Raury is the hermit-prophet of the Atlanta music scene. His lineage, from OutKast to Janis Joplin, is clear and alive in his work. A certain folk-hymn sensibility dominates the lonely ballads of Raury, the madman and the artist.
He’s worked with Lorde, Kid Cudi, Macklemore, Jaden Smith, and OutKast. His next album, which releases this summer, was produced with David Sheats, who made records for OutKast’s like “Ms. Jackson” and “Elevators.”
Raury has been featured on soundtracks for FIFA and Marvel. Asked to participate in a catwalk for Dolce and Gabbana, he ripped off his given clothes on the runway to reveal body-painted protest lyrics and raised his fist defiant in the air before disappearing backstage. He’s in a polygamous marriage. And he had a public falling out with Columbia Records.
A clear vision can take you down a confusing and difficult road. Truth and fiction become hard to separate in the hot spotlight of public attention. Memory can be thinner than tissue. What culminates between the literature and the lived reality is legend, something greater than the sum of its parts.
Many have heard, because the legend has travelled, that Raury staged a whole tour which simply asked for a pinecone or a fruit of the forest for payment for admission. In truth, if you could find him, that was the real price.
Raury took his Huskey, his jeep, and his guitar across the country searching for things both known and unknown. Before shows, he would tweet flyers designed by his friends with cryptic and puzzling clues as to where he would be performing. The shows themselves were far enough from city centers for the spirit of the wilderness to be his primary and overwhelming audience, despite the crowd that inevitably formed show after show after show.
His Jeep and the companionship of a good guitar and a great Husky took him from Miami to Tampa to Orlando to Statesboro to Savannah to Atlanta to Athens to Charleston, South Carolina to Durham, North Carolina to Richmond, Virginia to D.C., to Baltimore to Philly to New York City, to New Haven, Connecticut, to Diana’s Baths, New Hampshire to Boston to Salem, Massachusetts. All in all, it took three and a half months.
He’d stop to play songs on the side of the road, on beaches and shores, and in forests. He lived at the intersection of social technology, modern music, and the wilds. His audience was called from Twitter and Facebook to the wild parts of their cities they’d never known.
Rose showed up somewhere on the road. He can’t quite remember where. To everyone who met her, she was just a fan along for the ride. But Raury knew and had a suspicion she wasn’t exactly normal. Whether she was a figment of his imagination or a local tree goddess, some sort of sprite, he didn’t care.
His best guess was that she was a muse descended from the higher planes just for him. She was his muse. Her eyes were like merlot, and he called her sweet things like “angel” and “princess” because in speaking those sweet nothings they felt like something. In speaking the sweet names, he knew they were true. Everyone has one, a muse, he’d think. He saw her as steadfast as a Roman column. Rose wasn’t letting Raury go through the summer alone.
There were nights Rose and Raury would sit and stare at the stars and discuss matters of great and trivial importance with equal delight. On the last night of his earthy tour, they spoke about feelings that had built in their chests like the ruins of burdensome opportunity.
“It’s taught me to work with people. Systems exist for a reason. You want to travel far, bring your people, they say. When I get home, I’m going to hire a manager and a PR firm, and I’ll reach out to folks in radio too, princess” Raury said.
And Rose looked ahead and thought silently about how hard he was working.
“I came out here not wanting to talk to a lawyer. I didn’t want to talk with anyone. I couldn’t find any vitality in the venues. No heartbeat at the shows,” Raury said. “The music business had me down, and only I can get to my feet.”
“The woods are just as wild a place as the city,” Rose replied.
“Yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable in either, not completely,” said Raury. “I don’t think I need to be, though. It’s about balance. I’m thinking about balance.”
“God blesses the balance. I want you to close your eyes,” Rose asked.
Raury closed his eyes.
“And I want you to dream with the full weight of your heart,” she said. “Vulnerability is our gravity.”
Rose and Raury had made a habit of manifesting exercises on the road, especially beneath the night sky which they both believed was holy and enlightening.
“It is a farm, first and foremost. There’s sustainable housing, a community around it all, around me, and a venue, a theatre for performance. It’s autonomous living, and my music funds it,” he said not letting anything between his lashes as if the light night light would tear his dream to pieces. It was a familiar vision to Rose, and every time Raury conjured it, the vision grew clearer. Rose thought she saw a tear, but it was difficult to discern in the dim night. The moon was still hiding behind a soft red cloud.
“It’s a balanced lifestyle between the American dream and just f****** living!” Raury almost yelled with excitement.
“I’m not going to be able to follow you back to the city,” she said ending their previous conversation abruptly. Rose believed that if you cut a dream off clean it was more likely to return in the world of the living reality. If you love something, let it go, she thought. It will come back.
She took a cigarette and rolled it across her almond shaped nails. “What are you like, in the city I mean? Are you different?” Rose asked. Her foot rolled back and forth on its heel in the soil, not quite finding perch.
“I’m no different. Out here, though, our proximity to everything else and the soil makes it easy to be close to God. Back home, I have to create a routine to clear my head and hear his music and be my best self, if that makes sense,” said Raury.
Rose reached her hands to touch his and kept listening. It made sense to her.
“Well, I keep my spiritual organs healthy. I’m an artist, so I’m a spiritual athlete. That’s the foundation. There are seven keys in music. There are seven major colors,” said Raury.
“There are seven days of the week,” said Rose.
“Yeah, exactly, and each day, I have a certain way that I try to behave in accordance with that spiritual organ, the chakra. On root chakra day, I clean the house. I make sure everything’s right in my home. I’ll call my family. I make sure to FaceTime my son. I don’t like using my phone, and if I get in a zone, if I start creating, I can lose touch,” said Raury.
“It’s like a holiday,” Rose said with a hum.
“We’re alive so yeah. On Sacral chakra day, I’ll do something new, something novel. I’ll have a business meeting with people who organize video game tournaments and different spaces. I’ll go snowboarding. Or I’m most certainly hooking up with a baddie,” Raury said laughing.
Rose put her hand on his chest and rolled her smile for the stars.
“On solar plexis day, I’m considering matters of the ego. I usually, on that day, spend time alone. Being an artist, I spend so much time around the hustle, the hubbub. All of that raw, it gets easy to never feel alone,” said Raury.
“You’re alone right now,” said Rose.
“The day of the heart is its antithesis. The day is about love, so I will do what I love, I will make music. I’ll play guitar. Music is a spiritual entity to me, and I have to give attention to her like a wife,” said Raury. “On throat chakra day, I will try my best to be as responsive as possible to whoever is reaching out to me. I’ll do something social or organize something with my friends.”
“I’ll be like h***, let’s go on a hike or hanging out. Or let’s do a photoshoot or something that will help me on the social media aspect of my career. It’s the Mercury energy, that Hermes the messenger aura. Then there’s Monday. Monday is third eye chakra day for me. Everybody has their Mondays. Moon day,” said Raury. “The Moon provides us with light through the night, and the third eye is all about sight. The Moon is about fantasy and the dreams we share. So, I visualize on that day like we like to do, angel. I plan my Thursday through Thursday, what I’m getting from the grocery store, what recording sessions I’m going to book.”
“I love Mondays,” mused Rose. Raury often thought of her as his moon.
“That’s an unpopular opinion,” said Raury. Rose smiled, this time at Raury.
“On the crown chakra day, that’s about understanding the supreme. It’s when connections to higher realms are forming. I connect to God on that day. I will reach out to and check in on someone that I view as a mentor or to someone that may view me as a mentor,” said Raury. “I’ll meditate. I’ll pray.”
Like counting sheep, their chakra talk tuckered them both out cold. They slept on the soil underneath the dancing stars. The moon peaked from behind its cloud and shined scarlet.
The next morning at their last show on tour, Rose and Raury hardly saw the real faces in the crowd. To them, every face was another face from their past and shows past.
Raury saw Tassili, a leader of the Vegan community in Atlanta and a restauranter. He saw Yohannes, a percussionist, sitting and swaying to the guitar.
He is still a force for rhythm even without his drums or his tuning forks, Raury thought of his friend Yohannes. He’d thought often of the inspiration Yohannes had given him. What he admired was that Yoh played music for the healing of the act.
Raury was wrapped up in the ghost of a memory of a lesson.
Yohannes had a partner, an OG of their neighborhood. She was an herbalist in the line of Dr. Sebi, a famous Honduran healer. Juices and balms she’d given Raury kept him confident, if nothing else, on the many nights he felt close to breaking out into sickness on the road. Raury saw her, and next to her, he saw Diamond, a woman he’d met from an art collective in Baltimore.
And last, Raury saw Chris. Chris was a Black farmer from the Midwest. Raury thought that maybe he hadn’t met anyone else as close as Chris to the mission of his tour, except maybe Rose or his son. Chris had done the rare modern feat of returning to an agricultural way of life. Chris was a part of a holy mission of the soil which reminded the artist of his dear friend Rose. When he scanned the crowd for her, it seemed both that she had already left and that her touch would follow him forever.
Raury took the drive home alone, and it was still something special. From the banks of the road, hundreds of rose bushes in yolk and scarlet hues grew and waved goodbye with the wind. Raury hoped beyond hope that he would hold Rose again.
Raury’s next album, Strawberry Moon, is available June 14th.