Raury is the hermit prophet of the Atlanta music scene. Her lineage, from OutKast to Janis Joplin, is clear and vivid in her work. A certain folk sensibility dominates the solitary ballads of Raury, the madman and the artist.
He has worked with Lorde, Kid Cudi, Macklemore, Jaden Smith and OutKast. His next album, which comes out this summer, was produced with David Sheats, who has made records for OutKast like “Ms. Jackson” and “Elevators.”
Raury has been featured on soundtracks for FIFA and Marvel. Asked to take part in a parade for Dolce and Gabbana, he ripped off his donated clothes on the runway to reveal protest lyrics painted on the body and raised his fist in the air before disappearing backstage. He is 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 difficult to separate under the burning spotlight of public attention. Memory can be finer than tissue. What culminates between literature and lived reality is the legend, something greater than the sum of its parts.
Many have heard, as legend has traveled, that Raury organized a whole tour that simply asked for a pinecone or fruit from the forest as payment for entry. In truth, if you could find it, that was the real prize.
Raury took his Huskey, jeep and guitar across the country in search of things known and unknown. Before shows, he tweeted flyers designed by his friends with cryptic and confusing clues about where he would perform. The shows themselves were far enough from city centers that the spirit of the wilderness was its main and overwhelming audience, despite the crowds that inevitably formed show after show after show.
His Jeep and the company 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, SC to Durham, NC to Richmond, Virginia in DC, in Baltimore in Philly in New York, in New Haven, Connecticut, in Diana’s Baths, New Hampshire in Boston in Salem, Massachusetts. In all, it took three and a half months.
He stopped to play songs on the side of the road, on the beaches and shores, and in the forests. He lived at the intersection of social technology, modern music and nature. His audience was called from Twitter and Facebook to the wild parts of their cities they had never known.
Rose arrived somewhere on the road. He doesn’t know where. To everyone who met her, she was just a fan of the ride. But Raury knew and suspected that she wasn’t quite normal. Whether she was a figment of his imagination or a local tree goddess, some kind of pixie, 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 saying those sweet nothings made them feel like something. As he spoke the sweet names, he knew they were true. Everyone has one, a muse, he would think. He saw her as unshakeable as a Roman column. Rose wasn’t letting Raury spend the summer alone.
There were nights when Rose and Raury sat and gazed at the stars and discussed matters of great and insignificant importance with equal pleasure. On the last night of his earthly tour, they spoke of feelings that had built up in their chests like the ruins of a weighty opportunity.
“It 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 company, and I’ll contact the radio people too, Princess,” Raury said.
And Rose looked ahead and silently thought how hard he was working.
“I came here without wanting to speak to a lawyer. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I found no vitality in the halls. No heartbeat at the shows,” Raury said. “The music industry got me down, and I’m the only one who can stand up.”
“The woods are as wild a place as the city,” Rose replied.
“Yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable in either, not completely,” Raury said. “I don’t think I need to be, though. is a question of balance. I think of balance.
“God bless the balance. I want you to close your eyes,” Rose asked.
Raury closed his eyes.
“And I want you to dream with all the weight of your heart,” she said. “Vulnerability is our gravity.”
Rose and Raury had become accustomed to manifesting exercises on the road, especially under the night sky which they both believed to be holy and enlightening.
“It’s a farm first and foremost. There is sustainable housing, community around everything, around me, and a place, a theater for the performance. It’s a self-contained life, and my music funds it,” he said without leaving anything between his eyelashes as if the night light would rip his dream apart. It was a familiar sight to Rose, and each time Raury evoked it, the vision grew clearer. Rose thought she saw a tear, but it was hard to discern in the dark night. The moon was still hiding behind a soft red cloud.
“It’s a lifestyle balanced between the American dream and the shitty life!” Raury almost screamed with excitement.
“I won’t be able to follow you to town,” she said, abruptly ending their previous conversation. Rose believed that if you cleaned up a dream, it was more likely to return to the world of living reality. If you like something, let it go, she thought. He will come back.
She picked up a cigarette and rolled it over her almond-shaped fingernails. “How are you in town, I mean?” Are you different? asked Rose. His foot rolled back and forth on his heel in the ground, not quite finding a perch.
“I am no different. Here, however, our closeness to everything else and the ground facilitates closeness to God. Back home, I have to create a routine to clear my head and listen to his music and be at my best, if that makes sense,” Raury said.
Rose reached out her hands to touch his and continued to listen. It made sense to her.
“Well, I keep my spiritual organs healthy. I am an artist, therefore I am a spiritual athlete. This is the basis. There are seven keys in music. There are seven major colors,” Raury said.
“There are seven days in the week,” Rose said.
“Yeah, exactly, and every day I have a certain way of trying to behave in accordance with this spiritual organ, the chakra. On root chakra day, I clean the house. I make sure everything is okay I’m going to call my family. I’m making sure to FaceTime my son. I don’t like using my phone, and if I get into an area, if I start creating, I can lose contact,” said Raury said.
“It’s like a vacation,” Rose said with a buzz.
“We are alive so yes. On the day of the sacral chakra, I will do something new, something new. I will have a business meeting with people who organize video game tournaments and different spaces. I’m going snowboarding. Or I’m most definitely dating a bad guy,” Raury said with a laugh.
Rose put her hand to her chest and rolled her smile for the stars.
“On the day of the solar plexis, I reflect on the questions of the ego. I’m used to spending time alone that day. As an artist, I spend so much time around the bustle, the hubbub. All of that raw, it becomes easy to never feel alone,” Raury said.
“You’re alone right now,” Rose said.
“Heart Day is its antithesis. The day is all about love, so I’ll do what I love, I’ll make music. I will play guitar. Music is a spiritual entity for me and I have to pay attention to it like a wife,” Raury said. “On Throat Chakra Day, I will do my best to be as responsive as possible to anyone who reaches out to me. I will do something social or organize something with my friends.
“I’ll be like h***, let’s go for a hike or hang out. Or do a photo shoot or something that will help me with the social media aspect of my career. It is the energy of Mercury, that Hermes will have it messenger. Then there is Monday. Monday is third eye chakra day for me. Everyone has their Monday. Moon day,” Raury said. “The Moon shines on us all night, and the third eye is about sight. The Moon is about fantasy and the dreams we share. So I visualize that day as we like to do, my angel. I’m planning my Thursday to Thursday, what I get from groceries, what recording sessions I’m going to book.
“I love Mondays,” Rose mused. Raury often considered her his moon.
“It’s an unpopular opinion,” Raury said. Rose smiled, this time at Raury.
“Crown chakra day is all about understanding the supreme. This is when connections to the higher realms are formed. I connect to God that day. I will contact and verify someone I consider a mentor or someone who might consider me a mentor,” Raury said. “I will meditate. I will pray.
Like counting sheep, their conversation about chakra chilled them both. They slept on the ground under the dancing stars. The moon peaked behind its cloud and shone scarlet.
The next morning, at their last show on tour, Rose and Raury barely saw the real faces in the crowd. For them, each face was another face from their past and shows the past.
Raury saw Tassili, an Atlanta vegan community leader and restaurateur. He saw Yohannes, a percussionist, sitting and rocking the guitar.
He is still a force for rhythm even without his drums or tuning forks, Raury thought of his friend Yohannes. He had often thought about the inspiration that Yohannes had given him. What he admired was Yoh playing music for the healing act.
Raury was shrouded in the ghost of a lesson memory.
Yohannes had a partner, an OG from their neighborhood. She was a herbalist in the lineage of Dr. Sebi, a famous Honduran healer. The juices and balms she had given Raury kept him confident, at least, during the many nights when he felt like getting sick on the road. Raury saw her, and next to her he saw Diamond, a woman he had met at an art collective in Baltimore.
And finally, Raury saw Chris. Chris was a black farmer from the Midwest. Raury thought maybe he hadn’t met anyone else as close to his tour mission as Chris, except maybe Rose or her son. Chris had accomplished the rare modern feat of returning to an agricultural lifestyle. Chris was part of a sacred ground mission that reminded the artist of his dear friend Rose. When he scanned the crowd for her, it seemed both that she was already gone and that his touch would follow him forever.
Raury rode back alone, and it was still something special. From the sides of the road, hundreds of rose bushes of yellow and scarlet hues grew and waved goodbye to the wind. Raury hoped beyond hope that he would hold Rose in his arms again.
Raury’s next album, strawberry moon, is available on June 14.