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Richard Raw


picture of Richard Raw
Photo: Joe del Tufo

Folk Art: Music

By: Gail Obenreder

“Music can be used like fire – to cook food or burn a house down.”

Richard Raw is fueled by the written word. This musician, activist, and producer uses his creativity and entrepreneurial drive to both satisfy his spiritual hunger and mix his artistry with service. The hip-hop musician passionately believes that his music is “a tool to address social issues and challenge us to think in ways that are unconventional.” And he acts on his beliefs.

The fruits of his musical career include eight studio albums, two live albums, and numerous videos, features, and songs, but that’s only part of his body of work over the past decade. After releasing his first album in 2013, Raw founded his own production company – a logical step for a musician and producer. But at the same time, he founded Beyond Those Bars, a 12-week hip-hop based education program for students of all grades now found in tri-state schools and community centers. And he continues to create programs for Wilmington’s Christina Cultural Arts Center and for the Cultural Restoration Project. His work with youth programming and community uplift “keeps me centered and grounded [and] leaves me inspired and motivated.”

Raw and his two sisters grew up in the Wilmington neighborhood of Garvey City, which has always been home. His teenage sister used to rap as a pastime, and imitating her, “I realized I was a natural in terms of putting words together.” Other people have realized it too, evidenced by Raw’s many awards and accolades. He’s been lauded by media outlets, and in 2016 he won the Mayor’s Wilmington Award. In addition to headlining recent festivals, Raw was also the first hop-hop act to perform (virtually in 2020) at the City’s well-known Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. His active artistic career also encompasses composing, producing, and engineering studio recordings, as well as creating and presenting concerts.

“Sage,” 2020
Full length: 3 minutes 12 seconds
Work sample: 3 minutes 12 seconds

“Will Not Fold,” 2018
Full length: 2 minutes 25 seconds
Work sample: 2 minutes 25 seconds

But his avid activism also has taken a toll, and in 2016 his home was intentionally firebombed. Forced to live with his family – and in and out of different homes for over a year – Raw began to embrace the African-based Yoruba spiritual system Ifa. He started to incorporate “the rich sounds emanating from West Africa and Nigeria” into his work, along with “a tinge of East Coast poetry, funk and Afro blends.” His latest album, Orisha Soul Music, is a fusion of reggae and hip-hop with those West African rhythms, and Raw plans to use his Fellowship award to shoot a short film based on this album that’s rooted in African spiritual traditions.

While music venues and Raw’s regular music outlets were shuttered during the pandemic, and “performances were scarce,” he used those unexpected schedule changes to focus on studio work – writing and recording a total of four albums worth of material. And Raw loves to read. “This year alone, I have probably read a total of 50 books,” nourishing both his creativity and his social activism. “Our community doesn’t see much investment. My music speaks to social issues, and the reward I receive is being a servant to those in need.”

Artist website www.richardraw.com

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