The melodic rapper spoke on the Breonna Taylor verdict, survivors guilt and the state of his new EP California Poppy 2
A few hours before I spoke with Rexx Life Raj, the Louisville AG issued his disheartening verdict in the Breonna Taylor case.
Faraji Omar Wright grew up in the church, with his father closely affiliated with The Black Panthers. As a result, Rexx speaks with candid transparency. His thoughts appear fully formed as they leave his lips, even in regard to unfolding situations like Breonna Taylor's. "That's definitely not the type of sh*t you wanna wake up to," Rex said. The melodic rapper has been laying low for the last few months, sprinkling the final touches on his upcoming EP, California Poppy 2 at his home studio in Vallejo, California and spending much needed time with his mom, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Despite the hardships, he views quarantine as a "blessing in disguise."
"Everyone's cool," he reassures me. "Everything happens for a reason. I was definitely supposed to be home right now." Faith is paramount to his character. "I don't care what you believe in or what the name of your God is, but believing in something bigger than yourself is pivotal when sh*t hits the fan," he said. When asked how his faith has been tested in instances like Breonna Taylor's, he reminded me: "None of this is new. We see this sh*t all the time. But this is bigger than it's ever been. Now it's on the grandest stage." The rapper recently released "Optimistic," an empowering D smoke collaboration that appeared on Empire's varietal album Voices for Change Vol. 1. All the proceeds from the album will go directly to the ACLU, and Rexx released the single a day before the Taylor verdict. He admitted he was still trying to remain optimistic and to stay focused on the silver linings. "Everything happens for a reason," he repeated.
It feels like your last release, Father Figure 3: Somewhere Out There, was a lifetime ago. How have things shifted for you creatively since that project came out?
For me, this is the perfect time to be dropping hella music and hella content. The bigger artists are mostly waiting till 2021 to drop so they can go on tour and do a press run. So the artists in my space who are still growing, now is the best time to drop music because everyone is at home on their phone right now.
Your two new singles, "Canvas" and now "Optimistic," seem very telling of your 2020 headspace. This duality of being desperate to find creative outlets to relieve stress while on the flipside trying to believe that things have to get better. Take me through the journey of these two records because, thematically, they feel very connected.
All my music is just a stream of consciousness of what I'm feeling or going through, and actually, I wrote the hook to "Optimistic" a week after my mom's diagnosis. When we got the news, it was such a downer, so I felt I needed to write something about being optimistic, because if you're not optimistic about what's going on, you don't really have a chance 'cause sh*t is so dark. The art is just my reflection of how I see the world and what's going on. I look at music like it's my journal.
Marcus Mitchell Jr.
With all that in mind, what's the difference between your California Poppy series and your Father Figure series?
California Poppy is definitely more fun and less of me thinking about the messages. My Father Figure series is really intentional about the message. But actually last night, I was just in the studio with my manager finishing California Poppy 2, and sonically it's a lot darker, and my manager looked at me and said: "Bro, the world is darker." But that's how I'd distinguish it, California Poppy is more of a feeling.
What do you mean by "darker?"
The chord progressions are a little darker. It's a lot of low ends; it's not even like I'm being dark. I'm still having fun. Anyone that knows my old music knows that anything in California Poppy realm has a lot of bright chord progressions and upbeat tempos–ah, I can't even really explain it here.
I can see what you mean. The lyric "Survivor's guilt been having its way with me" on "Canvas" especially resonated with me, because I didn't really realize that so many of us are experiencing that feeling in some form or another whether we lost a family member directly to the pandemic or not.
For sure, I agree, but I was mostly just speaking on where I'm from. My best friend got killed my first year in college, then a year later my other best friend went to jail for 25 years to life. Being where I'm from, you see so many dudes die, you see so many dudes go to jail.
Growing up I was the only friend that had both my parents around that were married. I ended up playing D1 football, went to college, and all this time when things were going so well I'd see homies die and go to jail, and it's always been a bittersweet feeling. For all of my accomplishments, I got homies out every day risking their lives cause they gotta make some money. To be fulfilled in myself, I gotta figure out a way to put other people on. Accomplishing goals doesn't make me happy.
Marcus Mitchell Jr.
But creating music in this day and age is so goal-oriented. Streaming and numbers are so important to an artist's career. How do you stay focused on just making music and not get distracted by that aspect?
My music is my passion. I would be doing it regardless. Luckily I can get paid, but I'd be doing it either way. This game is interesting because I think there are a lot of rappers who if tomorrow what was lit was people just doing canvas paintings, tomorrow you'd see a lot of rappers trying to be painters. They're not doing it for the art; they're doing it for the things it brings, whether it be clout, women, or fame. For me, music is all I've ever known. I grew up in it.
Right. You grew up in the church, and you had some pretty talented singers in your family, right?
My whole family can sing. Every Sunday my family sang in a quartet called The Marshall Quartet. Actually, everyone in my family can either play some type of instrument or sing. Growing up, I didn't think I could sing, so I played the drums a little bit. To also top it off, my parents own a delivery service, so I grew up in the back of the car when they were listening to Luther Vandross, Parliament, The Isley Brothers. I've always been around music.
Your father was also affiliated with the Panthers. What did you learn from him growing up, and how are you guys handling the current moment?
Well, especially with my dad, none of this is new. It's been everyday life for us. We seen this sh*t all the time and now it's on the grandest stage thanks to camera phones. What's happening was the perfect storm. But now when you see a protest there be hella white people and sh*t, but n***** been knowing what's been going on. It's just publicized and politicized, which is making it crazy, but I f*ck with it cause the awareness is at an all-time high. I think a lot of things are changing, that's why it's so chaotic right now.
I do wonder too though, especially within the case of Breonna Taylor, that because these matters are so prevalent right now it's become almost trendy. Do you think the trends surrounding BLM and Breonna Taylor are beneficial? Will they lead towards change?
I was actually just talking to my girl about this. If anything should be trendy, it should be this. Make this sh*t trendy. It raises the awareness of it. It's forced on you now. You have to learn about this now. We gotta understand how symbolism works. When you see the NBA players with "Breonna Taylor" written all on 'em, like, they ain't talking to you bro; they're talking to the world. They're on the world stage.
You got people in Africa now saying: "Who is Breonna Taylor?" All that attention and pressure is what draws change. Even with what they did this morning, it's gonna be insane. We already knew it was gonna be insane. It for sure rubs me the wrong way sometimes, but I try to look at it through the lens of: At least it's raising awareness of something that I care about.
California Poppy 2 is slated for release this November.
The iconic crooner turns 33 today
Frank Ocean's intentionally elusive character has been a key ingredient in his rise as one of the last decade's most influential artists.
"If I start to tell a story and then I decide not to tell the story anymore, I can stop. It's my story," he told W Magazine last September. "The expectation for artists to be vulnerable and truthful is a lot, you know?"
The idea of staying true to yourself may not sound inherently groundbreaking, but for the last near-decade, Frank Ocean has spoken almost exclusively through his music, at times sprinkling loosies online merely for the sake of getting something off his chest. "There's something that happens when you say what you're doing before it's done," he said to W. "You're accountable for that version that you talk about... It's usually better for me to make what I make, put it out or don't, and then talk about it freely."
Wildfire<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d8fc3f180510c425031e86829f9a20d0"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/G6z7c-nIQ6M?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>On the severely underappreciated return-to-form John Mayer project <em>Paradise Valley</em>, Frank Ocean coos about a passionate love affair over the chirp of late-night peeper. While the brief interlude is over in a little over a minute, it's a transporting few moments and conjures up the all-consuming sensuality that comes with a fleeting summer romance. The track was also a coy ode to French model Willy Cartier, who the singer was rumored to be dating at the time.</p>
Bitches Talkin' / Songs For Women<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5fd567794c7eb788b01a2cb053354d95"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_09OZPldk_g?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Over a slick infusion of lo-fi surf rock and '80s synth-pop, Frank Ocean grinds out memorable bars and shows welcomed versatility as a rapper and singer. He explores a newfound love affair, and over the course of the song, watches it deteriorate as he prioritizes making music, but the singer never changes his mind. He understands his music will make women swoon, but at the end of the day, they remain unable to relate to his lifestyle.</p>
Pilot Jones<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5e43aaa5ce9277ac381309e8b8061aad"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/azgDZ-TBCzk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The glitchy <em>Channel Orange </em>deep-cut "Pilot Jones" once again finds Frank offering stream-of-consciousness anecdotes about another relationship. The love affair is undoubtedly toxic, and Frank's voice weaves in and out of various tempos and pitches, his voice at times shaky and unguarded then clear and pristine. </p><p>His voice wavers and stumbles with an almost drunken elegance as electronic clicks and wurrs gently push him along. He is trying to bring himself down to his partner's level, a prospect he ultimately fails to achieve. It's an absorbing track that shows that Frank truly thrives when placed amongst deteriorating song structures.</p>
Blue Whale<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4a2300d9667687dcd6aa0ac190231b20"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vinLW-uY53Q?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>An early album outtake uploaded spontaneously, "Blue Whale" finds Frank full-on rapping and speaking frankly on his relationships and his poor adjustment to fame. "This life goes on man that's one thing about it," he says with defeat. He knows there's no escape from this lifestyle he chose. The beat, produced by Pharrell Williams, flows like a gentle body of water, and it's a shame the track didn't get a final album cut.</p>
Biking<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5730e5f548adc50d72a70eff8acd4afc"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/fYGPcfUqzL0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>With hard-hitting features from Jay-Z and Tyler, the Creator, it's a shame this 2017 loosie didn't get more attention. While the song's lo-fi vibe fits perfectly in Frank's world, Tyler, the Creator and Jay also sound right at home. Frank's buoyancy sounds optimistic, a refreshing departure from his signature slow-burn hums, and that's because Frank was hesitantly content at this point in his career. </p><p>"God gave you what you could handle," he calls out on the track's hook, his voice soaked in reverb; there doesn't seem to be anything he can't conquer on his own. It's a fleeting victory lap for someone as empathetic as Frank, and you know it won't be long before he's down in the dumps again. But the crooner tries to relish in this moment of satisfaction rather than question it this time around, and it's a welcomed change of pace.</p>
Crack Rock<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="37ff7120dbd7b20bb5b389fbb251f8ec"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/IVzzw7Vkiyg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Aided by bouncy drums and a breezy keyboard, Frank abandons his relationship commentary in favor of a deep reflection on drug addiction and the war on drugs. Here he croons with a breathy quip, a move he said was intentional in order to mimic <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/music/2012/jul/21/frank-ocean-guardian-exclusive-interview" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">how a "smoker would sing it."</a> The track's narrative remains powerful and transportive to this day.</p>
Skyline To<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8e85a2198e917f8808a6ecbf30582f29"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/CtkUJb22oSQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>While almost every song on <em>Blonde</em> is by no means underappreciated, "Skyline To" finds Frank once again gliding freely in the clouds, nothing but improvisational guitars to push him along. The song's power is that it is merely a collection of ruminating thoughts Frank has had over the last few years, most of them soaked in bitter nostalgia. "It begins to blur, we get older," he cries. "Summer's not as long as it used to be." </p><p>"Skyline To" highlights what makes Frank such a compelling artist: his ability to take the mental struggles of the human experience and shape them into song.</p>
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Keith Raniere's pseudo-philosophy ranged from hedonism and nihilism to neurotic obsessions with weight, body hair, and training people out of empathy.
In 2006, when Allison Mack was a lead actress on CW's Smallville, she accepted an invitation from co-star Kristin Kreuk to attend a meeting for a "women's empowerment" group called NXIVM (pronounced nex-ee-um).
Over the following decade, the Albany-based organization became known as a cult that practiced sex slavery and branding under the guise of mentoring young women. Earlier this week, Mack pleaded guilty to charges of federal racketeering and sex trafficking for her senior role within the organization, which included recruiting women for "labor and services" under orders from Keith Raniere, NXIVM's leader and co-founder.
On October 28th 2020, Keith Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison for his involvement with NXIVM. Here's everything you need to know about the cult, and what led to Raniere's downfall.
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