Smack in the midst of the recent Bay Area wave of incredible, emerging talent sits Elujay: the soulful 20-year-old rapper whose recent project, Jentrify, was released to national critical acclaim. And it’s no wonder why.

Since its debut, the Oakland rapper’s highly-anticipated album — he’s been hinting at a release since June this year — has been hot in rotation in the Bay and beyond. Its bright, jazzy production and catchy, soulful beats wrap effortlessly around Elujay’s voice as he discusses harder, pertinent issues affecting his hometown, like gentrification and Oakland’s dramatically-shifting landscape.

Outlined by his thoughtful, raspy voice, Elujay’s experiences feel older than his spry 20 years. But his wide smile — and penchant for throwing up peace signs — reminds listeners that the rapper is much younger than his reflective creative approach might suggest. After everything, he’s just another kid from Oakland, on his own journey of self-discovery, as he navigates his newfound fame — and simply how to grow up and keep getting by.

Read on for our chat with Elujay below.

How would you describe yourself?

Man. Shit. laughs. Uh. Dynamic. Versatile.

How long have you been making music?

I’ve been making music, like, four or five years now. I just always been into music. My dad's a drummer. My mom used to play piano. I been playing instruments hella long. Guitar, piano, trumpet, hella shit. That's what I used to play when I was younger.

What inspires you?

I get inspiration from everything. Movies. Life. Interactions I have with people. Gentrification is definitely something I experienced [myself]. Music is just your life experiences converted into songs, right?

Once, I got harassed by the police during the Warriors parade. I got thrown on the ground and called a nigger. It was pretty bad, man. I mean, I was already hella politically conscious and woke, but [after that] I just became more and more involved. I wanted to do something that invoked more political messages and ideals in my music. Not just political rap; it was more subtle.

Do you hope that your music acts to raise awareness for these issues?

Yeah, a call to action is definitely the goal. That's all it's meant to be. Last year, 2015, that was when I started Jentrify. I scrapped [this] other tape [I’d been working on], just got in the studio, and started working on that. Being away from Oakland and coming back, and watching it evolve into something it didn't used to be anymore inspired that.

How else has the Bay Area and its community affected your music?

The circle's hella small. Everyone knows each other. People are intertwined. And I just kinda got put on the scene just through “Flagrant.” When I dropped that, everyone put me on their radar, and it was just easier access to people. People wanted to work with me and shit. I don't know who supports me. I don't know if I even have, like, fans. laughs.

People tweet me everyday and shit telling me they love my music, but I don’t even know if I have a fanbase. I'm down here focused on school. I don't even know what's going on.

You’re a bit disconnected.

Yeah, it's all really virtual and shit. I just had a talk with some of the people from Elevator Magazine from Chicago. They're just telling me, "Yeah man, I'd never really heard of your music. But when I did, I really liked it. And when I showed it to my friends, they were like, we already heard this shit." It was wild.

Did you expect this level of success?

Yeah, but not so soon.

Biggest challenge?

Getting myself to fully believe in myself. Sometimes, I doubt a lot of the things that I do. And I don't know why because I know that I have a gift. I'm not really…Confidence is something I've dealt with. I act really insecure around other artists sometimes. Other than, like, creating art, it's not really an issue with me. It's just something I love to do. I'm really passionate about doing it.

Since everything came full fruition, I know what my purpose is. I know what I’m living for. I said this when I was younger: I wanna aspire to inspire people. Inspiring people is so much greater than being by inspired by other people. The regular shit. Norm. Whatever medium you do, inspiring is just awesome — to say, I made the next person be great through my actions. I gave this person a purpose. An idea. And he stuck with it. She ran with it. And they're killing shit now. It's dope.

I inspired one of my old dorm homies to rap and shit. He makes beats now. It's awesome. It's crazy how much love….it's infinite love. I'm so appreciative of all the love I'm getting back. I never expected to get this much love for one project.

Who do you create for?

Anyone who is confused about what's going on right now. Anyone who has questions about our ever-so-changing world, or is questioning life right now and the direction it's going — because a lot of things are evolving around them and they don't understand why. A coming-of-age type. Clarity, reassurance. I want people to feel good. To put this on and be like, "Yeah, I feel good."

A homie told me, "I don't even have a favorite song on here. I just play it all the way through." I tried to ask him what his favorite song was, and he couldn't tell me. It's awesome to know [someone feels that way about] your whole project. He said, "I can listen to three or four songs off someone's mixtape, but the rest of them are not good. With yours, I can listen to everything." That's what I wanted to accomplish, for people to really vibe with it. The political message is not the focal point — just something that comes with it.

Why do you do what you do?

'Cause if I don't create, I go crazy. I have to constantly create. I go to school for psychology, but I don’t want to be a fucking psychologist. I'm tryna tour the world man. It'll be lit. Creating is definitely what i'm put on this planet to do.

I don’t wanna work for no man, or take orders from some big hotshot. I don't want to be a big hotshot tellin’ people what to do. I want people to gravitate towards me. I want to be charismatic. I want to be someone that people can come to me for advice, a leader of my community. And for people to respect me as such. And everyone should be respected that way. I see past flaws. It’s like Lil B said: "Treat everybody like a million dollars." That’s it.

My aspirations are so much bigger than just music and rap. I want to do so much more. I really want to give back to Oakland, and communities just like oakland. Especially Oakland.

By Eda Yu
Photos by Amina Elkkabany