Northwest hip-hop is flourishing. It seems Seattle and Portland are teeming with independent emcees and crews, putting out record after record of top-shelf work. And 2008 seems to be something of a lynchpin year. Jake One, a commercially successful producer from Seattle who’s produced for the likes of 50 Cent and G-Unit, released his album White Van Music. Super-crew Oldominion has been steadily involved with a number of great records (especially Mingle by The Saturday Knights). Similarly, Portland’s Sandpeople have had a busy year, with multiple releases under their umbrella.
Northwest hip-hop is flourishing. It seems Seattle and Portland are teeming with independent emcees and crews, putting out record after record of top-shelf work.
And 2008 seems to be something of a lynchpin year. Jake One, a commercially successful producer from Seattle who’s produced for the likes of 50 Cent and G-Unit, released his album White Van Music. Super-crew Oldominion has been steadily involved with a number of great records (especially Mingle by The Saturday Knights). Similarly, Portland’s Sandpeople have had a busy year, with multiple releases under their umbrella.
All of this got me thinking: Does the Northwest hip-hop have a recognizable style?
I think it’s fair to group Seattle and Portland under one banner; both scenes are small and massively interconnected. In many ways, the two cities share an aesthetic that transcends state lines. Here are four things that I think define the Northwest sound:
1. Where my thugs at?Most hip-hop releases in the Northwest are light on the thuggery. While there’s plenty of beat-your-ass bravado, I’m hard-pressed to think of any gangster rappers finding success in Portland. I’m sure they’re out there, but do you ever see ’em play shows? This is probably just a reflection of the audiences: we like our “indie” music, minimal gunplay and songs that get all personal and shit.
2. What about the dollars?The Northwest hip-hop scene is not cash-rich. It ain’t much of a commercial enterprise. There isn’t anybody putting out blinging videos. The emcees who do it, love it. This is a good thing.
3. Where’s the beef?Because the scene is so small, it seems like most artists get along and support each other. There’s no point in pissing off someone who you’ll probably want to do a record with next year. Which leads me to my next point….
4. IncestEvery rapper in the Northwest seems to be on everybody else’s record. Shows seem to have interchangeable lineups, almost the same from week to week. This is OK, way better than stupid beefing, but I wonder if all we have are mutual appreciation societies. Criticism can be good, dudes.
All this being said-I think our music reflects our culture, and in the Northwest, there’s a sound slowly creeping from the ground up. It’s fascinating, thick and full of talent, some of which is on display in these offerings from a couple of the Northwest’s more notable MCs.
The GiganticsDie Already***1/2 (out of 5)
Onry Ozzborn is something an evil rapping genius–he has his eyes on world domination.He’s a member of the massive Northwest crew Oldominion, a key voice in hip-hop luminaries Grayskul and Norman, and, as he proves with his newest project The Gigantics, a damn-fine producer to boot. Someone this prolific has to be up to something.
Just look at the lineup for Die Already, The Gigantics debut. There’re 24 tracks and 53 emcees (!), including such indie heavyweights as Murs and Aesop Rock, plus almost every damn N.W. head you could think of, including members of Sandpeople and Lifesavas.
With this many hands in the pot, Die Already could easily have been an inconsistent mess. But Ozzborn’s nimble guidance and production keep it on track. The beats are generally dark, snappy synth affairs, minimal like the Rza’s best work.
Album opener “The Explanation,” with Aesop Rock and Eligh of Living Legends, sets the quality and tone of Die Already: A few tight verses, a head-nodding beat, and we’re out. Songs top out at around three and a half minutes (except for the last track, which fades into an outro skit). This commitment to brevity keeps things from getting stale.
Despite Ozzborn’s MySpace declaration that, “This is NOT a COMPILATION!! It is a strategic massacre upon all who create terrible music,” Die Already still feels, um, compilation-like. Yes, his production is consistent, and Onry shows up rapping on most tracks, but with this many emcees, it’s hard to have 100-percent quality. Still, it’s damn good, showcasing some of the best hip-hop the Northwest has to offer.
SapientLetterhead****(out of 5)Yeah, this is what I’m talking about. From the bangin’ beats of first-track “Feels So Natural” to the stuttered snare of “Just Like Me,” Sandpeople’s Sapient lays down rhyme after rhyme of creative wordplay and painterly verbal detail.
Especially amazing is “Rest of My Life,” which sounds like Radiohead going hip-hop while singing a song about insomnia. The details are palpable, and if you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, it’s an instantly relatable song.
The rest of the album continues along this path. The production, handled by Sapient himself, is goddamn impressive, and he keeps the guest appearances pretty minimal, letting the 40-minute runtime stretch the possibilities of his skills.
This is easily one of the best PDX releases this year.
Moka Only, Josh Martinez, Onry Ozzborn, Sapient, ElementsBerbati’s PanThursday, Nov. 69 p.m. $10, All ages