Q&A with Lushlife aka Rajesh Haldar

In July thanks to a tip from mutineer Eurasian Sensation, I learned that Philly had its own resident desi hip-hop artist, 28-year old Raj Haldar aka Lushlife whose second album, Cassette City, came out in June from Rapsterrecords. As your East Coast correspondent, I did a little investigative journalism (okay, I emailed him) and got the chance to ask Lushlife a few questions one-on-one.

Q: So Raj, when did you get into music?

A: I was always really connected to music, even at a young age. When I was in second grade, my grandmother came to visit from India and we would watch MTV eight hours a day. Around 5th grade, I began listening to artists like Nas and The Roots, mostly through the influence of my older brother. When I was 11, my parents bought me a turntable for my birthday and I set up DJ equipment in my parents’ basement. I would save my lunch money, literally starve myself for weeks so I could buy records to play on the turntable.

Q: How did your parents contribute to your music?

A: They started me off with piano lessons from the age of five to 18. All the Indian kids took piano lessons. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, it had a stultifying effect, but in retrospect, it informed my music. I also play jazz drums and the guitar. Oh yeah, and when we visited India, I brought back a mandolin, so that was cool.

Q: When exactly did you start rapping?

A: For most of my high school years, I was mostly producing rap instrumentals. It was only through force of circumstance that I started rapping. I didn’t even know I could rap. But in the past five or six years, I’ve learned to hone that skill.

Q: Where did you grow up? And how did you get to Philly?

A: I grew up in North Jersey, close to NYC, but I’ve lived in NYC, as well as toured Europe and Japan during the release of the first album I produced that featured my rapping, Order of Operations. I’ve realized that my wanderlust gives me an energy that has a fresh and positive impact on my music. At the end of 2006, I moved to Philadelphia on a whim and this is where my entire album, Cassette City, was gestated. I live in South Philadelphia and I have to say there are some awesome cultural aspects to being in a big city like Philadelphia.

Q:Okay, so you were born here in America. Which part of India are your parents from?

A: They’re Bengalis from Calcutta.

Q: What do they think about your music? Do they love it? Hate it? Disown you?

A: [Laughs.] Well, they’ve certainly spent a good fifteen years or more listening to my rap music and they certainly support me. Although when Cassette City was released, my parents were in Vegas and they had to call me to find out what the name of the album was that I had been working on for two years.

Lushlife4.jpg

Q: Did their musical tastes influence you?

A: I certainly spent a lot of time listening to their music, that 50′s and 60′s Bollywood stuff. I even made a mixtape called The Evergreen Sessions, as part of my musical experiments.

Q: But you’re don’t incorporate South Asian influences in your music.

A: No, unlike some South Asian rappers, I try to completely separate my artistic output from my culture.

Q: Okay, so a lot of your critics says you’re more of a producer than a rapper. Your response to that?

A: [Laughs.] It’s a fair accusation. I don’t consider myself a rapper/producer, I just make songs and I spend a hell of a lot of time making music that speaks for itself.

Q: What’s your opinion on desi artists, say for instance Jay Sean, who is doing quite well on the American pop culture scene nowadays?**

A: I have a great appreciation for artists like Jay Sean. At the same time, I tend to think their songs are the typical saccharine boy-band sound with a R&B veneer. I’m a little more of a hip-hop classist.

Q: Do you listen to any desi hip hop artists? Any you like in particular?

A: I’ve been listening to a lot of Das Racist as of late. Even though their lyrics are jokey, I tend to think they have a deeper meaning.

Q: What’s a day in the life of Lushlife?

A: Well, I go to work and after that, there’s about four to five hours of rehearsal for my upcoming tour.

Q: You first became known for your album *West Sounds, tell me a little about that*

A: Sure, West Sounds *[which is available for limited download] was a mashup of Kanye West’s album *The College Dropout and The Beach Boys’ album, Pet Sounds.

Q: What’s next for Lushlife?

A: It’s time for a full U.S. tour, dates to be announced.

Q: But you’ll definitely be doing a show in Philly, right?

A: Absolutely.

10 thoughts on “Q&A with Lushlife aka Rajesh Haldar

  1. Genius.

    This guy is clearly very gifted. What a musical mujahideen.

    Rajesh, if you’re out there brother, I have a few questions for you: 1. Do you think that rock is dead? 2. Your music has an ethereal feel to it, like Nas’ first album. Were you influenced by his album, Illmatic?

    Sincerely, M.A.

  2. Sounds fresh, I hope Austin makes the tour list.

    “I try to completely separate my artistic output from my culture.” I am curious about this, though. Why?

  3. @ Turnip – I can’t read Lushlife’s mind here, but I’d guess that just because someone is South Asian, they don’t necessarily want to make South Asian music. Raj has clearly got a natural feel for the classic hip-hop sound, and he’s just following his artistic instincts, which don’t extend to making Indian-based sounds, even though he may still appreciate them. When you think about it, no one expects George Michael to incorporate Greek influences into his music, or for Gwen Stefani to do Italian-type songs, so Asians should also be free to follow whatever musical path feels right to them.

  4. I wish this intelligent and talented musician the best of luck. This video was a breath of fresh air, especially his divorcing of personal and artistic identity. Cheers!

  5. Did someone here just compare this to Nas’ album? Are you kidding me? That’s the biggest insult. I probably might get banned for this, but this is just absurd. I had to come out of lurk-mode just to respond. I grew up with hiphop most of my life. I felt no connection to this dude listening to his music. He looks like many of the emo rappers that get featured on this site on a daily basis but clearly no one outside tight-jeans and plo scarfs circle is listening. I just had to roll my eyes when he thought the cops were there for him? seriously dude? Hiphop is clearly dead and i don’t want dudes named lushlife bringing it back. And he’s going around dissing Jay Sean because I guess its cool to do so, because he is mainstream, and Jay Sean is not “real” enough for this dude? Come on? You are not real hiphop.

  6. realerthanreal, thank god for your sanity. here’s what i posted on another blog where i found this goofy bullshit:

    This guy can’t be fucking serious. He’s essentially a turd-burger nerd with an affected “hiphop” rap voice. I mean, really? This is the sort of bitchassness that hiphop has degenerated into? Motherfuckers need to get off that wistful, bogus “bring the golden age back” bullshit. It can’t be brought back… especially not by some raj gulapoopti lookin herb.

    When he starts spittin’ at the 6:45 mark “big double L lush vida la roc” I couldn’t come close to stifling a full laugh attack. LMMFAO @ “representin the magnate crew. Eagle frog.” Really, breh?

    LMMFAO @ “in the vein of an illmatic” I didn’t even see that utter nonsense. comedy. either his girl’s titties were top 5 dead or alive, or he laced you via paypal for this review.

    I can’t believe liberal artsy hipster dipshits have infiltrated and subsequently sounded the death knell of hiphop. if we didn’t think it ended with all the coonerffic southern dance tracks, the uninspired, contrived beefs between z-list new york rappers, the creative lethargy exhibited by the supposed top dogs like nas and jay, or the fact that niggas like baby who can barely speak english on a track became fixtures on the charts, then we know for sure it’s over when some suburban indian dude is “recreating” 90s hiphop.

    isn’t it enough that you goofy hipste motherfuckers moved in and killed new york city? you gotta move in and kill hiphop too?

  7. Wow. Based on someone’s haircut, you are judging their music [emo rap?]. Go listen to some Cage, dork. Have you ever listened Nas? Have you ever listened to 90s hip-hop [hip-hop is always two words, generally hyphenated, you imbecile]. If you had, you would realize that this kid is the real-deal-Holyfield. Also, if you read the album review from whence you got that ridonkulous comment, you would have noticed that a very prominent, and talented hip-hop blogger gave the album a listen, and a pretty spot-on review. I think it is laughable that you are judging this cat by his attire. I think it is even funnier that you think you know hip-hop well enough to say she is dead, but not enough to spell her name correctly. Whadda dork.

  8. Wow, some judgemental and close-minded fools taking over this comments section.

    If you don’t like his music, that’s fine. Criticise on that. But dismissing him as an artist because he wears a scarf rather than bling? Because he’s nerdy looking and Indian? Pfft. There’s so much crap, so-called “real” hip-hop being churned out, go hate on that instead.

    Btw, no one said he’s as good as Nas on Illmatic. The comparison was made about the overall sound, which has undeniable similarities.

  9. Pingback: mp3: Lushlife – Adult Goth (ft. Heems) « Gold Sweatshirt