Atlanta-born singer-songwriter and guitarist Raury Tullis, best known by his first name only, has a surprisingly solid following for someone who’s not even left his teenage years behind. Having opened for Lauryn Hill and Andre 3000 and sat down with none other than Kanye West to talk music, Raury is as much about idealism as he is about music.
Raury’s style might be best described as a mix of indie and folk. As a black kid from Atlanta, however, he’s often placed in the hip-hop genre—which just doesn’t do his genre-bending music justice. But that’s not to say that he isn’t inspired by artists such as Andre 3000 or MF Doom: “Being from Atlanta, you can’t avoid hip hop,” he says.
A true millennial, Raury’s own style developed through his discovery of different kinds of music on the internet. “When I first heard folk and stuff I thought it was weird. I didn’t accept it,” he says. “But then I dove deeper into it and went all the way back to Bob Dylan, and now I’m hooked.” And he’s still expanding his tastes: “Making the music that I make, it’s come to a point where people say, ‘I hear this or that artist in your music,’ I then go and listen to that person and it influences me. Like Marvin Gaye, for instance.” Just as Pharrell once showed that a skateboard can have a place on a BET stage, Raury is showing that an acoustic guitar shouldn’t be considered odd in a black music environment either. And although black artists have long shown that the indie, folk and rock scenes aren’t as exclusively white as they are often portrayed (some of Jimi Hendrix’s best work was just him and an acoustic guitar), the indie and folk scenes of our (internet-influenced) age are still predominantly whitewashed.
Raury isn’t the first to struggle with genres—take, for instance Tyler, The Creator, who was simultaneously “never a rapper” and always a “rapper”. But whereas Tyler was always obviously inspired by Skateboard P, Raury is most often compared to his fellow Atlantan Andre 3000. Raury himself is honored by this comparison: “What he brought to hip hop and the culture, that’s what it’s about. It’s about opening doors for other artists so we can help the culture and the people. Like Drake opened doors for people who sing and rap, Andre opened a door for me to be as weird and unpredictable as I want to be. I’m really grateful for that.”
Aware of the artists that broke boundaries before him, Raury is ready to continue this journey. This year he set up his own festival, Raurfest, where he reserved one stage for the music of a new generation of black artists from Atlanta, such as ELHAE. “It’s completely for my city and the people outside of my city that don’t understand or haven’t fully grasped that Atlanta is so much more than just club and trap music,” he explains. “I met with Winston Marshall from Mumford and Sons and he was wondering how I made what I make because he thought all Atlanta made was trap. He’s from London and a lot of people from outside looking in are only seeing one thing. So I want to fight to show another side of my city—all sides of my city.”
It soon becomes evident how invested Raury is not just in his music but also in the (local) culture of which he’s part. He doesn’t just care about his own music, but about culture at large, too. As a strong believer in the effects of positive input and innovation, it’s no coincidence he didn’t have to think twice when G-Star RAW asked him to climb aboard for RAW for the Oceans. The project, for which G-Star RAW has already transformed two million plastic bottles into denim, shows how products that might otherwise have polluted our oceans can be given a new purpose as wearable denim pieces. In an appropriately cyclical manner, part of the collection was designed by Raury’s predecessor and mentor Pharrell, and subsequently worn on stage by Raury during his most recent world tour. “It made perfect sense for me to join the team, it was as if the stars were aligned for me,” he says of the collaboration. The philosophy of “creating at the benefit of the world instead of creating at the expense of the world” is one he hopes to carry out himself, both in his music and his many other ventures.
With his innovative mind and focus on positive change, Raury’s often considered an old soul, apparently unconcerned about the things other boys of his age might be preoccupied with. Although he personally doesn’t identify with this description, he sure isn’t the boy next door either. Whether he’s showing up at Sway in the Morning with a bunch of crystals, doing an acoustic cover of Kanye’s Blood on the Leaves at Ebro in the Morning or using his art to push a cause like ocean pollution, Raury’s own EP title might describe him best: he is indeed an Indigo Child.