REVIEW: Ocean Howell – La (prod. by Olee)

Ocean Howell
Self-Released; 2012


The rapper La was party to 2010’s Gravity, the best Seattle-area hip-hop album of the last five years. (It’s imperative to mention Def Dee’s outstanding production work on the project, too.) Since that release, La’s output has been consistently excellent. Roll With The Winners was the gritty, aggressive portrait of an artist rhyming to eat, and SEALAB 2012 saw the MC take a slightly more eased back approach to his mic tactics.

Enter Ocean Howell, a free (for now) nine-track album featuring production entirely by Olee. La has employed the compositional talents of a single producer on all four of his projects, a strategy that creates much needed album identity and continuity, and one I wish more rappers would practice. The title of the album (and every track on it) references skateboarders which is an ode to the MC’s beloved childhood pastime. The subject matter in La’s lyrics, however, doesn’t directly correlate.

Ocean finds the rapper again talking his glorious trademark shit, executing deft turns of phrase and increasingly clever ways of putting lesser rappers in their places. There are also familiar references to the man’s difficult past and hopefulness for a better future. And of course the requisite weed raps. La sounds focused and motivated, executing his natural abilities over Olee’s Golden Era beats which are tastefully adorned with soul- and disco-inflected samples. Highlights include the saxophone-laced “Kareem Campbell” and “Pepe Martinez” (featuring State Of The Artist’s Thaddeus David), which matches a harried fire alarm sound effect with La’s fierce (albeit offensive) disses.

(An aside: the MC has started to regularly use the N-word on this album which, to my knowledge, is the first time he’s used the racial signifier on wax — though I have heard him drop it in battles. I took to email to ask La why he chose to use the word and his answer revealed a difficult and complicated relationship to the term, but no less academic reasoning than what we might expect from so-called “higher” authorities. I think all non-white folks are entitled to their respective opinions on the use of the N-word and mine certainly differs from La’s, but I can assure you his judgment is neither flippant nor casual.)

In this blogger’s estimation, the quality of Ocean Howell slides in somewhere between Roll With The Winners and SEALAB, the focus of La’s rhymes settling into a nimble balance of traditional battle rap and real-talk societal observations. Past releases may have found him more amiable (see: Gravity) and rawer (Winners) in nature, but never before has the MC sounded more comfortable or on point. Hearing La pick a beat apart with the cold precision of a brain surgeon has become one of Seattle rap’s greatest pleasures.

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REVIEW: Maven – Thaddeus David

Thaddeus David
Members Only; 2012


Of the three MCs in local crew State Of The Artist, it’s likely Thaddeus David (or Young TH as he’s known in assembly) is the only one capable of holding down an entire album’s worth of solo material. Parker is an adequate rhymer but his true gifts lay behind the boards and Hyphen8d’s butter soft register just isn’t commanding enough to stand alone despite a charming wit that supersedes both of his teammates. One of the best things about the SOTA boys is how well they share the mic, with each MC getting a turn to shine on virtually every track they do together. Thaddeus is clearly their #3 hitter: the most well-rounded, the most consistent and the most interesting. Maven is his recent outing for dolo, a 16-track LP that’s definitely nice on the ears, but suffers from a partial lack of focus that hinders the MC’s hunt for a more distinct individual rep.

It’s hard to criticize Maven when all of the separate elements of a high quality album are present. Start with Thad’s flow which is natural and well-practiced. He sounds great positing on subjects like street politics (“Block Business”), succeeding in the rap game (“By Any Means”), and old fashioned shit talk (“Aww Sheit”). Part of his appeal lies in his raspy vocal aesthetic, a natural gift that allows him to swagger without trying. You can’t teach or learn that quality — it just is. The other remarkable thing about Maven is the beat choice: every single one succeeds. Provided by local suppliers (Jester, Kuddie Fresh, DJ Semaj) and anonymous internet beat mavens, there isn’t a weak gazelle in the bunch and the diverse sonics range from the dreamy wobble of “Never Never” to the jazzy shake of “Crown Royal.”

But while Thad’s beat selection is beyond reproach, his strategy for hopping on them is suspect. At least half of the collection would only qualify as interludes. Many of them are devoid of hooks that just start to build momentum before trailing off, like “Skyscrapers” which generates a nostalgic, grainy lo-def 70’s movie feel but then quickly rides out. As it goes with most hip-hop records these days, somewhere among the overflow of half-thoughts is a superior and more focused EP dying to get out. It’s a lesson Thaddeus should have learned from the title of Maven’s opening cut, “Less is More.”

In 206UP.COM’s recent interview feature, “THE SIX”, Thad informs us that another solo project is likely on the way, this time a for-profit venture with all original production. Here’s hoping “distillation” is on the MC’s to-do list for that go ‘round. Dude’s Town rep is very strong based on past musical collaborations — SOTA and Helluvastate (with Cloud Nice honcho Tay Sean) — and he’s shown it can only get stronger. The approach just needs a little calibration.

Album Reviews Downloads

VIDEO & DOWNLOAD: “Blue Paper” – Parker & Lace Cadence

Parker (of State Of The Artist) and Lace Cadence (of, well, some things that I wasn’t a huge fan of) have collaborated on an EP called Imagination (due on February 14 from Members Only). It’s a collection of club-ready beats and rhymes (or sing-rhymes in LC’s case) that I imagine will sound something like “Blue Paper,” the album’s first single. Jon Augustavo kept it simple with the video. The helpful and friendly folks at MO provided the download — shout-out to them, as always.

Click here to download “Blue Paper” by Parker & Lace Cadence.

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THE SIX: Featuring Thaddeus David

Photo via artist's Myspace.

This week’s edition of THE SIX features Thaddeus David who last week dropped his solo project, Maven, via Members Only. You can get that for the price of four clicks, here. 206UP.COM will be back with more thoughts on the record, but for now we’ll let the MC tell it.

1. What’s the significance of the album title, Maven?

A “maven” by definition is someone who is an expert or connoisseur. A trusted person in a particular field. To me it’s something that I wear like a badge of honor. Something that I feel I am and will always be aspiring to be more of. It felt like the perfect name for the body of work and stage that I feel I’m at with my music.Plus I wanted people to do the research for themselves and figure out what I meant by the title or take [it for] their own interpretation.

2. What does the term “blowing up” mean to you?

Blowing up to me is taking what you’ve been doing and getting the right business or people invested in you and your future. Taking your passion and turning it into a financial situation that will hold you and your’s over forever. Whether it be getting signed, hitting a hundred thousand music video views, getting a verified Twitter or whatever that’s gonna make your gift into something you can eat off of. It’s that time period from what was to that.

3. If you were “cursed” to have to work with just one producer for the rest of your career, who would you want it to be?

If I had to work with one producer for the rest of my life it would be Kanye West probably. I’d need someone that’s timeless and can take what’s popular and turn it into a classic forever.

4. What’s your favorite Seattle music venue to perform in?

Whichever one has the promoter that’s willing to sock it to my pocket the most and pack that bitch out. Haha I dunno man. I feel like Neumos has the best sound. I’ve had my funnest times off of stage at Nectar. I’ve had my most fun on stage at Chop Suey.

5. What’s the next project we can expect to see from you?

The next project hmm…Probably my next solo project which will hopefully be an album for sale. But either way [it] will have all original production, no more beat tape beats. No one ever knows the beats typically or has heard them. I’ve done it throughout my career with the SOTA stuff up to Hank Moody & the Helluvastate shit too. But I don’t want to fuck with anything anyone can hold against me later. I had two really strong joints that I couldn’t put out on Maven because of Trox being on some super funny style shit. Shout out to him…I wanted to put ’em out anyways but MO’s not trying too. If it was up to me I’d leak ’em anyway.

6. Did you and your friends clean up after yourselves after the “Crown Royal” video shoot in your mom’s house? And if not, was she angry?

Haha me and momma t town have a great relationship. She’s not trippin’ over any of that shit. She was outta town when we shot that. But I cleaned up after. Can’t treat my mom like that. She’s all I got.

Interviews The Six

DOWNLOAD: “By Any Means” – Thaddeus David (feat. Onry Ozzborn & Parker)

Click image to D/L.

Well, here we are. 2012. Another year, another chance for The Town to makes its indelible mark on hip-hop music country- and worldwide. I would argue 2011 saw the widest range of quality releases since I started paying extra close attention (circa 2005). Just like college basketball, parity seems to be Seattle rap’s strong suit. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to properly represent all the styles being fashioned inside (much less outside) of the area code.

But I resolve to try, dear readers, and the immediate future will present many opportunities for me to do so. Let’s start with last week’s drop from Thaddeus David (aka. Young TH of State Of The Artist). His upcoming solo mixtape, Maven, drops on 1.27.12. TH is by far the most talented of the three members of SOTA, his gravelly flow and diverse range of styles runs the anchor leg of the trio’s party-rap relay. We’re looking forward to seeing dude get out on a solo sprint with Maven. “By Any Means” is the ‘tape’s clarion call, featuring a subtle bubbling beat by LA-based Ski Team, hook by SOTA teammate Parker, and guest bars from Onry Ozzborn.


DOWNLOAD: Slopes – State Of The Artist

Click album cover to D/L.

Slopes, the new 12-song album from State Of The Artist makes it pretty clear that the fellas Parker, Hy and Young TH sound their best when rhyming over tracks by longtime production partners, LA-based Ski Team. Just saying. Much of the material here reminds me of the brief but very Pacific Ocean fresh Hank Moody EP which SOTA dropped post Cali-relocation 2009.

Breezy, wistful party jams where you can practically feel the sting of the salty Pacific Coast air in your nostrils is the order of the day on Slopes. The easy good-life-affirming flows of Parker and Hy settle into a nice balance with tracks like “More Than Fine” where the aim is to please the speakers in your ride as well as the ears of the nearest squad of mini-dressed breezies. TH’s more rugged delivery is the necessary shot of bitter in SOTA/Ski’s otherwise smooth Old Fashioned.

Seattlecalifragilisticextrahelladopeness was SOTA being generously inclusive but trying to please too many people. On the electro-oriented Altered State, the crew strayed too far out of their lane. Slopes, on the other hand, finds the trio sounding exactly as they should.