Rakiyah in Space: Get to Know the Artist

By: EnVi Magazine
11/15/2020
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Written by: Chyenne Tatum

When it comes to Black and Brown artists and musicians, they are often told they don’t fit the right “image” for a certain genre. Considering Korea’s beauty standards traditionally lean towards whiteness and thin body types, one might wonder whether or not Koreans are ready to embrace diversity in their culture. Fortunately, for up and coming singer/songwriter Rakiyah Wright, her positive experiences while studying in South Korea served as more than enough reasons to pursue a music career in the homogeneous country, and help bridge the cultural gap between the Black and Asian communities.

On October 23, the New Jersey native made her Korean debut as Rakiyah (라카이야) with the single, “Like You (너처럼)“, which features English in the first verse and chorus, switches to Korean in the second verse, and back to English for the last half of the song. Although Korean is not her native language, Rakiyah felt compelled to learn more about the culture and apply it to her music.

“I discovered Korean culture through the means of a K-Drama, Boys Over Flowers,” Rakiyah laughs. “After watching it so many times, I became excited about learning the language and started buying books and worked hard every day just to get past the basics.”

According to the singer, “Like You” was never meant to be a Korean song at all when she first wrote it in 2019. It wasn’t until this year when she decided to challenge herself and sing an entire verse in Korean. Her growing following on Twitter has even started getting curious as to how Rakiyah’s soft, sultry voice would sound with popular Korean R&B artists like Crush, Hoody, and Heize.

“The R&B style and melody that I’m doing were already there from the beginning,” she states. “I worked hard to make sure my pronunciation sounded the best it could with my Korean co-writer and the fact that my voice is so airy when I sing, makes it even more compatible with today’s Korean R&B.”

But music wasn’t always the first thing on Rakiyah’s mind; her first love was aerospace engineering and science since she was a child. While focusing on her college courses in engineering, Rakiyah also found joy in uploading Korean language tips on her YouTube channel – Raki Wright. As the channel continued to grow, her school started taking an interest and luckily offered to sponsor her for their exchange program in Korea.

“I feel like my experience was not the best the first time,” she said. “But I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to be scared away from the experience because it didn’t go well, so I went back again and each experience was better and more intriguing than the last.” She enjoyed her visits so much that the school ended up sponsoring her three years in a row.

However, when she came back home from her last Korean trip, the thought of working a monotonous engineering job didn’t sit right with the now 27-year-old. So, she leaped faith into the complete opposite side of the spectrum and decided to pursue music —all while still finishing up her degree in space engineering.

“It’s way more dramatic than it sounds because one field uses the left side of my brain and the other uses my right side,” Rakiyah explains. “It’s a nice balance being able to do both, but it is hard finishing up my last semester of college while also putting out singles and EPs without even being signed to a label.”

Yes, Rakiyah is an independent artist without a record label—American or Korean—and if this one-woman show isn’t impressive enough, she is also the founder and CEO of her own vegan lip gloss line called Rue Gloss, which launched earlier this year and has been doing well.

“Everything I do has been the strength of my own and everything that’s been paid for has been every last dime that I raised,” says the singer. “But I love that I can say one minute, I’m designing an aircraft and, the next minute, I’m writing an album.”

The journey may be long and illustrious for Rakiyah, but nothing was more nerve-wracking than the moment she posted the cover art for her lead single and the conversation it would ensue. During the days leading up to the release of “Like You”, an article was released by Allkpop, spreading the word about her debut—both the article and her teaser went viral.

“As a Black woman—just a Black person in general—it isn’t easy being in the Korean music scene,” she explains. “Even as a K-Pop stan, there’s a lot of pushback against Black fans and non-Asians in those spaces and just in the music industry itself, so I was extremely nervous about what people would say.”

Regardless of how controversial some people may see it, Rakiyah prides herself in being the middleman with her family and friends by introducing them to Korean culture, while still embracing her Blackness and showcasing the community in a positive light to her Korean friends. “It’s important for Korea to be inclusive of other cultures, but it’s also just as important for people to be inclusive of Asians and the differences between them,” she says.

For years, the public has witnessed the K-Pop industry welcome trainees and idols from different parts of Asia (China, Japan, Thailand), but they’ve also started seeing Korea slowly open their doors to non-Asian artists altogether. In 2015, Alex Reid of RaNia (or BP Rania) became the first Black artist to debut in a K-Pop group. Although she is no longer a member of the group today, another Black woman by the name of Fatou has gracefully made her way into Blackswan this year—also known as the revamped version of RaNia.

“Once you start to admire Western music and Black culture and incorporate that into your idols’ music, you’ve already decided to be diverse,” Rakiyah explains when it comes to K-Pop companies. “The profit is already coming from non-Korean culture, so you have to be willing to open up to those same people who created these styles and genres.”

Although Rakiyah isn’t the first Black artist to make music in South Korea, the one factor that differentiates Rakiyah from the others is that she has to completely rely on her own resources, income, and fanbase to get her name out there.

“I’m a Black girl singing Black music in America—just doing in the language that she took the time to learn.”

So what can we expect from “Raki” next?

“Next thing I’m doing is putting out an EP in December,” she grins. “It’ll be a little Christmas gift called Into the Cosmos since my artistry is always relating to aerospace.”

According to the cosmic singer, “Rockets”—her fandom—can expect the EP to be loving and sexy and might even feature a popular Korean male artist on one of the five tracks. “If you’re catching the innuendos [in this EP], you’re going to feel it this winter,” she playfully teases.

As for her K-Pop interests, Rakiyah is a huge fan of BTS (particularly Jimin), Loona, and Blackpink but of course, EnVi had to know if the “Queen of Space” has yet to venture into the amazing world of NCT.

“I’m learning that there are different NCT groups, but my first NCT song was the “The 7th Sense,” Rakiyah says. “But for NCT 127, I like “Punch” a lot [laughs].”

And the member who caught her attention the most?

“I love it when Korean male artists have a deep tone” she confesses. “So whoever that first person is in “The 7th Sense”, he captivated me through his voice immediately.”

The original center himself, Lee Taeyong.

You can learn more and connect with Rakiyah through her Twitter (@rakiyahinspace), Instagram (@rakiyah), YouTube (RakiyahVEVO), and official website (rakiyahinspace.com). “Like You” is available to stream on all music platforms.