The hardest working rapper in Portland

When talking to Sapient, one thing is clear: He takes his music seriously. He repeats, again and again: “This is what I do.”

When talking to Sapient, one thing is clear: He takes his music seriously.

He repeats, again and again: “This is what I do.”

“This” means hip-hop—and listing Sapient’s projects takes awhile. He’s a rapper rhyming with super-collective Sandpeople, his other group, Debaser, and on solo albums that are some of the best Portland has to offer. He’s also the main producer for Sandpeople-related projects, and makes his living selling beats to other rappers.

He has his hands in so many projects; it’s hard not to see his musical efforts as nearly compulsive.

“When I take a break on something, I work on something else,” says Sapient. “That’s just how I am. Like, when I’m away and can’t make music or whatever, that’s bad for me.”

Sapient (given name: Marcus Williams) is a 25-year-old Northeast Portland resident who grew up in Eugene. He got his start in hip-hop through skateboarding when he was a teenager, where he was introduced to the world of independent rappers in skate videos. After studying the genre and soaking up the scene at the time, he decided to try it himself.

“It wasn’t a lucid mind state, like, oh, ‘I wanna become rapper,'” he says. “I just thought it was fun. I downloaded instrumentals, and rapped into this little boombox and just filled up these tapes with stuff I’d write, not really any structure to it.”

From there Sapient advanced his technique while teaching himself how to make beats, “so I could have something to rhyme on.” And slowly, he found his craft and distinct voice.

“One thing that’s different about me from most everyone I know is that a lot of people always had an older mentor, who was more into it than them, and who got them to do it,” Sapient says. “I never experienced that. So I was just on my own. I don’t really remember the process, I don’t remember deciding to do this; I just liked it.”

Eventually joining Sandpeople and moving to Portland four years ago, Sape’s been grinding ever since, making a name for himself as a producer and rapper while putting out record after record, including last year’s phenomenal solo album Letterhead.

“I was ashamed of how little I had of my own stuff,” Sapient says. “So I grinded and said, ‘I’m going to have this solo album done before tour [in April]. I finished it in like a month.'”

Originally intended as a kind of stopgap release to support the Sandpeople tour, Sapient eventually found distribution for the record after a positive response to its initial release.

Letterhead officially came out in October of ’08—and it’s full of solid, creative rhymes and whip-smart production. The album’s best song is “Rest of My Life,” a catchy track that explores the perils of insomnia on top of a low, Radiohead-like beat.

Not one to rest on his laurels, however, Sapient already has two other projects ready to go—a Debaser album and “rock project” called Slump. All they’re waiting on is a proper release. And he’s working on a new Sandpeople EP. And he’s slated to produce the next Grayskul record on Ryhmesayers, the biggest of the indie hip-hop labels.
Basically, he’s always working. Constantly.

“This is really just the beginning of me starting on my new solo career,” says Sapient. “I’m already about six songs into my next album. Letterhead is really a simple album. I don’t feel like it’s a good example of me—the style is cohesive, the way that I am on that has a certain feel to me—and on the new project each song is sort of a totally different style.”

Let me make a prediction: Sapient is going to make it big. Well, big in the independent hip-hop sense.

His beats are tight; his rhymes are clever, flow, pretty damn impeccable. And he’s overflowing with work ethic and musical ideas. There’s no logical reason for him to fail.

“I definitely think that hip-hop right now is for everybody. Even hipsters like hip-hop,” Sapient says. “That’s because it’s likable if you open up to it.”