Rawz is an MC and Poet. Growing up in one of the UK’s most deprived areas, Northfieldbrook (Greater Leys) in Oxford, he first discovered lyric writing in his early teens. It was an essential way to channel his emotions and organise his thoughts. A self guided therapy.
Music had always been a big part of his home environment, listening to music was something that he always loved doing. It was in his teens, aged about 14 or 15, that he started to consciously think about making music himself. He was drawn to Hip Hop lyrics because they talked about a lot of things that he was going through; poverty, dad not being around, violence, police harassment, friends being so close they felt like family, being on the outside with no hope of finding a way in. He didn’t really hear any other forum where that was being talked about in a way he could relate to. He wanted to tell his story, to start writing his own lyrics.
He learned by copying. Figuring out how it was done by learning other rappers’ tracks. He can remember rapping along with people like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. trying to figure out ‘How does he do this? Where do the rhymes land? How does it fit with the beat?. The first was Coolio’s ‘Gangster’s Paradise’ – He bought it for his mum for her birthday. She liked the song but Rawz’ reasons for choosing this present were at least a little bit selfish. He spent the next weeks and months listening to it on repeat for hours at a time, learning every single word.
Rawz started to want to develop and understand his craft, and went to a poetry course that was being run at a local community arts centre called Fusion Arts. That opened his eyes to seeing what he was doing as a form of art: he had never looked at it in that way before. It also gave him more tools to think more about what he was writing: thinking of every word on the paper as a choice, thinking about what he was saying and who he was saying it to. The leader of the course; a poet named Steve Larkin, was impressed and asked Rawz to help out the next time that he ran it. That led to travelling all over Oxfordshire for the next year or two, working in different spaces, teaching poetry to young people. This helped Rawz grow as an artist, to refine his craft, and to think about how it was done, why he was doing it.
Since then, Rawz has performed his craft all over Europe both as a solo artist, and with the Inner Peace Records collective which he helped to form alongside other artists from Oxford and London’s Hip Hop scenes. He has collaborated with musicians from all over the world and shared stages with some of his childhood heroes. Rawz’ music and lyrics share his exploration of our interconnected worlds, and his responses to them, promoting outer change and advancement through inner reflection and positive action. He does this while covering an unlimited range of topics including love, capitalism, nature, community, crime, science, religion and more.
Rawz developed a project recently called ‘Digging Crates’ working in collaboration with friends and colleagues from Inner Peace Records and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. In it’s essence the Digging Crates project is about healing multi-generational trauma – the legacy of colonialism and slavery. Rawz and colleagues from Inner Peace Records worked with a group of African musicians to explore the museum’s collection of African musical instruments and some of the other items that were taken from Africa by British colonisers. They worked to reinterpret the objects from the collection, taking audio samples from some of the instruments in the collections and also from recordings made of the musicians playing their own music inside the museum. These samples were then used to create new Hip Hop tracks which were also written and recorded inside the museum. Rawz recalls: “This was a hugely spiritual experience for me. I had underestimated the spiritual impact that it would have on me – I thought that it was just going to be fun to make tracks in the museum and sample some old instruments but actually, the project gave us a way to talk about the weight of the history of slavery and the outrageous abuses of the British Empire and colonialism, and share our views with each other. It gave us a chance to inform academics and researchers in the field about the impact that it’s had on us as non-academic people that are living with the legacies of these events.” A documentary film was made of the process, alongside an 8 track album (available at diggingcrates.bandcamp.com).
Rawz looks at music as a language: “Someone once said to me that music is what emotions sound like. That makes total sense to me. You can hear a chord on the piano, or a strum of a guitar, or a sample, and that can express feelings more vividly than hours of conversation. It’s an amazing tool for engaging with people and helping people to express themselves, and for understanding people.
I think that maybe the most important thing that writing lyrics and making music has given me, is that it helped me to realise the power that I have to control my own destiny, and the power and influence that I hold over others through what I choose to do and say. I think the reason that I started writing was partly because I felt voiceless, powerless. I had a vague notion that if I could get good enough at rapping, people would start listening to what I had to say. Now people are starting to listen.”
From leaving school with no GCSEs, to becoming Resident Sound Artist at one of the world’s most prestigious learning institutions, Rawz’ story is one of extreme contrast, determination, and triumph against the odds. Themes that he expertly explores with his lyrics and Spoken Word. An experienced youth worker and teacher, Rawz set up The Urban Music Foundation in 2009, through which he delivers a wide range of creative and learning activities in a variety of settings.