VIDEO: “Long Run” – Magik

Black Umbrella, musical home to Seattle movers and shakers Raz Simone and Sam Lachow, have recently been unveiling projects by other artists under their canopy. Producer-singer Kevin Lavitt will soon release his debut EP, Planets, and rapper-singer Magik holds court this week with his debut music video and single, “Long Run.” His face and voice will already be familiar to fans of Black Umbrella as he’s appeared in the videos “Action Figures” and “Good Reasons.”

“Long Run” is a concise, soulful statement of Magik’s musical goals with insight into a turbulent past and a hope for a brighter future. Co-produced with BU’s in-house maestro, Jake Crocker.

Audio / Video Video

THOUGHT BUBBLE: On Raz Simone’s “Macklemore & Chief Keef” Video

For a minute last year, Seattle became the center of the pop music universe based solely on the appeal of a pretty-good-for-hip-hop-karaoke indie smash hit. (Don’t worry Macklemore riders, I’m not forgetting the handful of Billboard sediment that got stirred up in the post-“Thrift Shop” tidal action. But I am saying the country wouldn’t know “Can’t Hold Us” in the same way if Mack hadn’t first rocked the faux tiger skin.)

Anyway…

The biggest irony of this unlikely shift in cultural orbit around the Upper Left was that even though the song in question was, in fact, a rap song, the city from which it emerged was never fully acknowledged as a “rap city.” Seattle as a bonafide center for hip-hop culture hasn’t been named as such in the Court of Public Rap Opinion. Of course we all know that’s unfair, especially if you’re a frequent reader of this blog, or, better yet, one of the many hard-working, nine-to-five wage-earners who also moonlights as a dope MC in the Town. Hip-hop grows wherever struggle lives, and that is to say everywhere. I know this, we know this. Blue Scholars, The Physics, Dyme Def, Thraxxhouse, and Moor Gang know this. But in a broader cultural context, half the battle in getting your town put on the hip-hop map is getting more than just a grip of outside observers to project that most nebulous of conditions upon you: Realness. Whatever that means.

Again, anyway…

In yet another corner of Seattle’s rap mini-verse stands Raz Simone. The Central District’s chief street reporter was busy in 2014 making moves with one of the most preeminent figures in rap music history. If you’re prone to making such subjective proclamations you could have said that, other than Macklemore, Raz was Seattle’s other “big story” in rap music in 2014. Since signing a creative partnership with 300 Entertainment Raz has been — in the parlance of our times — “on his grind,” touring with Strange Music’s Rittz and amassing a cadre of well-wishers, energetic collaborators and — very likely — straight dick-riders (hey, it comes with the territory). Raz’s “The Village” is equivalent to Macklemore’s Shark Face Gang, except that the latter’s import exists now only to stoke its fellow members’ enthusiasm for Mack. Shark Face Gang is the cult underwritten by Dr. Pepper. The Village, on the other hand, is still a natural resource. A resource that Raz himself knows is necessary should he wish to continue his ascent to music stardom.

Which brings us to Raz’s new video: “Macklemore & Chief Keef.” It’s true, Raz calls out Macklemore for not doing as much as he could to put his city on and that’s undoubtedly what internet commentators will obsess over. But Raz is savvy enough to know that charges of outright jilt are more complicated than that. He also knows that a particular contingent of folks in Seattle wish him to be the darker (pun intended) counterpoint to Macklemore — the real side of this 2-0-6 rap shit. (Again, whatever the hell that means.)

“My city thought I might part the sea open,” Raz proclaims here. But even a deal with Lyor Cohen and a national coast-to-coast tour hasn’t changed the fact that he’s “still in the field” in order to make ends meet. The further you get into this song, the more peripheral Raz’s displeasure with Macklemore becomes. There are grievances to be aired sure, but in the end it’s really only about what hip-hop’s political operatives have known all along: It’s the game, stupid.

Of course the greater lesson here is the natural attrition your creative vitality suffers as celebrity grows. The more number one hits Macklemore accrues, the more he becomes engulfed by the fake empire that his main collaborating partner preached about in a college art project. As celebrity grows, so too does the abstract nature of your persona. Jay Z, at this point in his career, is more of a story — an idea, really — than he is flesh and blood. Raz isn’t ignorant; he knows that’s how it works. My guess is that the venom he spits in “Macklemore & Chief Keef” is more a product of his frustrations over the reductive nature of ubiquity than the fact Macklemore might not be returning his phone calls.

In any case, the shit’s real, son.

Features Thought Bubble Video

AUDIO: Cognitive Dissonance: Part 2 – Raz Simone

Raz Simone - CDP2

You’ve probably seen Raz Simone lighting up this and other online outlets with his song drops over the course of the last ten weeks. It all culminated yesterday with the official free release of his Cognitive Dissonance: Part 2, the sequel to last year’s initial foray into a major label partnership with Lyor Cohen’s 300 Entertainment.

Taken in its entirety, CD2 makes for an even greater cinematic listening experience than its predecessor. Things sound a little bleaker this time around. The record finds Raz holding more folks at arms length, and he’s often acting out with impunity against enemies both real and perceived. Might this have something to do with hard lessons learned in the proverbial rap game?

Maybe; maybe not. As with hip-hop’s other great narrators, sometimes the most formidable enemy is the one encountered within, and Raz’s greatest asset as a writer remains his ability to remain brutally honest not only with his audience, but himself. His dedicated Black Umbrella family (that would be Sam Lachow, producer Jake Crocker, and a grip of other behind-the-scenes capos) is also on hand to provide backup.

Stream Cognitive Dissonance: Part 2 below, or grab the download here.

Audio Audio / Video

AUDIO: “The Lights” – Raz Simone (prod. by Raz & Jake Crocker)

Raz

The final episode (number 11 if you’re counting) in Raz Simone’s lead-up to the release of his Cognitive Dissonance: Part 2, is a quiet moment. “The Lights” reminds me of Wyclef Jean’s best ballads: half sung, half rapped, with a spiritual heaviness and weary resilience that conjures rap music’s mighty forebear, the blues.

Audio Audio / Video

THE SIX: Jake Crocker

Jake Crocker

206UP first met hip-hop producer Jake Crocker in February 2014 at a 300 Entertainment listening session for Raz Simone’s Cognitive Dissonance: Part 1. Jake was barely out of high school and about to embark on a bonafide real-world education with his close music partner, Raz. The classroom? The notoriously lecherous music industry.

By all accounts, Jake is an honor roll student, having survived a months-long tour in 2014 with Raz (whose team served as the opening act for Rittz’s OD Tour) and as an instrumental player in the roll-out to the hotly anticipated Cognitive Dissonance: Part 2, set to drop online for free tomorrow (Wednesday, 1/28). Jake again plays an integral part in the production of the new album, his dramatic musical backdrops lending emotional heft so vital to Raz’s confessional style.

Focused, dedicated and refreshingly earnest, Jake Crocker hopped on 206UP’s THE SIX to provide insight into his new life as a working creative.

Interviews The Six

AUDIO: “Shoes On” – Raz Simone (prod. by Raz & Jake Crocker)

Raz Simone - CDP2

Episode 10 in Raz Simone’s lead-up to his Cognitive Dissonance: Part II release (due Wednesday, January 28) is “Shoes On,” a banger that draws parallels between your nine-to-five office job and the grind of a hustler. The lesson here? There is no additional glory in the street life other than the false romantic notions that get attached to it. It’s one shoe at a time for all of us, Raz says.

Audio Audio / Video