Razah – Def Jam/Universal – Self-Titled Album In-Stores Spring 08
With a stage name like Razah, you’d expect his vocals to be stabs of gruff-toned, ragamuffin-style patois or jagged rhymes about the inner city’s hottest blocks. But the singer born Martell Nelson is slicker than that. There’s more romance than gangsterism in his R&B. His sound recalls the smooth edges of the soulful pop and reggae-tinged croons of his musical forebears Michael Jackson, Beres Hammond and Bob Marley.
“I sing emotional songs, but my name is Razah,” says the 24-year-old Jamaican-born soulman. “It’s like a balance.”
On his self-titled debut album, Razah hopes to tip the scales overwhelmingly in his favor. Enlisting new beatmaking talent such as Rykeyz (who contributed four songs) as well as a few known producers including EZ LP, Green Lantern and Norwegian-born production duo, Stargate, Razah assures that the CD still will be his opportunity to shine.
“I don’t want people to pick my album up for the producers,” he admits. “I want them to genuinely like Razah.”
Razah’s warm, achy tone resonates with genuine passion. Songs such as “Rain” and “Where Do We Go From Here” are more likely to strike an emotional chord, tug on a couple heartstrings and even swell a few tear ducts.
“That’s what this game is missing—no one wants to cry on a record anymore,” he explains. “I’m not sure if everybody’s scared or no one wants to be vulnerable. But everybody’s vulnerable at the end of the day.”
Honesty and raw emotion are at the center of the bulk of Razah’s self-penned songs. “I’m so confused, girl/ I’m lost without ya/ I can’t go to sleep because I toss without ya,” he sings over the breezy, lilting melody of “Where Do We Go From Here.” And Razah’s not afraid to tackle some tough issues that many young women face—sexual abuse and drug use. On the uptempo synth-pop of “Runaway,” he sings in a breathy, near-falsetto: “She just wants to runaway from this town/ Don’t know what way she’s going,”
Elsewhere, on a track called “Dear Dad,” he sings bittersweetly about the father he never knew. Then on “Fight,” the topic returns to love, with Razah addressing the type of relationship that’s worth fighting to save. But he’s quick to counter that he’s not all about being Mr. Sensitivity.
“It’s not all about heartache, but it’s about real life situations,” he says. “Rappers say they talk about true life situations, singers can do that too.”
Exasperated, he adds: “I don’t write about no crazy, fake stuff, like about my big cars. That’s corny.” Besides, Razah knows better than to make music that he’d be embarrassed to play for the single mother who raised him and his older brother and sister. When Razah was four years old his mother packed up the family. They moved from St. Andrews—a small town about three hours from Kingston in Jamaica’s lush countryside—to the (“Never ran, never will”) Brownsville section of Brooklyn. She worked hard, saved money, studied, and fulfilled her dream of becoming a nurse.
“She’s such a strong woman it’s amazing,” Razah says. “When the bad happens she just says, ’Keep on going. God put you here for this.’ ”
Divine intervention can be a way to describe Razah’s rise in the music game. In 2004, a routine recording session turned into a professional and personal bond with his managers, Sekou (“Hood”) Reaves and Gerald (“Man”) Holman of ManHood Entertainment.
“You don’t really hear many singers who can send a chill up your spin,” Hood says. “I felt something real about him. I’m a family dude, and he’s a family guy. He loves his mom, and I love my mom…so we clicked.”
Clocking loads of radio play for the independently released single “Feels So Good,” a remake of Teddy Pendergrass’s “When Somebody Loves You Back,” Razah proved his talent couldn’t be overlooked. Then through sheer determination and Hood’s industry know-how, Razah teamed with Houston veteran MC Bun B on “Keep your head up”. And his hot streak continued when DJ Enuff and Funkmaster Flex of New York’s Hot97 showed even more radio love to Razah’s track, “Where Do We Go From Here.” Those spins proved to be the difference. The song caught the attention of Rihanna, who approached the singer to add her own verse to the remix. Still, at the subsequent recording session in Roc The Mic studios, Razah had little clue the two Caribbean born singers would be labelmates.
“Rihanna was in the booth doing what she do, I was there chilling and then Jay-Z walks in, and was like what’s up,” Razah explains. “I was like, ‘Damn, here’s my idol walking in the studio.’ I gave him a dap and he walked out the room.”
But when the Def Jam CEO pays a visit to your recording session, serious business is about to go down. Hood and Jay worked out a verbal agreement in the studio hallway. Days later, Razah signed a record contract with Def Jam, and only two weeks after that he played the finished album for Island Def Jam chairman LA Reid.
Now, Razah’s definitely in great company, poised to share his Caribbean-inflected soul music with the globe. “I try to do make big records so it’s not just like it’s an [average] R&B song or pop song,” he concludes, “but so that everybody can love it.”