In the Fall of last year, emcee RA Scion adopted the new rap persona Victor Shade, named after a character from Marvel Comics’ The Avengers series. The reasons for the change seemed to be two-fold: 1) an intentional distancing from his well-established identity as the emcee half of Common Market, a group (unfortunately) on indefinite hiatus; and 2) a tribute to his late brother-in-law, a comic book aficionado who personally bestowed the Victor Shade identity upon RA. Hip-hop fans around Town already know the man, born Ryan Abeo, as a dramatic stage presence whose shows have veered into performance art territory. So it’s unsurprising that his new Victor Shade project would be accompanied by a dramatic and well-documented change in his rap alter-ego.

It’s a change that serves to blatantly announce his re-entry to the rap game sans his previous collaborator, DJ/producer Sabzi, a notable proposition not just because of how well-entrenched Common Market is in the local rap psyche, but because the two artists seemed like natural extensions of each other, a rare duality that many don’t find throughout an entire career. Well, in case you’re wondering, Common Market fans, there’s no need to fear as this new iteration, while certainly different sonically, is not an uncomfortable deviation from what you’re used to.

Common Market’s last major release, 2008’s Tobacco Road, was a sprawling exercise in conceptual hip-hop. It featured a few classic moments but ultimately was too long, its length consistent with what one would expect from RA Scion, a rapper with so much on his mind that his lyrics literally required hip-hop Cliff’s Notes (which he occasionally provided on his blog). CM’s self-titled debut, on the other hand, was of more manageable length and should now be considered a local rap classic. Like Blue Scholars’ first album, it perfectly replicated the mind-state of Seattle’s liberal populace: current but old-school; urban but organic; aggressive with its principles but…neighborly. Victor Shade finds a comfortable middle ground between the two CM albums. And, while the rapper in question might balk at any extensive comparison, the exposition is necessary because RA Scion, as he existed in Common Market, is our only point of reference.

A new producer means a new sound. Everett beat-maker MTK is responsible for all twelve tracks on Victor Shade. His style is notably more aggressive than Sabzi’s, which isn’t to say the CM composer didn’t bring out the natural battle-rhymer in RA. (As previously noted, theirs was a relationship based on mutual ability, essentially meeting each other halfway in their artistry.) If anything, RA seemed to bring out the battle-producer in Sabzi. MTK, on the other hand, brings a grenade to a knife fight, meeting Victor Shade at the gravel pit where he’s already most comfortable. With monitors drenched in gasoline and a lit match in hand, their fusion on wax is generally incendiary. For lack of a more elegant editorial: the sh*t totally f*cking knocks. MTK’s assailing production is a perfect vehicle for the natural go-hard tendencies of the rapper.

Yet, with a flow so conducive to battle-rhyming, it’s still impossible to overlook Victor Shade as a pure poet. The density of rhyme and structure is simultaneously his greatest strength and overarching flaw. Similar to Talib Kweli, it’s often hard to follow, understand, and digest what he’s saying. That seems like a petty and nearly useless criticism when considering most rappers don’t say sh*t, but it is what it is.

In Common Market, RA Scion was a poet for the proletarian class and Victor Shade keeps the same company here. Although this time he fancies himself as a bit of a hero for those folks, walking amongst them but not altogether of them. Subversive critiques of our social conditions are the rule of the day (“Bodega Politics”, “Boots”, and “Soothsayer”, for example). Victor Shade requires that you hear more than listen in order to get the picture. For some reason, that exercise is a challenge contemporary hip-hop heads struggle with, probably because we’re too busy breaking our necks to the beat when we should be taking notes (a symptom of the relatively new producer-as-celebrity corollary). The value in Victor Shade’s treatise can only be found in taking the time to listen. And, like RA Scion before him, he’ll probably only respect us if we accept the provocation.

The greatest compliment one might pay to Victor Shade/RA Scion, is that listening to his music is a totally holistic experience. The emotive effects from his well-suited production choices, combined with his aptitude for meaningful lyricism (often existing on some higher esoteric plane), create a multi-layered experience uncommon in most rap music. It’s easy to draw a straight line between Victor Shade and artists in the hip-hop family tree to whom he’s directly related. Those folks include the likes of KRS-One, Chuck D, and Dead Prez. And, similar to those rap brethren, listening to Victor Shade casually is like trying to read really good literature on a noisy metro bus: you can get a sense of what’s happening, but you can’t fully appreciate it until you take the time to deconstruct it. Like Common Market before him, Victor Shade demands his listeners be active. Passivity, ultimately, is for suckas when it comes to this brand of intellectual hip-hop.


  1. Thanks for reading, Garrett.

    I did think TR was too long for a single album. If CM had included the material on the Black Patch War EP, they could have stretched the length to a double CD or release, which (oddly) would have gone down smoother, for me. It’s still a solid album, though.

    Great job on the “Soothsayer” video, btw.

  2. nah. Not on twitter. Been checking their pages tho for updates haven’t seen anything. Thanks for the help. I’ll keep an eye out. Been looking forward to this for a while and now it’s out and I can’t get it! Ha. Nice write up, it only makes me more pumped.

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