Here then is my initial foray into a regularly-occurring weekly column at SSG Music. Don’t call it a New Year’s resolution for 2012, more like a renewal in commitment to the burgeoning music outlet that first gave me a chance to spew my half-informed, often dangerously tangential opinions into the world wide nebula. “The Home Row Keyed” is my way of starting anew; the proverbial blank page. (Okay, fine, so do call this a “resolution.” Just know that I’m not looking for an accountability agent ten weeks into the endeavor when the giddy freshness has worn off.)
The name of this column (subject to change) refers to the eponymous row of eight keyboard buttons upon which your typing fingers are supposed to begin their inevitable dance toward genius. The “Keyed” part is a clever allusion to the way said initial digit position generally makes me feel: tense, nervous, fidgety, typically incapable of putting together a coherent thought without at least two dozen false starts. In other words: perpetually writer’s blocked. There’s something in the way my fingers alight upon plastic that immediately causes thought seizure. Almost like God installed the Off switch to my brain on the tips of my pointers. I’ve been told that God doesn’t make mistakes, and, if I were to believe in God, I would accept that as an infallible rule. Spiritual leanings aside, I do believe in humans, especially ones that make mistakes.
All this to say that it might very well be a mistake for me to attempt a weekly column. Then again, it might have been a mistake for SSG Music’s owner, Nikki Benson, to have even allowed me to try, which would place at least half of the blame on her if I end up failing. But I digress (and I’m joking, of course). I hope you enjoy reading “The Home Row Keyed.” It’s going to be about music. And probably lots of other things as well.
It’s apropos to start this year off by talking about some of the Seattle hip-hop releases that are on the immediate horizon. In the next three weeks alone heads can look forward to new albums from Gabriel Teodros (Colored People’s Time Machine, release date: January 19), Sol (Yours Truly, January 20), and Young TH (Maven mixtape, January 27).
(Of the three, I’ve only previewed Teodros’ album with any regularity and I’m happy to report: it’s impeccable — the best collection of songs the MC has ever compiled, I think.)
I started paying close attention to the Seattle rap scene in 2005. The album responsible for my blooming interest: Blue Scholars’ self-titled debut. Since that formative year everything coming out of The Town has gotten better—and worse. Better because more artists are finding their voices, particular niches in sound, and success outside of the region’s area code. Worse, however, because more people who have no business trying to rap are, in fact, trying.
When I was a teenager growing up in the San Juan Islands, it was easy to hide the fact that I had no business rapping by turning up the volume on my car’s cassette deck and gleefully rhyming along to whatever I’d just dubbed from my homie’s CD collection. Everybody sounds great to themselves inside of a sound-proof box. That was in 1993. Today, the internet is the equivalent of my 1980 mint green Volkswagen Jetta — the sound-proof box that doubled as my own personal recording studio. It’s much easier for wannabe MCs to make themselves sound competent with today’s technology. In turn, it’s much harder for still-learning music writers like myself (who were never actual MCs in the first place) to discern the good from the bad. My email inbox is filled with a glut of press releases from unknown rappers looking to get on. Sometimes I get fooled into thinking someone’s legit, and often times I overlook quality because it doesn’t sound legit enough. It’s a paradox made more baffling because I honestly want to like everything that comes out of Seattle (my own personal bias).
All this to say, the three men noted above are unequivocally legitimate MCs. Teodros has become an OG head of sorts, a voice to the underground scene outside of the State (and country). Sol has, over the course of the last two years, settled into the role of a kush’ed-up loverman, his sound taking a strategic turn toward more radio-friendly waters (to good and bad results). And TH (also known as Thaddeus David) is one of the most exciting young rappers on the scene, cutting his teeth as the best MC third of the State of the Artist crew and now branching out on his own, a move that I believe will only further strengthen his rep.
In December over at my Seattle hip-hop blog I put together the obligatory Top 10 Seattle Hip-Hop Albums of 2011 list, my third attempt at such a task in as many years. The medal-winning positions were fairly easy to discern, but trying to put the bottom seven into order was the most difficult it’s been thus far. There’s no doubt in my mind that the proverbial cream is rising to the top in Seattle rap, but it’s also evident that there’s just more quality here than ever before. Too much, it will become apparent in 2012, for the town’s humble boundaries to hold.
Now here’s the part where I list a few things that I listened to and liked over the past week or so. See other blogs for identical tastemaking.
“Shady Love” – Scissor Sisters (featuring Krystal Pepsy, aka. Azealia Banks)
Basically a souped-up version of Banks’ triumph in crass, “212.” Except with different (and less exciting) vocals. Still, this is a spicy piece of ear candy.
Echoes Of Silence – The Weeknd
A horrible title for the best of The Weeknd’s Balloon trilogy. House of Balloons still owns my favorite Weeknd song thus far (“The Morning”) but on Echoes Abel Tesfaye goes all-in with his vocals and pop sensibilities for the first time since we met his deviant ass. “Montreal” confirms what millions of Americans already suspected: The eponymous city in Quebec is one hell of a cold place.
“Pretty Flacko” – ASAP Rocky (produced by Spaceghostpurrp)
I thought my Timex calculator watch alarm was going off for three and a half minutes. Turns out, it’s just part of the production on this ASAP Rocky track, “Pretty Flacko.” ASAP Mob teammate Spaceghostpurrp handles the beat and he makes it sound like the inside of a robot’s digestive tract (digesting said Timex). Rocky reminds us (yet again) of how pretty he is.