After walking a trail and crossing a short bridge, I reached a clearing in the woods. There sat Raury, mid-strum and mid-sentence, among a cluster of people sprawled across blankets and pillows. As part of a secret show in his expansive Stone Mountain neighborhood, the first in a new series he's calling #InTheWoods, the 21-year-old Georgia native was performing a handful of songs from his discography.
When the performance ended, a set that included acoustic versions of “Peace Prevail” and “Devil’s Whisper,” Raury took time to speak with every attendee individually, shaking hands and taking pictures. To see an artist completely transparent and vulnerable was beautiful. It was like a DIY rendition of MTV’s Unplugged.
Raury made clear to his audience that his purpose on earth is to help heal the world, an undertaking that he believes must start in his own backyard—literally. When the 40-degree temperature became too uncomfortable, he invited a few attendees back to his place for foosball and Uno.
His home was a short drive away, but by the time I arrived, there was already a line of cars piled up by the driveway. I walked through the front door, placing my Dr. Martens among the dozen other pairs by the steps.
Earlier in the evening, I asked Raury for an interview. As I approached the living room, one of his longtime friends waved me over. Raury emerged next to a drum kit, walking straight to the double bass. He plucked the thick strings, reciting the bass cords underneath A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum.” In no time, the foosball crowd migrated into the living room. Raury continued to play, pausing only to let in Jeffery Blazer, an energetic Siberian Husky.
Our interview didn't last long, but during our conversation, Raury revealed that, after a two-year struggle with his label, Columbia Records, and management, Atlanta’s own LoveRenaissance, he asked both parties to release him from his contracts.
“I want out of the label when the people who believed in me transition jobs to be replaced by strangers who don’t know me,” Raury explained in detail in a follow-up email. “I went to Coachella without any support from the label. It was like they were trying to put me in a position of fear and weakness so I could run out of money and they could control me. I would rather die than be controlled. I would rather take my career on a path where I can play with my friends, stay with family, and remain physically, psychologically and spiritually well.”
DJBooth has confirmed with Columbia that Raury is no longer signed to the label, however, as of press time, LVRN has not responded to our inquiry.
Part of the reason Raury started his #InTheWoods series is to remove the barrier between artist and fan, showcasing the importance of relationships that are rooted in love and not in profit.
“I’m sick and bored with everything these [record labels] have been offering fans,” he continued. “The fans are not having fun. The artist may love the fans but the management and label don’t. So the relationship between the fan and artist is built like god and worshipper when it should be artist serving the people. Sadly, they tell us to come into this square, oppressive, dark, dingy building, get sweaty and drunk and be told to put our hands up and jump. I think the fan is worthy of more of an experience.”
The first time I heard “Devil’s Whisper,” the most well-known single by the Atlanta singer-songwriter, guitarist, rapper, and producer, I was staying at a friend's condo in Florida. From the very first note, I was captivated. Raury's message—fight the temptation to sell out for riches and glory—rang clear at the time, but three years and one interview later, it has a completely new meaning.
Raury cares more about his message and the energy he is creating through his music than anything else. In the three-plus years since releasing his Indigo Child EP, Raury has built a niche fanbase stronger than the winds blowing off the shores of Lake Michigan in the dead of a Chicago winter. On a frigid late afternoon in early January, a handful of these fans ventured into the woods to enjoy an intimate performance from one of their favorite artists.
It was sanguine to see an artist so comfortable and so willing to strip down their facade, maintaining the confidence to spread their message and not giving into the pressures of an ever-changing and toxic music industry. Raury is choosing to stand for what he believes in and the people are ready and willing to follow—into the woods and beyond.