Porter Ray quietly dropped this video for “Float” (off his BLK GLD LP of last year) back in April. PR’s flow is the aural equivalent of a perfectly meandering channel of water. Smoke one in a quiet forest and watch a stream eddy and progress by. You’ll see what I mean.
Today concludes 206UP’s Year End feature on the Best Seattle Hip Hop Albums of 2013. Below the jump you’ll find the blog’s Top 10 Albums of the Year (including a master list of all the albums considered at the very bottom of the post). Click on the album artwork or artist-titles for links to download or purchase.
Thanks so much for checking out the site! In 2014 there are some new features and — hopefully — big surprises to come, so keep visiting 206UP.COM throughout the New Year.
[THE SIX is a regular interview feature on 206UP.COM with a simple format: One member of the local hip hop community and six questions. For past editions click here.]
Porter Ray is shining on the strength of three stellar albums. His BLK GLD LP dropped mid-May and was followed by two EPs, WHT GLD and RSE GLD, in October. In partnership, they are the most exciting hip hop to originate from the Town this calendar year, and will undoubtedly find slots on all of the self-important blog year-end lists that populate the local internet from now until the annual turn. (And of course keep your browser tab tuned right here for just such an entry.)
Accolades are immaterial except for the most narcissistic among us, and Porter Ray is not Seattle’s answer to Kanye West. His raps are observational in tone, a little like Kendrick’s and a lot like Nasir’s. When he does stop to honor himself, it usually feels in passing, like his hustle is already rap’s oldest certainty and listeners should know this because they probably read about him in an ancient book — or blog — somewhere. In this way he reminds you of Shabazz Palaces: A brief flicker of genius that sparks up from the communal rap flame burning in perpetuity.
All this to say: Porter Ray’s shit is the new, but it already feels like a fable, son.
206UP: Local media and rap heads around the Town have been quick to place you in that ambiguous “alternative / indie hip hop” category. Does the segmenting of rappers into different sub-genres offend you, or do you welcome it?
Porter Ray: I welcome it. There are different styles of rap music, just as there are sub-genres of rock. We have classic rock, heavy metal, acid, punk, etc… The same principals apply to hip hop.
What’s your earliest Seattle hip hop memory?
Watching Sir Mix-A-Lot’s limo drive past 23rd and Jackson in the video for “Posse On Broadway”. The video for “Baby Got Back” was another one of my first memories of Seattle hip hop as well.
There seems to be a transition in sound from the BLK GLD album to the RSE GLD/WHT GLD EPs: Softer beats on BLK GLD to a bit harder on RSE/WHT. Was this a conscious decision or did it just come about organically?
The transition of sound from BLK GLD to RSE and WHT was definitely a conscious decision we made to try and elevate the music. At the same time, it is something that happened organically being that all of those albums were recorded in the same stretch of time. The music that we were creating, naturally developed into different sounds and vibes as we progressed as artists and began to find ourselves. We’re stepping it up another notch for my next project.
Describe a typical day in the life of Porter Ray these days.
A typical day for me consists of writing, recording, rehearsing and strategizing. I spend a lot of time searching for things to keep me inspired and fuel my creativity, whether its reading, searching for new music, or watching a film. In between all of this I usually have my son Aaron during the late afternoons and evenings. I’ll play him beats and rap to him, or we’ll hit the park and I’ll draw while he plays. After I drop off my seed [with] his mom I’ll link up with MFB or B Roc and hit the studio.
Your rhymes have a strong philosophical and observational quality to them. Would you describe yourself as more of a “watcher” or a “participator”, and why?
Both. I consider myself more of the “observer” as an emcee, however I feel that I’m the “observer” that somehow always ends up participating by proxy.
What’s the last great book you read?
About two weeks ago, Porter Ray released two new EPs titled WHT GLD and RSE GLD through his Bandcamp page. Town music writers in the know have been gushing about them since, and for good reason. Their mysterious appearance on the scene reminded me a little of early 2009, when two beautifully-adorned compact discs arrived in my New York City mailbox from a well-connected hip hop envoy in Seattle who I’ve still never met in person.
Of course Porter is already somewhat known around town on the strength of his previous effort, the BLK GLD LP, which you heard me gushing about back in May. At the moment, the 25 year-old Central District native is probably your favorite local rapper’s favorite rapper. Observant and perceptive beyond his years, Porter Ray reminds me of a young Ishmael Butler, which is probably a lazy comparison (and one that’s been made already), but fuck it, it’s apropos. Better yet, he’s the blunted nephew of Nas: a student of the street rap game with more ink in his pen and a busier mind than the majority of his peers.
It’s hard not to absorb WHT GLD and RSE GLD as a single, cohesive release (or, at the very least, the sides A and B follow-up to BLK GLD). And in that regard, it’s also similar to the Shabazz Palaces/Of Light dual CD from ’09. But where Ish treads deep into esoteric rhyme territory, Porter generally stays close to the ground, rapping visceral bars while maintaining a sharp, philosophical bravura. The beats here are harder and move with more purpose than those on BLK GLD, which makes for better riding music.
With more eyes on the Seattle rap scene than ever before, it’s the ideal time for artists not named Macklemore to come into their own. Styles here are as varied as the undersea life moving about in the Puget Sound, and Porter Ray’s is a rare species.
Porter Ray — along with other young Seattle luminaries like Brothers From Another, Raz, Kung Foo Grip, and Zar — represents the next hopeful generation of Town hip hop. This group of artists is singularly unique because, although they are decidedly children of the 21st century, their styles and hustles are rooted in rap’s grand heyday of the ’90s. Call this a carrying on of tradition; we should be overjoyed that the future of Seattle hip hop is in such precocious and capable hands.
Porter’s BLK GLD is just a warm-up, but on it the MC already sounds fully-formed. He is our region’s best answer to Kendrick and Chance: a freewheeling youth whose age is not wasted on a devil-may-care mentality. He’s aspirational without being feckless (“5 Mics”), violent without being nihilistic (“5950’s”), and sexual while not lacking eroticism (“Wet Dreams”). BLK GLD is gilded with Golden Era-style beats and Porter breathes raps. It’s all effortless but shines with conviction and craft. Something incredibly special is being forged here.