With an ever-increasing reliance on social media to remain ‘connected’ to one’s fans; the popularity of music streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora; and the sustained reputation of “illegal” downloading denting album sales, the modes of music promotion have shifted. For emerging artists, viral marketing, the capacity to release tracks and videos independently, and the ability to connect with fans directly have come together to allow them to realize their full marketing potential. Such a model has been used to almost-perfection by previously-enigmatic acts like The Weeknd and Lana Del Rey (and the still-enigmatic Jai Paul).
Enter RÁJ. On September 12, Zane Lowe and BBC RADIO 1 premiered a track entitled “Ghost”: a brooding slow-burn of a song which almost instantaneously caught the attention of numerous news outlets (see: The Globe and Mail, Dead End Hip Hop, Mostly Junk Food), no doubt due largely in part to the unexpectedness of the song’s sudden release. On the same day, the track was released as a free download on Soundcloud, and an official video for the track was uploaded onto Youtube five days later:
In attempting to find out more about the artist currently known as RÁJ (possibly a lone male), it appears he’s had a Tumblr account since only August 27, but a Twitter that stretches back for months, with tweets often straddling the line between banal (“Goodnight”) and inscrutable (“I’m freaking out right now. Feeling very inspired on what has come on my computer” (offering no further explanation)). And when asked to provide more information on the song and himself, the response was just as elusive. His entire persona thus seems hinged on the aspect of evanescence: appearing out of thin air, offering little in the way of who he is, what his next move will be, and so forth.
This method of promotion very much goes hand-in-hand with the track itself, both purely through the sound and lyrics on their own terms, and in adding to the mystique of the track’s history and significance. Beginning with a highly distorted (and unintelligible) phrase uttered by a child, which is then cut up and looped throughout the song, “Ghost”‘s sound initially grapples with the clean chord structure of a strummed guitar and folk singing, and the heavy reverb through which both are filtered. The ethereal outset gradually heightens as the song continues: after two minutes, the guitar temporarily cuts out to make way for the echoes of drums in the background, and, soon after comes the crescendo, as the vocals soar (evoking a structure frequently heard by Florence + The Machine), the drums now pound in the fore, and a staggered, watery synth, which recalls a tape recording looping in reverse, drapes the collective of other sounds.
What at first sounds like a prototypical pop song is undercut with haunted lyrics that seem to be lamenting the loss of someone (or something), the slow layering of reverbed instrumentation, and a jagged synth line that ends the track just as RÁJ entered the scene: in mid-song, without a proper conclusion, abruptly to catch the listener off-guard. And thus is ‘Ghost’, perhaps the most suitable title to describe both RÁJ as an artist, and the track itself: mysterious, enigmatic, but capable of melancholic beauty. Let us hope this ghost will soon reappear long enough for us to catch a better glimpse.