At age 17, Raegun can already do whatever she wants. You wouldn’t know it by listening to her current output, but before she wrote confessional pop songs on SoundCloud as a member of noheart, she was a rapper inspired by abstract stylists like MIKE and Earl Sweatshirt. If you listen to the rap EP she released last October (which she’s asked me not to link here, so people can discover it themselves), you’ll be transfixed by her command of the genre; as she laterally navigates her insecurities and Black identity over roughed-up soul samples, you hear echoes of her younger years as an aspiring poet. Last December, she released a song on SoundCloud tagged “#hyperfolk” that mashes up Neutral Milk Hotel with osquinn’s “bad idea.” She’s even started exploring self-produced garage music. What unites all of these phases of Raegun’s career is a keen sense of discovery, like she’s bringing new life into everything she attempts with fresh, curious eyes and an insatiable need to get what’s in her head out into the world.
Her debut EP under her current moniker, cherry blossom blooms, is out tomorrow -- it’s a breezy, four-track project produced entirely by coleslau to capture the inflection points in Rae’s mental health and love life as the seasons change from winter to spring. She sketches out a place in digicore’s indie pop wave with the same therapeutic detail that marks her earlier work. Lead single “talk to me” sees her grapple with communication problems between her and a girlfriend, while songs like “window washing” read more like diary entries, sourced from the poems she might write to herself.
When I interviewed Raegun a few weeks ago, she seemed to have more fully-formed ideas about what to do with her art than she could mention. SoundCloud has given kids like Rae an environment where, in short amounts of time, they’ve spun simple music out into a wide range of creative pursuits at a young age, and our interview makes me think she is next in line on that journey. We had a bubbly, forthright conversation about all the different places she might direct those artistic impulses, and how exploring her identity and upbringing in Bowie, MD figures into her music; our conversation is transcribed below.
Tell me about where you’re from.
I’m from Maryland. It’s called Bowie, in PG County. It’s considered one of the safest Black areas in the United States, and I think that definitely shapes who I am. I’m very strong about identity, as a trans Black woman, and I think that’s kind of what I’ve been trying to make music about — being somebody who’s not really accepted in my day-to-day life, and being able to escape on the computer with friends. In everything for the past year, that’s kind of how I’ve built myself.
I noticed a while back on socials, you were showing off your MIKE May God Bless Your Hustle vinyl.
I love that album. What about that style of music do you think appeals to you?
Definitely the pro-Blackness. When I was young...this is gonna sound crazy, but I used to read Black Marxist theory when I was in like...elementary and middle school (laughing). When I was super young, I lived in Kansas, and I was surrounded by a bunch of white people, and it was awkward. So when I moved here and was surrounded by other Black people I dived deep into that.
That’s kind of where I started in music. I’m like, a huge Earl Sweatshirt fan. I have an Earl tattoo. So that’s kind of how I started in the abstract rap scene, mostly because they were all about explaining complex ideas in the simplest way possible. And I think that’s how I try to incorporate that into what I do now.
Before that one EP that you dropped that you sent me, how far back does the abstract rap phase of your career go?
Oh, God...very, very far back. I have older siblings and they -- specifically my older brother, he’s a rapper, and he’s been doing that for a long time. He’s been doing abstract rap even before I knew MIKE and them. Very, very far back, at least 2015...it’s been a while.
I don’t know that much about your career, but it seems like you had a bunch of musician friends online before you got big in music.
Yeah, for sure. Gum -- Dirty Bird, the house producer -- I’ve known him for a while. He’s been huge even before I was anything. Also, a bunch of other abstract rap artists that like nobody knows, I was friends with (laughing).
It’s kinda weird being in this scene now, because I just started making pop music in like, September, and it was very hard to try to get people to take me seriously. A lot of people are so strict on: “we have our circle, and we’re not gonna let anybody else in. This is how it’s gonna be,” and it’s only been in the past two months that things have just blew up. It started from a Masked Gorilla show with Glaive. They played my song, and Glaive was like “whoa, this is crazy! I’m gonna message them,” and then he follows me and messages me. And the next day, Ericdoa follows me and asks me to make a song with them, and the next day, noheart asks me to join! So it’s like these things were really topping onto each other in the span of a week.
And now, I guess I’m at a weird point in my career where I feel like I’ve proven myself to the community, but not to anybody outside it. I don’t know how to go about it, but it’ll be interesting.
What song was that, the one at the Masked Gorilla show?
It was “al capone.” I don’t know...I don’t know how I feel about that song. (laughing)
The song you did, “newgen,” is about that experience of not being considered part of the community. Is that what people were calling you -- a “newgen?”
Yeah, exactly! Like, there’s so many times where people were like, “you’re probably not gonna be able to talk to them, because they don’t like newgens,” and stuff like that. It’s just bullshit. At the end of the day, if you make good music, you make good music.
In your transition from making abstract rap stuff to the pop music you make now, do you think there’s anything you’ve carried over, as far as your craft or the way you think about music?
Honestly...not really, which is so weird. It’s such a huge change-up. I just remember one day, I think the specific song I heard was “BadGirlsClub” by ericdoa, and then I was like “damn, I wanna try that,” and then I did it one time.
Because like...okay, let me go back. When I was an abstract rapper, my producer -- he’s a kid who lives in my neighborhood, his name’s Ria, he’s in worldonlockdown, sugarrush, a bunch of hyperpop collectives -- he was just an abstract rap producer. I sent him “BadGirlsClub” one day, and he was like “whoa, this is crazy,” and we just decided to do that on our own. We were just working together for a month, and we knew nothing about any of these hyperpop people, so we were kinda just developing our own sound. It was, like, refreshing. It felt like...that was probably the best month I’ve ever had making music, being able to completely switch with no direct inspirations but yourself.
The other day, I saw you wrote this really nice poem on Twitter -- about your girlfriend, about transness, identity...Are you the sort of person who just wants to explore as many different avenues of art as possible?
Yes! For sure! Before anything, I wanted to grow up and be a poet. I still do want to go to school for journalism, and stuff. I’m huge into writing. That’s why when I read your juno thing, I was like “wow, this is really good!” I was surprised, because I want to do writing.
Poetry is definitely something I’ve always been into. That also connects to abstract rap, because it really tested me. Instead of vocal mixing and all that, it’s mostly just poetry onto paper, and I still preserve that with just writing. For whoever wants to see it.
Do you think that early love of poetry informs the way you rapped, and later the way you write pop songs?
For sure, like...It’s so much easier. I have friends who produce, and they always say they want to sing, and they always want to do this, and they can’t because they just can’t get their thoughts onto paper. Poetry definitely helped me be able to easily identify my feelings and put them into words. I can make a song about anything that I truly feel in like ten minutes, because I’m so used to understanding how I feel and being able to say it.
Do you pre-write all your songs, or is it just a straight shot?
It depends, honestly. “Newgen,” that was, like…
Just angry? Like, “ugh!”
Literally! dltzk just sent me the beat and I was like, “fuck it! I’m kinda mad,” and just went through. But songs like “talk to me,” the one I just released, that one was pre-written for sure.
That was with coleslau, right? How’d you link with him?
I don’t know if you know anything about the collective FourSeasons. It was an old collective, with so many talented names. cole was in it, hallow, endie, st. jimmy was in it. But nobody ever took us seriously because our leader, people thought she was a “reply guy.” So we weren’t really taken seriously.
That’s how I met cole. I remember one day, me and him were in a VC, and we were talking about our music inspirations, and they aligned so well even though we were doing completely different genres that we were like “we should just work!”
For the past month, we’ve just become best friends and worked, like, every single day. We’re always calling, always texting, always bouncing off ideas.
I also saw you have a song with meltycanon on the way. How did that happen?
Oh my God, I don’t know. That was like, a dream come true. I’ve been listening to meltycanon for so long. I just woke up one day and meltycanon followed me and DM’d me, and I’m like “what the fuck?” It just did not seem real. But I’m definitely taking my time with that, because I don’t know how many Meltycanon collabs I can get, so I’m making sure I get my best with that one.
You have this new EP coming out in two weeks. What’s new for you on there?
Cherry Blossom Blooms, it’s a concept, but not very straightforward. I deal with depression and depression is terrible during the winter, so the EP is about the transition period between the winter and the spring when you’re gradually feeling better, but you’re faced with all these tasks: the school year is ending, you don’t know what you’re gonna do for summer, falling in love -- just everything that happens from winter to spring.
It’s just a terrifying time for me every year, so I just wanted to see how much I can put that into sound. That’s why I got Cole to produce, because Cole’s very good at making very happy...very spring-y kinds of sounds. So I’m trying to put that sound all together and see how it works.
I’m not even gonna lie to you. That project isn’t even finished, and that’s kinda how I work best. I always, every time I drop something, I finish it right before I drop it. Not even the day before, the day of. That tends to work with me, because I can procrastinate, and if I make myself sit down for three hours straight and work on something, it’s gonna be the best damn thing I’ve worked on.
So, you’re a poet, you’re an abstract rapper, you’re a singer, and you’re only 17. What other kinds of artistic avenues are you trying to explore, since you’ve got a lot of time?
I want to do, like, movie sound shit. I’m also a violinist. I wanna see if I can do stuff for movies. I used to listen to, like, Hans Zimmer shit all the time. I also want to learn how to paint; my brother’s an amazing painter, and I envy him so much, because he’s so good at that. But I feel like if I put my mind to it, I could definitely do it.
I’m open to anything, really. What I always joke about to people is that I’m not good at anything except art, so I’m just gonna keep doing it. I might as well do whatever I can!
Has your brother had a lot of influence on you?
For sure, for sure. He lives in California. We’ve never lived in the same house before, but as I grew older and started talking to him more, I realized that we were, like, the exact same person, and that’s really helped me come to terms with who I am today. We were both artists in our own way. If I had an experience, I’m almost positive he’d have the exact same experience, so it’s kind of cool to have that intel on how to deal with things.
Do you have any other siblings?
Yeah, I have so many. I currently live with one of my sisters -- she’s actually from the UK -- and I live with another brother, so I have a ton.
Do you feel like pop, as an ecosystem, has specific aspects that connect with transness for you?
Oh, for sure! Oh, my gosh. The trans pop community has helped me so much with my identity. I’m not even just talking about people like SOPHIE, or like Arca, I’m talking about people like osquinn. There’s so much emotion into it. It’s just so empowering.
After this EP, where do you think you’re specifically trying to take your pop sound?
Honestly, past the hyperpop/digicore label. I realized that no matter how many songs I can drop under that label, at this moment, it could only be listed as that. The only person who’s pushed it further than that is, like, dltzk, and I feel like I have a way better opportunity at becoming the superstar I want to be if I take a more pop route. Which is what I’ve kinda always wanted to do, looking at people like Clairo or Kevin Abstract who’ve done bedroom pop. But not even just that -- merging that with my own sound, I think that’s kinda what I want to do.
I want to be able to conceptualize things way better than the people around me. Instead of just dropping single upon single, I want to be able to bring entire stories into it, and bring a bunch of other media aspects into it.
Photos by Raegun's younger sister