When Rexx Life Raj calls The Blue Hour his most personal record, he ain’t kidding. If the lyrics and somber melodies don’t give it away, the rapper wrote his latest album while doing everything he could to spend time with his parents and make them comfortable in their final months as their health declined in recent years. He even turned a room in his parents house—the Yellow Room from his childhood where he grew up and first learned to produce music—into a studio and created there when it wasn’t being used for his mom’s hospice or his dad’s dialysis. And throughout it all, he took constant notes about the ideas and feelings he experienced as his family navigated death in real time.
“When my mom got cancer, it kind of turned me into a caregiver overnight and I’d stop doing music to take care of her,” Rexx Life Raj told Rolling Stone Radio co-host Jon Weigell.
“I’d take notes on life whenever I was with my mom—in the hospital, in the ER. I knew when I eventually had time to write, I wanted the music to be super personal and reflect what I was going through after my mom transitioned. By the time I went to the studio, I was able to crank out so many songs. I probably made 200 songs and picked 12 for the album.”
Rexx Life Raj recently wrapped up the bulk of his Blue Hour touring, capping an unusually physically and emotionally intense album cycle. “After this tour and all this, I want to take a break and really figure out some things,” he admitted. “I want to make sure I’m actually well and protecting my mind and all that stuff, but I learned I’m pretty resilient when things hit the fan.” Before that well deserved break, the rapper joined Weigell to share his My Life in 10 Songs list on this week’s edition of the Rolling Stone Radio on Amp, the live radio app where you can listen to top artists, creators, and athletes spin their favorite tracks and take your calls in real time.
The Bay Area rapper began his list with an extremely personal track from James Blake (“Godspeed”). Rexx Life Raj called Blake “if not my favorite artist, one of my top three.” So although he first heard the song as a Frank Ocean track, Rexx Life Raj really loves the emotion behind Blake’s version.
“This was a song I was playing a lot as my mom was transitioning,” Rexx Life Raj said. “So I remember we were sitting at a light, and as soon as Blake starts singing we looked at each other and just started crying. This song in that moment, it just meant so much to us. We never talked about that song before, never listened to it together. But when it came on, it felt right.”
As evidenced by his next selections, Rexx Life Raj’s times and memories with his parents shaped a lot of his tracklist. He chose some Tracy Chapman (“Fast Car”) and Erykah Badu (“Window Seat”) partially out of a childhood nostalgia for time spent in his parents’ trucks as they ran a small delivery service around the Bay Area. “I remember hearing [‘Fast Car’] and I liked the way it sounded. But as I grew and got into songwriting, I realized it’s one of the most beautifully written storytelling songs,” he said. “And [Erykah Badu] was the first artist that when it came to lyrics, I became conscious. Her music made me rethink my perspective on life, she spoke such truth and knowledge. She was my intro to Neo-Soul. I’ve got her tatted on me I love her so much.”
From there, Rexx Life Raj included a trio of Macs: Bay Area rapper Mac Mall (“Wide Open”); rapper/producer Mac Miller (“Come Back To Earth”); and another Bay Area rapper, Mac Dre (“Since ’84”). “He’s the legend from the BA, one of the greatest rappers ever,” Rexx Life Raj said of Mac Dre. “When it comes to creativity, he’s one of the most creative rappers I’ve ever heard, like in the realm with E-40. The way he comes up with words and twists them around and finds cadences, he was just so impactful on the Bay Area culture and sound.”
Rexx Life Raj then included “one of the most timeless songs I’ve heard in the last five years” from Swedish singer Snoh Aalegra (“I Want You Around”), before he completed his Life in 10 Songs with three of his own tracks. First, the rapper selected “Time” since it was one of his first tracks to really pop and therefore open up touring possibilities beyond the US. Then Rexx Life Raj finished by selecting both “Save Yourself” and “Sunset Over College Park” from The Blue Hour.
“Those two tracks impacted me the most,” he said. “‘Save Yourself’ is a theme I had going through everything, it’s one of the first life notes I made. [That idea] was all I had to lean on; I have family and friends but I needed to often pick myself up. So I wanted people to take that away from the album. You have to learn to be there for yourself even when things get hard.
“And ‘Sunset’ was made in the same room after I made so many songs. It was literally one of the last songs I made, and it ended up as the outro,” he continued. “I didn’t know when to stop writing, and I made this song at like 3 or 4 a.m.—mixed it, made the beat. When I was done I just cried, more than I had in a long time. It’s just an ode to my mom in that way and the song brings the whole Blue Hour together.”
Weigell and co-host Charlie Cooper will be back at it Thursday, 11/10 when Jean Deaux joins them to share her Life in 10 Songs on another episode of Rolling Stone Radio (@rollingstone on Amp). Download the Amp app and tune in at 11 a.m. ET. Just getting started on Amp? If you want to learn more about the artists and athletes DJing on Amp and experience their shows live, head to onamp.com and just press “play.”