The Madison-based rapper talks to us before releasing his first EP and playing a July 16 show.
Ra’Shaun has only been creeping into the public consciousness over the past year or so, with a handful of one-off SoundCloud tracks that gained some extra exposure through hip-hop blogs and an endorsement from actress Chloë Moretz—not bad for a few months in the life of a reserved, 20-year old rapper from Madison. The best of Ra'Shaun's tracks suggest that he has already figured out a thing or two about melding brash, rugged flows with a fluid dash of melody. On “What’s Up,” he’s downright bubbly as he raps/sings about trying to get together with a woman who’s only in town for a couple nights—a fleeting moment, captured with an almost innocent-sounding charm. When he examines a relationship that’s falling apart on “Deja Vu,” things get a bit more moody and atmospheric, but there’s still that unabashed pop streak, and even a bit of youthful goofiness mixed in with the darkness: “First time we met girl, we connected like a iPhone plug / My heart been broke before, feel like I just can’t love.”
This summer, Ra’Shaun is finishing up his debut EP, Kolors. It will include “Deja Vu” and a couple other previously released tracks, “Colombiana” and “Dial,” the latter featuring a verse from collaborator and fellow young Madison-based rapper Trapo. Another highlight, lead-off track “Comfortable,” boasts a bittersweet chorus that floats over a glittery, synth-brushed beat. Ra’Shaun has put out more somber tracks like last year’s Trapo collaboration “When I Die,” but Kolors is a cohesive set, drawing on work from multiple producers, that explores the intersection between solid hip-hop and euphoric pop. The title was inspired by the multicolored lights in the home studio of Madison musician Chris LaBella, who co-produced and mixed the EP—Ra’Shaun says the room was bathed in purple light every time the two finished up a track he was happy with.
Ra’Shaun, real name Ra’Shaun Randle, will join several other Madison artists for a free Saturday, July 16 show on the Square. He’s planning to put out the Kolors EP soon, and will spend the rest of the summer working on collaborations and new tracks for an eventual full-length. He spoke with me recently, after I had a chance to listen to the rough mix of the new EP.
Tone Madison: "Deja Vu" is an interesting song on the EP, because at first it's atmospheric, and on the bridge you just sort of compress everything down to mostly just the beat and voice. It seems like you really like to mix up different styles within a song.
Ra'Shaun Randle: That's one thing about me too—that's why I like finding new music. Some people gotta learn the difference between biting somebody's style and getting inspired from it. There are a lot of artists who inspired my sound, and I just take it and do my own thing with it.
Tone Madison: Who are some folks you're collaborating with now who you don't think have gotten enough attention, especially Madison-based artists?
Ra'Shaun Randle: This guy named Red. It's the only guy I know that don't write. I'll be right there, he'll write the verse in his head.
Tone Madison: So he doesn't write things down?
Ra'Shaun Randle: No, it's four bars at a time in his head, and he ends up remembering it. I just feel like once he gets a little bit of exposure, it's going to expand by itself, and I want to encourage that. Who else? My brother, actually [Lil Blue]. There's this 15-year old kid, too, I'm gonna take him under my wing. I don't really be into stuff like that, but I can just tell he's got something that no one else does. He's just a random 15-year-old white kid from La Crosse who just hit me up. I watched his video and I was just highly impressed, because at 15, I couldn't even put together a sentence the way that he's putting together words.
Tone Madison: I'm sure other people have commented on this, but you and Trapo make for an interesting contrast when you collaborate, because his music tends to come off as kind of grizzled and dark, and yours seems more lighthearted.
Ra'Shaun Randle: Explain that.
Tone Madison: I mean, in his music, partially just because of the way his voice sounds—it sounds like a much older guy's voice—his stuff comes off as moody and introspective, whereas in your music, it's more poppy and fun. At least on the surface.
Ra'Shaun Randle: That's the thing right there. That's why I'm confused. That's where people's heads are at. They're hearing this now, but I've got two projects already done besides [Kolors], so when they hear those, they're gonna say, "He's not just in that lane, he's doing this too." I'm not discriminating against no type of music. If the beat do something to me and I feel like I can write something to it, it'll come out the way I want it to come out. I don't try to stay in no lane. I don't try to put myself in a box. I like to be open to every style.
Tone Madison: Earlier this year you were planning to put out another EP that you've finished, Orange Wall. What made you put that aside?
Ra'Shaun Randle: I just wasn't feeling the vibe at the moment. I was just so thirsty to work. That's when I'd just gotten with my manager too, my manager out in LA. Stuff he was telling me was just inspiring me to work, hit up producers, get some brand-new beats, and go crazy. I'm going to put it out still, but I'm just worried about the bigger stuff first. That'll be the project I put out before an album or something.
Tone Madison: But you're feeling more sure about the Kolors EP as the first real project you put out there?
Ra'Shaun Randle: That's one thing about me too—first impressions. I'm always big on first impressions. Orange Wall, I wasn't really at my creative peak. I was just making music and vibing. There wasn't no meaning behind it, it was just whatever came to mind, I would just finesse it the way I was supposed to. But Kolors, those are actual situations I was in. On "Comfortable," the line "I tried to warn you"—I really tried to warn a female, "It's not going to be what you think it's going to be like." It was based on real things that were going on, situations I was really in. I feel like I'm more mature writing-wise. My manager's big on that too. I'll send him a rough draft, and he'll tell me I could put more in there. And it always works out and sounds better. "Comfortable" got switched up two or three times. [My manager] hasn't steered me wrong yet. Every time he's told me to do something, it's worked out.
Tone Madison: What do you have planned for the show on the 16th?
Ra'Shaun Randle: I'll probably do one or two songs off Kolors, and some songs people already know, and some new stuff.