constellation

206UP IS DEAD

Yesterday afternoon, my wife, mother-in-law and I were in Venice, CA having an overpriced lunch at one of our favorite overpriced cafes in the sunny, scene-y gentrified Southern California beach community. About three weeks ago we spotted a distressingly schlubby Leonardo DiCaprio in the same cafe, fully equipped with aviators, stained white v-neck, dad cargos, and two blonde, barely-dressed supermodels. Afew months prior to Leo, we caught a casual Maeby Fünke placing an order at the same counter. This is our life in California now and though we’re certainly not of this world, we’re fully interlopers within it, and, perhaps embarrassingly, semi-charmed by it.

At this point, celebrity sighting in Venice, CA is so whatevs and as such I wasn’t surprised to see yet another famous person waiting in line behind us yesterday. But this time I was far more excited and, because of a deep yet impersonal relationship to said celebrity, was emboldened to say “Hello.”

Ishmael Butler, aka Ish, aka Butterfly, aka Palaceer Lazaro of Shabazz Palaces was, by far, the coolest man in line at Gjusta yesterday afternoon despite how other patrons attempted to present themselves. Vibing in the Sun as if descended from our star itself, and friendly to a disarming degree, Ish flattered the fuck out of me when he said — after I introduced myself and explained how 206UP was my website — “Oh yeah, I thought ‘Chul’ sounded familiar.”

And with that, I found my peace with ending 206UP.

This website began on a whim in July 2009 in New York City. Tired of writing about hunting down decent cups of coffee in Manhattan (remarkably the slow coffee movement hadn’t fully taken hold), and coming up with clever ways of journaling online about getting mugged (twice) without my parents freaking out, 206UP was the culmination of my affinity for hip-hop music, missing my Pacific Northwest home, and my obsession with “responsible” music criticism: That is, the place where objectivity in observing art and social justice issues intersects. Rap music, like very few other art forms, presents a great landscape for intellectualizing the fuck out of such matters.

To my mind, 206UP both achieved and failed spectacularly at its mission.

To wit: I’ve been a homer for Blue Scholars and an unfair critic of Macklemore, admitting to the rapper Bambu during a backstage interview at SOBs that I always felt like the Scholars were Griffey and Mack was A-Rod — only one of the former Seattle athletes was deserving of our undying love and respect. Macklemore used to follow me on Twitter but at some point he stopped. It’s probably egotistical of me to believe the unfollow came after one too many critical think pieces, but my small world allows me to subscribe to this. (Note: Blue Scholars still follow me.)

All that to say, objectivity is such a fleeting precept, impossible to possess in an unadulterated form, leading me to believe the goal with 206UP was never to find harmony in fairness, but merely to add my voice to the community. And as my writing becomes more engaged in other endeavors, I’m losing touch with that community and, most tellingly, finding myself okay with it.

A chance encounter with Ish in Venice represented 206UP’s full literary circle. In its seven years of existence, the website’s greatest claim to fame was getting a mention in a New York Times article of which the subject was, yes, Shabazz Palaces. I have no idea if Ish became aware of my name because of that article, or if someone within the Seattle hip-hop community hipped him to 206UP at some other point in time. For me, it doesn’t really matter. All that counts is that I was a familiar presence in his universe, as he has been in mine.

Views From the Peanut Gallery
Spekulation - Nine to Fives & Afterlives

AUDIO: Nine to Fives & Afterlives – Spekulation

Spekulation - Nine to Fives & Afterlives

Spekulation’s name is known outside of the Puget Sound region because of two giant claims-to-fame, both of which found the rapper/producer more getting caught up in the fractious waves of meme-ification created by social media than a surreptitious manipulation of those same channels for personal gain. The Bitter Barista and “Bout That Action” were tossed-off, this close to subconscious afterthoughts driven by boredom and absent-minded digital noodling. The other side to Spek’s creative coin is far more calculated.

His newly released album, Nine to Fives & Afterlives, is a cogent attempt to speak universally at a community level. To date, that hustle is working. Last week’s Block Party at The Station, which the rapper co-organized, functioned as both a peace-minded middle finger to a similarly-named annual music festival that has forsaken its community origins and a showcase for local artists that arguably deserve a bigger stage and a more prominent seat at the political table. Indeed the humble Block Party even got the biggest fish in City Hall to bite when Mayor Murray’s staff reached out in hopes of a photo-op. The Block Party team’s response was — fittingly — democratic, if not refreshing.

Nine to Fives & Afterlives is a companion piece to the Block Party at The Station and a professionally-crafted musical summary of Spek’s social viewpoints which are on constant, public display on his Facebook and Twitter feeds. The irony of Uncle Ike’s rise to (legal) weed prominence in the Central District gets dealt with on “Uncle Ike” (see, also: “Irony on 23rd,” Draze’s similar critique). The critical failures by our elected officials to take care of their most vulnerable constituents is lamented on “This Is America” (featuring vocalist Michelle Khazak). These songs are examples of where Spekulation’s head is at in most moments. It is not lost on him that the well-being of his community is endangered by the same society that would rather make him famous over a few passive-aggressive (although hilarious) barbs at difficult customers instead of more meaningful work that brings critical issues to light.

Catch Spekulation with guests The Bad Tenants, Sleep Steady, Travis Thompson, and DJ Absolute Madman, at the Nine to Fives & Afterlives album release party at Barboza tonight.

Audio Audio / Video
Sam Lachow - Young Seattle 4

VIDEO: “Young Seattle 4 ” – Sam Lachow (feat. B Skeez, Gifted Gab, Raz Simone, Dave B, Key Nyata, & Ariana DeBoo)

Words by Luke Wigren


As I turned the ripe old age of 27 this year, and later as I watched Sam Lachow’s recent video “Young Seattle 4,” I began to wonder to myself: What is “young.” Who has it? Is it a physical state or a media conspiracy designed to make us go to malls? And most perplexing of all: Where does all the old stuff go?

“Young Seattle 4,” the latest in a series which began in 2010, didn’t really answer my questions, but I did like it. The video is not “young” in the sense that we have become accustomed to seeing many of these artists around the Town, but “young” because they do all happen to be among Seattle’s emerging rap vanguard. They face the daunting challenge of taking on the mantle of what, on nearly every measure, was a stellar wave of Sea-town hip hop, from Macklemore’s world domination to the Blue Scholars’ soulful dissent. (“Old Seattle” anyone?)

As if creating art and growing up in the shadow of giants weren’t hard enough, “Young Seattle” is maneuvering the pitfalls of this generation’s age obsession where appealing to Tweens on Snapchat trumps musical ability, where we narrowly obsess over an annual Freshman Class by a print magazine desperately clinging to relevance, and where, well, every 5th rapper is “Young Something.”

The “Young Seattle” new wave promises to be no less stellar than its predecessors, and this video is wonderful for our busted attention spans, but remember a sampler platter does not a meal make. Do as the video was meant to inspire you to do, and dig into the vast trove of music these artists have crafted in such a short time.

Check out Sam Lachow’s latest album, Friends, Funk & Liquor, here.

Audio / Video Video
Paris Alexa - Cashitis at EMP Sound Off

VIDEO: “Cashitis” (Live at EMP Sound Off!) – Paris Alexa

Words by Luke Wigren


If you want to see where the sound of our city is headed look no further than the EMP Sound Off!, a renowned Northwest 21-and-under music competition now in its 15th year. Performances wrapped up back March and hip hop and R&B came out sitting on top. The final round gave the title and runner up to COSMOS and Paris Alexa, respectively, while Renton hip-hop outfit Dre’zy and Too Smoove received the audience favorite award. I enjoyed the funk-hiphop-futurism of COSMOS, but it was the song “Cashitis” by Paris Alexa, a 17 year old wunderkind, which stole the show with layered vocal melodies and clever lyricism, destined for radio or streaming success.

Town favorites Raz Simone, Dyme Def, Dave B, Scribes, Kung Foo Grip, and Sam Lachow have all shared the EMP Sky Church stage over the years and Sound Off! alums Sol, Brothers From Another, and Otieno Terry recently finished a nationwide tour together. With that kind of track record, make sure you follow the 2016 winners and catch them this summer performing at local music festivals, including Paris Alexa at Timber! Fest and COSMOS at Bumbershoot.

Lastly, if you had any doubt about the scene’s direction, with this year’s artists citing influences such as Thundercat, Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, A Tribe Called Quest, Robert Glasper and Erykah Badu, I think we can safely say the kids are alright.

Audio / Video Video
Draze - Irony on 23rd

VIDEO: “Irony on 23rd” – Draze (dir. by Atuanya Priester & Draze)

Words by Luke Wigren


The most time I’ve spent on 23rd & Union is waiting for the metro, so, for me, Draze’s song “Irony on 23rd” is a window into the heart of Seattle’s historically black neighborhood, and into the pain of seeing that heart gouged out by gentrification.

The song focuses on the hypocrisy of Seattle officials, who have allowed white-owned Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop to bypass state regulations and operate near a youth center, while just four years ago police were arresting African Americans selling marijuana at that very corner under the auspices of our nation’s “War on Drugs.”

Sure, it’s all legal. But when City Hall “revitalization” plans kill longtime African American businesses, and when the same Seattle Police Department who disproportionately prosecutes blacks for smoking marijuana then barricades a white-owned pot shop during a protest on 420, it does strike as a bit ironic.

Then again, there is perhaps nothing ironic about any of the events described in Draze’s song. They demonstrate, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, “our system working as intended,” that is, working in the interest of wealthy whites at the expense of poor minorities. With how unevenly laws apply in America, the fact that we call ours a justice system may be irony in the truest sense of the word.

So, with all that in mind, maybe its time we stop confusing legality with justice and begin calling the “Irony on 23rd” for what it really is: systematic racism. Of course that wouldn’t be quite as good a song title.

Thanks to Spekulation, without whose mic pass I might not have heard “Irony on 23rd,” and, of course thank you Draze for having the insight in the first place. We need more of this. Check out the rapper’s recent Seattle’s Own mixtape, here.

 

Audio / Video Video
FFU - The Ffunk

AUDIO: THE FFUNK – Filthy Fingers United

FFU - The Ffunk

Words by Luke Wigren


When you see a song title like “Funky Blumpkin” you might not know what to expect. Yet the new Filthy Fingers release The FFUNK gets off to a grand start with Seattle MC Dex Amora delivering a breezy verse, setting the tone for the project as a whole. Together, the artists of FFUNK weave a rich sonic tapestry as eclectic as it is poignant. My personal favorite is the short sweet OK-produced track “NO LIMITATIONS.” Another by producer Able Fader, “With Respect to the Funk Fathers,” adds cohesion as he contemplates his place in funk history, geographically speaking. It’s a moment of pause for the project and a welcome point of beat-self-reflection at a time when producers are far too often faceless.

Filthy Fingers — a massive, widespread collective of producers, DJs, and beatmakers — whose bio reads more like a manifesto, not only promises an exciting future for its associated talents but it feels about time Seattle had something comparable to LA’s longtime musical incubator Low End Theory (which helped set the stage for Nosaj Thing, Flying Lotus, and The Gaslamp Killer) and the more recent LA-based label/podcast, Soulection (home to Seattle’s prodigal son Sango). Why, after Jake One, Ryan Lewis, Vitamin D and Sabzi, should town producers have to look outside the scene for recognition?

What’s truly amazing is that the 24-track FFUNK project, with artists hailing from as far as Florida and San Diego, is merely one monthly tape in a growing canon. (I’m already behind!) And, yes, if you were wondering, despite initial reservations, the song “Funky Blumpkin” is much better than it sounds.

Download this record. Put it on your phone and join the sonic kingdom of Filthy Fingers. Also, make sure you do your civic duty and like them on facebook to keep in the know, especially since a number of these guys are Seattlites and you can catch upcoming shows/dance parties.

PS. If you’re a beatmaker and you like what they’re giving, I’d strongly suggest getting on board. And if you’re a rapper, well, you know the drill…

Audio Audio / Video
Specswizard

AUDIO: The Golden Eagle EP – Specswizard

Specswizard- Golden Eagle EP

Words by Luke Wigren.


Longevity seems to be the elusive variable in rap these days. Staying power? Do not go there! I warn you… You will run out of fingers for the fallen. Luckily, we have artists like SPECSWIZARD, a Seattle veteran “rhyming since Reagonomics,” who is still crafting soul-stirring music more than three decades after he began.

The Golden Eagle EP‘s lyricism has the same playful world weariness which attracts me to the greatest verses of Shabazz Palace’s emcee, Ish. This is not surprising being that both started around the same time. In just the turn of a few lines, SPECS can brush off rap’s passing fads, while conveying an undying love for the culture and labor of hip-hop, all while avoiding condescension.

To savor a line from SPECSWIZARD means to reflect on just how many waves of rap music have risen and crashed. A song like “Shy” illustrates how lucky we are to have a scene mature enough to carry this type of inter-generational dialogue. Plus, his cartoon-ish stylings and idiosyncratic beat choices don’t hurt for those who like MF Doom or Flying Lotus.

As hip-hop enters its forties, the greatest triumph of all may not be in pursuing fame or fortune — something I hope should be fairly obvious — but in continuing to inspire the next generation, while magically and somehow impossibly staying under the radar. Shabazz Palaces does this by fabricating their own anonymity. Meanwhile, as his final track exclaims, SPECWIZARD seems to have done it by discovering “how to make himself invisible.”

Audio Audio / Video
Kublakai - Mixed Messages

VIDEO: “Mixed Messages” – Kublakai (feat. Malice & Mario Sweet)

[Editor’s note: 206UP is happy to welcome the voice and perspective of Luke Wigren, a new contributing writer and collaborator. This is his first piece for 206UP. You’ll be able to find all of Luke’s writings at this location. And check out one of his many artistic labors-of-love, Lakehouse Ent., at that crew’s new website, here.]


Kublakai - Origin Story

For anyone who keeps up with Seattle hip-hop it is hard not to admire its multi-ethnic character. In this city, Filipino, Persian, Irish, and East African MCs and DJs form a sort of hip-hop utopia, a slice of “Planet Rock” envisioned four decades ago by Afrika Bambaataa and the Universal Zulu Nation.

Kublakai’s newest song “Mixed Messages,” with Malice and Mario Sweet furthers this dialogue with lyrics and a photo scrapbook of young Kubi embracing his own multiple heritages. The video features a photo of his white mother and black father.

On the surface, “Mixed Messages” is about growing up biracial and self-acceptance in a world constantly forcing us to categorize and choose sides. It is anthemic and hopeful and, much like Seattle’s hip-hop scene, it seems ahead of the curve in its reflections on race.

However, lately, the on the ground reality tends to feel somewhat different. With the ongoing demolition of Yesler Terrace, America’s first integrated public housing development, as well as increased scrutiny on race relations in the hip-hop scene — brought in part by Macklemore’s meteoric rise to fame — Seattle’s “post-race” utopia, a tenuous dream to begin with, looks to be coming apart at the seams.

Raz Simone’s “Same Problems,” highlights this rift, alerting us to a polarity — and yes privilege — among categorized Seattle hip-hop which tends to reward non-black rappers in our very white city. By mentioning Sol and Porter Ray, Raz’s song also suggests such privilege may extend to our city’s artists of mixed African descent as well.

For Kublakai, whose new album is titled Origin Story, a song like “Mixed Messages” may not alleviate criticisms of white or mixed-race privilege, but it will help convey his unique experience with race during upbringing. By placing race in the foreground, it will certainly complicate binary racial distinctions which are, and have always been, misleading.

The fact that Kublakai’s song adds to a growing number of Seattle artists candidly addressing their own mixed race, artists like Gabriel Teodros (“Alien Native”), Sol (“See The End”), and BenadriLL (“Light Skin”), is a good sign. Such songs, when done right, can be far more than badges of belonging and/or dissociation with any one racial group.

How well they address Seattle’s current racial tension, helping the listener interrogate the ways in which race impacts their daily life, preferences, and self-identity, is for you to decide.

Audio / Video Video
Click image to download the track.

AUDIO: The Headspace Traveler – Sol

Sol - The Headspace Traveler

Geared toward the headphone set and those with a tendency to turn inward rather than out when confronted with life’s challenges, The Headspace Traveler finds Sol untangling recent personal conflicts, particularly in the romance department. He’s still set on remaining positive (“Ain’t Gon’ Stop”) and takes up words as arms against those who criticize that ethos (“See The End” featuring vocalist Otieno Terry). The Headspace Traveler doesn’t please on the superficial level the way Sol’s past releases have (Eyes Open, Yours Truly), but it effectively paints the picture of an artist at somewhat of a crossroads. Creative and personal lines are dissolved here and raw emotion is laid refreshingly bare.

Audio Audio / Video
M&RL

AUDIO: This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

M&RL - TUMIM

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made should definitely win the (mythical) Grammy for Most Aptly-Titled Rap Album.

Next year for that, though.

For now, tiptoe with the greatest of care through the online landscape lest your kicks become soiled with the mess of “White Privilege II” think pieces and — soon to come — album reviews of TUMIM.

Full disclosure: I haven’t listened to the thing in its entirety yet so I’ve no authority on making any sort of grand statement about the record. Suffice to say I was underwhelmed by the aforementioned “WPII” — it’s never interesting to watch or listen to white people struggle through their privilege, least of all when the catalyst for the testimony appears to be outside criticism and internalized guilt. It is possible for a pop artist to make a thoughtful, effective song about something as abominable as white supremacy that falls under four minutes and qualifies aesthetically for radio play. When it comes to provocation, I’ll take sneaky subversion over cheap scholarship six days a week and twice on Sundays. Our most interesting pop stars of the day pull it off with ease. Macklemore is not one of them.

He is, however, a capable rapper who, when relying on his natural humor and charm, can make truly fun songs. “Thrift Shop” previously, and “Buckshot” — featuring eyebrow raising guest appearances by DJ Premier and KRS One — here. Mack and RL are best when they stick to that formula.

One of my resolutions for the still relatively new year, is to try to reserve judgement against Ben Haggerty the human being; polarized energy is the last thing we need in our already overheated political environment. Instead, judgement should fall with impunity against a world that causes us to need to have these conversations. To be forced into a reckoning by a societal landscape in which the existence of a middling song like “White Privilege II” actually makes for a better place, is a much greater atrocity than seeing mediocre pop music dominate your Twitter feed.

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