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Where Is My Mind?: Lushlife

- by Q.D. Tran & Dan Brightcliffe

Today is the official release date of Plateau Vision, the debut label album from South Philly’s Lushlife a.k.a. Raj Haldar, which is available via Western Vinyl. You can help him celebrate the momentous occasion this evening at Johnny Brenda’s where he’ll be joined by Dice Raw and Gracie before he hits the road for tour with Cities Aviv. But first, check out our recent interview with the Deli favorite and rising emcee/producer to learn more about the production of his latest release, his fetish for classic hip hop, love for Vietnamese hoagies, and much, much more below.
 
The Deli: You have a background in jazz composition. How has that affected your approach to beat making as a hip hop producer? Are there any connections between your jazz background and being an emcee?
 
Raj Haldar: I have more of a failed background in jazz composition than anything. I studied piano for like sixteen years, and played jazz drums from the age of ten onwards, but in college, I kind of just floundered. Having said that, I did a lot of transcribing on my own in high school, and I think that helped my ear a lot. More than anything, simply listening to music with deep intent, from a very young age, had more impact on my production than anything else. I think, having an understanding of rhythm in jazz, and being “in the pocket” has probably informed my flow in some ways, though.
 
TD: You’re latest LP Plateau Vision is your first release for Western Vinyl. How did you get hooked up with them?
 
RH: My homie, Botany, (who actually produced a few of the songs on Plateau Vision) is signed to Western Vinyl, and while I was producing the early parts of the record, he mentioned that the label had been interested in putting out a hip-hop release for years, but hadn’t really struck on the right artist or album. I kind of forgot about this, and we came really close to signing a really fucked up deal with a label whose name I won’t mention. In any case, I’m really glad I pulled away from that situation, and reached out to Western Vinyl. They’ve got this amazing catalog of indie and electronic releases, and despite mine being a hip-hop album, I think they understand it, and it fits well in their stable.
 
TD: You’re delivery on the mic has gained various comparisons to 90’s golden era emcees, such as Nas and AZ. How do you feel about these comparisons? Who are your favorite emcees and producers (hip hop or other)?
 
RH: I’m nothing other than flattered by the comparisons to Nas and AZ. Those are two emcees that have had a profound impact on what I do, and I’m touched to be mentioned in the same breath. As far as rappers go, I really admire Black Thought, too. Not just as a Philly dude doing it, but Thought honestly gives me chills just about every time he spits a rhyme.
 
TD: Plateau Vision’s lyrics are filled with references to hip-hop culture from the classic emcee battle between Busy Bee and Kool Moe Dee to Hot 97’s Summer Jams and Wild Style graffiti. What are your thoughts on the current state of hip hop?
 
RH: Haha - yeah, I’m a bit of a fetishist for classic hip hop. A lot of that stuff, I was growing up with in the nineties, and the older, eighties references seemed so part of an enchanted era, that I like to well-up those emotions when I can. As far as the current state of hip hop goes, I don’t know, man. I mean, it’s clearly not the same music it was fifteen years ago, but that simply is what it is. I guess - it’s just as easy to hate change, as it is to hate on stale nostalgia for a bygone era. So, with my music, I try to keep one foot entrenched in the spirit of the golden age, but by no means do I intend to make music that just sounds like throwback ‘90s backpack rap.
 
TD: Plateau Vision is made up of 11 songs, spanning 44 minutes. Was it a conscious decision to keep the release shorter and more concise than your previous mixtapes? If so, why?
 
RH: I really love the album format. I’m in love with it, I think. To me, the best albums are not bloated, but are concise works of art that are bigger than the sum of their parts. That’s what I’m always trying to achieve with my studio albums. The No More Golden Days mixtape had such a broader scope, in that I could use a few tracks from other songs, and didn’t have to produce every little sound on that recording. I had a little bit of fun with the tape, knowing that it didn’t have quite the gravity of an official release.
 
TD: When making music, what piece of equipment could you not live without?
 
RH: In general, I’d say my de rigeuer, MPC. I love to chop up, and knock out beats on classic beat machine samplers. There’s some intangible quality to producing hip hop this way. Not to sound too flighty, but cosmically, I think we perceive those indefinable qualities that the classic hip hop made on these same machines had. For Plateau Vision, specifically, so much of the album was bounced to ¼” tape by my homie Botany and myself, that I’d have to say that the reel-to-reel cassette recorder is the key piece of gear on this outing.
 
TD: How do you feel that you’ve evolved from Cassette City to your latest releases?
 
RH: My production and rhymes are always developing, I guess. More specifically, though, I think my sense of direction for Plateau Vision has more of an aesthetic refinement than the stuff on my prior releases. With Cassette City, I was overtly exploring the existing sonic landscape, whereas, I feel like Plateau Vision, in some ways, charts new creative territory.
 
TD: Who was the first hip hop artist that you remember flowing to?
 
RH: Dave Chappelle has referenced Das EFX a lot, when joking about the early ‘90s. It seems so dated and gimmicky now, but I think their first album, Dead Serious, was the first rap record I memorized front-to-back. I can’t believe I just told you that, but there it is.
 
TD: What’s the first concert that you ever attended and first album that you ever bought?
 
RH: Can’t quite remember the first concert I saw. I think it might have been Deee-lite in New York City. That was one of the first, anyway. I was in middle school, for sure. Towa Tei made a huge impression on me then, and subsequently with his solo work. The first record I ever bought was nothing interesting - probably Thriller, like everyone else.
 
TD: You have an impressive roster of featured artists on the LP ranging from emcees like Styles P, STS, Shad, Heems and Cities Aviv alongside indie musicians such as Andrew Cedermark of Titus Andronicus and RYAT. In your opinion, what connections are there between hip-hop and indie music, or are these just both musical styles you grew up on, and are in your musical DNA?
 
RH: Yeah, there’s probably a fairly broad sampling of artists across different genres, when you look at Plateau Vision in that context. I never quite think of assembling the guest artists like that, though. It’s more of a process where I approach artists who I feel will bring something totally unique to the song at-hand. So, for example, with a dude like Styles P, his flow and persona were something that the album needed on a cosmic level, and so we did everything within our power to make that a reality. Not because we wanted the Styles P name, necessarily, but just because I felt that he could breathe an interesting perspective into “Still I Hear the Word Progress,” as well as the Plateau Vision album as a whole. When approaching artists from the indie side, it’s the same thing. I’m simply looking for artists who will help build the fabric of the album.
 
TD: How do you feel the Philly music scene has influenced your music - if at all?
 
RH: From the production side, I’m pretty deeply influenced by the work of Gamble and Huff. The Philly Sound has this maximalist intensity that you might hear coursing through my work. As far as emcees go, I admire Black Thought from The Roots, and his work has surely influenced mine.
 
TD: Your live equipment setup is pretty compact for touring. Are you ready to tour the world? Have you quit your day job yet? What is or was your day job?
 
RH: Haha. Yeah, it’s been a goal of mine to create a dynamic, one-man live show with a setup of gear that easily fits into a travel case under 50 lbs. I did a month of touring in Europe in 2011, along with a slew of US dates. Recently, I just finished some shows with Shabazz Palaces in Canada and the US, and I’m excited to go on the road with Cities Aviv really soon! I haven’t quit my day job, and I’m not sure I will. I head-up marketing for a tech startup here in Philly, called Connectify. It’s an amazing team of really smart people that I work with, and they’re so cool about taking time off to be on-the-road. I couldn’t imagine a better dynamic.
 
TD: How was your experience at SXSW this year?
 
RH: South by Southwest is intense. It was a really great time to see friends and colleagues that are scattered around the country and the world. At the same time, I came home, and I was totally spent, after a week of non-stop shows and parties.
 
TD: What made you decide to go by the moniker Lushlife?
 
RH: Oh, it’s just kind of an homage to the Billy Strayhorn jazz standard. I like that tune, and yeah, I’m a bit of a lush, too.
 
TD: What’s your drink of choice?
 
RH: Beer.
 
TD: What’s your favorite thing to get at the deli?
 
RH: That’s a toss-up. At Sarcone’s, it’s a simple Turkey and American Cheese hoagie. But, I also love Vietnamese hoagies. I recently ate three banh mis from three different South Philly spots in one afternoon. Epic.
 

 

 

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Lushlife
Plateau Vision