In the Cut: Lushlife

By: Q.D. Tran

April 30, 2016

It’s been about 4 years now since we first sat down for an interview with Lushlife, a.k.a. Raj Haldar. And with the success of his latest LP Ritualized and mutually busy schedules, it took a long string of emails and rescheduling to finally find time to sit down for a chat. We managed to beat out the dinner rush at South Philly’s Khmer Kitchen and snagged a table for a tasty traditional Cambodian meal, drinks, and whole lotta catchin’ up. Come dive into our discussion about Lush’s collaborative work with production trio CSLSX, RitualizedThe Deli Philly’s March Record of the Month, and find out what’s on the horizon for the rising emcee/producer as we pick his brain and get a little silly below.


The Deli: What inspired you to kind of handover the production reins for Ritualize?


Lushlife: Ultimately, I felt like my audience and myself know what a self-produced Lushlife record sounds like. I explored what it means for me to do the entire project myself. Plus, I felt like I needed to grow a bit, expanding into different sonics that I normally wouldn’t rap over. I was listening to CSLSX just as a fan, and I hit them up to play a show. They were like “we’re not playing shows, but here are a couple of tracks that you might like that you can rap on.” It was so exactly what I wanted to rap on and the way that I wanted to go.


TD: We first started talking about you working with CSLSX at the Choice/Cuts session that you did with us, which seems like so long ago. It’s taken you about 3 years to make the album. Why did it take so long?


L: When we started production – CSLSX & I, what I realized now was that I was under the assumption that having four musicians would make it faster than having one musician. But the reality is when you have four people working on something, every person has great ideas, and every person has things that are sticking points. Running the decision across a sort of democratic process with four people slows the process down. There was also regular life shit that got in the way. I just bought a house. I had to take two to three months off to focus on a mortgage, moving and all that stuff. It took a little bit longer than expected, but ultimately, I think the record is better for it. I heard so many times now. People can tell listening to it that it is really obsessively picked over in terms of execution and the music. Every bar’s music changes just a little bit. If there is one thing that Ritualized isn’t, from a production standpoint, is lazy. We absolutely crossed every “t” and dotted every “i”.


TD: I know that you still need time to let this LP reach people’s ears. But do you have any new material that you’re sitting on and waiting to release yet?


L: So part of spending this much time working on the record, I ended up towards the tail end of it, starting on the follow-up to Ritualized. But I can’t say that much about it just yet. You can look forward to stuff coming out later this year, which I’m psyched about.


TD: So will your next album be a solo or collaborative effort again?


L: Collaborative – I’ve got the collaboration bug now.


What have been the advantages and disadvantages of the two processes?


L: The big advantage of doing something by yourself in this vacuum is that there is literally no stopping point from ideation to decision to creation, essentially. You can think, “I wanna do this,” and do it. There is something freeing about that, but there is also something that you ultimately are missing out when you’re not collaborating with people – dialogue with other artists and even arguments and confrontations. They end up being a jumping off point for ideas that are greater than the sum of their parts. I don’t think either one of us could put together an album like Ritualized on our own. It’s just out of a cauldron of us working together for so long that we are able to do that. Right now, I am really vibing working with people who bring a lot to the table, and it’ll also help me focus on rapping.


TD: What advice would you give to others working on a collaborative album that would help speed along the process?


L: I think one thing that kept us sane because we were oftentimes not in the same place. I’d be in LA. The CSLSX guys would be in New York and Philly. Honestly, we had Google spreadsheets and documents and files that we were updating live in Dropbox. We were really taking advantage of the Cloud. It helped us move the project along – pretty nerdy (laughs).


TD: Stylistically, what type of effect do you feel CSLSX had on this album in comparison to your past works?


L: I think that it’s super clear when you listen to it. There’s still some of that classic boom-bap shit, but I’ve currently never heard a rap record like it, where it sounds more like the soundtrack to Blade Runner than anything from the 80s or 90s, and that’s really cool to me. I think what I do when I make rap records is make the kind of records that I want to listen to – genre-crossing sort of records. Definitely giving them credit where credit is do, it’s nothing that I would have independently brought to the table.


TD: Why did you name the album Ritualize?


L: It took so long so we had some time to think of what the title would be. Ultimately, Ritualized to us is mostly about the process. There is something very life-affirming with all the creativity and the rituals of creativity. On recording weekends, we’d have a cycle of late-through-the-night working, waking up together, and then going to eat and the studio again. It’s almost an homage to the rituals of the artistic process.


TD: You like to reminisce about the “golden era of hip hop” in your music. What metallic description would you equate to the current state of hip-hop, and why?


L: (laughs) I think that the current state of hip hop maybe… It maybe bronze. It still has some luster and shininess like there’s something interesting about it, but it’s definitely not golden (laughs).


TD: Who are your favorite up-and-comers these days?


L: Every year, there are a couple of rappers that come along that get me reinvigorated about hip hop. Right now, it’s these cats from out of LA, Hellfyre Club. Open Mike Eagle and this cat Milo, those dudes are bringing this really hyper-literate indie hip-hop vibe back into the mainstream. I really appreciate that. That’s the world that I came out of, and they’re killin’ it so…


TD: Are there any Philly artists that you think we shouldn’t be sleeping on?


L: Definitely have to go with my man Yikes The Zero. I wouldn’t say slept on. He’s got shit going on, definitely – Zilla Rocca. He has a new album coming out, and from what I heard of it, it sounds amazing. He’s definitely been on the grind for a while – Curly Castro. I’m going to do a posse cut with a lot of these guys coming up soon.


TD: Wrecking Crew?


L: Yeah.


TD: How did your DJ gig for the Philadelphia Eagles come about?


L: That was sick. I’m not a football fan or anything. So I was actually DJing a fundraiser for multiple sclerosis, and there were a bunch of Eagles players there. They needed a DJ for home games, and they liked what I was playing so a couple of weeks later I had a message in my Facebook inbox to come down and deejay the home games. I’m going to do it again next year. It’s been a fantastic experience, honestly. The thing is football is like a fuckin’ religion in this city. It’s so important to Philly people that just to be affiliated with it is like being next to an icon.


TD: What tracks do you love playing that gets the crowd hyped?


L: I made playlist that highlights some of the songs, but off the top of my head, I really like the Mark Ronson track that he did with Tame Impala called “Daffodils” and Talking Heads’ “Once In a Liftime”. My M.O. is pulling a switcheroo, where you’d hear something like the Rolling Stones, but instead play something like Television.


TD: Is there a track you’ve snuck into your past playlists for games that doesn’t generally belong at a sporting event? How was the crowd’s reaction?


L: Yeah, I definitely do. It’s the only way that I can keep my sanity. I’m not there to play jock jams, and frankly, the management of the Eagles brought me on because they wanted someone with a fresher sound. It’s really about energy and vibe. People really don’t care if they recognize the song.


TD: Have you ever slipped in one of your tracks during the game?


L: YUP! (laughs) I never miss an opportunity to market my music.