The first song Chester Raj Anand, better known as Lord RAJA, ever produced was for his brother. When he was six years old, RAJAs brother taught him how to use ACID and Fruity Loops, and RAJA would compose beats for his older sibling to rap over. We listened to hip-hop growing up, RAJA explains. Hes 5 years older than me, and he definitely introduced me to a lot of music. But when he left for college, I started establishing my own sound.
Working from his love of really raw, scary Aphex Twin as well as his background in piano, keyboard and jazz percussion, RAJA composed songs in his basement on a custom computer, eventually releasing Intonations: Music for Primordial Recollection under the name InfinitiRock on Asthmatic Kitty in 2011. He took on the name RAJA while studying at SUNY Purchase, and released a series of songs leading up to Halloween. I wanted to make songs that sound like visuals, he says. Help take people somewhere bigger than their standard headspace.
In 2014 he released A Constant Moth, his first release for Ghostly, which combined his roots in classic hip-hop with vintage IDM, ambient, footwork, and experimental sound design, supplementing the tracks with world instruments, custom-made pedals and circuits and snippets from his parents collection of old Indian records. The album established his as a singular voice, someone capable of synthesizing whole genres of music and reassembling them into something at once familiar and strange.
That identity is defined even further on 2015s PARA, which RAJA describes as my most successful attempt at making a consistent work. Every song on PARA makes use of RAJAs Lexicon PCM 90 and an Eventide H3000 that he modified himself to get the effects he heard in his head. He also captured an arsenal of sounds—modular synths, mellotron,
Elektron synths—at Austins famous Switched On, using RME Babyface. The result is a record that is carefully crafted and meticulously assembled, but is still immediate and accessible. Inclusion was the theme, he explains. I wanted to make a point not to alienate anyone. Look at Princes discography—the stuff hes doing is still, to this day, immensely innovative, but you wouldnt feel so challenged by it that you think, I can only listen to this at a certain time.
All of that is apparent in the songs—Zerulean, with its skittering drum track, nods RAJAs work in hip-hop, blending warped synths with a heaving rhythm. Butterfly on a Jet summons both the anxiety and tranquility of its title, synths bobbing and darting over rattling drums. And Koi Fish, which RAJA says was inspired by Jersey Club, wobbles and leaps, a dance song engineered for early mornings. Though all of it is immediately thrilling, each song has dozens of different things occurring just beneath the surface. Stars features a sample of a man screaming in Hindi that RAJA recorded at a play in India with his iPhone. Ride Out, which RAJA describes as Bone Thugs-inspired, employs a vocoder app to stretch and warp his voice. And H3000 came by its otherworldly sound after RAJA took a song he recorded on his iPad and slowed it down using reel-to-reel tape. The entire album perfectly captures RAJAs aesthetic: carefully crafted, deeply detailed songs employing a host of different sounds and effects, resulting in music thats big and welcoming.
I want to make music that wont lose people, RAJA says. I dont want a whole crowd of chin-scratchers. I want to include everyone, and say, This is my voice. As he has proven with each successive release, RAJAs is a voice well worth listening to.