April 28, 2012
“It’s been almost two years in the making. When you live with something for that long, it’s sort of bittersweet to send it out into the world.” Raj Haldar, the rapper known on wax as Lushlife, explains of latest album Plateau Vision. “I’m hyped that people are finally hearing this stuff, but at the same time, I want to make sure that everything happens just the right way for this music. These songs mean a lot to me”.
Lushlife is a familiar name to those who follow underground hip hop of a certain pedigree. A prolific MC/producer of Indian heritage with a strong body of work to-date — not least last year’s much-vaunted No More Golden Days mixtape — Haldar now applies his take on the oft-confusing ‘cloud rap’ subgenre to his impressive second album.
Plateau Vision is a confident work; an organic blend of gauzy chillwave and golden-era NY boom-bap, all laced with Haldar’s self-styled “stress-rap tendencies”. As an MC, the Lushlife sound has flavours of everything from the Native Tongues groups to DITC-type Ebonics. More noticeably, there’s a stylistic kinship with fellow Philly wordsmith Black Thought, whose Roots crew lent another of their collective, Dice Raw, to one of No More Golden Days’ more memorable cuts.
But it’s an insatiable work ethic and respect of hip hop’s past and present that has contributed to Halder holding sway in the rap community: “I don’t like features, but I’ll do it for Lush,” drawls Das Racist man Heems on Plateau Vision’s ‘Hale Bopp Was The Bedouins’.
Speaking to us in the small hours of the morning from his South Philly home, Haldar ruminates on everything from the importance of social networking to his own explorations into the hip hop world — one that began as a child over 20 years ago.
“I guess, just like anyone else, I started as a fan. I started really listening to hip hop around 1990. Soon after, I got a set of decks. I must have been around 11 or 12.”
This began Haldar’s meandering route to becoming an MC, first learning the crafts of DJing and production before picking up the mic himself.
Cutting his teeth on the UK rap circuit in his early twenties during time spent living in London, Haldar’s first wave of success actually came calling from the Far East.
“I put out some stuff in Japan in the mid-’00s,” he remembers. “I had some joints that charted on their pop charts, and I got to travel to Tokyo for some shows around 2006. It was amazing.”
Being Big In Japan wasn’t enough though, and back in the States Haldar started work on what would become his 2009 debut Cassette City. Bits and pieces of material had appeared previously, but Lushlife concepts work best on the long player.
“I’m an album person” admits Haldar. “When I’m thinking about composing an LP, I’m not just writing a collection of disparate songs, I’m trying to write a cohesive work that’s hopefully greater than the sum of its parts.”
This approach is certainly evident on Plateau Vision, with Haldar humbly substituting his own dexterous production skills on a couple of tracks with those of guest beat-makers. Western Vinyl labelmate Botany, whose brooding work on leaked cut ‘Big Sur’ justifies this decision alone.
Haldar agrees: “On the real, Botany is a genius. He’s an intimidating dude to work with. I was just down in Austin for SXSW, and dude was playing me unfinished joints from his upcoming LP, and I swear each ‘unfinished’ track he played me would’ve been a finished A-side banger if it were mine.”
As well as behind the boards, collaborations in the booth are also a notable feature of Plateau Vision. From contributions by members of the indie community (ex-Titus Andronicus guitarist Andrew Cedermark appears on ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’), to Lox man Styles P’s opening gambit on the scattershot 8-bit banger ‘Still I Hear the Word Progress’, Haldar’s willingness to collaborate proves beneficial.
“It’s simple for me, really. I only breach the subject of collaboration when I think a guest or featured artist can bring something unique to the piece of music. It just so happens that featured artists come from across genre lines”.
Now into his 30s, Haldar has more perspective on hip hop’s progression than most. Being lumped in with a disparate community of performers known as ‘backpack’ rappers — a term used to describe those with a penchant for experimentation and who shun the genre’s flossier aspects — seems reductive to Haldar’s work. How does he respond to the tag?
“No idea, man. Isn’t that just what people would call anything that isn’t pop rap? It’s funny, I mean I talk about a lot of the same things as the mainstream hip hop dudes: smoking weed, bitches etc, but how Lushlife is ‘presented’ probably makes people reflexively refer to me as a backpack rapper, or whatever. All good, though.”
It’s a fair and modest assessment, and anyone with opinions to the contrary should take it up with Haldar’s highly responsive Twitter account (@lushlifemedia). In the meantime, you could do a lot worse than grabbing a copy of Plateau Vision and seeing what all the fuss is about.
Read this interview in context over at THE STOOL PIGEON