Jackson raff talks music, lyrics, and his vision

5 mins read

For Jackson Raff, music is everything. You’ll notice him on campus with his headphones on, an ever-present reminder of his focus on sound. During class, he freestyles in his head and jots down lyrics in his notes. On his break at work, he types up more. To get the right look for his most recent album cover, he dyed his hair blue.

“My mom always sang to me,” he recalled. “I’ve been doing music my whole life.” The summer before his sophomore year, he started listening to Childish Gambino and Jaden Smith, and they mesmerized him — “Because the Internet” is his favorite album of all time. The artists awakened in him an urge to create music. That year, he began writing, and a year later he released his first EP, Lullabies, under the name “no face.”

Since then, he’s worked on hundreds of songs and released twelve more. Just over a week ago, he came out with his second EP, “mutt.” It has eight tracks, one of which is his most popular release to date, “goon.” Even with over 18,000 plays on SoundCloud, Raff noted, “it’s a lot, but not enough. I need to keep going.”

The four-minute track “goon” is frantic and its powerful lyrics tackle some of the most controversial issues in today’s politics. Raff explained that in his first verses, he messes around— “’your bitch call me El Niño, Great Bambino’— I’m just stunting.” But, he says, he uses that to capture your attention. And once he’s got it, he says, his lyrics can “get real.”

“Why do schizophrenic psychotics have license to carry guns,

and their apartment complex is covered plans of runnin

An AK to his school

‘but no guns are cool’

You think you lookin’ tough you just be lookin’ like a fool

The world is havin an apocalypse it’s full of hating

The monkey in the white house

Neo-nazis on the pavement

Preppy Stanford college students very fond of raping”

Said Raff, “the beat was hectic, so I wanted to say some hectic stuff. I wanted to talk about that.” He knows his lyrics won’t “solve the world’s problems” but sharing his opinion may get people to start talking about them. “People are just overlooking this,” he explained.

“I want people to listen to my lyrics and think, okay, this guy has good lyricism— but he’s also real.”

Some of Raff’s favorite lyrics are from an unreleased song, which he agreed to share with me. Again, his powerful tone and message capture the pain of an ongoing struggle.
“I wanna see us make up

I don’t want to have a mothafucka hate us

Everybody gotta fight and gotta break trust

But they actin’ like a fight is gonna break us

I don’t want to see anotha brotha stop livin’

Just to see that murderer who shot still is not in prison

And no wonder everybody wanna stop the system

Can’t be under government to help us stop the killin’

fuck that!”

As for his other songs, Raff is a strong believer in variety. He explained, “I don’t even believe in genres… if you’re going to be a good musician, you’ve got to do all of them. You can’t just pick the one. It’s the same tone and then it gets boring.”

He’s pulled elements of jazz, pop, hip- hop, and rap into his music, satirized trap music à la Lil Uzi Vert in his song “bool-aid” and even sampled from M-A’s choir in “youre.”


In addition to variety in genre, Raff’s music also conveys a wide range of emotions. There’s the frantic pleas and rage in “goon,” the lightness in “healing,” the sorrow in “sad.”

“Songs are different for every person that listens to them,” said Raff. “So if someone listens to my songs I want them to take away something good, obviously, but I want it to be different for each person, I want them to say something different. I don’t want it to be the same tone.”

Raff himself uses music to relax and relieve anxiety. His music is a reflection of his emotions, and vice-versa.

“I use music to try and get into different moods.”

As for what to expect, Raff says “nothing.”

“I’m trying to just come at you with everything I got. Every song is different. I’m doing something different, different, different.”

Raff plans on studying music technology in college. Currently, he’s working on an album that has been a year and a half in the making. He aims to release it around winter break. It will have a video concept, and a central theme of dreams.

I like to be a mystery. I like when people can’t see your next move, that’s the coolest thing.”

Mara Cavallaro is a senior and aspiring journalist. Her struggle to understand and tell her own story has taught her the importance of sharing narratives and inspiring empathy among readers. She strives to amplify the voices of marginalized communities and is most proud of her articles Full Time: Full Mile: Why We Need a Buffer Zone Around Our Schools (on the noxious effects of pesticides in rural California communities) and “Strength in Diversity”: Where M-A Falls Short (on challenges to full inclusion at M-A).

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