In the middle of a rehearsal room at Midtown's Avatar Studios, Raury Tullis is wearing nothing but his boxers, socks, signature hat, and a maroon graduation robe. Softly, under his breath, he mouths the words to Kanye West's "Blood on the Leaves" while his bandmates set up shop around him. His manager Justice Baiden is perched in a corner behind a few music stands, eyes fixated on Raury's every move and then, seemingly irritated, he scowls, zeroes in on his young protégé and shares his disgust. "Are you fucking just wearing boxers and a graduation robe, bruh?!"
Puzzled, Raury fires back. "What the fuck?! I never wore a fucking robe before," the teenage rapper/singer/songwriter snarls. "It's my first ever graduation!"
Raury is young, as in by the time this interview prints, he'll have graduated from Tucker High School young, but thanks to the video for his track "God's Whisper," the music industry — tastemakers and media alike — tend to forget that he's just a kid. Two weeks after debuting "God's Whisper" on Billboard, Raury released the accompanying visual, which featured slick editing, excellent cinematography, and a professionalism that typically doesn't come with an artist's debut music video. With one song package, Raury raised the bar on himself, which only inched higher with the release of his follow-up, "Sunshine."
While "God's Whisper" showcases Raury's singing over tribal drums and guitar, and packs an anti-establishment message, "Sunshine," a synth-laden ode to his prom, features a nimble, almost whispery rap flow to match his mellow delivery.
At the studio, Raury and his bandmates had been practicing for his first-ever headlining show, RaurFest, which doubled as his 18th birthday party. The early June show drew a bevy of high-profile attention, including New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica, OutKast production partner Mr. DJ, Ludacris' manager/business partner Chaka Zulu, and New York City's creative golden child Vashtie, to Castleberry Hill.
RaurFest was Raury's official introduction to Atlanta, but he earned performance chops during his infamous #AntiTour, a series of impromptu live sets for which he showed up at a venue where another artist was performing and played a few songs before the cops inevitably shut him down. Raury's first #AntiTour stop at the Tabernacle for a Tyler, the Creator show was cut short a few seconds into the first song. Months later, he successfully got through "God's Whisper" while standing atop the North Avenue bridge-overlooking the Masquerade where Childish Gambino was performing. Raury insists the tour is done out of love for the artists.
Raury's folks split up when he was an infant and by 3 he'd written his first song, "Oh Little Fishy," a play on his near-death experiences with swimming pools. By age 11 he taught himself to play guitar via, where else, the Internet. "People would always say, 'You're weird,' and stuff like that but I never thought I was weird," Raury says.
In high school, Raury befriended Kipper Hilson (brother of Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Keri Hilson), and eventually formed his own band. Hilson offered him discounted, sometimes free, studio time. At night, after his mother headed to work, Raury would catch MARTA Downtown to record. The angry kid who listened to Kid Cudi and System of a Down found an escape from what he calls a "dark place." He met Baiden, of artist management and development house LoveRenaissance, at the studio.
Baiden needed a band to fill in for an artist performing at local music showcase. "He gave me his number and I blew his fucking phone up until he replied and took me seriously," Raury says.
It'd be easy to discount Raury as just an overly ambitious youth. But his music is wise beyond his years. "Kids like me, everyone's saying we're becoming more open-minded," he says, citing books such as Robert Greene's The Art of Seduction and Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth as influences. "We aren't sheltered from learning things that most adults who are locked in their cultures and their ways would stop you from learning about."
The "we" Raury refers to are the "Indigo Children," the name he and his peers have given themselves to reflect their creative values.
"We've learned that people are different and we accept it," he says. "We see a girl kissing a girl — it's whatever."
Raury's participation in the C5 Youth Foundation/Coca-Cola Teen Leadership program was life-changing. The organization encourages youth confidence and team-building skills via extended camping and hiking trips (he wears the hat as an homage to the experience and his love for nature). Raury started applying the new wave scientific school of thought he developed as a result to his music. His forthcoming project bears the name Indigo Child.
"It's us who are going to change what's cool in this city and what people think when they think of Atlanta's artistic scene," he says. "Working together is going to make this city a lot cooler and a lot doper."