The message
As rap music began to establish itself as more than a passing fad in the 1980s, the lyrical direction of MCs began to shift from fun, simplistic and boastful rhymes to more socially- and politically-themed material. Playful pioneers like the Sugar Hill Gang gave way to the fiery stance of outspoken activists like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions who began to use the platform of hip-hop to inform, educate and protest.

Just as it seemed that rap was becoming a vehicle for change, along came gangster rap and with it murder, the objectification of women and the glorification of gang and drug dealing culture. Commercially, “conscious rap” was forced to the underground. There’s a new breed of young MCs that have brought the message back to the music. One of those rappers is Santa Paula’s Rayce.

Rayce wars
Rayce, born Raymond Fajardo, grew up in Ventura and Santa Paula, where he became a self-described “angry kid in and out of trouble.” During that time he was bitten by the hip-hop bug when he won an Eminem record from a local radio station. Though Slim Shady is more known for his shock value, Rayce felt a deep connection with the blunt realities and bleak future Eminem rapped about. From that point, Rayce plunged headfirst into the rap world, discovering new artists and beginning to hone his own skills as an MC. While still attending Buena High School in Ventura, it was through a student union conference he attended that Rayce found his passion in the activism world. He also realized he could express his growing opinion on class inequality and social conflicts through his own music. He began writing conscious lyrics in the vein of rappers like Immortal Technique and N.A.S.

From Santa Paula to Palestine
The sincerity of Rayce’s rhymes blast through the speakers on his first two releases, The Outline and Conflict Theory.

Tracks like “Numb” quickly let the listener know — with references as far-reaching as the Palestinian crisis — that this is not your everyday rapper. Even the cover art features a defiant-looking Rayce raising his fist in the air at a local protest rally. Snoop Dogg sipping on “Gin and Juice” this is not. While the lyrics are undeniably strong, his flow is just as intense, rhyming against beats and loops that shy away from the techno-based, auto-tuned drivel that’s currently popular with hip-hop and R&B radio.  Both records and his upcoming EP were made at One Mic Wreckords Studio in Santa Paula with fellow Ventura County artist Sparatic.

Cause and effect
Honing his skills onstage in the past year, Rayce was put off by the lack of professionalism of many hip-hop promoters, so he started his own company, Bad Publicity. He’ll be putting on his own show at Rock City Studios this weekend and will be featuring a host of up-and-coming local rappers, many of whom will be performing live for the first time. He’s hoping a strong turnout and positive vibe will help convince other venues to take a chance on all-ages hip-hop shows. While Rayce himself still considers hip-hop a hobby more than a potential career, he’s currently in his third year at Ventura College with plans for a career counseling troubled youth, the surprisingly mature 20-year-old sees hip-hop always being a part of his life. “If I can help kids get through some of the same problems I faced growing up, whether it’s through my music or through work with at-risk youth, I definitely want to connect and help people.”

Rayce will perform Friday, July 15 at Rock City Studios, 2258 Pickwick Drive, Camarillo. For more information, visit