Bay Area MC Faraji Omar Wrightz—known professionally as Rexx Life Raj—is serving up music and giving back to his community. The former D-1 football player has always known music was his outlet, and his most recent album, California Poppy 2, is both a reflection on our current times and an expression of Raj’s infatuation with neo soul.
For Raj, having a platform and using it to inspire others is the true meaning of what it means to be successful. “I’m blessed to be in a position where I have all of these resources, so it was always important to me to try and give back somehow, whether it be monetarily, giving wisdom or just helping people out in whatever ways they need.”
When we connected by phone, Raj was excited to discuss his growing involvement in the cannabis industry, his vision and plans for growing a cannabis company that focuses on supporting people of color and how music is simply his tool for making lasting change on the community he came from and on the world at-large.
Rex Life Raj on Music, Representation and Cannabis
Your mother was a gospel singer. Was there always a lot of creative energy bubbling around your household?
I was always around music from the time I was small. It was one of those things where I was born into it. Like you said, my mom was a gospel singer, so we were in church every Sunday with choir practice Tuesdays and Thursdays. My aunt was the piano player for the choir; my uncle was the choir director, and my grandma was the lead singer in the main choir. They would also perform at different events as a quartet.
My parents had—and still have to this day—a delivery service in Berkeley, California called IBS Courier Service, and during the weekdays, I’d be in the backs of trucks and vans listening to all different kinds of music. Lots of oldies, 102.9 KBLX. When I got to elementary school, that’s when I got introduced to rap, R&B, neo soul and all of that.
What was it about the neo soul genre that really clicked for you?
Neo soul has so much soul, passion and pain in it. It was a sound I was familiar with growing up in church, but it was married with a new sound of rap and banging beats. To this day, I just love soulful music because it just comes from a more real place.
You also grew up playing football. Were sports and music competing interests?
I pursued music in middle school and high school. Music was really my focus. Around 11th or 12th grade, music started to compete with football, and things [for football] started to get real when I started getting scholarship offers. Suddenly, I had to put more time into football. Music had been the priority and the passion, but football had gotten to a point where it became a vehicle that could help put me through college and help get me my degree. So I used it as such.
When I went to Boise for football—at that D-1 level—you don’t really have time to do music. It’s really football from 5:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. every day. I did little shit in my closet in my dorm room, and when later I moved into apartments and houses, I’d continue to put the studio in the closets. Music remained my passion and hobby, and when I had downtime, I’d do it. But in those years, football for sure sort of trumped music. I always knew that when I finished football, I would pursue music full time. I wasn’t one of those dudes who had the NFL dreams; rather, I always knew I’d get back to music at some point.
So you knew music was for you before football ever came into play.
Yeah, I grew a passion and a love for it at an early age. I knew that football was the vehicle that would help me get a college degree and would help open my life up to experiences I’d never had. When I first went to college, nobody in my family had received a college degree. Then my cousin Joel ended up getting a degree from San Jose State, so I became the second person in my family to get a college degree, and I know that meant a lot to my parents, especially my dad.
With the analogy of using football as a vehicle and calling something a vehicle—it’s something I do with everything. Like with music. Even though music is my passion, I understand that it’s a vehicle to open doors to a lot of things, which is why I try to preach to people, “Whatever you’re doing and whatever you’re passionate about, if you have the opportunity to be big and have a big platform and make money off of it, you should use it as a vehicle to open doors to other things.” I believe in diversifying whatever you do.
Would you say the diversifying mindset is what drives you musically?
Yeah, musically in the sounds that I use and the beat selections and all of that. There are so many different worlds that you can choose from, and when you combine them, you never know what you can come up with.
How did you choose your name, Rexx Life Raj?
My boy came up with “Rexx in high school. We were a group of homies who called ourselves “Rexxes” and were Rexx Life. It’s something I’ve been rocking with forever and sort of just used it. Now, Rexx Life has become a collective of different artists in different realms—rappers, singers, producers, videographers—different types of artists that are all in this collective of Rexx Life. It started in high school as a clique of homies and has blossomed into what it is now.
What inspired your latest album, California Poppy 2, and what went into its production?
I think all of my music is pretty heady in that it comes from an introspective place and reflects stuff that I’m going through. What’s crazy is, the original California Poppy was a lot more bright and a lot more fun—stuff you could play outside or in your car on a beautiful day type music. California Poppy 2 is similar but for sure darker. I remember talking to my manager like, “Does this project feel dark?” And he was like, “Yeah, but you’ve got to think: The world is dark.” When I thought about it from that vantage point, it made sense.
There are songs like the track “Tesla in a Pandemic,” where I’m looking at this Tesla, and it’s a bittersweet feeling to have music going well enough to be able to get this beautiful car, but I look around the world and the world is crumbling around me. People are struggling and dying, all kinds of stuff. The track “State of Mind” is more introspective because I was writing alone in the studio with a more stream of consciousness that contributes to it being a more “heady” album.
You can’t be guilty for your own success, but you have an awareness and humbleness that other people are in different situations.
Exactly. The one track that was more turned up was “Freak” with Juvenile. I can’t even remember how that came about, but I’m happy it’s in there, because I think the album needed that balance of something that was more fun.
In terms of different situations, what’s the work you do with Good And Proper?
Good And Proper is an event series that we started ourselves before COVID. The idea of it was to do these fundraiser events that weren’t your typical fundraisers. Instead, they’d be more of a longue type vibe, with art, couture DJs, drinks—more of mingling events that raise money for local organizations or charities. The first event in 2019 was in San Francisco and had a couple hundred people. In total, we raised six or seven thousand dollars.
I’m signed to Empire right now, and they matched whatever we raised—around three thousand dollars—so we were able to donate around six or seven thousand dollars to an Oakland organization called Youth Radio. It’s an organization where kids can come and learn how to be studio engineers, learn how to start their own media platform, start their own content series or be a radio host. It’s a place for kids to come in and learn these different aspects of media.
While we weren’t able to throw one last year in 2020, whenever things open back up, we’ll throw one again.
Was using your platform for good always something you envisioned doing?
Where I’m from, a lot of people don’t get a chance to make it out, get a big platform and make a lot of money. There are some who leave and never come back. Then there were those who got successful becoming a rapper or by going to the NFL who did come back and gave it back to the hood in whatever ways they saw fit.
Giving back is a big deal for me because I know there’s a lot of kids who don’t have resources, opportunities or support systems around them to help them to flourish to where they need to go. I’m blessed to be in a position where I have all of these resources and tools, so it was always important to me to try and give back somehow, whether it be monetarily, giving wisdom or just helping people out in whatever ways they need. It’s a big deal to give back, especially to where you came from.
What would you say your relationship with cannabis is?
When I first started smoking in high school, I used to get really high and rap. But when I went to college and started playing D-1 football, I couldn’t smoke because we got tested all of the time. For four or five years, I didn’t really smoke. Then, when I graduated from college, it was weird because I would get middle school high.
Mind you, I’m a bigger dude, but I would take a couple of hits and be faded. So I had to chill out for another couple of years because of how weirdly high I was getting. In the Bay Area, we call that “rapper weed.” Once clubs and dispensaries started to open up, I got my medical card and started to experiment and find weed that fit me instead of trying to smoke the stoner, rapper weed.
Finding the right weed is sort of like dating and finding the right person to be in a relationship with.
It’s literally that. I remember at one point, I was going to the club, finding different weed and rating it. Then I’d record my findings on a white board in our studio. I notated the ones I liked and didn’t like.
Now, I only really smoke when I make music. It helps me come up with different ideas, cadences and all of that kind of stuff. I think I’m more of a creative smoker. I like the headspace weed puts me in.
So for you, weed helps stimulate your mind in a particular way.
Especially if I’m in the booth. There are times where I’ll hear a beat and just start writing, but other times, I’ll hear a beat, and I’ll want to lay down different melodies and see what I come up with. If I’m in the mode of creating really unique melodies and harmonies, weed puts me in a place of freedom where I’m not really thinking too much, where I can just let go and see what comes out. That’s what I really like about it.
I’ve wanted to get into cannabis for a while, but right now, the market is pretty flooded and a lot of rappers are coming out with their own strains, though not all of them are legal. It’s easy to print a bag and put a random strain in the bag and sell it. So I’ve invested a lot of time understanding the business side of cannabis. Luckily, I have a good friend of mine—Mark—who has a company up in San Francisco called Permanent Holiday. They do flower, edibles and everything else. He actually has a delivery service connected to it, which is really clean, and has all of his licenses, distribution, warehouse facilities for proper packaging—he has everything in house to help me.
When I first started going on tour three or four years ago, Mark and Permanent Holiday were one of the earliest tour sponsors for me. When we would go on the road, we would put up the Permanent Holiday logos on banners at shows and at meet-and-greets. I watched him level up from being a grower down in Humboldt to actually having this big facility in San Francisco. Being able to see him and watch him grow has been really cool, but also he’s been great at guiding me and walking me through the process of helping me get certain licenses and insurances and making sure my packaging is adequate. He’s also introduced me to a ton of strains. Down the road, we’ll actually make a strain from scratch.
The biggest motivation for me getting into the cannabis business is because it’s one of those things I feel people of color should be doing. So many people are locked up or have served time for [marijuana-related offenses], which is why my platform—California Poppy—will be a brand that sells weed but will also be an educational tool. When the world opens back up, we’ll have webinars and seminars where we’ll bring all of these different cultivators and brands from the Bay Area together and will give people the game.
The biggest issue I have with the cannabis business is the barrier of entry. The barrier of entry is so high, and there’s such a steep learning curve that dudes would rather print up a bag and put some weed in it and sell it on the black market rather than learning the game and actually doing it the right way. I want to open up this flood gate of information and knowledge for people who look like me and are trying to get into the cannabis business the legal way. I feel like we deserve a place in this space.
Do you foresee your company weaving in cannabis activism in some way to promote the inclusiveness of what the space can be?
We’re still trying to figure out exactly what that will be, but it’s a priority for me to work with people of color. That includes growers of color and different brands of color. For the short time I’ve been in the “cannabis game,” you see big money coming into it and how fast it’s becoming corporatized. You see these brands that are targeted toward white, Caucasian people. I just want to have a space for the urban couture brand and build something around that. There are a lot of people in that space, and there are lots of opportunities for people to do stuff there.
Have you thought about also employing folks who have served time for trumped up possession and other cannabis related offenses?
I 100 percent want to do that. Mark was telling me California has certain grants for people who were incarcerated for weed crimes that help those individuals start a business. That’s something not a lot of people know about. I didn’t even know about, but it’s something I will want to put on my platform.
I know people who have been locked up for marijuana, and I know millions of people have relatives or friends who have been locked up and don’t realize that if they were in a certain position, there’s money, permits and insurance available to you if you apply for it. Unfortunately, that knowledge isn’t circulating in my community like it is in everyone else’s community.
Follow @rexxliferaj, and check out californiapoppy.co for the latest in Raj’s cannabis endeavors.
On the song, Running Man… He say something about knowing the lyrics to a previous song, called Hi Rodea, or something? What song is he referring? I’ve been searching high and low? Bucnup@yahoo.com. thanks, great article