Lushlife | Photo by Ebru Yildiz | courtesy of the artist

“It’s weird. I’ve been Lushlife my whole adult life. The genesis of the name is incidental now to me, but it’s just cute high school shit. Ultimately, I was just a marching band, jazz dork. Today, what Lushlife does is only tangentially related to that stuff, but a name becomes I name, I guess. When I was in the airport this weekend, someone recognized me and yelled out that name as I was walking by, and my head turned in the same intrinsic way that my given name would,” Raj Haldar says.

Philadelphia’s Lushlife began challenging the way hip-hop is defined long before his first official release, Cassette City, in 2009. Since his first show in 2005 at The Jazz Cafe in Camden Town, London, Raj Haldar’s ability to blur the lines between what the genre is and what it could be is the gospel he lives by. Ritualize, which premiered on Billboard on February 17th and was officially released February 19th, is the next notch in Haldar’s career, and it’s a coming of age story. And the story behind “Body Double”, his first single, is a harrowing one.

In those last moments / Spilling out into the interstate / Estimate the cost to the universe / don’t escalate / back to the soil / back to the flower beds…- “Body Double”

Haldar had just finished promoting his last album, Plateau Vision, on the West Coast and was driving on a two way freeway from recording in Seattle back to Portland after giving a talk at Cash Music PDX Summit in 2013 a few days prior. While driving to catch a flight early in the morning in an SUV – it was the only thing the car rental company had – he was alert but nonetheless on auto pilot. Seemingly out of nowhere, coyote were all over the road. Haldar jolted and over compensated.

“While I was spinning out, I hit a Ford f150 truck that was towing a whole bunch of show dogs,” Haldar recalls.

Haldar spun right into an embankment, back first. “When I stepped away from the car, and saw that it was completely totaled, I realized that I just, for whatever reason, walked away from a major accident with literally just a scratch on my hand.”

The whiplash of emotions forced Haldar, and similarly Lushlife as a project, to step back and reevaluate the reality of mortality in it’s most organic form. “In the two or three seconds that this was going on, I quite literally had this like, ‘well, this is it, Raj’ [feeling]. With ‘Body Double,’ I tried to encapsulate all of my feelings in those one or two seconds and sort of express them across this three minute song,” Haldar says.

The musicality undoubtedly supports the stress and helplessness of a car crash. The ball drop synth sample builds into ghost-like moans, seducing the listener into uncertainty . It’s the kind of suspense felt as the unsuspecting heroine slowly descends the basements steps in a horror movie. Within a few seconds, Haldar’s voice comes in to repaint the moment that brought him face to face with death itself.

“No canines were hurt in the making of this track!” Haldar jokingly adds.

Out of the experience came a metamorphosis of musical work: from “art for art’s sake”, according to Raj, to a very introspective feat of character. On February 27th at Johnny Brenda’s, CSLSX, the Philly electro outfit and collaborator, and Lushlife will unleash the personal, political, and genre-bending surge that is “Body Double” and Ritualize as a whole.

This week, leading up to the show, The Key Unlocks Lushlife’s Ritualize. Begin by listening to the song that started it all, “Body Double,” below.

Ritualize is the featured album in this week’s edition of Unlocked. Check back tomorrow for our album review and later this week for a video, an interview and a photo essay.