From its opening track ‘Guarantee,’ Raj Mahal’s latest project Raw Dawg is a fucking rollercoaster without the anticipation of a drop because the thrill is there from the get-go. The in-your-face bass and abrasive synths laid out by producer Domba feels like the sonic rendition of boxing Mike Tyson in his prime. ‘Cartridge’ is a journey of hooks, jabs, and overhands all connecting in a flush manner, one of many combos set to knock you out throughout the duration of the project. The drill-esque bounce of the Dante Knows-assisted ‘Glimpse’ is a body shot you want to absorb—and while you’re getting your ass kicked, there are melodic moments like the closer like ‘Get Me From,’ where you can’t help but just appreciate the technique. Shoutout the legend Evander Holyfield, but we’re glad we got both our ears for this one.
If you’re not familiar with Raj Mahal just yet, he’s a Boston-born, Sydney-based rapper who’s been making moves in our rapidly rising scene since his breakout 2017 EP Neva Safe. He’s stayed consistent with hard-hitting singles such as ‘What Da Deal,’ ‘All Aboard,’ and ‘No Suckers,’ demonstrating his versatility as a songwriter and vocalist. However, this new project is undoubtedly the most skillful, complete version of his artistry yet, which makes it a surprise that this was the culmination of 2 weeks of stress-free good times with Domba. You know what they say; pressure makes diamonds, raw authenticity makes Raw Dawg.
To celebrate the fire that is this new release, we hopped on a Zoom chat with Raj to talk through the process of creating this project, the best early 2000s rap record, and how he wrote a specific standout from the project while playing 2K.
Congratulations on the EP, man. How are you feeling?
I feel alright, man. It’s kind of like, I’m ready to move on to the next one. I still gotta’ do what I can to make this one reach as many people as possible, but now I just want to do more for the fans and everyone intrigued by ya’ boy!
What’s it been like releasing it during this bizarre time?
I haven’t really thought about it, because not only is it an inconvenience for me, but an inconvenience for everybody. I’m just realising this for the love of creating music. Do I want it to be successful? Of course. But at the end of the day, that’s not in my hands.
How do you think you’ve grown since Neva Safe?
The writing, energy, and overall picture are more calculated and controlled. Neva Safe was raw talent, whereas, in Raw Dawg, you can hear more writing and delivery skills.
It feels like there’s a lot of throwbacks to the early days of trap on this project. Was that an influence at all?
For sure, man, because that’s what I primarily listen to. I don’t check for a lot of new music. I mainly listen to like old school Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy, all that.
What do you think the best project from that early to mid-2000s era is?
I think G-Unit’s Beg For Mercy and Terminator On Sight are two of my favourite albums. Gucci Mane’s Back to the Trap House and his 2009 mixtape Writing on the Wall is probably one of the projects that have had the most influence on my craft. Of course, those early Young Jeezy albums are monumental in rap’s sound today.
You’ve mentioned that you recorded this project over 2 weeks. Can you talk us through that process?
We weren’t even in the mindset of creating something. It started out with one track we thought was dope, and then within hours, we made another track. Over the next few days, I stayed at Domba’s house, and we continued to make tracks. If we released everything from those sessions, it would have been 20-30 tracks. But we decided to keep it at 11 to keep the people interested, and not overwhelm them.
The title perfectly summarises the contagious, high-octane feel of this project. What are the pillars that define the Raw Dawg energy?
I think you just have to feel what you’re feeling. Everybody’s life story is crazy and exciting; I took that with me into this. And having someone I trust with me like Domba all the time on this journey makes it so much easier. Because at the same time, I’m telling his story through my lyrics. You just have to come with that authenticity and the greediness of being you and only you no matter what.
You’ve described your music as an escape from your former self. Why do you think you needed to leave that previous Raj in the past?
I just didn’t feel like it was helpful in the growth I’m trying to see in my life. You make many dumb decisions when you’re young, and when you allow yourself to water the darkness, it follows you. After a while, you just get tired of it. It can take away many blessings, whether it’s relationships, business, music, work, whatever. So I needed something like this project to remind me that I’m on the right path and that I just have to keep pushing.
Escapism is a good way to describe this project. It’s got the club-ready sounds of Magic City and the extraterrestrial feel of a rave. What makes you attracted to these off-kilter sonics, and why do you think they work so well in the realms of trap?
I think with the power of the internet, any form of entertainment is accessible to anybody. Domba and I take advantage of that. We get samples that wouldn’t traditionally be used in rap. It could be a turtle walking into water; we try to make nothing into something. I think it’s a tactic everyone should use because it doesn’t limit your creativity. You don’t box yourself into specific hip-hop samples or drums or whatever. That’s why I tend to not label myself as a trap rapper or anything, because I’m just making what I feel at the time.
A standout on the project is ‘Glimpse’ with Dante Knows, which feels like a mixture of experimental, noisy stuff, and drill. How did that one come about?
I was playing 2K at the time when Domba was making the beat. I remember hearing the sample and thinking it was crazy. Then, of course, Domba went on to do what he does. I started writing my verse whenever the ball was out of bounds, or the computer was shooting a free throw on 2K. I don’t like to pause the game because I feel like it ruins my momentum [Laughs]. As the game progressed, I realised I had written a whole verse and hook, so I went and recorded them. And then I told Dante he had to get on it because it felt like the one that was going to be huge as a single.
I’ve heard you talk about the feeling of uncertainty you went through during this pandemic. How have you overcome it?
I’ve just been patient. I’ve seen many people complain about how they wish things would go back to normal. Still, if everything was normal, they’d just go back to complaining about the shit they were before. Instead of dwelling in the slump and letting COVID define my fate, I went against it. I made Raw Dawg, I started journaling and working out again. I just look for ways to come out of this better because all I had was time to improve myself. It almost feels like a blessing in disguise.
It can be hard to identify our growth through strife because we are often our own worst enemies in life. Are you able to look back on your journey and be proud? Or do you think you need more time?
It’s a little bit of both. A part of my growth process is appreciating what I’ve accomplished and acknowledged them. I know there are things that I need to get better at, but the fact that I’m here right now is a fantastic thing. I’m grateful for it all and the fact that I haven’t given up because there are times every day where I feel like doing that.
Lastly, my friend, what’s next for you?
I’m just gonna’ game plan and focus on how to market the music better. I don’t think I’ll have any more singles dropping this year, maybe a video in the works, but all the big moves will come next year. So at the moment, your guess is as good as mine.
Stream Raj Mahal’s new project Raw Dawg below and follow him here for more.