Score: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Telling Seattle rappers they’re not making an honest attempt at gaining visibility outside of their area code is a fairly common accusation nowadays. Truth be told, there’s a lot of Big Fish in Small Pond syndrome being passed around — that every MC comes through to every other MC’s video shoot is both the charming and tedious nature of the Seattle hip-hop community. The Six is a quaint environment in which to exist as a musician, but I would imagine the socked-in loom of the Pacific Northwest winter becomes the perfect metaphor for a restless MC feeling particularly confined to his or her own insular bounds of the region.
Gabriel Teodros’ new LP, Colored People’s Time Machine, serves as a direct affront to the notion that Seattle rap has yet to grow beyond its geographic margins. It’s a stark (albeit humble) answer to local music writers who’ve posited the conceit, as well as an inspiration of sorts to fellow artists who want to stretch their own boundaries, though not in the fashion that results in rap’s standard measures of fame and largesse.
Corporate capital has never been Teodros’ main pursuit, anyway. It’s more appropriate to call his hustle one for identity scratch, but not the type that wins you admission to clubs or free custom-made clothes. More like the kind that enriches your soul and the various communities you associate yourself with. You know, fairly inconsequential stuff. CPTM cuts the broadest cultural swath of any area rap record in recent memory, featuring guest appearances by artists rhyming and singing in their native languages (including English, Spanish, Arabic, and Tagalog). Recently an obsession with interplanetary commutation has infiltrated Seattle rap subject matter, but on this album Teodros favors good old-fashioned terrestrial navigation.
The central theme on CPTM is home. Many of the album’s tracks serve to extrapolate the concept, beginning with its definition as a specific physical location and extending outward to include less concrete ideas. Though Gabriel reps strongly for the Pacific Northwest, “Alien Native” describes a regional upbringing in which a sense of belonging was never fortified. He documents physical and spiritual movements through other US cities (Las Vegas on “Babylon by Bus” and Brooklyn on “Saturn’s Return”) and other countries like Canada and Ethiopia, that served to define his identity. Teodros grapples with the same paradox that many other people of color in America do: That one’s birthplace here does not, by default, represent one’s cultural center.
He and his brethren essentially remain strangers in a strange land, relying on serendipitous collisions with others who share similar experiences to assist in a perpetual search for belonging. Colored People’s Time Machine is the fortunate product of happenstance and focused directive from an MC that values his community, wherever it may be found.