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Interview

Toronto’s RAAHiiM Knows the Value of a Pivot

By Donna-Claire Chesman on

RAAHiiM has begun a new chapter. Originally going by Raahiem, the guttural, Toronto-based crooner has an updated name and fresh approach to music. His RAAHiiM debut, ii KNEW BETTER, released December 4, was executive produced by Nineteen85 and features nine well-crafted tracks meant to tug at heartstrings and make you anxious debating if you should text your exes (don’t text your exes).

RAAHiiM makes music for the playfully downtrodden. The sad, but not that sad, folx who look upon a sunset and think about all the memories they could have made in a single summer. ii KNEW BETTER teems with this somber life. RAAHiiM has evolved beyond mood music. He moves with a newfound intention and dedication to his art. He spends his time thinking, writing, and exploring. RAAHiiM’s goal is to tell a great story and to do so with grace and honesty.

When reading about RAAHiiM—in the past tense—press tends to emphasize his recalibrations and re-entries into music. Taking a break between his 2017 release, Fear of the Unknown, and 2019’s delightful single “Peak,” RAAHiiM’s narrative has always been a will-he-won’t-he tug of war. However, with the release of ii KNEW BETTER, RAAHiiM is decidedly here to stay. The music is tighter, the artist is more forthcoming than ever, and the fans… Well, the fans are as lucky as they come.

How has Toronto shaped your love of music?

There’s a lot of different cultures here, so coming from that, it gives you a variety and different types of stories that can be told. That’s where an incubator of music ends up happening.

How did you find your voice in R&B?

Practice! Do 10,000 hours, and then do 10,000 more. It’s rigorous work, and then mentors to guide [me] along the way.

You have writing credits with dvsn. What did working with them teach you about your own music?

Don’t be afraid to step outside of your own boundary. Don’t be afraid to explore. Music is not only an expression of human existence but an evolution. Our job is to provide something new or a retelling of something.

Your debut project as RAAHiiM, ii KNEW BETTER, released December 4 and was executive produced by Nineteen85. During a pandemic. Let’s break this down, starting with the timeline of the project?

Man! A lot of the songs we had demos for prior to [COVID-19]. We had started the album in Miami last year and had all these plans to go back and finish it. So we were all stuck at home, quarantined, passing files around, and finding new ways to shoot music videos. Getting masters back, photography… It was a lot of experimenting because of COVID. But it was a fun process. I kind of loved it.

Biggest lesson COVID taught you?

Staying on our toes, I think. Being fluid with movement and figuring out how to pivot. Pivoting is vital as an artist because unless you’re at the top of the top, you never really take a break. Your ability to sit back and reshape a process has to be quick.

My biggest lesson during COVID: It could all go tomorrow, so do it anyway. All of this could be gone tomorrow.

What’s the biggest risk you took with this record?

Honesty. This is the most honest I’ve been in music. Records like “Who Is He,” “Drunk Text,” and “Millions?” I started exploring sides of myself that I never addressed vocally before.

“Who Is He” is the standout for me. Can you walk me through the writing of that one?

This project was me going through the process of addressing my behavior in relationships. How human beings connect and find some sort of common ground. “Who Is He” is not about a girl cheating on me—it’s more so about you and I walking into a relationship. I find human beings like to recreate trauma. We all do it. For this record, I [felt] like she was recreating a certain history where I now become her enemy. “Who is that person you’re asking me to be?”

It definitely feels like a freeing album.

As an artist, it’s your job to do that. You have to be a mirror of some sort. My own therapy and journey might help someone else when they hear it.

What lessons did Nineteen85 impart upon you during the making of this project?

He was extremely hands-on. A lot of the lessons he taught me weren’t about music per se. They were about life and how you wish to live. One of the biggest lessons he taught me is: “Fear is really only an anchor.” If you’re afraid, that’s a good indicator you should do it.

What scares you that you can’t wait to try?

Living. Wow, that sounds very, like, emo. But, I think, for my generation, life is so inconsistent and irrational. Vindictive, in a sense. That’s probably why you’re seeing a lot of depression and severe anxiety, and a general fear of existence. “What does my life mean?” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience those feelings myself, but that’s the fun of it all. We’re all here to tell stories at the end of the day. If I didn’t get to experience all the beauty and the tragedy, then I probably would’ve missed out.

Photos by Jay Wills.

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