Born and raised in the south side of Houston, Texas, the artist was given the name Daraja Hakizimana (a Bridge to Salvation) in 1999 by the Shrine of the Black Madonna, the Houston branch of The Pan African Orthodox Christian Church. He accepted the name Daraja Hakizimana as it signified his new beginnings down a more spiritual path, both musically and mentally.
Daraja began composing music at the age of 13 gathering inspiration from his father’s extensive music library. To this day, the artist attributes his diverse musical influences to Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Miles Davis, Willy Nelson, Sade, 2-Pac, Jodeci and Paul Hardcastle even though in his words he adds, “I listen to everything I can get my hands on.”
Today, Daraja’s musical style is best known for its rap compilations layered on top of jazz and R&B-influenced electronica music. His lyrics speak of his personal experiences whether that be love, loss, self-reflection, politics or good times; the themes are relevant to common human emotion.
Daraja debuted onto the Houston poetry scene in 1998 with his first group Kamakazae with a performance at Houston’s now defunct A-Bar. Kamakazae comprised of Daraja and fellow singing artist Mitchelle’l (T.I./Grand Hustle Records).
Their sound is best described as a soulful mix of jazz-influenced songs about love and life. Kamakazae went on to perform at the farewell party held in honor of Houston talk show host Deborah Duncan as the end of her The Deborah Duncan Show in 2003. The group later disbanded due to copyright issues and artistic differences.
Shades of Blackness
Through his association with the Shrine of the Black Madonna, Daraja was instrumental in establishing Shades of Blackness in 1999, Houston’s longest-running open mic forum still in existence today. Shades of Blackness (later renamed My Block Speaks) combines poetry, spoken word, jazz and R&B and is cited as the launching pad for other Houston artists such as Dakar and Harold Johnson aka Black Lotus.
Blackwater Productions and My Block Recordz
With the economic changes in the music industry, like most southern rap artists, Daraja was forced to release his music independently and hence, with the help of Dakar and Janna Hurd of Optimum Career Management, Daraja established his own company, Blackwater Productions, which allowed him to develop his unique blend of electronic jazz instrumentals and R&B grooves infused with rap and poetry. Blackwater Productions was housed on Daraja’s S.O.B (Shades of Blackness) Records which was later renamed My Block Recordz keeping in line with its open mic namesake. Kamakazae’s, The Bootleg Appeal, was the first album to be released on the emerging label. Subsequently, Daraja released nine more albums under My Block Recordz including Houston’s first independent electronica jazz album in 2000, Street Jazz & Love 95. Other artists currently signed to My Block Recordz include That Boy Cayse, S.A.R, SK Mac, Lady Pariah, Black Tha Moses, Lyricidal the Genius and the label continues to distribute its artists’ music through a series of online distribution companies including CDBaby, BlastMyMusic and Bandcamp.
As a regular performer in Houston’s live concert venues, Daraja has worked with many of other established artists including Angie G, Z-Ro, K-Rino, Dope-E, Shan-No, Point Blank, The SPC Family, Mo-Lew, Murder 1, 144 Elite, Jugg Mugg, Rob Quest, 2 Die 4, Se7en, Smit-D, 14K, Trae, Scarface, Lil O, Wickett Crickett, Rapper K, Odd Squad and of course, Devin The Dude.
Although Daraja writes, composes and produces all of his own music, he is also known for his many collaborations with other artists, which allows him to explore different musical styles. Club 803 is his latest collaboration with Geno, a Houston singer known for his sultry tenor a acappella. Club 803 released its first album, The Addiction in 2009.
Currently, Daraja is working on two studio albums, one under Club 803, titled Cloud 9 and the other as Daraja of the Coughee Brothaz called Electric Kush. Both albums are expected to release in 2011.
Besides his music, Daraja is also a director, an avid photographer, and painting artist. Much of his work can be seen on the internet and on his Daraja’s Art, Jazz, & Photography site powered through Blogspot.
1. The Bootleg Appeal – Kamakazae (2000)
2. Street Jazz & Love 95 – Daraja Hakizimana (2000)
3. PoetKing – Daraja (2002)
4. Tha Classics Vol. 1 – Daraja (2003)
5. Cassanova…The Soundtrack – Daraja Hakizimana (2005)
6. Back Against Tha Wall – Daraja of the Coughee Brothaz (2007)
7. Lab Rat – Daraja + Tha Bossplayaz (2008)
8. The Addiction – Club 803 (2009)
9. Lovetricity – Daraja Hakizimana (2009)
10. Class of Forever (Greatest Hits Vol.1) – Daraja Hakizimana (2010)
11. Smoker’s Delight – Daraja of The Coughee Brothaz (2011)
12. Electric Kush (Vol.1) – Daraja of The Coughee Brothaz (2011)
13. Playa Smoke Vol.1 – Smoke Or Die (2012)
14. Art Music – Daraja Hakizimana (2014)
15. Cloud 9 – Club 803 (2015)
16. Tha Bossplayaz – Bossplayaz Season (2016)