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Thunder, Napkin Scribbles, and Key Changes: How Raye Made ‘Escapism’ a Smash Hit

It’s ironic how Raye’s hardest song to sing is also the one she has to perform the most. “People are like, ‘She sounds so out of breath.’ I’m like shut the fuck up! Where do I breathe?” she tells Rolling Stone with a laugh about her smash hit “Escapism.” “Tell me where to breathe!”

Since the song’s release late last year, the track has garnered 507 million streams and counting on Spotify. With its key changes and rapid raps, it’s one of the most interesting hits in the last several years and one of the singer’s proudest moments.

“I wanted the effect of information and lyrics just pouring out,” she says. “But I didn’t think about the live repercussions of those decisions.”

“Escapism” carried the promotion of her album My 21st Century Blues, her first LP since freeing her of her record label and dropping as an independent artist. The LP features songs such as “Flip a Switch,” “Ice Cream Man,” and “Hard Out Here.”

Raye breaks down how she made the song alongside Mike Sabath in an interview for Rolling Stone‘s The Breakdown:

First Beat
Raye switched it up for this smash. Usually, she starts with lyrics, but for “Escapism,” the beat came first. Mike Sabath, her producer, played it for her during a drive. “We cranked it all the way up, windows down, driving through the hills, and I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ ” Raye remembers. “This is it. This is the one.” 

Lyrics, Amen 
Raye remembers going to the restroom to say a quick prayer before she wrote the lyrics. “I was like, ‘Dear God. This beat is so fire. Just bless me and help me do something great on this. Amen,’ ” she recalls. “Then I went out, put the headphones on, and I didn’t take them off until it was written.” 

Done Decision?
When she recorded the song, there was confusion around one of the song’s key lines: “He told me that it’s over, done decision.” Those around her heard the decision as “dumb,” so there was talk of rerecording the line for clarity. Raye decided against it: “It would have just stolen some of the life from it.… Some people thought it said, ‘Bum decision.’ ” She adds, “The music is for you now. Do with it what you want.”

Napkin Verses
Raye hand-selected her friend 070 Shake to join her on the song. “I wanted this to feel natural,” she explains, noting that in the past, she’s waited around for features or collaborations to happen. This came easily: “She’s such a fucking artist. She wrote her lyrics on a napkin,” Raye says. I’ll be naked when I leave and I was naked when I came. “It was like an art piece.” 

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Key Change
It was 7 a.m. in Sabath’s living room when Raye came up with the idea for the track’s left-field, key-changing outro. “[With us], there’s no rules,” Raye says of working with Sabath. “We’re just literally nerdy kids being nerds.” They were in their pajamas, jamming to a loop of the end of 070 Shake’s bridge when she thought, “Why not change the key?” She recorded the outro’s verse then and there in her raspier, lower-octave “morning voice.” 

Thunder and Choir  
The song’s ending? “Don’t play with it,” Raye says. Her choir-like vocals, which she describes as “levitating” and “creepy,” blend seamlessly with 070 Shake’s rap. There’s also the raw sound of a rainstorm embedded in the song that’s easy to miss. “Mike is such a crazy fucking psycho that he stood outside ­recording a voice note of thunder [that] sounded nice,” Raye says with a laugh. “It felt like this ethereal, beautiful thing.” 

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