Meet Rush Davis, the R&B Singer Lionel Richie is Betting On

Photo by Gia Trimble

Rush Davis is familiar with the concept of treating music like a fine wine, letting it age to perfection. The South Los Angeles-bred artist, who obsesses over The Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire, toiled at an LA-area Kaiser Permanente while also working as a writer for super producer Jonathan Reuven “JR” Rotem’s camp (Rihanna, Maroon 5). “I was doing like, 32 hour days with no sleep. Just writing, going to sessions. It was getting real heavy,” Davis says. The long hours caught up to him, he left his day job at Kaiser before they could fire him.

He signed to BMG as a songwriter for various projects a year later, but the waiting game continued. “I’m still waiting for placements to come out,” he says of records that were completed over three years ago. “That whole entire process was just ridiculous – not in a bad way, but in a growth way, I guess you could say.” One day late last year, worrying about his prospects for paying rent, he noticed his phone light up in the midst of doing dishes and trying to decide between Top Ramen and the Dollar Menu. “Steer,” a feature he worked on for Southern hip-hop legend Scarface’s Deeply Rooted album, had been chosen as the lead single, and his Twitter mentions were on fire.

While he’s had a handful of loosies released to the blogosphere over the past few years, Davis is capitalizing on the attention from his Scarface feature to let people know what he’s really about. “The trip is, a lot of this music is old,” Davis says of the soulful, almost plaintive songs he’s trickling out to the public for the first time as a proper introduction to his individual style.

The singer is ready to pop the bottle open on his talents and share them with the world. We talked to Davis about “Pain,” his latest single exclusively premiered here at Remezcla, as well as his artistic process, growing up Blaxican, and plans for his debut full-length release Transmission.

Let’s talk about your latest single “Pain.” Is there a rhyme or reason to the order in which you’re choosing to release these records as a means to tell a story?
The thing with “Feel Trip” – it’s the introduction record to let you know this is about to be all about feels…One of my favorite artists is Erykah Badu. Listening to my favorite record [of hers], “Other Side of the Game,” it sounds like she’s just channeling this record. It sounds like she pulled some tarot cards or some shit. It sounds like a story somebody is telling their girlfriend on the other side of the phone and it’s just coming out of Erykah’s mouth.

All of my records that are coming out from Transmission – I try to make sure that the feel flows. Not necessarily the concept of the song or what it’s saying, just the feel. So if we go from “Feel Trip,” which is very base; it’s sexual; it’s talking about things in nature, like the first time feeling something. Then you move to “Pain,” which is the complexity that comes after feeling things.

“Pain” is very simple, but every line is alchemical in a lot of ways. It captures this feeling of pain, and what it means to grow from something, and what it means to be in two different places with someone you love and trying to bridge that gap.

“Timeless” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, especially when it comes to music that has a soulful sensibility to it. How does that weigh on you? Is that something that’s in the back of your mind?
It’s so weird to say, but I never go into a session with an intention. I just think, “Can I create [something as] pure as possible?” And when I say as pure as possible, it means without my head being in the way, and it being just straight vibes. I think that’s what a lot of sessions and records miss these days – the fact that everything’s so separated. There’s something to be said about the community that comes together when really creating a record, when you have to jam to do it. I gotta get my ego out the way; you gotta get your ego out the way in order to come up with these decisions collectively that make sense. That’s powerful.

“People are hungry for authenticity and to feel things again.”

The benefit of saving these records until now is that we’ve entered a climate that’s more welcoming to R&B again, which we are seeing with the successes of Miguel and Anderson .Paak. Do you expect in the next few years people will start appreciating R&B’s full potential again?
I think we just had a big wake up call when Prince died. I think there’s a lot of younger people who haven’t gotten to experience that level of artistry, and that level of being truly avant-garde. All I know is, people are hungry for authenticity and to feel things again. And the thing that R&B has always been really successful in is capturing feels – really capturing feels. Saying something that you’ve thought and not necessarily known how to put into words.

Photo by Gia Trimble
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What’s really cool about Anderson and Miguel is they stuck to it, they haven’t left it, they’ve always been like, “This is what I do.” That’s the same thing with me. As many pop records as I’ve had to write and as many fuckin’ trap records as I’ve had to pen over, I’ve always been able to say this is who I am and the soul has always been there.

You’re black and Mexican. How does hailing from a mixed-race household impact your point of view?
[It impacts] everything. When you come up in a mixed race home – the food is mixed, the music is mixed, the emotions are mixed, the struggles are mixed. But at the same time, they all speak to each other. My family is four generations from Watts [in Los Angeles].

My Mexican grandmother was the first one to start dating black guys, and start bringing them over to the house. That was fucking hell [for her] at first. My mother and my aunts and uncles that are mixed, the first generation of the mixed kids, have some very traumatic stories as far as being accepted.

“The ‘Other’ box saved my fuckin’ life.”

You have two different races that are in the same area, experiencing the same things and have this oppressive energy over them that makes them butt heads. But they can’t help but fall in love at the end of the day, because they have so much in fucking common.

What I learned from that situation is, the way that you’re brought up and the way that you were raised, and the people that care and nurture for you, that is who you are. It doesn’t matter what society wants to label you as, it’s what you label yourself as. And in that sense, the “Other” box saved my fuckin’ life.

A big part of your lore is the fact that you received praise from none other than Lionel Richie as a “once in every 20 years” kind of artist. How did that come about?
When I first started doing music, I was working with this dude Joe Wolfe, who’s an amazing producer, when he was doing production for Lionel. Lionel came through to a session one day and I sang for him. And after I sang for him he was like, “Every 20 years a talent comes along and blows the world away. It was Michael Jackson, and now it’s you.” And when someone like Lionel says that to you, it’s kinda like, “Nigga, you playin’.” [laughs]

For me, it was almost a setback, because it made me feel like nothing I was doing was on that level, so that’s part of the reason why it took me so long to release the shit that I’m really in love with and the stuff I was really happy about, because I was like, “This ain’t greater than Michael Jackson!” It put me in that place of comparing, and as long as you’re comparing you’re never truly being you.

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You’re working with producers like Girl Unit, Nguzunguzu, and Dem Jointz on Transmission. What can we expect from the overall sound and themes of the album? 

The main theme of the record is every feel we can possibly go through in the realm of soul. What I’m still trying to find right now is that happy medium that works in the club, because right now everything is like, “bedroom, wake up in the morning, go home.” [laughs] That’s where I’m living right now. Honestly, I haven’t finished the album yet, so it’s still wide open for evolution. Also, the response that we get from the audience is going to play a huge role in that, too. What I haven’t been able to do yet is really audition my sound for people and see what they respond to.

Anything else you’d like us to know?
Keep soul alive. Keep it alive, because as long as soul is alive, so will we. As soon as it becomes mechanical, there’s no need for this breathing, and conversation stuff to happen. Soul is very necessary.

Rush Davis will be performing at LA’s Lyric Theatre this Saturday, April 30. Get tickets here. Keep an eye out for Transmission, due later this year.