Pop Debut Shows Off Atlanta Teenager Raury’s Epic Scope

Raury, performing in June in Atlanta on his 18th birthday, his first proper headlining performance. He called it Raurfest. Raury’s debut album, “Indigo Child,” will be released on Monday. (Troy Stains for The New York Times)
Raury, performing in June in Atlanta on his 18th birthday, his first proper headlining performance. He called it Raurfest. Raury’s debut album, “Indigo Child,” was released on Monday. (Troy Stains for The New York Times)

ATLANTA — In June, on the day Raury turned 18, he woke up earlyish and went to the aquarium here with an old friend for a low-key afternoon. He’d just graduated from high school, but this night was the real cause for celebration — a concert he’d been planning for months. He called it Raurfest.

It was an ambitious name for his first proper headlining performance, but Raury’s taste for the epic is among his most appealing characteristics. So that night, in a gallery space/abandoned industrial building near downtown, a dinner was organized in his honor, followed by a show under the stars.

Yesterday, Raury released his first album, “Indigo Child” — free online at indigochildproject.com, though he is signed to Columbia. It is, for the most part, an astonishingly assured debut, full of multipart songs teeming with deeply felt ideas. He has an easy way with melody but also a consistently grand-scaled sense of theater, which makes for music that’s intimate and imposing all at once.

It’s an album, he said, “made from frustrations, made from being looked down upon, made from being an outcast and not like everyone else.” His response to those obstacles is elegant pop that takes in tender soul, muscled rock and flickers of hip-hop attitude.

“I want it to sound like a World War III benefit concert,” he joked.

“God’s Whisper,” his breakthrough song, is like anarchic gospel, with a hollow stomp that could almost be borrowed from Mumford & Sons. “Cigarette Song” owes at least some of its silken attitude to Terence Trent D’Arby. Elsewhere, there are shades of Kid Cudi, Outkast and MGMT.

Given that his music is almost wholly self-produced, it has an unusually large scope, a thread that unites all his songs.

“You can say: ‘This sounds like an Odd Future song; this sounds like a Michael Jackson song. So what’s going to make it sound like a Raury song?’ ” he said. “I figured out it’s the sound that was always going to draw you back to that artist, ’cause you’ll want to feel that same way.”

In addition to a unifying sound, the album is strung together by a series of sometimes-screaming arguments with his mother about the direction of his life — surreptitiously recorded on his iPhone, though released with her approval. It’s a reminder that Raury is still young and still animated by young person’s concerns. (See also the long spoken-word outro on “Woodcrest Manor,” about coming to terms with life’s ephemerality.)

Raised in Stone Mountain, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, Raury graduated from Tucker High School, where he performed in and directed the talent show, played guitar with a cover band and was involved with a summer outdoors program. At 14, he quit his other pursuits to focus on music.

Before doing shows of his own, he developed the idea of showing up in a truck outside concerts by artists he admired — Childish Gambino and Tyler, the Creator — and performing until the police shooed him away.

But this night was his. Ahead of the concert, there was a line down the block filled primarily with black teenage eccentrics from Atlanta, dressed fantastically and thrilled to have someone to call their own. And the show was raucous. Raury wore a tattered burgundy Tucker Tigers T-shirt and embraced the loner rebel role to the hilt. He performed with gawky fervor, as if assessing on the fly just how much he could get away with. At one point, he hoisted a sword, then put it down when he realized how heavy it was.

At the after-party up the block later that night, Raury mostly stayed off to the side, sipping from a red cup while his friends danced the Yeet and the DLow Shuffle, among other moves, as the DJ played Migos and Young Thug — the records that most of the country identifies with Atlanta.

“I love those artists,” he said. “I just think Atlanta needs a new pool for people to swim in.”

He added: “I want to keep my collaboration circle very young. Nobody over 30. Might say 25.”

Since Raurfest, he’s recorded some songs with the producer Danger Mouse (who, it should be said, is 37) and had breakfast with Kanye West at Shangri-La Studio in Malibu, Calif., where they played new music for each other. He’s also been invited by Outkast to open for one of its September homecoming shows here (along with Kid Cudi).

“The people that are like me that are different, they don’t come out of the house, and if they do they’re wearing a mask because they fear that they would be judged or patronized,” he said. “But if everybody wears that mask, how the hell are we going to know that we’re not alone?”

article by Jon Caramanica via nytimes.com

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