Growing up, Rexx Life Raj didn’t think he could sing. His family was active in the local church choir and the bar seemed too high for him, so he found an artistic outlet in rapping instead.
But melody has turned out to be one of the 28-year-old rapper's most formidable strengths. On his second album, Father Figure 2: Flourish, the Berkeley artist flashes a dexterous flow and a rich, dynamic delivery as a singer, rendering FF2 as much of an accomplishment in R&B as it is in hip-hop.
Like any good Bay Area rap album, much of FF2 is predicated on a swagger that emerges from -- and in spite of -- struggle. But now, this rapper has found enlightenment and purpose. On “Never Had Shit,” Raj reconciles the roles of the two central figures in his life, his parents, finally making sense of advice they gave him when he was younger. Later, on “Level Up” -- a horn-heavy banger backed by the Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” sample -- he channels his youthful rebellion into professional drive: “Now look at how the stars align / You know that it takes some time,” he sings softly before the bass drops into a bouncy, ecstatic hook.
Raj’s confident flair is strong on tracks like “Level Up” and “Forever Lit,” which features G-Eazy, but he’s also more than willing to show his sensitive side. On perhaps the album’s most overtly New Edition-style R&B love song, “More Than Enough,” he channels his inner Johnny Gill, convincing his girl that he’s worth the trouble (“I still don't show emotions that I feel / Mindful of flaws that I won't reveal / Acting like you won't accept me when I know you will.”)