Raz Simone has always kept his music personal, filling the sonic landscape with a depth of from-the-heart content that made public all aspects of his life. Over the years, Raz has perfected the art of bringing light to what may initally be perceived as darkness – on one of his earlier releases, Simone poetically addresses how the rape of his mother lead to his own life coming into being. In addition to family related subject matter, Raz has shared details and stories surrounding his lifestyle, his run-ins with law enforcement, and more.
Raz has made it a point to lay it all out on the table, using his music as a means of revealing the experiences that have allowed him to grow into the person he is today. Rather than hide the “lows” and merely flex the “highs”, Simone recognizes each and every moment that has lead to this current point in time as a necessary step on his journey. And his keen ability to thrive through whatever life puts in front of him is demonstrated in his refusal to mask or take shame in what has taken place in the past.
Understanding the already open nature of Simone’s catalogue is important because, despite the revealing nature of previous releases, his latest project feels as if it’s the most revealing music from Raz to date.
According to the press release that accompanied Drive Theory, the album’s title refers to:
“a psychology concept that states that everyone and everything is born with intrinsic psychological needs. An organism will seek to achieve a level of stability associated with achieving these needs and won’t stop until it does.”
And this is precisely what listeners receive as they journey deep into the psyche of Raz Simone, who readily opens up about the who, what, where, why, when and how that encapsulates his life and the state of mind that guides his actions and decisions. We’ve always heard bits and pieces of Simone’s story – now, we are presented with more intimate details chronicling why he has done/is doing specific things throughout his life.
It’s certainly worth noting, however, that Drive Theory is far more than an autobiographical look at Simone’s life. For those that care enough to listen – like really listen – and take notes, the Black Umbrella CEO is dropping countless gems, literally littering the project with street knowledge and wisdom. As if that wasn’t enough, Raz goes so far as to imply how to take his advice and put it into practice. And the bombs he’s dropping can be taken and applied to the streets, the office space, the blog game…Of course, nothing will come without putting the work in, but Drive Theory provides a crash course in pushing yourself to the next level if you’re willing to take the time to listen.
The album kicks off with “Just Begun”, a simultaneously deep yet simple joint that serves as an ideal introduction to Drive Theory. With Raz resorting to his spoken word delivery, the natural power of the words speak for themselves. Simone does not need to rap, raise his voice, or be overly aggressive – by simply talking over the introspective, thought-provoking instrumentation, the listener is able to sit with the poetic lyricism, experiencing the purpose of each concept in a clear manner. With no bells or whistles, just straight to the point content, “Just Begun” sets the tone for what’s to come.
In just under three minutes, Raz manages to address so much in such a concise and comprehendible way. He touches on the ups and downs of his relationship with his son’s mother, using his experience to offer insight to a stripper while still recognizing that just because things begin looking up does not mean people won’t turn around and hit you with some bullshit. Regardless, you are responsible for you and, as such, you are responsible to keep holding on and continue pushing forward, no matter the circumstances that surround you in the present moment. As the track continues, Simone paints pictures of all too common acts of inauthenticity – something he recognizes but can’t understand – whether it’s supposed partners saving face by talking to police or supposed friends going behind your back to fuck. And then, in the blink of an eye, Raz returns to some of the concepts he covered on “Clout”, differentiating between being the real and fake. While fiends chasing fame and glory take scraps from record labels, Simone is dropping $1.5 million on a building to house Black Umbrella.
Closing out the opener, Raz admits he’s “drawing powers from dark energies to change the world’s course“, seemingly referencing some of the same themes addressed on the previously released Cognitive Dissonance projects. When your end goal and your motives are based in love and positive intentions, where is the line drawn between “right” and “wrong”? While there may be no straight answer to this inquiry, Simone makes a strong point in stating, “sometimes to save a million lives you have to take one.”
On the Fazt-featured “Bodies”, Raz moves away from the poetic, talk-rap style and instead listeners are hit with some hard hitting, trap-infused production. Interestingly, however, is the manner in which the sonic switch up does not impact or change the underlying vibe that is present throughout Drive Theory – one of reflection and revelation.
With “Bodies”, we gain more insight into Raz’s street-based experiences and the ways this lifestyle stays with him even if/when he’s moved his hustle into other arenas. Simone readily admits he’s “not proud of all but [he is] not ashamed“, having come to terms with his decisions and actions because – as the album title denotes – he’s doing what he needs to do to not only survive, but to thrive in a society that is designed to impose limits upon him. Having lived through events that easily could have resulted in his death, Simone is still here prospering. Regardless, the past can still be haunting – again, though, what matters most is whether you allow that to drag you down or if you decide for yourself to keep pushing forward.
Fazt’s verse on “Bodies” exemplifies the use of hip-hop as the hood’s CNN, putting on full display what he faces and why he lives the way he does. The track and this verse will certainly not be relatable to all listeners, and I can picture certain walks of life being turned off by it, but there is a realness and a raw emotion present in his delivery that can be felt by the listener. Sometimes, what you can’t relate to may be a little too real for people to handle or even attempt to understand.
A couple tracks later, we get “White Collar”, a beautifully composed social commentary on a system designed to breed criminal activity and control the population, focusing primarily on the flawed prison industry. Again delivering his prose in the manner of a slam poet, Raz questions the intentions of a system that leaves people with “less to live for than they came with“, making note that the current construct of prisons does more to condition deeper rooted criminal behavior than act as a form of rehabilitation. Of course, this transcends incarceration, as it applies to the gentrified and heavy class-based division that exists outside the prison walls as well. When backed into a corner due to a variety of socio-economic factors, many people fall back on crime…and not everybody is designed to thrive in that lifestyle. As a result, we are left with populations that “exist and die, kill before [they] multiply.” Simone takes it all a step further, stating bluntly that the system(s) in place are designed to ensure people die.
“Same Car” and “Hatred” are highlighted by absence of a hook or chorus, instead featuring Simone’s passionate, aggressive delivery – listeners are able to experience the weight of his words to their fullest extent. Rapping how he is “reckless in the trap but with [his] music [he’s] trying to be cautious” perhaps carries a double meaning, as Simone has always been keenly adept at telling his story without any sort of self-incrimination. However, this line could also reference his patience as he moves through the music game, taking his time in the building and execution of his projects and career as he waits “to blossom.”
It should come as no surprise that one of the greatest forces motivating Raz to prosper and create a better world around him is his little man. This takes center stage on “While He Dreams”, with Simone detailing what he does while his son is sleeping all in an attempt to open up different doors of opportunity for his child. Despite an inherent hope that his son doesn’t choose the same lifestyle, Raz lives with a refusal to never not keep it real, admitting he’ll reveal it all to his kid so he understands the game. The balance of heartfelt parenthood and street smart mentality blends so well on “While He Dreams”.
“Where’d My Real Niggaz Go” showcases Simone’s ability to see the bigger picture and not get complacent, even when things are going well. The autobiographical record again features Raz going in-depth on his past and what brought him to the place he’s at now. Having sold drugs since his “balls dropped“, he’s not trying to get his own people to stop selling crack – but since he sold them their first pack, they won’t listen. This is a cruel irony that highlights the mindstate of Raz that has allowed him to prosper in all the arenas he’s entered into – he may be making money with something, but he’s not afraid to put his principles over the cash flow. He’ll do what he has to do but he’s smart enough and centered in his own truth enough to recognize when it’s time to step back and reevaluate his path and plan. As a result, he’s in a position to cop buildings while other rappers are stuck seeing “petty cash.” Of course, this applies to rappers, drug dealers and pimps that Simone has encountered on his own journey. This is one of the many tracks where Raz is dishing out game and knowledge to anyone willing to listen, just as he has to those he’s tried to get out of dealing crack. Unfortunately, so many people/artists/gangsters/etc. are too caught up in a quick check, failing to see the forrest through the trees.
People, especially those “down on their luck”, tend to get trapped in the illusion of comfort that comes from staying down. And this is simply because it’s easier to do nothing and stay a victim of your circumstances than put in the work to lift yourself up and take control of your life. If you decide to move through life only doing what’s easy, then your life will forever be hard. But if you find the spark within to push yourself to do what’s hard, your life will begin to be easier to live. Nobody said life is supposed to be “fair” – but, as Raz paints with his words throughout Drive Theory, life is whatever you’re willing to make it.
In addition to the Fazt feature on “Bodies”, Raz enlists Sonyaé Elise for “Never A Thang” and Troy Ave for the Anthony Danza-produced “Lock & Load”. Elise laces her feature with playful but confident vocals, as Simone switches from a singsongy verse to straight rapping. And the Troy Ave feature results in a joint that is reminiscent of 2000s era New York hip-hop (i.e. G-Unit). On “Lock & Load”, Raz comes through with a rapid fire delivery, making some of his bars difficult to catch on a single listen. But, if you go back and pay attention, Simone is schooling listeners with game.
I still remember the first time I heard music from Raz, shortly before the release of 5 Good Reasons, his collaborative EP with Sam Lachow. From there, I searched for whatever previous releases I could find and there weren’t many. One very early release from Simone that has, for some reason, always stood out as one of my favorites was “Ugly People“, which dropped when Simone was still using the moniker Razpy. The 2011 record is worth checking out because one might easily notice a lot of the same concepts being presented as we hear from Raz today, the difference being Simone’s unquestionable growth both artistically and personally. His experiences before, during and after that release have no doubt shaped Raz Simone into the person he is today but even dating back to the earliest of releases, the raw and real aura that surrounds Simone has always been present. Since he started releasing music, Simone has been free of gimmicks – he’s been real, hiding and sugarcoating nothing. In today’s landscape, both socially and in regards to the music game, there are not many artists who are able to say the same.
I reflect back to earlier releases because Drive Theory is, in my opinion, Simone’s most complete collection of music to date. Prior the the release, Raz took to social media to ask his fans what their favorite style of his music was – as should be evident in my take on the album, Raz is a versatile artist. From his choice of production to his delivery, flow and cadence, Simone has been successful in switching up his lane sonically – Solomon Samuel Simone does not sound like Closer. With Drive Theory, listeners receive such a well-balanced blend of style from Raz. That, coupled with the content contained on each track, results in a final product that has the potential to capture the attention of new listeners and leave his long-time fans more than satisfied.
Released on August 8th, the 12-track Drive Theory is Raz’s 9th album and the project serves as Simone’s second of the year, following the release of Closer in May. With the album out now, you can rest assured we’re about to see some music videos courtesy of Raz and Jacob Hill, so keep your eyes out for those.
[Editors Note: Awaiting full production credits for this project. Post will be updated to give proper credit when this information becomes available.]