the pieces around him as well.

With the release of California Poppy 2, Raj will be launching his own strain of marijuana named after the album. Despite admitting he doesn’t smoke too often these days, he was inspired by the disparities that Black people face in the cannabis industry. In his life, he’s seen people flourishing and finding footing in the business, while he knows others are risking their lives to make a living. 

“The only difference is resources and knowledge,” Raj said. “The barrier of entry is super high when it comes to getting licenses and permits and stuff.” 

He’s getting into the business to learn and then give back, making initiatives where minorities and Black-owned cannabis businesses can have access to seminars and webinars so people can make money in the bustling industry. 

While Black people are sitting in jail for a “dime bag,” Raj explained, other people are “making billions of dollars.” This inequity never sat right with him. “It should be more people like me in that industry,” Raj said. 

Raj will be also partnering with Good Mother Gallery in Oakland. Their goal is to virtually hold shows to highlight Oakland’s small businesses that don’t have the same capital to sustain themselves in the face of deliberate gentrification. Raj stated plainly that he won’t stand for a “Tender Greens” or a “Chipotle” threatening to crop up in the place of Bay Area businesses. He’s also working with People’s Breakfast Oakland and fellow artists like Kehlani to alleviate food deserts and basic needs deficiencies in the community.

His greatest power as the Berkeley superhero seems to be that all the paths he’s taken has led him back to helping his community. But when asked if he’s made it in life, he responded with an instant “no.” Raj explained that no one truly makes it in life, though Drake is his exception. 

“I think people equate success with money,” Raj said. “But I think success is just, you know, happiness.” 

Contact Kelly Nguyen at [email protected]. Tweet her at @kellithnguyen.