This is likely to be the blog’s final post before the long Independence Day weekend. My company “floats” an annual day off between the various nationally recognized respites, and this year it just happens to fall on the Friday between the 4th and the impending weekend. So, while a grip of you dear readers will inevitably be following up your barbecues and hot late night sparkler action by donning dress slacks and making change for glib-ass customers, I will (hopefully) be doing like The Physics are doing in their new clip for “Take a Win” — living the easy life. One.
Catch The Physics in the lab (no, really, Justo in an actual laboratory) and on stage in this dope mini-doc by directors Avi Loud and Robin Park.
Two mini-doc featurettes starring The Physics a group that, in my estimation, is making the best hip-hop in Seattle at the moment. The clip above is from Sol’s recent going-away show at The Showbox. And the one below documents the crew as they pack up their old studio at the OK Hotel and move to an “undisclosed location” in SoDo.[vimeo 43881384]
I had the great fortune of sitting down with Thig Nat and Justo for a few minutes last November in New York City. If you missed that click here to catch up.
Grynch, Thig Nat and Monk Wordsmith slip quietly out the backdoor after one of those regrettable nights. Justo’s stutter-y beat aids in their shameful getaway.
(All photos are courtesy of Eleazar F. Teodoro, who was kind enough to allow me to post. Please check out his Flickr page, here.)
Two Friday nights ago at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, a Seattle hip-hop lovefest went down. It was the final night of the Blue Scholars’ Cinemetropolis tour, the ninth day in a row of performances for road warriors Geo and Sabzi. Similar to the previous time they performed at this venue, there was a capacity crowd in attendance, at least half of which was made up of Seattle ex-pats like me, eager to turn the Lower East Side concert site into Manhattan’s own version of The Showbox (which it kind of is, anyway).
True to form, the duo put on a great set. They’ve developed and honed a live act that is second to none for Seattle hip-hop artists and, more importantly, on the strength of their personalities and music manage to capture the affinities of concert-goers not previously familiar with their material. I should know, I keep dragging my New York friends out to these shows and they invariably walk away shaking their heads at how good this Seattle rap sh-t is.
For me, though, the evening was all about seeing the Scholars’ supporting cast. Los Angeles underground rap soldier Bambu was the main guest star on the Cinemetropolis tour. Bam is a kindred spirit to the Blue Scholars’ ethos, an artist with much more on his mind than the music. Political ideals without forward momentum toward change may as well be inaction for these two acts whose social justice agenda plays at the forefront of their music. Consider also the numerous artistic collaborations over the years between Bam, Geo and Sabzi, and the team-up seemed even more like a natural occurrence.
Over the course of the 33 date tour, Team Scholars also invited various other guests with Pacific Northwest roots to the stage. At Bowery, Focused Noise’s recently NYC-relocated DJ Gen.Erik handled deck duties. Also in town were Grynch and Sol who played short sets.
And arriving in New York that very morning was The Physics crew (albeit one Monk Wordsmith short) who were there to rock for the very first time in the city. While Bambu gave the most riveting performance of the night, and Blue Scholars were clearly the seasoned veterans, it was Thig Natural, Justo, and Malice and Mario Sweet of The Physics, who had the most raw impact on the crowd. The quintet breezed through the title track from their outstanding sophomore album Love is a Business, took a musical trip south down the west edge of Lake Washington with “Coronas on Madrona,” and got all reminiscent on “Back Track” (where, it should be noted, Justo held down Language Arts’ verse with a lyrical dexterity not typically displayed by the group’s in-house producer). The Physics’ stage presentation was polished and professional. If they were nervous, it didn’t show. Before the group went on, I asked a preternaturally calm Thig Nat what they were going to do without his brother and fellow lyricist, Monk. “We’ll be okay. We’ll figure something out,” he said, cool as a Northwest Fall day.
The Physics were also the only SEA crew to specifically connect Seattle’s hip-hop roots to the very city that birthed the movement. Craig G, member of Marly Marl’s legendary Juice Crew, made a special appearance to spit his guest sixteen from The Physics’ new single, “The Recipe.” Craig explained briefly how he first became aware of this group from the Northwest corner of the map: a lady friend played some of their music for him one day and he commented to her on how “hard” it sounded.
Craig G’s presence felt like a real validation for this current generation of Seattle rap, a very small but significant piece of history for The Physics to take home with them as a reminder of how hip-hop succeeds in making this country (and the world) feel like a smaller place. The group finished off their set by re-introducing themselves by way of “Ready for We,” the “P-H-Y-S-I-C-S” refrain taking hold of the majority of the crowd. The Physics did exactly what they were supposed to do as opening acts: engage the audience and prime it for the headliners. Personally, I would have been fine if they’d stayed on for the rest of the night.
I’d been meaning to try and link up with The Physics since Love is a Business dropped, so when I received confirmation from Thig a few weeks back that they were indeed in the Bowery lineup, I asked him for an interview. He and Justo were gracious enough to abide. We met up downstairs in the bar about 30 minutes before wheels up.
When did you start working on Love is a Business? How long did it take start to finish?
Thig: We’ve been working on this album for like the last three years.
Justo: It was kind of an intermittent effort. Some of the songs are older than others, like a year and a half, two years old. And then toward the end, right when we were getting ready to release it, we recorded five songs within two months that [all] made it on the album.
What was the first song you completed for LIAB?
Justo: Probably “Coronas on Madrona.” [To Thig] Didn’t you write that in like 2008?
Thig: “Coronas on Madrona” I actually wrote in college.
Justo: That was like 2003 or 2004.
I’ve noticed that your musical output is much lighter compared to other Seattle acts. Do you guys intentionally curate the music you release more intensely?
Justo: We definitely try to be selective with what we put out. We believe quality is the most important thing in our music. And being that we have limited time, that results in us [releasing less]. We have really busy personal lives, so we don’t get in [the studio] as much as we’d like to. Hopefully that will change if we can get to the point where we just do music. That’s our goal, and then we can release more stuff. We’ve actually been recording a lot lately so the next project should come out fairly soon.
And what’s that project?
Thig: We’ve got two projects coming up. One is called Digital Wildlife. It’s more of an experimental project mixing together hip-hop, R&B and electro. We released a song earlier this year called “Fix You” that is in the vein of Digital Wildlife. We’re still working on that, we want to perfect it and make sure that it’s dope before we release it. And we’re also working on the next full-length hip-hop project which we’re going to release this summer. We definitely recognize the need to give people what they want more frequently so we’ll definitely do [more music] on a yearly basis.
With Digital Wildlife, did that concept come about because of all the current mashing-up of genres going on in music these days?
Thig: I feel like it was organic. When we’re in the studio, you know, we vibe out to beats. And certain beats make you wanna sing as opposed to rap. So we have a lot of songs that are sort of like that. We decided to put them together as one cohesive project.
You guys referenced your nine-to-five jobs. Love is a Business deals heavily in very relatable, everyday issues like relationships and work. How would you say your nine-to-five hustles inform your musical lives and vice versa?
Justo: We’ve been a group since like ‘97, and we didn’t release stuff to the public but we were always making music. It’s always had that personal touch, where we drew off our personal lives and spoke about that in the music. And now that we have these full time careers it’s just natural that we inject that into the music. We don’t play characters in this, we play ourselves and that’s what we’re doing. If we were just doing music for a living, the content [would] change.
How is Love is a Business being received outside of Seattle?
Thig: It’s been received really well. We’ve been going on this tour with Blue Scholars and people are really feeling the music. Even the more Seattle-centric songs. A couple people came up to me at the San Diego show and were like, “Man I was really feeling that song, it almost makes me wanna be from Seattle.” So I think people appreciate the love that we have for our town. And we’ve also been getting a lot of hits and purchases from around the world, like Germany, Africa, France, and other parts of Europe.
I think Love is a Business is a fully-conceived, mature album. It sounds like a record that a group might make three or four albums deep into their career. Thinking about where you guys are at in your lives, I think if and when The Physics blow up, it will be in a different way than a lot of these younger acts currently doing it, and it will be to a different type of audience. Does that sound accurate? Could you guys see yourselves somehow having to compromise your artistry for greater success?
Justo: We’re definitely gonna evolve. We’re always trying to get better and try different things. Hopefully we’re all gonna grow together and the people who listened to the same stuff we grew up listening to will be looking for new stuff. We’re from that era when downloading wasn’t as popular as it is with the current generation. Hopefully we can gain that crowd. As far as Love is a Business being a planned-out thing, we came up with the title [of the album] before we did like ninety percent of the songs on there. Especially with Thig and his content matter, he was trying to weave in different themes that had to do with love and business and how they interact.
How did the Phonte collaboration come about?
Thig: We opened for Little Brother in 2008. After the show we exchanged contact info and kept in touch over time. We hollered at him for LIAB and just made it happen.
Justo: I literally put his verse to about 25 different beats, so it went through its own evolution. As soon as we found the [final] beat, Thig wrote his verse.
Last question: What’s the last non-Seattle hip-hop album you’ve listened to, start to finish?
Justo: Big K.R.I.T.’s last mixtape, Last King 2.
Thig: I just listened to the new Drake album, but I definitely skipped a couple songs on there. Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 was actually the last one I listened to.
The Physics’ long-awaited second LP, Love is a Business, is that rare collection of music that isn’t even a week old but already feels comfortably familiar. It’s a lot like that well-worn paperback copy of your favorite novel you stuff into your carry-on before every vacation; or one of the few remaining CD’s you’ve chosen to leave displayed on your bookshelf, a tangible reminder of how carefully we used to curate the music that meant something to us, standing in defiant opposition to the daily haphazard sprawl of un-zipped files littering our computer desktops. Love is a Business is, at the risk of sounding jadedly cantankerous, a throwback to when hip-hop mattered. The fact that the online method of this album’s delivery won’t vary from every other release today is not a lost irony. Still, this is a record that feels like it should first be held in your hands, read over carefully with your eyes, and then discovered with your ears, song-by-song, in the comfort of your ride or living room. You know, the way discerning heads used to distinguish the hip-hop that mattered most.
Given The Physics’ deliberate musical track record, this isn’t a surprising notion. The trio of producer (and sometime MC) Just D’Amato, and MC’s Thig Natural and Monk Wordsmith run a musical storehouse much like the celebrated local micro-brews referenced in their lyrics. Since the group’s 2007 debut album, Future Talk, their goal has always been to develop artisanal rap for well-paletted listeners using carefully concocted musical recipes with no disposable ingredients. That promise of quality was realized in subsequent EP releases, 2009’s High Society and last year’s Three Piece. Love is a Business is a further distillation and refinement of The Physics’ formula that relies heavily on layered compositions and soulful R&B progressions. It’s a richer listening experience than that of the crew’s past work, with subtle nuances and off-beat affections that suggest an act at the height of its maturity and creative zenith.
The first thing to note about LIAB’s vibe is how every one of its 13 tracks is given greater significance within the context of the album as a whole, a characteristic the majority of contemporary hip-hop records sadly lack. The first two songs on the album (the title track and “These Moments”) are exercises in quiet restraint. They lack hip-hop’s standard propulsive rhythms and instead rely on richly-layered vocal textures and interspersed live instrumentation to provide distinction and balance to Business’ wide spectrum of flavors. Even “Coronas on Madrona,” one third of last year’s brief Three Piece EP (and perhaps the best Seattle hip-hop track of 2010), seems more fully realized within the confines of LIAB. That’s not to say the album doesn’t feature tracks that can’t stand on their own. The best of these is the Native Tongues-channeling, “Cheers,” where Justo executes a familiar dusty knock and easy bass groove with enough skillful tribute to stand up to even the most stubborn Golden Era revivalist’s skeptical ears. Similarly, album closer “Babble” demands its own attention with commanding horn blasts and an industry-affirming cameo from Phonte (of Little Brother and The Foreign Exchange). Both are excellent examples of hip-hop song making at its finest, but, unlike these tracks, most of the album’s other components would have difficulty existing independently of the whole. That’s meant as a compliment rather than a knock. LIAB is a linear, holistic listening experience, not something that can be broken down easily into separate elements.
Obvious attention was paid to the high grade production value of this record, but as any head will tell you, a hip-hop album ultimately travels only as far as its lyricism will allow. “Love” is in the title of this album and Thig Natural and Monk Wordsmith make sure it remains a prevalent theme throughout, giving careful consideration to what the love of their musical hustle means in relation to daily lives consisting of nine-to-five grinds and romantic matters of the heart. The slow roll of “Red Eye” is a familiar story of a lovesick traveler looking forward to coming home to the physical comforts of his woman. It’s a sophisticated outlook on domestic love that portrays a mature monogamy refreshingly devoid of pretense or prudishness. On the other hand, the playful bounce of “Clubhouse” is less about the strictures of commitment and more about f*cking for the sake of f*cking. The lesson here is that both types of relationships have their time and place, but careful regard for the consequences of each is not a mutually exclusive act from engaging in either.
The other important lady in the life of this crew is the physical environment responsible for nurturing the trio since childhood. Namely, the group’s home base of Seattle, Washington. There’s a deep love and necessity for their town that goes beyond a simple regard for a few favorite local restaurants and coffee shops. Tracks named for actual locations in the city (“Seward Park,” “Coronas on Madrona”) give the impression that this album couldn’t have been made without the influence of the group’s native area code. Thig Nat’s easygoing, composed flow is derived straight from a definitive West Coast nonchalance, especially of the type found in the Pacific Northwest. On “Cheers” Monk Wordsmith recounts an interaction with people from another city who wonder aloud if there are black folks in Seattle. Indeed there are, and Monk shows he is one of many highly skilled underground rappers with a hustle steeped in the city’s rich, albeit lesser-known, hip-hop tradition. Love is a Business is an important entry into that heritage, an album that should be cataloged and archived as a moment when Seattle rap officially entered adulthood.
Something tells me the sounds on Digital Wildlife, the upcoming project by The Physics, will come as an unexpected surprise to fans of the crew acclimated to the previous Golden Era heritage rap of Future Talk and High Society. The stutter-step, electro-soul/rock bounce of “Fix You” is slightly reminiscent of TV On The Radio’s perfectly well-honed dissonance. Featuring playful vocals by Thig Nat, or Monk Wordsmith, or both (it’s hard to tell) and Kelsey Bulkin (of Made In Heights), this track is unexpectedly addictive. The laws of The Physics have changed, Seattle.
Your boy is too jet-lagged to write anything extensive right now about this newly-dropped three-track suite from The Physics crew. For now, click here or on the album cover below to download this joint for FREE at the group’s Bandcamp space. Any new music from The Physics is cause for celebration. More later…
New Year’s Eve prediction #1: In 2010, hip-hop in Seattle will be ruled by two entities — rap veterans The Physics and the (relatively) new-school Cloud Nice collective. (Thig, Monk, and Justo just need to get that sophomore full-length out pronto to claim their spot!)
Tay Sean and company have already done an excellent job of keeping it moving with a series of free leak, mixtape, and EP drops, with no real prominent LP release. That will change in early 2010, with Helladope’s already highly-lauded Return to Planet Rock. There’s gotta be something in the air up on Beacon that’s causing all of this dopeness. (Come to think of it, the cause of the dopeness might actually be dope — but whatever.)
Cloud Nice is positioned to take over hip-hop in The Six with their brand of futuristic, highly-danceable northwest-coast g-funk. Tay Sean’s production is simple enough to appeal to the young kids, yet advanced and clever enough (musically that is) for older heads to appreciate. If TS were an NBA player, he’d be Chris Paul: playground flashiness combined with a heavy dose of old-school fundamentals.
Here’s the latest from CN’s Beacon Hill lookout, a brief six-track EP from Mister Mikey Nice called Chillin’ In the Future. Click on the album cover below for the DL link.
(A quick note on my download posts: one of my few rules for linking to these downloads is that I absolutely must listen to the material, preferably a minimum of two times, before I comment or post on it. I hold to this philosophy because the whole point of 206up.com is to provide thoughtful commentary and criticism on the music. And how can I do that if I haven’t actually heard the ish? Anyway, my point is, I’m trying not to get caught up with being the fastest blogger [I don’t have time for that anyway] or the most exclusive — though I do appreciate being included on artists’ email lists with the more venerable local bloggers. Anyway, that’s all. Just wanted to share.)
Fans of the smoothed-out Physics debut, Future Talk rejoice! The High Society EP is a little something to hold you over until the trio’s next full-length comes along. And, just like their debut, you can groove along to High Society with your headphones plugged in, or in your car cruising down Alki Beach. Either option succeeds in delivering the new Seattle summer soundtrack for 2009.
The music on High Society is Seattle’s own updated version of early to mid 90’s Native Tongue-style hip-hop. The influences are all here, including the jazz inflections, laid-back flows, and straight-up J. Dilla/Ummah-style beats. Thankfully, the production respectfully imitates more than it mimics, which means the music is allowed to proudly display its roots while still remaining mostly fresh.
Standout tracks include “Back Track” which is specifically an homage to The Physics’ influences (Wu and Tribal are named) and “The Session,” an addictive fusion of jazz instrumentation and futuristic sound effects where the rhymes are delivered two and four bars at a time via a playful back-and-forth between all three members of The Physics and a catchy saxophone riff.
There is one annoying track, “I Just Wanna Beat.” Ugh, once again it’s the dreaded Sex Joint. You know, the one about picking up shorties at the club and taking them home “just to hit it?” We’ve all done it, we all know it happens, so why do rappers insist on making songs about it? (Actually, the track “Good” is based on the same concept, but at least it’s done cleverly and with a hilarious verse by Macklemore.) Anyway, that’s just a minor complaint among an album full of great music.
High Society is just an EP, so it’s easy to play through the whole record two or three times and not even realize it. The only thing really holding it back is its short length (better to keep fans hungry) and the aforementioned sex talk (typical, so — whatever). This is actually a pretty exciting release because it shows The Physics truly have the chops to succeed in the industry. They exist in a well-defined hip-hop niche but still manage to stand outside of it because of their raw talent. Their follow-up sophomore album can’t come soon enough.