Faraji Wright highway
Faraji Wright, who performs as Rexx Life Raj, a Berkeley High graduate, went to college on a football scholarship but is now pursuing a career as a musician. Photo: iMacVari

Many of us set out to change our lives at the beginning of a new year. Faraji Wright is hoping 2016 can pick up right where 2015 left off. The 25-year-old from Berkeley released the mixtape Telegraph Ave. in December and the project accumulated over 50,000 plays on Soundcloud in just one month.

Wright, who graduated from Boise State in 2012, decided to pursue music full-time after playing college football for four years with the Boise State Broncos. It’s a decision he says he battled with throughout his college career. Wright was a standout football player at Berkeley High, and signed a football scholarship in 2008. Many assumed that would be the start of an illustrious football career.

Berkeleyside contributor Delency Parham got the chance to sit down with Faraji at his studio in South Berkeley. They talked about some of the factors that lead to him letting go of football and picking up the mic. As he preps for upcoming shows including a possible short tour in Japan. Wright says he’s elevated his work ethic and has been in the studio on a consistent basis. He wants everyone to know his goal for 2016 is to get his music across more platforms and to create content that can inspire and entertain.

What was life like for you after graduating from college and moving back home?

It was a bittersweet moment. I was graduating college and I was the first in my family to do so. It was great, but when I came home I didn’t exactly get the welcoming that I expected.

What were you expecting when you came home? Were people happy and proud of you?

It was a mixed reception. Of course certain people were happy because graduating from college as a black man is a big deal. Unfortunately it’s not something that happens a lot. My family was proud but I got the sense that there were people who expected me to do more. You have to remember I went to Boise State on a football scholarship — it was only natural that people expected me to go play in the NFL. So when I came home and told people I wasn’t playing ball anymore, there were a lot of looks of disappointed faces.

Did you personally feel like you had failed?

It definitely crossed my mind, but it was something that I had dealt with years prior to graduation. I knew for a while that I wasn’t going to play pro ball, so I had already come to terms with it.

At what point did you make that decision? You were a star at Berkeley High, one of the first to get a big scholarship to a Division 1 school. You don’t get that far without having passion and a love for the game.

I got to Boise State my freshman year and I got the chance to meet some guys that lived football. Day in and day out, it was like their sole purpose for living. I saw how much football really meant to those guys and I didn’t have those same feelings for the game. I initially started playing so that I could spend time with friends in high school. I was just naturally good and as a result I got a scholarship. But I was never just waking up to live football. Boise state was my first encounter with guys who did.

I’m guessing music was always that true passion, one of those things that you had no problem waking up for. When did you start making music?

My family is big on music. They grew up in the church and I can remember going to church and seeing my parents, cousins. aunts and uncles, all singing in the choir. So that was my first experience with music. My family would sing and I would play the drums, I always had a love for music, and over time it just grew to me becoming an artist.

When did you decide that you try to make a living from your music?

I always felt like I was good enough to make a living from music, maybe not be a superstar, but I knew I had something to offer. I had been making music in high school, but when I released mixtapes while at Boise and saw the positive response I started to think, what could come from this if I gave it my all?

Where did the name Rexx Life Raj come from?

The term “Rexx” originated at Berkeley High and was started by my boy Mike. It originally meant someone who is wild and lived an x-rated life, hence the extra X. I pretty much took it and ran with it but it evolved as I evolved.

What does Rexx Life mean to you now?

Now Rexxlife is a collective of artist and creators. We have several rappers, songwriters, photographers, and video directors. Something that started as something for fun by boys has grown into a way of life for me as a man. We have a slogan: “No box no limit” We are all trying to push the boundaries in are respective fields.

There are a lot of life-altering events that take place over the course of a college career. What was some of the turmoil you faced over that time period?

Man it was hectic while I was out in Boise. I wish people would have told me how hard life would hit and how serious things get, because I was not prepared. I went from being the biggest and best player on my team, to a freshman and one of the smallest at my position. It was a real learning experience for me. I had teammates who had been playing since they were five or six. I didn’t start playing contact football until high school so I was fairly new to the game, especially compared to my teammates. It was really humbling to go from a star player to sitting on the bench.

What about outside of ball, what were some of the issues you faced?

Seeing the hardships that my friends and family back at home were experiencing. One of my closest friends, Dev [Johnson] was killed my freshman year. I had no-one out there I could confide in. I’m in Boise, Idaho. How could anyone there relate to gun violence? So losing Dev left me shook. Then another one of close friends went to jail, and he’s still sitting. Here I am, winning bowl games and earning a degree, while the people I love the most are falling by the wayside. It was tough for me.

Tell us about your newest project, “Telegraph Ave.”

“Telegraph Ave.” was an opportunity to show my range as an artist. I’m not just a rapper and I wanted to continue to show people that I’ll continue to step outside of my comfort zone and push my boundaries. [Wright says he chose the title because he wanted to reflect the wild and mellow vibe you get when walking down Telegraph Avenue.]

Faraji Wright still
Faraji Wright. Photo: iMacVari
Faraji Wright. Photo: iMacVari

At a performance last year at the Black Love Festival your mom was in attendance and you made the crowd give her a round of applause. How have your parents been instrumental in helping you arrive to this point?

My parents have been my biggest supporters. My father instilled in me an exceptional work ethic and that’s something I’ll forever be grateful for. That work ethic is one of the main reasons I’ve been able to stay consistent in any field I’ve entered, whether it be school, football, or music. When I first got home they gave me a job as a driver for their delivery company, Shoutout IDS Couriers. All that time I spent driving helped me get my mind right and figure out my next move. They have done nothing but encourage me and pushed me to the best I can be.

You’ve only been promoting yourself as an artist for the last four years. What are some of the problems you’ve faced with trying to get your name out?

There’s so much talent out there and with me being new to the music industry as a whole, it has really been a learning experience. When I first started, I was just putting music out with no plan or distinct goal. Now I know about image, branding, and all the work that goes into putting out the best product possible, it really is a full time job. With me not being signed to a label, I have to take on a number of roles and it has allowed me to see the industry from a number of angles. I’m enjoying the process.

What’s next for you?

Last year I was able to perform more than I ever have, so I plan on doing a lot more shows and getting more content out. I have some shows scheduled for Japan early next year so I look forward to making that happen.

What is your goal as an artist, what does success in the music industry look like to you?

With my music, I aim to entertain as well as inspire. I’ve been through a lot and I want to make music that can let people know that despite what you’ve been through, you can still strive for the best life has to offer. Where you are doesn’t have to determine where you can end up. I want to motivate people as well as entertain. If I can do at least that, I’ll be satisfied.

Op-ed: For college athletes is graduation a celebration or a reality check? 

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Delency Parham, a former reporting intern for Berkeleyside, is a graduate of Berkeley High School and the University of Idaho, where he majored in journalism.

Delency Parham is a graduate of the University of Idaho where he played football and majored in journalism. He graduated from Berkeley High in 2010, which is where he discovered his passion for writing....