The critical blogosphere loves diversity, doesn’t it? Actually, back up two paces.
The critical blogosphere loves talking about diversity, doesn’t it? And the only thing it loves more than that is talking about a lack of diversity. It loves all the hang-wringing associated with applying every last conceivable critical analysis to its pop culture artifacts until there is no single party left offended at the end of the exercise. The so-called “cultured” internet loves scrubbing down television, film and music until all of the prejudices and pre-conceived notions are polished to glisten at every discriminating angle the light touches. Visit any of the most popular news and culture sites for proof. The internet loves telling itself what is wrong with… Well, itself.
I do it all the time. 206UP’s most highly-trafficked post of the year was this piece on Macklemore I wrote during one particularly grumpy day in March. Culture critics are not impervious to falling through the looking glass even when the subject of debate is a hometown hero. Ken Griffey, Jr. used to strikeout on 3-2 counts with the bases loaded from time to time, and we cursed him (albeit secretly) under our breath for doing so.
All this to say, when your critical perspective is driven by the desire to see actual meaningful progress within music (to say nothing of major societal issues — racism, sexism, classicism, etc.) picking out all that is wrong from what might be an overarching right, can begin to feel like diminishing returns during those warm and fuzzy, honest moments. That’s how I feel sometimes about Macklemore’s music, and it’s especially how I feel about hip hop music in Seattle at the end of 2013.
Diversity was the name of the game during this city’s last annual cycle. Elements of hip hop were touched by more outside genre influences than ever before. That sounds like an obvious statement considering how music in general functions these days, but this is a Seattle blog and this is our own special microcosm. To wit:
- Two thousand and thirteen saw one of the Town’s most lyrical MCs release two vastly different albums: one full of hard-knock, battle-worn boom-bap, and one of left-field ambient experimentalism.
- Our city’s hardest rapper (okay, debatable) teamed up with one of its most party-oriented on tour and, some time in the process, created a visceral, emotionally devastating scythe of an EP.
- Three prominent members of the Seattle hip hop community joined forces like a disco ball-headed Voltron to create the most fun, escapist dance music the Town has heard this century.
- And of course you don’t have to listen far in the Six for hip hop’s most ubiquitous sounds: the concussive bass and rapid-fire, high-hat percussion of trap; and the hazy, double cup intonations of what we like to call “cloud rap”.
Of course there are many more examples of Seattle’s rangy hip hop production escapades to note and maybe I’ll get to some of those in 206UP’s Best-of 2013 list which begins today. And of course the biggest music story of the year concerns an artist whose material you won’t find in any of the links above, which was an intentional omission. 206UP is — as the body of this text suggests — celebrating Seattle’s diversity in sound, and the rise of Macklemore above the humble din of Town rap’s other goings-on isn’t of primary concern here. He and Ryan are making us proud, sure, but that pang of dissatisfaction you might be feeling is a symptom of the secret you and other devoted heads of the SEA are harboring: The one that says Seattle hip hop has much more to offer than just a trending topic of the moment. More, in fact, than maybe any other region in the country.
After the jump begins 206UP’s look at the Best Seattle Hip Hop Albums of 2013: Three honorable mentions today followed by the Top 10 tomorrow. Make sure to listen to all of them, as each is worthy of your attention. Most importantly, try listening with an open mind. The lesson, as always, is that the passing of another 365 days brings each of us closer to curmudgeonly critical behavior. Thank God, then, there is hip hop to keep us young.
Peace and prosper in the New Year,
Okay, before we get to it, some ground rules concerning this year’s list:
1. Anything with a release date between January 1 and December 28 was considered fair game. Tomorrow’s post will include a list of all the albums considered. If you see a glaring omission, 206UP wants to know about it; bring it to the editor’s attention in the Comments section!
2. This list values the album as a cohesive, singular element. In other words, extra points were awarded if an LP or EP (of at least five tracks in length) managed to establish a consistent sound and/or concept (in addition to just being dope as fuck, of course). The selection and sequencing of a collection of songs requires skillful artistry and 206UP appreciates that process.
3. Finally — and probably most controversial — only albums considered “Seattle hip hop” were up for consideration. What does this mean you ask? When in doubt, the following litmus test was applied:
Take the name of a given MC, producer, or group and insert that name into this sentence: “Seattle rapper, [blank], released one of the best albums of the year”. An example of a name that would pass this test: “Seattle rapper, Prometheus Brown, released one of the best albums of the year”. And a name that wouldn’t pass this test: “Seattle rapper, Rockwell Powers, released one of the best albums of the year”.
No self-respecting member of the Seattle hip hop community would call Rockwell a “Seattle rapper”, right? Right!
Okay, obviously this isn’t a perfect determinate but it holds up under the common sense sniff-test. Unfortunately it also means a lot of very good music was excluded, including Rockwell Powers’ own Build and ILLFIGHTYOU’s joyously rambunctious self-titled debut. If you’re mad about it, go start a 253UP blog. No, seriously, DO IT.
206UP.COM’s Best Seattle Hip Hop Albums of 2013: Honorable Mentions
Note: The three records below are 206UP’s designated Honorable Mentions. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are this year’s best 11 through 13 albums. Rather they’re a trio of worthy collections that absolutely deserve attention but didn’t manage crack the top tier of Seattle rap in 2013. Click album artwork for links to download or purchase.
At first listen Perry Porter resembles your favorite rapper from Marcy Projects. But upon closer inspection he has a self-deprecating, introspective style that better suits the Beats-adorned, Jansport-ed set. Porter’s Kings Only nods to the Jazz-infused boom-bap of the Golden Era with a refined lyrical style that places him among the best young Seattle rappers of the moment (Brothers From Another, Dave B, Kung Foo Grip, et al).
“Lipstick” – Perry Porter
Mega Evers makes sure his Chopper District perspective is set squarely in front of your face on his No Concept The Mixtape. At 15 tracks long and with a relentless production style that calls to mind Cash Money or No Limit in their heyday, some endurance is required for a straight-through listen. But Mega’s tales of hustling to make it in a neighborhood undergoing rapid changes can feel like hard-won redemption.
“True God Flow” – Mega Evers
You know the rap pot is boiling over with quality when an Oldominion supergroup’s record ends up in the Honorable Mentions category. Th3rdz is JFK, Candidt and Xperience, three dudes who’ve paid more than their fair share of dues in Seattle hip hop. Their debut collaboration as a group, This That & Th3rdz, is a party-focused, lyrically-acrobatic workout. Fun is the order of the day here: Witness the sweaty basement celebration in their video for “Rap Rap”, or the hilarious antics of the “Boobiewho” clip for a proper orientation of where this crew is coming from.
“Rap Rap” – Th3rdz