Feature By: Keith Arias | Photo & Graphics By: Valencia Image
Top $ Raz also known as Rasheem Johnson is a diamond in the rough from Far Rockaway. The Queens rapper started out before he was a teenager and has continued to mature his craft with each verse. A graduate of film school and a big movie buff, the 23-year-old has released three albums, most recently "The New Flesh." He is currently working on a new album, "Reign on the Parade," slated for a September 18th release. BIO Magazine takes a glimpse into Raz's life and music through his words.
Keith Arias: I read a little bit that you actually started rapping in the second grade. I heard you tried to impress your brothers by doing this. What kind of rhymes did you spit at that age?
Top $ Raz: Bad boy rap. Laughs.
KA: You didn’t curse when you were younger right?
Raz: Yeah. Hell Yeah. My boy he just said to me 'yo, you know they're not going to let you rap. You're like nine bro.' Laughs.
KA: Did that fuel you even more to keep rapping?
Raz: Not really, I just thought it was funny he said that. It never dawned on me.
KA: Speaking about your family, how much of an influence have they been on you?
Raz: Everything. My family, especially my mom and dad. How we grew up [and] where we grew up in Far Rockaway. [They are] a big influence.
KA: What have you been up to since the New Flesh?
Raz: A lot of personal stuff. I moved out, I got my own place now. I was just focusing on personal stuff. A lot of like...random tracks and finally decided to come back. It really don't matter when I come out because I have a good feel of the press as far as the blogs are concerned. They won't forget me, you know? I can chill out and do my personal stuff. So now I'm coming back.
KA: On your last album, The New Flesh, it was pretty raw, no pun intended. I was wondering how did you get the idea to use Videodrome?
Raz: I actually went to school for film. I got my degree in film. I'm a big film head. Everybody that knows me knows I'm a real...Kevin Smith kind of geek. I'm into comic books and movies and all that, cartoons [as well]. I Actually try to display more of that on this album. The new single has Superjail. Have you seen the new video?
KA: I did.."Race", Right?
Raz: It's got like Superjail footage and−
KA: From what I Saw, it reminded me of Ugly Americans.
Raz: It's from the cartoon Superjail from Adult Swim. Even the skit from the beginning is from Dexter, so I'm letting people know that I watch a lot of TV.
KA: I looked [the scene] up and was wowed.
Raz: Trinity Killer. It's like the funniest scene from that season. I was like ehh... I'll put this on a song. We were in the studio and I was like go on YouTube, put in Dexter, put in Trinity Killer, "Shut up Cunt." I want you to cut that out. He thought I was crazy. [I said] watch how it sounds when the beat drops. I was like yes!
KA: Not for nothing the video for "Race" is a trip. I noticed that usually your songs are three to four minutes long. Why did you decide two minutes was perfect for this song?
Raz: I had a third verse, but I cut it. By the third verse it gets boring. The beat is repetitive. You don't notice it's repetitive because it's one minute and fifty-five seconds. But by the third verse it's like it gets draining and I cut it out.
KA: Do you think the third verse might make the final cut of the album?
Raz: No, I don't think so.
KA: Not as a bonus track or nothing like that?
Raz: its 1:55. I want it to be like a trend like the song on The New Flesh, "Jack & Coke Flow." These really cool, short tracks. People are always like 'why isn't it two verses?'
KA: I remember doing a review for your album last year and I thought the same thing. "Jack & Coke" is probably one of the highlights on the album. How come you didn't go that extra length?
Raz: That song is so real. That song gets mad real. That shit was really happening. At that moment, I had to get it off my chest, that was it and I'll put it on the album.
KA: This is your fourth album. What can we expect on Reign on the Parade?
Raz: Laughs. It's really in your face, you know? People used to say 'Raz, your music could be emo at times.' I'm kind of steering away from that on this one. Emo Raz is nowhere to be found. I found that this album is very aggressive. It's a lot more fun. The beats are much better. We got some bigger names on there. We got 6th Sense on there. We got Audible Doctor and J57. I feel like it's more aggressive. That’s why I put out "Race" first because we were like this is very different from my other stuff.
KA: I knew this was very experimental when you put that out there because I listened to a couple of your old tracks and it's more gritty, 90s hip-hop.
Raz: Definitely. That's what I want to do now. It's a certain sound I'm going for. When I perform, I use a band and I'm always keeping them in mind. I want to have thee best show, a fun show. I don't want to drain people at a show, you know? I want a show to be very live and I need my music to represent that.
KA: Why the unique title? How did you come about with the album?
Raz: I've been on every major site. It's everybody wants to get on, you know? Cats [are] still not inviting me and I'm still not at the parade. Why don't I have a float at this parade, you know? If I don't get a float, I'm about to rain on this parade. I'm going to ruin it for everybody. Laughs. I should be here, you know? The title is like...salty and vengeful. It's not like I'm raining on my parade, it's on their parade. It's a play on the word reign. This is me raining on your parade starts my reign. That's what it is.
KA: It's a very interesting title. With such an extensive catalog at age 23, how much do you think you have grown as an artist?
Raz: I think I've grown a lot. I think I write songs a lot better now with things like song structure, knowing when to stop like finishing a song like "Race." At New Flesh time, I would have put the third verse on there, knowing that it doesn't fit. I would have just had it on there [saying] 'no, imma put it there since I wrote it.' Going back and actually re-doing songs, cutting them. I got [the tracklist] down to twelve. I wanted to do nine, but it turned to twelve. I feel New Flesh is great, but it's too long.
KA: You feel like it's too long?
Raz: It's too long. It's sixteen songs. Too long. I would have cut four joints, shit would have been a classic.
KA: Which one's would you have cut back then?
Raz: I would have cut "Cold/Fresh,"..."War & Peace,"... I would have cut "The Plague," even though I like that joint, I would have cut it. The beat gets repetitive...I don't know. That's it. I guess just three songs. I can't really think of what else.
KA: I mean, you can't cut "Golden."
Raz: I put a tweet out. This would have been a perfect album..."Mountains," "The One," Holy Ghost," "Jack & Coke Flow"....Oh! I would have cut "Love Me No More," that's the other one.
KA: Really? Not for nothing, that one was a pretty good track.
Raz: I like it a lot but like...I don't know. I was trying to make it perfect. Sometimes you have to kill it. I learned that in film school 'cause I was in school for screenwriting and my professor always told us kill your baby. Even though you love this scene, [you have to] cut it. It's going to be better. It's a great scene, but cut it. You're at the movie "The Dark Knight," it's too fucking long. There's stuff in "The Dark Knight" that shouldn't be there. It's a great movie, but there are certain scenes that shouldn't be there.
KA: Exactly. So...What was the process like prepping for the new album? Was it any different from previous works?
Raz: It was different because I built bonds between different artists and artists would come through and drop-in, like Cyph Diggy did, YC [the Cynic] did. YC is actually not on the album, but he was there, just chillin'...and Otis [Clapp]. It's different 'cause I set a goal. I'm gonna have one rap feature and Otis Clapp is on there and if I use a singer, I'm only using one singer. In the studio this time, only one engineer, Doug Simpson of the Aqua League. He's engineering the whole thing. I just moved to Brooklyn so he's like a few blocks away from me.
KA: Pretty Convenient.
Raz: Yeah, so I did everything in Brooklyn. I have a team too. I got Throat Chop Music. I'm working with Q from Madbloggers, and Jessica Estevez from IHeartDilla. Leisurely with Jessica, I wouldn't...with anybody, I wont play joints for people until this album. I like to surprise people but with this one, I'll be down for ideas. I would send a track to Otis or I'll send it to YC. Because I live in Brooklyn, so many of my friends live in Brooklyn like Cavalier is not too far from me. So Cav would come through and Fresh Daily, I play tracks for them. [This is] how it is in the industry, everybody just sits here and draws in like a vacuum. People come through and are like 'yo, I like this joint, I don't like this joint, you know? You build another team that's honest with you. I don't like yes-men [saying] 'I like these joints' and then the shit comes out and I get a review and I'm like...they sure didn't feel the joint. [Then they would say] 'I wasn't feeling that either.' Then I'm like 'why didn't you say that when I played it for you?' Laughs. It's like when you break up with a girl and [your friend telling you] 'yeah, I didn't like her.' Why didn't you tell me she was fucking crazy before I got with her?
KA: I hear you, man. I hear you. So, do you find it to be more or less pressure now with your fourth album?
Raz: Umm...it's more pressure because now I'm the mad rapper on that Biggie skit, "It's my fourth album!" Laughs. Now I'm that guy. You know what the beauty is about being unsigned? If this is the one that blows up, the media turns this into my first album. It's like nothing came before. So it really doesn't matter. I can make as many as I want. But the one that blows up, that would be the first so...I don't even like saying it's number four, number this, 'cause none of that shit matters until it blows up.
KA: You did mention that you were working with one engineer, one this, one that. Who are you bringing back from the previous albums?
Raz: The Producer Badd Lukk who's on everything except the New Flesh 'cause I couldn't get in touch with him. [Originally] It was supposed to be just an EP with just me and him, but I extended it because I was getting joints...I'm blessed that if put it on Twitter or something, people will just send me beats. So I extended it and I'm like... these joints are dope. I'm not just going to do this [EP] and then do another one. I just make it one project, a really good project. Badd Lukk's the homie. I've been working with him since I was 14. You would hear on the tracks, ten-oh seven, his old apartment building that we grew up in Far Rockaway. We used to record in his bedroom. I've known him for a long time. He lives down south now. But everything was through online and I haven't seen him in years. But still, he sends me joints.
KA: What about Scienze? I realized he's been on a couple of your albums?
Raz: Yeah. We went to college together. So I've known him for a while. It's so crazy how many people I went to school with. He's not on there though. I'm trying to really cut down on features. The reason why I have Otis 'cause when I got the beat, it just sounded like Otis. I just sent it to him and told him this sounds like you. He's like 'yeah, this is me.'
KA: Will there be any songs for the ladies as well?
Raz: Nope. laughs. I was, but then it didn't fit and it was an Illmind beat too. It was dope. I guess I'll use it for the next one.
KA: I heard that you recently performed at Tillman's with your band, Minority Report. So is there anything in the works with them?
Raz: I'm trying to get them on the outro man. I dropped this song a while ago called "Slip." It's now the outro, but I want them to play it. When they play it live, its crazy. It sounds like you're going to the Super Bowl. I want to get them on that but it's hard to get all those bodies in one room.
KA: So there's no album in the works for the future, maybe?
Raz: It's tough to get people in one room and it's not like we're a band. If we're a band, everybody puts money in. It's me and they're helping me. So that means I have to pay for all that studio time. Band studio time is a lot of money. If you're doing one song, it's going to cost you $200 to mix and master. Just one song and that's a deal. Usually, they charge $75 an hour to record a band and that's not mixing. So it's very expensive. That's why these independent bands, they put out five track EPs because who can afford to do 10 songs? When you're doing rock, it's very expensive.
KA: Speaking of rock, is your album, if we can refer back to "Race," is it going to be sounding more like rock, your album I mean?
Raz: Umm, no. It's just very aggressive. This is who I really am. I like to drink whiskey and curse a lot in my real life. Laughs. I'm just displaying that side on this album, you know? Before, I was trying to convey a message...and like, that's not who I am...fuck that. Nobody wants to hear that shit anyway.
KA: You're sure about that?
Raz: I mean, I feel like I am my generation. If I'm myself, I will represent it and I'm not stupid so... the message will be there on its own. Even on "Race." 'I reside where they look me in my eye/ I've got two more years 'til I'm dead at 25.' You know what I mean? The message is there. It's like a rugged song, but the message is still there. It's just what it is, naturally. You don't have to try to convey a message, you know? I did one revolutionary song on the first project, I did it and I hate it 'cause I was REALLY forcing it. You don't need to do that.
KA: You think you can give me a couple of more verses if possible from any of the other tracks? Do you already have your favorite track on that new album?
Raz: I got one joint I sent to people and they're quoting it on Tumblr 'cause it's so real. This is me being myself. The message is there. It's like umm...'I wake up to more drama/whole house smelling like ash, bad karma/step out, I walk with no armor/in front of those boys that carry that llamas/there's no honor, I'm just honest/swear to God we're like gardeners/I grew up with would-be Obama's/we found g-packs and turned to Osama/ so this right here's for my mama/dear father, I hope you're restin', lack of pensions' has got you stressin'/ you're the reason I got these lessons/...
Raz: Thank you. That's a long verse in the vein of "Golden" like it's toward the end. You know, I try to reference the old project. There are certain ways I structured the old one. So I put that near the end.
KA: So you're saying is that you're building off of the old project?
Raz: Well no. I like the motifs of the old [album], kinda like a director has a signature. Like Spike Lee has a signature dolly track, it's in every movie. Like Eminem, there's a girl that sings on one track, on every album, it's the same number on every album. Just things like that. I think it's like track twelve on every album. It's little things like that for fans.
KA: Alright. So when can we expect the new album?
Raz: September 18th. I'm hoping to do a release, somewhere. I don't know where yet, but I'm definitely going to do one. September 18th, through Kevin Nottingham, Throat Chop Music, IHD management. It's gonna' be fun. Laughs.