206UP.COM’s Top 10 Seattle Hip-Hop Albums of 2011 concludes today with the list below, the blog’s five favorite local releases of the year. I hope you enjoyed the list and that it generates an active response in your brain — that’s really the sole reason we do these year-end list things, anyway. Everything is up for conjecture. If you have something to say, I want to hear it — the Comments section is there for you to use. As before, links to download or purchase are included, just click on the album covers.
5. The Good Sin & 10.4 Rog – Late
Producer 10.4 Rog’s beatific sense of rhythm and electronic adornments made for the perfect counterpoint to The Good Sin’s grounded, low-pitched raps on getting by financially and romantically when success with both endeavors seems fleeting. I recall downloading this free album right around the time Odd Future’s proverbial cream was rising to the top and, upon listening, was happy to experience a different type of hip-hop escape: Finding a relatable and comfortable space of existence between Rog’s airy atmospherics and Sinseer’s lyrics on the everyday struggle. For most listeners in Seattle, this was a formal introduction to both producer and MC. Late set an incredibly high standard for these promising young artists whose stars are still rising.
4. Khingz – Liberation of the Monster
A relocation to Vancouver, BC has not changed the allegiance or focus in subject matter of the South End’s most self-aware rapper, Khingz. Liberation of the Monster was the best collection of tracks the MC has released since 2009’s remarkable From Slaveships to Spaceships. Canadian producer Rel!g!on was responsible for all of the beats, a Pacific Northwest re-working of the SoCal gangsta aesthetic found on 1990s albums like Dogg Food. While Khingz may forever associate himself with that style of rap nostalgically (like many us who came-of-age in the 90s), he’s decidedly more responsible and progressive in his rhymes. His course is set on a better future, a destination borne from a dubious past. On tracks like “Monster’s Lib” and “Hard to Say,” the MC is so diffuse in his rhyming it’s hard to keep up with the words. You would be too if you had the rare combination of artistic acumen and social enlightenment of this rapper.
3. Blue Scholars – Cinemetropolis
Even Shabazz Palaces’ debut LP Black Up didn’t ignite the local hip-hop landscape initially the way Blue Scholars did with their third full-length album, Cinemetropolis. Behind the strength of a Kickstarter campaign that generated a pre-album release $62,000 in donations in six weeks and a subsequent 33-date national headlining tour, Geo and Sabzi remained Seattle rap’s sentimental favorite (until the next Macklemore drops, anyway).
Producer Sabzi developed a new sound for the group: A bass-heavy mix of heady synth and tropical rhythms. And MC Geo wove his love for cinema and social justice into conceptual lyrics that succeeded in entertaining and provoking thought. As the members of Blue Scholars age, it seems like their fans are getting younger, which bodes well for the future. If the youth are independently choosing to support acts like this, then maybe there is hope for the coming generation.
2. The Physics – Love is a Business
A giant leap forward for Seattle hip-hop (and R&B for that matter). The Physics’ Love is a Business was the long-awaited follow-up to the group’s first LP, Future Talk, a record that held many promises for those heads still living in rap’s Golden Era. Love is a Business did have much in common with its predecessor, but also moved beyond with a wholly-conceived sound that was more soulful and refined thanks especially to don’t-call-them-back-up singers, Malice and Mario Sweet.
LIAB represents Seattle hip-hop in its most fully-grown incarnation. Thig Natural, Monk Wordsmith and Justo placed themselves contextually in that realm of maturity where one is still young enough to enjoy a Tuesday night jump-off encounter, but not without a hint of regret at having to face the coming work day on little to no sleep. In these mens’ lives, the intersection of their art, professional careers and romantic engagements are inseparable, each one informs the other. If there’s any justice in the musical universe someday The Physics will make beats and rhymes for a living, and this album’s description of their current existence will serve as a fond reminder to them of when life was a little less charmed.
1. Shabazz Palaces – Black Up
At this moment in time, it’s impossible to place Black Up into appropriate hip-hop context. But that’s because (and any theoretical physicist will tell you this) time itself is merely an illusion. Similar to the career of Shabazz Palaces’ primary motivating force, Palaceer Lazaro (earthly name: Ishmael Butler), the sounds on Black Up ascend to the stratosphere, only to dissipate and fall invisibly to the terra firma where the music is reformed into new lyrical notions and sonic movements. The sounds here are transient, but everything in Butler’s past seems to have been pointing to this moment.
If you had to pinpoint an origin for Black Up, you would say its spirit is rooted most firmly in Africa. The Palaceer’s words stay tethered to a motherland but course off in many directions, just like peoples disseminated (by choice and by force) across the globe. As I type this, Shabazz Palaces is spreading its ethereal sound across parts of Europe, and will likely move beyond that continent. How fortunate we are in Seattle then, to be able to call our city SP’s corporeal home. I don’t think many people in The Town realized a spirit like Shabazz’s existed in their midst. Seattleites (and the world), take note: If that’s cream you’re putting in your coffee — don’t. Better to drink the elixir Black.