INTERVIEW: THEESatisfaction (10.23.09, New York City)

THEESatisfaction 2

Seattle hip-hop had a nice showing at this year’s edition of the CMJ Music Festival here in New York City. Performing alongside Champagne Champagne — but not officially on the bill — were THEESatisfaction who actually came out to NY over a week before the October 24th CMJ show to network, chill with friends, and just enjoy everything this amazing city has to offer. The ladies of THEESatisfaction, Cat and Stasia, were gracious enough to reach out to me for an interview. These two women (girlfriends, for those that don’t know) are funny, charming, creative, and beautiful. And it’s apparent, after spending a little over an hour with them, that they’re in this hip-hop sh*t strictly for the love. I met them for lunch at a diner in the Financial District a few blocks from my work the day before they were scheduled to share the stage with Champagne Champagne.

Talk a little about how you came to be involved with CMJ. Did someone associated with the Festival hear you and ask you to be involved?
Cat: No, nothing like that. We’re doing CMJ through Champagne Champagne, because they asked us to do a song with them that we perform all the time called “Magnetic Blackness.” Basically we’re just like a family, so whenever we have an opportunity to do [that song] together, we do it. It’s a really great opportunity, we appreciate Champagne Champagne for letting us be a part of it. I’ve known Pearl for years, before THEESatisfaction and Champagne Champagne [formed], and Thomas [Gray] is like family. He’s like my best friend’s cousin.
Stas: Yeah, those are our brothers!

The stuff Pearl Dragon was doing before Champagne Champagne is much different than what he’s doing now.
Cat: He’s really creative. He and Thomas and Mark [aka DJ Gajamagic] are all really, really creative.

What’s your take on the Seattle hip-hop movement right now? It’s really blowing up.
Stas: I think it’s amazing. I remember a time when I didn’t listen to anything [from Seattle], except for Blue Scholars and Cancer Rising. Now there are shows every weekend, everybody is collaborating with each other. It’s like a huge family. People are on the move. Everybody is coming to Seattle to do shows. Wu-Tang has been here [a lot]. It’s just bringing more attention to Seattle. [Before] we’d have to go to Portland or LA to see a good show.

It does seem like there are very few prominent female acts in the spotlight, though. I mean outside of you guys.
Stas: I’m blessed to be an example and inspiration for more of them.

Do you think more female emcees are out there and just not receiving the proper exposure?
Stas: There are a lot of artists out right now.
Cat: A lot of female artists have been sheltered or pushed to the side.
Stas: Not just being a [female] hip-hop artist, just being a female musician of any kind [is difficult].
Cat: It’s starting to change, though.
Stas: Another prominent group is Canary Sing. They just did a show at The Rendezvous.
Cat: JusMoni, too.

So you guys are now in the Bay Area, right?

Stas: No, actually we’re just traveling.
Cat: We were going to move to the Bay, but we never even wound up going there, [laughs] just to LA. We came back to Seattle for a show and now we’re in New York.

How’s the life of a traveling musician?
Stas: I love it. It’s exciting. I knew I’d be a wanderer, nomad child, that got into all sorts of crazy shenanigans.
Cat: It’s cool. At some point you just realize there’s so much more to see.
Stas: It’s nice to have friends to stay with. We have friends in LA and friends out here that we’re staying with.

Musically, what’s your background? Are you formally trained or self-taught?
Cat: I’ve been in choirs forever and I studied Jazz in college.
Stas: I didn’t [study music]. But I’ve been around music all my life. My mom is a choir director and plays the piano, my dad plays the piano and has been in multiple choirs. I’ve been a poet for about eight years.

I was wondering about that. Your music seems inspired strongly by Spoken Word poetry.
Stas: Yeah, absolutely. We both do Spoken Word.
Cat: That’s how we met actually, through the Spoken Word circuit.

What venue?
Cat: It was Retro Open Mic night at U-Dub.

Did you both go to the University of Washington?
Stas: I did.
Cat: I went to Cornish. But I was always at U-Dub events. [laughs]

I read that your most recent album, Snow Motion, was recorded in a basement when you were snowed-in during the famous Seattle Winter of 2008.
Cat: Yeah.
Stas: We recorded [the songs] in a closet.
Cat: Some of the songs were recorded on Beacon [Hill], some of them were recorded in the house. It was crazy. That was all bad. We moved into this house, it was on 23rd and Madison [in the Central District] and it was sunny and nice and everything when we checked out the house. It looked nice in May or June, and then it got to wintertime, and the house had no insulation. And then the rats came. It was infested with rats. You wouldn’t want to leave your bedroom at night because there were rats running all through the house. There were holes under the bathroom sink and they would come in through the cabinets and they would get in our food. Our refrigerator stopped working three times.
Stas: Then our laundry machine stopped working.
Cat: Yeah, it just filled up with water. And then, it didn’t just freeze over, it was a solid block of ice.
Stas: We were working at Costco.
Cat: Pushing carts outside. Our buses weren’t running, so we had to walk halfway [to work], from 23rd and Madison to Downtown to catch the bus. If you didn’t come in, you’d get fired or written-up. They were really determined to be open.
Stas: We recorded [Snow Motion] because we were fed-up and depressed. We had family members passing away. One of our friends was murdered in February [concert promoter Tyrone Love], literally down the street.
Cat: It was a really tough time. We were working all the time, too. It was really hard to finish the album.
Stas: There was no sane place for us to be.
Cat: No there wasn’t, because we had to find somewhere else to live, too. We were working all the time. We’d always come home tired. We just had to decide what we were going to do.

For as much of a horrible time that was, Snow Motion come across, to me at least, as a really optimistic record. I read an article on a blog that said something like, “THEESatisfaction creates Snow Motion while they descend into madness.” But I thought it was a pretty coherent record, for the most part.
Cat: Thanks! [laughs]

So nowadays, the life of aspiring musicians sounds busy.
Stas: It’s pretty hectic. We book our own shows.
Cat: We don’t have a manager or anything. Everything is just us two, researching things and at the same time making music, trying to keep it fresh.
Stas: It’s challenging, but I couldn’t ask for more. I’m having the best time of my life. I’m having so much fun. I can’t imagine ever working at Costco again.
Cat: I’d rather work my ass off at this than work a corporate job again.

When do you find time to write?
Cat: We write all the time.

It’s not a process for you? Like, I must write at nine in the morning every day?
Cat: No. The whole thing is a process. From updating the website, to writing the press releases, to burning the CDs, to mixing it down. We try to let things just come naturally.

What’s the first hip-hop music you remember listening to?

Cat: First stuff was like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. I have an older brother who’s 36 so he was putting me on to a lot of stuff.
Stas: I wasn’t even listening to hip-hop. My parents were only listening to gospel and r&b. I didn’t really get into hip-hop until Snoop Dogg and Death Row Records. That was my first exposure, that gangsta rap. Then, once I started seeking out on my own, I got into Tribe and De La.
Cat: I listened to only De La Soul and Tribe when my brother lived with us and then [after he moved out] it went back to jazz and, I don’t know what to call it: alternative folk music [laughs]. It was like hippie music, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell.
Stas: I remember my mom got a hold of my Doggystyle album cover. Remember the cartoon? She was like, “What is this?!”
Cat: I was like the prude kid. Like, “I can’t hear that stuff, it’s bad for my ears!” I didn’t know about 2Pac or Biggie, or most other rap other than De La and Tribe until I moved to Seattle. [Cat grew up in the Bay Area and Hawaii]. I listened to Chaka Khan, TLC, Technotronic. I know about hella random groups like Pet Shop Boys [laughs]. Lately, we’ve been switching it up, listening to all different kinds of stuff but we’ve always listened to a lot of different [music].
Stas: A lot of soul music.
Cat: Yeah, a lot of soul. Temptations, The Spinners, old Chaka Khan, Al Green. A lot of Michael Jackson and a lot of Jackson 5. I mean, we typically listen to Michael Jackson all the time, anyway. On our first mixtape [That’s Weird] we sampled Thriller.

Where were you guys when you heard he passed?
Cat: We were in our house on Beacon Hill and Stas got a text message or something. We got a text message and I was like, “This is a joke.” So we got on Twitter, we started googling everything, turned on the television and saw that he’d been hospitalized.
Stas: Then we started playing his music videos.
Cat: It was too much, it was very overwhelming. It’s still overwhelming.
Stas: I still haven’t watched the funeral in its entirety. I’ve been watching it on Youtube. I think I got maybe halfway through.
Cat: I don’t think so. I think you only got a third of the way through.
Stas: It’s still emotional.
Cat: It is. I watched [the funeral] on CNN while Stas was at Costco and it was really crazy. I didn’t think it was going to happen in my lifetime.
Stas: Nice shirt too! [laughs]

Yeah, that’s why I asked. [Cat is wearing a Michael Jackson t-shirt she purchased at a thrift store.]

So what’s next for THEESatisfaction?
Stas: We have a new mixtape coming out.

When?
Stas: We’re thinking December, January, February.
Cat: One of those three months! [laughs]
Stas: The beats are pretty much finished. We’re teaming up with OC Notes. We hooked up with him for this next mixtape. We’re trying something new.
Cat: It’s the first time [we’ve worked with just one producer]. It’s cool, especially when that person knows your groove and knows your sound and it fits. A lot of artists will just work with whoever, you know?

So, one more question. You’ve already experienced a small amount of fame in Seattle. What’s that been like?

Stas: I wish I could enjoy my life a little bit more. It’s weird. You have to watch what you say all the time. But I don’t, really. [laughs]
Cat: You just have to be yourself. Some artists are controlled by other people, their managers, their band mates, by their producers. For us, we have freedom. We can say, “I’m not feeling well today so I’m not going to that event.” I think that gives a different spin to it. It makes it a different experience. It doesn’t make it easier though, that’s for damn sure! People used to come up to us all the time in Costco. It was weird, the contrast between working at Costco and being on stage. There’s a different amount of respect people have for you when at work. There you’re just Joe Schmo. It’s like, “Go over there and fold those clothes!”
Stas: When we’re at shows it’s, “Can I get you a drink? Can I get your autograph?” At work it’s totally the opposite. You’re just a robot again.

Costco seems like a major formative experience in your recent lives. What else happened at Costco?
Cat: When I was at work one day, Justo [of The Physics] came in and was like, “Hey, what’s up?” We didn’t even really know The Physics.

Did you know who he was?
Cat: I’d heard of The Physics and seen their picture, but I was really tired at work that day, so it took me a second to put it together. [laughs]

Was that how the collaboration on “Radio Head” came about?
Cat: [Justo] came into the store just in general and recognized me and said he’d been meaning to get in contact with us. But yeah, that’s generally how it started. After that we went and got in the studio together.
Stas: That’s where we met Rik Rude from Fresh Espresso, too.
Cat: Yeah. We saw Sabzi in Costco. All of Seattle goes to Costco!

—–

Catch THEESatisfaction at their next show on 11.10.09 at Nectar:

THEESatisfaction at Nectar 11.10.09

And buy their album, Snow Motion, online here:

"Snow Motion" (THEESatisfaction)

Interviews Live Coverage

REVIEW: Hear Me Out (Yirim Seck)

Hear Me Out (Yirim Seck)

Yirim Seck raps like most people drink water. Or breathe. You know those normal human activities we all do with such mandatory repetition that we forget we’re doing them? Some artists paint pictures, some authors write novels, and some athletes play sports in the same fashion. It just comes naturally. Those folks have muscles that most people don’t. Yirim Seck just happens to have the Emcee Muscle.

Which is why, considering how intensely hungry the 206 hip-hop scene is for music these days, it comes as a surprise (at least to this blogger) that it’s taken this long for Yirim Seck to release a full-length album. He’s mostly known around town as one-third of (now defunct?) Pyrate Radio, an act that, surprisingly for all its considerable talent, has also never released an album (at least to my knowledge). I’m sure the inner-workings of a hip-hop group are fraught with a myriad of reasons why they can’t get their collective act together (Pearl Dragon, after all, has got a pretty good thing going with Champagne Champagne), but the release of a Pyrate Radio record would be cause for celebration for many underground fans.

Instead, we get Hear Me Out from Yirim Seck. And, trust, it’s enough. Here Yirim separates himself, talent-wise, from his Pyrate Radio brethren. In fact, he separates himself from most local rappers completely. Dude is talented. The first time I heard him spit was on the Pyrate Radio track, “Hey You Say You” where I was struck by his effortless, nonchalant flow and clever wordplay. There’s even more of that on Hear Me Out. Yirim possesses that rare rapper’s ability to effectively express himself without sounding like he’s working very hard. It’s a style that draws you in naturally to the music, a voice that complements hip-hop’s indigenous breaks and boom-bap perfectly.

On the album, he puts his talent to good-use. Yirim wants listeners to know he’s a fully-arrived solo emcee who’s legit (“Check”). He also makes clear that his life is filled with very ordinary circumstances, from the unexpected birth of his first child (“Rebirth”), to the struggle of trying to make a living off his art (“Run It”), to the sexual temptations that f*ck-up relationships (“Trust”). Hear Me Out‘s main character is an everyman who says, “See, I have some of the same problems you do.” That this everyman can tell his stories and present his particular ethos more lyrically than others is to the benefit of hip-hop fans everywhere.

The production is generally straight-forward, traditional hip-hop. There are no grand histrionic sonic arrangements or overwrought musical experiments. What it lacks in relative spectacular-ness, it makes up for in well-executed convention, mostly a mixture of DJ Premier-cloned beats with straight-laced underground sensibilities. Yirim Seck doesn’t need fancy sh*t anyway, there’s enough raw personality and talent here to announce a welcome (re-)arrival of this emcee without superfluous musical flourish.

Just because the general public doesn’t know who Yirim Seck is, doesn’t mean he’s an unknown among the members of Seattle’s hip-hop community. He’s been down with The Physics and Gabriel Teodros for years. They all came up rapping together. To fans, however, he appears to be that dude on the low, waiting for an opportunity. Like the ballplayer who’s kicked around the minors for a few years developing his skills, and then all of a sudden he’s in the majors batting .350.

In actuality, Yirim Seck’s just been busy living real life. Very few local artists eat off rap, and those lucky enough to do so are probably both greatly thankful for the opportunity but tired from the constant and necessary grind. Yirim Seck is already worn-out from the hustle, and he hasn’t even “made it” in the music business yet. It’s cats like these, the hard-working underdogs whose talent often makes them more-deserving than those above them, that hip-hop roots for.

Album Reviews

REVIEW: Self-Titled (Champagne Champagne)

Champagne Champagne

The three dudes that make up the group Champagne Champagne (emcees Pearl Dragon and Thomas Gray, and DJ/Producer Gajamagic) must find themselves in a weird space these days. Their shows are usually populated by twenty-something hipsters of the fairer complexion, rocking out with their cocks out, overjoyed at being at a hip-hop show, and certainly proud to tell their unlucky (and much less-cool) co-workers the next day about how “real” the experience was. Yet there’s this verse, from “Soda & Pop Rocks,” the very first thing Pearl spits on Champagne Champagne’s self-titled debut album:

You can see me leapin’
My words creepin’
Slowly
Now they know me
When my whole influence was
“Rollin’ With The Homies”
First off
One of the best to ever touch off
You can see me touchdown anytime
Randy Moss

You can take what you git from it
My words influenced by
The slums and they love it
Hip-hop no hipster
Words flip back you can see I rip through
Haters innovator rock paper scissor
See me as I
Cut up my nigga!

Take note, white hipsters, this is not your music. (Pearl even says so!) This is black music — a cousin once or twice-removed from Jimi Hendrix, Living Colour, and Outkast. Witness the emphasis of the N-word, not meant to make you feel down with the cause, but as a proud (however polemic) declaration of blackness. The word’s strong assertion made me feel uncomfortable and alienated from the track, which is exactly how anyone who is not black should feel. So, while the demographics of the audience probably accurately represent the consumers of Champagne Champagne’s music, the joke’s ultimately on you hipster motherf*ckas. Pearl’s city “isn’t pretty, it’s gritt-y.”

Fresh Espresso, the other Seattle hip-hop group that most closely resembles Champagne Champagne, probably faces fewer such dilemmas. While FE’s music is far more party-friendly (virtually no references to blackness that would inconveniently clutter their feel-good vibe), the afro-eccentricities of Champagne Champagne add a welcome layer of complexity to their music. Without it, there would only be the left-field hip-hop punkiness of the sonic arrangements and little to no traceable DNA leading them back to the revered architects of black music mentioned above.

Not that the hipsters are all in the wrong for digging this sh*t, they should. The group is, after all, called Champagne Champagne, a moniker that bestows upon them the responsibility for starting the party. And this does sound like party music. Live hip-hop is more about the beats than the lyrics anyway, anyone who attends the shows can attest to that. The distorted bass at the beginning of “Soda & Pop Rocks” sounds like a mic’ed-up human heart sitting on top of an 808 kick drum. It’s not only the best track on the album, but also Champagne Champagne’s official declaration of non-whiteness in a city full of white fans — nonetheless, I’m sure it rocks the hell out of their parties.

After the opening track, things immediately get more complicated. Is “Molly Ringwald” really a heartfelt tribute to falling in love with girls who look like the innocent sweet-sixteener? Or is it a perverse acknowledgment of the white-girls-who-love-black-men phenomenon that only Spike Lee has been brave enough to flesh-out in front of the general public? Pearl’s heartbroken vocals suggest the former (“I left a message but she never called me back”), while Gajamagic’s sinister production suggests the latter.

Later, Pearl lightens-up a little and does his best Andre 3000 impression on the guitar-driven, “Hollywood Shampoo,” and further tributes are paid to the fairer sex as the pitfalls of showbiz-life and love are lamented and celebrated on “Cover Girls” and “What’s Your Fantasy.” The production trends toward hippie futurism, and contains all the references to space and aliens that would be expected from such music. Yes, the hip-hop UFO thing is getting tired and it’s been done better before, but Champagne Champagne uses the levity in such themes to elevate the music to the upper reaches of that particular quality.

Finally, while “Soda & Pop Rocks” is the group’s declaration of identity, “Radio Raheem” is the frontman’s heart, exposed and bleeding for all to see. On it, Pearl raps about the shooting death of his older brother, Samuel Curry, by an off-duty Seattle police officer. The song plays its ironic and tragic part in inextricably linking the rapper’s proud declaration of blackness to the all-too-frequent instances of police brutality that grievously help define the black experience in America. Indeed it’s a heavy track, yet a vital addition to an album that would, however regrettably, be incomplete without it.

Album Reviews

Hip-Hop hits the ‘Shoot (Again)

Bumbershoot-2009-wideIt is with great regret that I inform you (friends, strangers, fam-damily) that I will be unable to attend this year’s edition of the Bumbershoot music festival. My presence is required out of town. (I’ll be in the Big Apple, hopefully catching Mos Def on 9/12 at Governor’s Island — gotta get those tickets now while they’re still available!)

It’s a damn shame, too, because it’s another great year for hip-hop at the ‘Shoot. I was just checking out the lineup and lamenting the fact that I’m gonna miss it. Anyway, here’s a brief summary of the hip-hop performances that I won’t be catching this year, along with a few of my thoughts on the matter…

Dyno Jamz (Sat, 12:30 pm, EMP Sky Church) – Uhh, I have no idea who they are. An “eight-man hip-hop ensemble?” Winner of the “EMP Sound Off! battle of the bands competition”? Guess I need to do some homework. I do know one thing, however…they have a really wack sounding name.

Wale (Sat, 5:45 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – It’s everyone’s new favorite emcee! You can’t miss Wale, yo! I have his mixtapes in constant rotation on my iPod. Lyrically, he’s incomparable, but the honest truth is that his flow is only so-so. Doesn’t really matter, though, he shows more personality in half a verse than most rappers do on their entire albums. Plus his production is always top-notch.

De La Soul (Sat, 9:30 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – One of my top three favorite groups of all-time. What else can I say? You claim to love hip-hop? Then loving De La with all your mind, body, and soul is a requirement. Miss this show and you’re fakin’ it.

Dyme Def (Sun, 2:15 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – Got mad love for these local rap heroes. I could see these dudes blowing up nationally at some point. Brainstorm competed in the nationals at the Red Bull Big Tune beat battle last year. Their full-length debut, Space Music, was a break-through for Seattle hip-hop in that it was maybe the first legitimate mainstream-flavored (read: “commercial”) album to ever come out of our fair city.

Swollen Members (Sun, 5:00 pm, Rockstar Stage) – I heard they got hip-hop in Canada, too. This duo hails from our northerly neighbour, British Columbia. Other than that, I don’t know much about ’em. I do remember the joint, “Breathe,” they did with Nelly Furtado (also Canadian), which got my ass moving once or twice. When they perform live, do they do it in a theatre? (Canada jokes are funny, eh?)

Common Market (Sun, 5:45 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – You’ll see a lot of love for CM on this blog. RA Scion and DJ Sabzi are helping set the standard for Seattle hip-hop. Complex rhymes meet beautiful boom-bap. RA’s great on-stage, as well.

D. Black and Spaceman (Sun, 8:00 pm, EMP Sky Church) – D. Black is Seattle’s version of Biggie Smalls, natural and engaging on the mic; a true diamond from the South End. Spaceman is the eccentric court jester of Sportn’ Life. Together on stage they’re sure to get your hands up like the SPD. (Can’t wait for Black’s sophomore full-length, Ali’Yah, dropping 9.15.09. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Spaceman.)

Macklemore (Mon, 12:30 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – Like Grynch, this cat’s an unlikely beast on the mic. I was definitely sleeping on Macklemore until I spent some honest time listening to The Language of My World. Conscious, introspective, and funny, the album’s a sly charmer. I’ve never seen him live. Next time, I guess.

The Knux (Mon, 1:30 pm, Samsung Mobile Mainstage) – I bought The Knux’s album, Remind Me in 3 Days, based solely on a glowing Rolling Stone review. I was a little disappointed because they spend too much time in rock/dance/techno territory for my taste. The track “FIRE (Put it in the Air),” was one of my favorite songs from ’08, though. I bet this crew is dope live.

The Black Eyed Peas (Mon, 3:00 pm, Samsung Mobile Mainstage) – Ugh. Yuck. Blecchh. Avoid at all costs! I wish the three original members of the crew would hop in the DeLorean and go back to 1998. Their debut, Behind the Front, was legitimate hip-hop. After they added Fergie and annoying pop sensibilities in 2003, it was “goodbye” backpackers and “hello” sell-out city. How disappointing.

Champagne Champagne (Mon, 4:45 pm, EMP Sky Church) – I’ve been meaning to check out their full-length debut, but can’t bring myself to spend the $10 on what might amount to mostly just a bunch of glamour-hop flash geared toward the hipster set. Emcee Pearl Dragon is an underground favorite of mine. I think Pearl’s powers as a solo emcee would reflect more of a pure hip-hop spirit, but who am I to criticize his endeavors as part of this collective? In any case, I’ve heard their live set kicks major skinny-jeaned ass!

I guess that about covers it. Bumbershoot is still over a month away, so you’ve got plenty of time to learn all the lyrics before you go. If you see will.i.am, please tell him that I’m very disappointed in the direction he’s taken the group. (I’m sure he’ll appreciate the constructive criticism.)

Peace!

Live Coverage Views From the Peanut Gallery

VIDEOS: Pearl Dragon Classics

I grew up with the dude who directed these two Pearl Dragon videos. He’s a talented guy. And experimental as well, judging from his latest project that blurs the line between performance art, documentary, and straight up comedy.

It’s the hip-hop “Rockefeller Skank!” Pearl’s understated performance is classic.

The South End is captured beautifully in this video. Pearl Dragon shows flashes of the potential that’s now fully realized as a member of his current group, Champagne Champagne.

Video