SIRAJ TACUMA HAS BEEN ON A ROLL AS OF LATE. HIS COLORFUL AND ENERGETIC PAINTINGS HAVE TAKEN THE PHILLY ART SCENE BY STORM, LEADING TACUMA, WHO GOES BY RAJY, TO LEAVE HIS JOB TO PURSUE ART FULL TIME. HE HAS ALSO BEEN ABLE TO STEADILY EXPAND HIS OFFERING OF CUSTOM JACKETS, T-SHIRTS, AND SNEAKERS, DONE UP IN A SIMILAR STYLE AS HIS PAINTINGS, CULMINATING IN THE LAUNCH OF HIS CLOTHING LINE RAJY5. THE LINE OFFERS PAINT-SPLATTERED AND HAND-DISTRESSED TEES, FLANNELS, AND DENIM JACKETS, ALL WITH THE SIGNATURE RAJY5 LOGO. THE YOUNG ARTIST HAS BIG GOALS FOR THE FUTURE AND A CLEAR VISION OF HOW HE WILL REACH THOSE GOALS. WE SAT DOWN WITH RAJY TO TALK ABOUT THE CREATIVE PROCESS, THE TOUGH NATURE OF THE PHILADELPHIA ART SCENE, LIFE AS AN ARTIST, HIS PLANS FOR THE FUTURE, AND MORE.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Siraj. I go by Rajy. I’m a local artist from Philadelphia. I’m just taking over right now man, it’s my time to shine. we’re going to work together and grind, that’s all.
Can you describe what your style is as an artist?
Basically, my style is abstract graffiti. It’s all about the feeling, so whatever I come up with, whatever color schemes and stuff like that. That’s how I improve and get it poppin’ and let people see what I can do.
I see that a lot of your stuff is wavy, some might even say psychedelic. Is that intentional or just about how you feel when painting that specific piece?
It’s just the feeling. Sometimes I’ll be feeling red or sometimes blue or whatever, but I think it’s just whatever my mind is telling me to put down is how I’ll do it.
When you start working on a piece, do you have a set direction for that piece or do you just paint how you feel in the moment?
From experience, you know how to do different things, it’s not guesswork, but if you know what you’re doing then when you start [working on the painting] and some new feeling just comes to you, you know how to best use that idea. If I’m going to do a ‘love’ piece, I just do it with my signature little hearts. Other times I want to draw monsters. Sometimes I like to sketch it out, but other times I just go with it, it’s all about the feeling. Most of the time, if I just do it. I’ll come back to it later and add to it in another way.
What artists have inspired your career?
There are a lot of artists, one is named King Saladeen. He gave me a lot of motivational speeches and he’s out here doing his thing. He did a custom Bugatti, he gave me some advice, told me to keep my head up and that there are going to be hard times but just keep going, and stuff like that. One guy named Bariq Cobbs, that was probably the main influence because I was doing art but I wasn’t really out there like that and he was always going to his own shows in New York, Delaware, out of the County, everywhere. He’s a dope artist, he had his own clothing lines and he did a lot of dope work for celebrities. That was one of the people that inspired me who I actually knew well, we grew up together and were around each other. Shout out to him.
Can you speak on your custom clothing and shoes. How did you get started with that?
Yeah, I do custom jackets, sneakers, everything. Basically, at first I just wanted to wear my own stuff, not to take anything away from anyone else, but everyone wants to wear their own stuff if they’re an artist. Then everyone I knew started asking me about it, they were trying to buy my jackets off me. I didn’t want to go into it too fast, I wanted people to really want my stuff. Once that started happening and people started to really hit me up, I started being able to do this and do that, then it just started to really take off.
How do you approach creating commissioned paintings for customers from a creative standpoint?
Basically, they usually tell me to freestyle. I think that’s the best way, to just let me do what I do. They’ll notify me of what they want, but they see my work so they know what I do, I’m killing the game. They like to leave it to me to do what I do best. But if they have something specific that they want of course I can do that too.
Do you see a difference between the custom work that you do for clients and the work that you make on your own?
Yeah, I can see a difference. With custom work it always gets my brain flowing to new ideas. I might not be thinking something but they [the client] might be thinking something that I can use to shape the painting. Then, when I do my own paintings, the ideas come and go in my own head. So it’s just a different process of creating.
What about Philadelphia has influenced your career?
I think that you’re not given respect at first, so you have to earn it. That just drives me to work harder, make sure I’m promoting, make sure I’m doing what I need to do to stay consistent, because they aren’t going to just say, “Oh, you’re an artist, okay we’ll take you”. No, they’re going to make sure you work for it. But the respect comes along. I don’t really worry about that though. I just do what I need to do, make my customers happy, keep the people around me happy, keep the people that I’m working with happy. I’m not like a lot of artists that start acting crazy once they get bigger, I’m still the same, I show love, I’m just me.
Do you find, now that you have proven your ability, that the art community in Philly is accepting?
Yeah, now it’s coming together. With all of the work that I was putting in last year, everything now is coming a lot easier. Everyone is more open, saying, “We got this show, we got that show, I want you to be a part of it, I want you to do this, do that”. So now it’s starting to evolve. I’ve been in a magazine (Philly’s Prominent Magazine) a couple times, last year I was in the November issue. A lot of celebrities have been showing me love. Now I’m just trying to take over by continuing to expand and making sure that I’m staying consistent.
What are some of the most memorable experiences of your career thus far?
One of my favorites was when I met James Dupree, he’s a dope artist and he’s well known … he’s a famous artist basically. So when I got invited to his house to see his studio it was dope. When I did a crazy painting for Mo’ne Davis (the first African-American girl to play in the Little League World Series) and her family, that was dope. I got to meet up with them, took a lot of pictures, talked about different things. I used to play for that same team [that Davis played for] so to see someone young come up and make some history, it was really decent, it was really dope.
For a lot of kids in Philadelphia, because of how rough it is in some areas, art is a way to escape from reality and just be in the moment. Is that how art is for you?
Yeah, at first, when I was younger, I didn’t take it as seriously. But as I got older and got more serious about it, it gave me a drive to stay out of the streets and to work harder. It made me stay with people that were consistent in just doing what they doing. I would stay around basketball players, all positive, maybe football players, maybe they would be doing music in the studio. It’s easy to get distracted, but when you stay with people that are doing something positive it is easier to stay on a straight path.
Can you speak about quitting your job to take on your art career full time?
I didn’t actually really quit it. At first I was in this program called Power Corps, which is a youth development program. Basically I was working with them. It’s kind of like a trade school partnered with the city, and since I was getting paid for the work I was doing there, and then I was having to go to work out in ‘East Bumble’ or whatever, it was crazy. I was thinking to myself, “I’m making money here with my art, my clothing is poppin’ so I’m just going to take away my job and just see if I could do art full time on my own.” So all last year, after I graduated from Power Corps , I didn’t have a job. I just wanted to challenge myself to see how it would go. It gave me the drive to get off my butt and do what I do. I was already making money but I wanted to see how consistent it could be. It was going well, but I’m probably going to get myself a little something just to have, because to support this you have to be a working man. It was a crazy experience though, you have to have that experience because it makes you grind harder, work harder.
What is your earliest memory of painting?
I did art when I was in school, which probably got me into a little trouble. I would probably be done before everybody, probably talking [in class] and I would do little drawings on my tests, on the sides. My mom used to tell me that I would draw even when I was really young, so I always did it but wasn’t taking it seriously. Then, two years ago, I started taking it more seriously and the rest is history [laughs].
Just based off of your clothes, you look like an artist. For you, does art extend through your entire lifestyle?
Yeah, I mean you have to live it to make it a part of your life. You should look like it, just like a basketball player isn’t going to be walking around with a Dickie’s set all day at the courts, they’re going to have some ball shorts and a tank top. You just have to live it and once you do that the progression is going to fall in line behind that. You definitely have to live it to be great at it.
How much time do you spend working on art?
I try to be very consistent. I try to do it every day. Some days, though, I take a break from it because you don’t want to overwork yourself staying up all night working. You want to get some rest and then you want to have time to develop your style, to learn different techniques, how to blend colors. A lot of people don’t know how to do that, and of course the best way to learn that is from experience, but every once in awhile you have to read something, look at different designs to get inspiration. I probably would do it six, seven hours, maybe the whole day. Basically I do something every day.
If you are looking towards the future, where do you think you are going?
Basically, my next big, big step is to have my own art show. I’ve done a lot of feature art shows, like guest appearances in other people’s arenas, but what I’m working on now is having my own crazy show. It’s going to blow y’all’s minds because I’m going to do it differently. It’s going to be an art show slash fashion show, but the way it’s going to be set up it’s going to be crazy, with stuff hanging from the walls, it’s going to be crazy I’m telling y’all. I’m going to be working on that in the summer. Right now I’m just developing my fan base making sure I have a following of people that will come out.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing?
I’m really into film, I love doing film work. I don’t do too much of it anymore but I used to put up a lot of little videos of me doing art. I would edit them. I used to be a rapper and would be putting videos up on YouTube [laughs]. I was talking about playing ball, but at the time I was a ball player, all the famous people that were in the city at the time still call me out on that. Every time I go down to the courts, “Rajy Baller!” [laughs]. It’s just a funny moment. But I’d probably be a film director, not so much an actor, but more a director.
Do you see yourself doing that in the future?
Yeah, I know a couple people working on that now. That’s going to be a part of it regardless. The vision that I have, I want to get it out there. No one else can tell my story, I have to tell it myself. One way I can approach that is through film.
Do you want to let your art speak for itself or grow into more of a brand?
Basically, I really want to be an artist, but I also want to branch out into different things because I have talents in so many areas. I play ball, I can do film, I’m into fashion. I don’t want to only be an artist, you have to set those high standards for yourself . I just try to be good at everything that I’m doing. You’re are supposed to do things that you love and I want to be great at all of them.
Advice to the kids?
Just take your chance, make sure you have a job to support yourself, don’t do it like me even though I was doing it good. [laughs] Just stay in school, always network, stay consistent, and have a kind heart it will take you a long way.
Words By Noah Rosenfeld Photography By Dariush Sosnowski