They say there’s nothing like the feeling of hearing something for the very first time. Whether it’s hearing birds tweet, violin strings or a soothing tenor, the ears never forget. This feeling is one that North London vocalist-songwriter-producer extraordinaire Ragz Originale is in tune with for the entirety of ‘txt ur x’, his latest work of art following his 2018 debut album ‘Nature’. On a chilly afternoon in Hoxton, I chop it up with the self-proclaimed “showa man musician” on his EP, influences, his vision in visual form and more in this in-depth cover story.
“This is my first interview [being back] making music again. I’m easing back in but I’m cool. I’m bless, I’m exhausted.” Ragz reflects on his current state as he gets accustomed to the charming locale for our interview. He looks on at his publicist Nisa while she briefly tells him about Mama Shelter and it’s resemblance to Soho House in Paris and other buildings in that capacity across modern Europe. Before we begin, he hands me a physical copy of ‘txt ur x’ to keep and fortunately, it was one of the last two copies left. When asked about the perils of being an independent artist with no team, he is forthright whilst shaking off the aforementioned exhaustion. “It’s tiring but it’s fulfilling at the same time because if something goes wrong, I’m the only person to blame. I do enjoy parts of it, being able to get my exact vision out. If it doesn’t happen, I can find my own way to do it as opposed to going through a team. A team would be nice at some point to help offset the stuff that I don’t wanna do.”
To hear that he wants to offset some responsibility should come as no surprise to readers. Ragz does more than your typical artist in this era; from pressing CD’s and merch to organising a listening-cum-launch party. Even his music videos, which capture the feel-good, healing attributes of his sound, with the help of directors that are able to bring his vision to life. “I’m hands on with everything. Everything is down to a T like how I wanna present things to people. How I want to be seen and what I want people to take from it. Basically, my perception of myself has to match your perception of me otherwise there’s gonna be a disconnect.”
Staring at the album art closely, I notice six different mobile phones on the table while directly behind Ragz you see six pictures of him with six different women. Without hearing a single track, it’s apparent that this project is loosely centred on his experiences with the fairer sex. With this in mind and a title that hints at the familiarity of the ex, it doesn’t surprise me to hear Ragz’s reasoning for the name of his EP. “You know what? I feel that a lot of my music is women related and I feel like I was gonna go straight into an album, but I felt that I had too much to say in one space. And at the time I was bouncing in and out of situations – like just after a relationship ends – so I’ve just been getting to know people and learning women a lot differently.”
Basically, my perception of myself has to match your perception of me otherwise there’s gonna be a disconnect.
The North London artist comes across as quietly confident, yet reserved enough for you to suspect a concealed trump card. He admits to not interviewing often but retains the tactful responses of someone that knows how much to give. “Once you’ve had a girl that you’ve been comfortable with, once you move on from that situation you find yourself looking for your ex in other girls. You have to remember that there’s bits and bobs about everyone, so you find yourself weighing up attributes. I’m not sure if women do the same thing, but amid all of that I might find myself like ‘you know what? Let me text my ex, see what she’s saying’ just to get that familiarity again. You never really mean malice with it… To be fair, no one really wants to lose contact with their ex unless something mad happens. So I feel that’s something that everyone can relate to.”
Ragz’s production style is versatile yet retains the same two key values throughout – leading with the melody and a progressive feel to the music. With less raps and more vocals from the Ugandan, it still evokes the feels evidenced on previous tracks such as ‘Summer Blues’ and ‘Endless’. But with darker undertones (‘4am’), an organic slow burner in ‘remedy’, and tongue-in-cheek business with the help of Kennington wordsmith Sam Wise (‘hotel sex’), this loosely conceptual EP is consistent in sound yet its own entity simultaneously. “I just keep it [true to] myself. My music is always about an emotion, so I think I sound best in an emotion. ‘Nature’ had a bit of rap on it but this time I had to double down and dwell into the more special side that I have to offer. You’ve got ‘tell me lies’ for example, that’s a bop. But there’s a place that I take people to with tracks like ‘could it be’ and ‘remedy’ that’s real deep, inside you and I feel that I can heal more people in that place as opposed to, you know…” As an artist his music is hard to nail down to one genre, but with elements of alternative rap, psychedelia, soul and dance/electronic music, Ragz could make records for the car and the clubs alike. But the 20-something has other plans. “Like I could make club tunes and songs to make you feel better, but I feel like I can heal people. That’s what I want my music to do.”
His ambitions to heal are much appreciated in a time where there is a lot of panic and anxiety in the world due to the deadly COVID-19 virus. Conversations about music feel miniscule when people are falling ill, suddenly dying and losing their livelihoods, but they can help you get through unsettling times. I wonder if music is a sanctuary for him. “It was therapeutic when I was younger and having fun with it. Once it turned into a career, I saw things a bit differently. I approach it differently now because I have to ask myself what it is I’m putting into this world. If I make something that I want to profit off, it’s gotta be true and then it’s gotta mean something to someone. My best moments in music are creating something that I know someone’s gonna hear for the first time but also pushing the envelope. I get more excited when I see where my music takes people. I could make club tunes to make you feel better, but I feel like I can heal people. That’s what I want my music to do.”
If I met Quincy Jones today, I would play him ‘remedy’ and I’ll take that to my grave.
With ‘4am’ being the lead single, it takes us into grown and sexy territory as Ragz and ELIZA trade verses over dark, atmospheric production. I ask him to recall the process of creating with Eliza. “Man it’s such a hard thing cos I don’t’ feel like I make the music, I feel like something makes it for me. Like a deeper, spiritual power. I’ll have a feeling of where I wanna go [with a song] but it’s really the melody that makes the words come. ‘4am’ is a late night, booty call soundtrack and there’s so much joy about that feeling because it’s like after the rave or where ever you’re at, you can post up at Jennifer’s house. That’s one of the most exciting things about being outside, things can happen unexpectedly.” It’s baffling to think that this was almost scrapped from the EP, but he delves into how he was convinced otherwise. “Anyway, ‘4am’ was made two years ago and I was gonna scrap it. I made it just after ‘Nature’ so at the time it was sounding darker, more Tame Impala influenced, it was different. I had seen Eliza about and been like ‘yeah, we should try and work on something’ and sent her two songs. She hit me back like ‘yeah 4am is a vibe’. So we work on it further as she had an idea, I listened back and was like ‘hmm… actually this is amazing.’”
‘txt ur x’ further shows the range of the Ivor Novello nominee and he’s visibly proud about his offering. On the topic of his favourite track from the EP, he is unequivocal about his response. “‘remedy’ because it’s so forward thinking as in it’s the freshest piece of music that I could present to someone. If I met Quincy Jones today, I would play him ‘remedy’ and I’ll take that to my grave.” ‘remedy’ is an enchanting, progressive piece of work; its mid-tempo groove amid a synth-laced, bouncy backdrop and an airy loop that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Final Fantasy soundtrack. Ragz flips the question and is not surprised by my answer. “Can I tell you what it is? That doesn’t even surprise me because when I made ‘could it be’, I just wanted to make a song that could go on the EP, but then everybody [that’s heard it] likes it. So now you’ve said that, that’s probably gonna be everyone’s favourite.”
An intimate project such as this needed a close knit circle of contributors, from production (Ragz himself, E-Whizz, Narx, Mansur Brown), to features (Sam Wise, ELIZA, Bellah, Savannah Jada has a co-writing credit on ‘could it be’) and even art direction (Reel Mim and Manu Pillai). The layers to his artistry fold over like a flock of cranes in an origami tutorial, but Ragz speaks glowingly about his collaborators, even in spirit. “I always wanted to do features with other people but it’s all about finding the right balance. Features where we can both complement each other on as opposed to ‘I know you and you know me so that looks good.’ So I always pick my features quite carefully and think ‘how can we make a moment out of this?’ Sam Wise (on ‘hotel sex’) is a totally different artist to me, but we both want the same things. Someone would see that on the tracklist and think ‘I wonder what that would sound like’ or ‘that’s an interesting mix, I wonder what they done’. Even ELIZA was like a surprise feature cos no one would expect me to make a tune together, but we got together and brought the best out of each other. That was special. Whoever I connect with musically, I just want to make the one that we’re remembered for when we work together.” He is hush on who he’d like to collaborate with in future but maintains an integrity in the selection process. “I even wanna do more features but the right ones, of course.”
His mentions of Tame Impala and New Zealand musician Connan Mockasin demonstrates the thought process of an artist that is a student of the game, looking outside of his peripheral and sharpening his tools in the process. “I don’t really listen to anything like me anyway. Not by force but it’s just that I don’t enjoy it. I’m a music geek so I’m always by the computer looking for new music so I can stay inspired and give myself a reason to continue. Even though most of my favourite artists are nothing to do with what I make, I’ll probably never make music like them and that’s the whole point. Everyone has their own superpower, it’s about honing into your superpower. It’s like university, if you don’t revise for your exam, you’re gonna fail it, but you need the information. Making music and only listening to artists that sound like you is like reading the same book, you get what I’m saying? You’re not learning anything new.”
The Nation of Billions team eschew terms like ‘underrated’ and scoff at the notion that R&B is dead, given that the new wave of R&B acts are just trying to leave an indelible mark on the culture. Ragz agrees with this notion and steers clear of any terms that seek to diminish his qualities. “I stay away because I don’t think I’m underrated because people that know me, rate me. It takes a while. You can’t change culture, and once you understand that you can just find your gap in where you fit.”
As we wrap up the shoot, Ragz tells us that he hasn’t eaten all day and is eager to grab a bite as soon as. While fastening his black Nike tracksuit, he leaves me with a final gem on how he wants ‘txt ur x’ to be received. “I want them to be healed and I want them to feel like they’re in a different place where they can be safe. I wanna put more positivity in the air. I feel like we’re in dark times and a lot of the music that’s coming out reflects that but there has to be an option. My whole thing is that we need more variety.”
Ragz Originale’s ‘txt ur x‘ is available to stream now on digital streaming platforms. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge our readers to stay safe, stay motivated but most importantly, stay home.