THE SIX: Featuring Sol

Sol

[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.]

You probably know the story: Seattle rapper on the come-up graduates from the University of Washington and, just as his buzz starts reaching ears nationwide, promptly flees the country for parts unknown. If this sounds unfamiliar, then you haven’t been following the path of Sol, former winner of the EMP Sound Off! competition and, according to many Seattle rap denizens, perhaps the next to pull a Macklemore and blow up on a national level.

Maybe.

In the meantime, Sol continues to do it his way and on his terms alone, drawing respect and admiration from all corners of the Seattle hip hop community. He’s playing the long game in an industry holding a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude, preferring quality over quantity — a unique precept that many Town artists, from The Physics to Blue Scholars, seem to share.

206UP managed to steal a few minutes of the MC’s time for this edition of THE SIX. Here Sol sheds illumination on his recent globe-trotting and what it means for his return to the proverbial “rap game”.

First off, Sol, welcome back to the United States. Before you left on your trip, what sort of trepidation did you have about going, especially as it pertained to your music career?

These days, people are so afraid of disconnecting from their routines and their comfort zones. On top of that, as [hip hop] artists we are constantly battling to stay relevant and competing for listeners. So the idea of detaching from this grind for a year brought about those obvious fears. But, ultimately, those are the same concerns that lead me to go on sabbatical in the first place. As an artist, you need to break that routine in search of inspiration. You must creatively operate outside of your comfort zone both artistically and physically. And finally, I plan to have a life in music and hope to make songs that stand the test of time. So a year away from the “rap life” is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Do you think your travels will affect the way you make music in the future?

I hope to be fortunate enough to enjoy a lifetime of travel. This last trip alone has instilled that as a priority for me. Every day, every time I write or perform I feel the experiences pouring out of me. I think as I tour and more new music is released other people will see it too.

What was the most interesting discovery you made in regard to how people in other parts of the world make or experience hip hop music?

Great question. Everywhere you go, youth are connecting with hip hop. The culture translates over and helps them express and deal with hardship. Seeing how the music sonically differs from continent to continent and country to country was super dope.

You talked somewhere about going to places that you specifically “shouldn’t.” Why was that philosophy important to you?

Most barriers come from within. We construct ideas of what we should be doing or where we think others go and follow. I, however, choose to abandon that approach and instead follow no path but my own. Both musically and personally it has led me to success and happiness so far, so why stop?

What was the last great book you’ve read, or movie you’ve seen?

Super random actually. I just re-read the 1897 original Dracula book by Bram Stoker. That book was so dope; it has had a cultural impact lasting for more than a century now. His ancestors should get Twilight royalties.

Tell us about Eyes Open, your next project due in September.

I came back to the United States after ten months of traveling around the world and had absolutely no idea what would happen next. I hit the studio heavy with my team Nima Skeemz and Elan Wright and created something beautiful. What this project is for me is the answer to a lot of questions. With my previous album, Yours Truly, I was figuring out who I was and defining my sound. With this project, Eyes Open, I am absolutely sure of who I am and what my purpose is. This is when I build my legacy.

Interviews The Six

THE SIX: Featuring DeVon Manier

Photo courtesy of the artist's Twitter page.

Photo courtesy of the artist’s Twitter page.

[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.]

If you’re a fan of Seattle hip hop, you probably wouldn’t know DeVon Manier’s voice if you heard it. You would, however, know his artists’. Manier co-founded the venerable hip hop label Sportn’ Life Records back in 2002 which has grown to be the region’s most successful independent purveyor of local rap and R&B. Co-founder D. Black (now known as Nissim) is a familiar voice; so is Fatal Lucciauno’s; and Spac3man’s. You get the picture.

Manier’s influence on the Town scene is far-reaching but fairly under the radar. He sits on or advises various boards around the city including the City of Seattle Music Commission (founded in 2010), a vital municipal task force dedicated to preserving Seattle’s rich music tradition. To understand the scope of our city’s hip hop heritage, you must at least partially go through DeVon Manier. We’re excited and pleased that he took a few minutes to hop on this week’s edition of THE SIX.

You and your team started Sportn’ Life Records in earnest back in 2002. Talk about the hip hop “environment” in Seattle then. Why did you think it was a good time to start a label? 

From my position at the time, the local environment was nice and competitive, but just starting to grow and separate. It felt more like “hip hop” and less like just “rap music.” The business mindset was just starting to settle in with most people.  There were a few labels popping up and the biggest names at the time were Boom Bap Project and Byrdie if I remember right.

The number one reason for starting a label at the time was that the talent was staring us right in the face. We had a crop of fresh talent from the CD [Central District] and South End neighborhoods, and I couldn’t wait to take the music “downtown” so to speak, especially since it was a time where music from Seattle’s black communities wasn’t getting much shine. It was also a great time to sell CDs out of the trunk of the car and strive to be like Roc-A-Fella, No Limit, Bad Boy and earn money while making a name on the streets.

“Live For Now” – Nissim (feat. Bonhom)

As a record label owner, is it frustrating these days to have to compete not only against other labels, but the “independent” movement as well? Is the monumental success of someone like Macklemore a death knell for record labels?

It’s probably frustrating to those [who] aren’t willing to embrace new tasks, new business models, and new roles in the industry. Sportn’ Life recognizes our strengths and we’ve recently made a change to do more artist management and consulting, to less label work. It just makes sense for our situation. Overall, I don’t think labels are dead — maybe record companies are. Today some indie artists have a “team” of people doing the work of a label, or a manager; artists are doing the work of a label.  Either way you look at it, the work has to get done, things have to be paid for, and fans need to help.

Is there one particular “artist that got away” who sticks out during your time with Sportn’ Life?

Nah, not really. There [are] a few that I wished we had gone further with, or released more material from, but that’s about it. But none that “got away.”

“King Street Freestyle” – Spac3man

Is the Seattle market capable of supporting so many hip hop acts? Do you think the scene will reach an over-saturation point? — Or has it already?

Well, whack stuff has a way of weeding itself out eventually, and that always helps the odds. But just as long as people want to hear, pay for, and go see music live, I think we’ll be fine. Seattle is a mecca of music and creativity, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

What was the last song that played on your iPod (or on your car stereo)? Be honest! 

I’m not familiar with the song names yet, but the last album I played was the new Mayer Hawthorne Where Does This Door Go.

Go ahead and plug one or two upcoming projects in the Sportn’ Life pipeline. 

Up next from the label would be Spac3man’s EP Beyond the Stars. Then we’ll be releasing a long delayed project from My Life My Love, a collective group consisting of Nissim, Fatal Lucciauno, Spac3man, and Larry Hawkins. As far as artists we manage, people can definitely look out for a new EP from Fly Moon Royalty and the debut project from Larry Hawkins and Davey Jones titled Butterfly Sauce. They’re a new R&B/rap duo who we think will be turning quite a few heads this Summer/Fall.

“This Way That Way” – Larry Hawkins & Davey Jones

Interviews The Six

THE SIX: Featuring HAVi Blaze

Havi Blaze 2

[THE SIX is a regular interview feature on 206UP.COM with a simple format: One local hip-hop artist and six questions. For past editions click here.]

Our guest on this week’s edition of THE SIX is HAVi Blaze. The Tacoma-bred MC has been catching buzz around Town with his latest album, Self Portrait, a polished, self-assured collection of tracks that deals in real life drama and deft braggadocio. HAVi previously made waves with “Purple & Gold (UW Anthem)”, a tribute to his alma mater the University of Washington and a re-purposing of Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow”. Larry Mizell from The Stranger once compared HAVi to Phonte Coleman, a sort of everyman MC adept at extracting the nuances of the human condition from a street-oriented perspective. HAVi trends toward the harder end of that spectrum, but otherwise it’s a good comparison. The rapper generously took some time out from his schedule to hop on THE SIX.

For those readers that don’t know who you are, give them the official “HAVi Blaze bio” in five sentences or less.

HAVi is an independent hip hop artist from Washington State. As a writer, producer and performer, I believe I am known for my lyrical ability, and realistic subject matter. I make music to affect the lives of people as much as music has affected mine. I have watched the hip hop culture evolve for the better and change for the worst, along with the rest of the world. At its current stage, I still feel like there is a place for meaningful lyrics and music.

“I’ve Been Down” – HAVI Blaze

You produced all of the beats on your new album, Self Portrait. Talk about your creative process: What comes first for you, the beats or the lyrics? Or do they alternate?

I usually hear a beat and then decide a topic. Most beats will tell you what type of song or feeling to write about. There are some times when I write a verse or song to a particular beat and then decide to use those lyrics for a different beat. I started out as a producer so I pay a lot of attention to the instrumental before I write. Sometimes, I’ll play a beat 100 times before I actually write anything to it. Then, when I am writing, I’ll pace around a room or lie down and repeat the lines as I create a verse. By the time I finish the verse, it is memorized and ready for the beat.

The song “I’m A Murderer” is about abortion, a topic that isn’t touched on very often in hip hop — at least in the very open-book manner that you do here. What types of reception have you experienced with that track?

I wrote “I’m A Murderer” in my car before work and sang it all day to myself until I got home to record it. A lot of people say that is one of their favorite tracks from the album. I had someone say she couldn’t listen to the song anymore because the lyrics made her think about her own child. I’ve had a lot of people tell me about their personal experiences with abortion because of the song. I think it is a good thing that people are talking about the topic.

“Purple & Gold (UW Anthem)” – HAVi Blaze

You have a degree in English from the University of Washington. How did your studies in literature inform your methods as an MC? Did any authors in particular inspire the way you write raps?

Most people that find out that I have an English degree think that I know a lot of big words, which I don’t. The courses that I took taught me how to use language to express my ideas in a more effective manner. Now, when I write verses, I can focus my words to convey the exact emotions that I feel that day or felt during an experience.

What was the last great book you read?

I haven’t read an entire book in a while. The last great one I remember reading would probably be Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. I plan on reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War in the not too distant future.

Tell us about any upcoming projects you have in the works.

I just released my new album, Self-Portrait, and I am promoting that to as many people as I can. I plan to release another project later in the year. I will definitely have a lot more guest appearances on the next one. I may put out something small this summer. Maybe an EP or maybe a short mixtape with beats from Jay’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail.

Interviews The Six

THE SIX: Featuring Dave B

Photo courtesy of the artist's Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of the artist’s Facebook page.

[THE SIX is a regular interview feature on 206UP.COM with a simple format: One local hip-hop artist and six questions. For past editions click here.]

Dave B impressed at the 2013 edition of EMP’s Sound Off! competition enough to take home the top prize. Now the solo MC is on the heels of his well-rounded and polished The Coffee EP, one of this blog’s favorite 206 releases of the year. Dude has the gift-of-gab — a little bit Chance The Rapper and a little bit J Cole, able to switch between punchline-laced brag rap and edge-of-the-bed pillow talk. Four wisdom teeth lighter these days, the MC took time out during his recovery to answer THE SIX.

206UP: You won EMP’s annual Sound Off! competition this year. Their website says, “Dave B, the hip-hop group with the sweet beats and saucy swagger won out.” Whoever did this write-up should probably never win an award for music journalism. How would you personally — and more accurately — describe your style?

Dave B: Right, definitely not for hip hop at least. But I’d say it’s for sure nostalgic. I like to think it’s sorta jazzy, tight as fuck. All that.

What’s your earliest 206 rap-related memory?

Aww man, I remember when I was like 16 I ran into GMK and J Pinder in the keyboard rooms at Guitar Center, like right after White Van Music came out. Thought I was hella cool all week.

I think you sound a little like Chance the Rapper. Who do folks typically say you remind them of, and do you think it’s accurate?

I always get like Cole or somebody in that lane. But after Sound Off! this cat told me if Slick Rick and Phife had a baby who could rap it’d be me. I don’t know if I agree. It was entertaining as fuck to hear though.

What was the genesis for “Andy Warhol/Monroe”? Do you have a special love for those two pop culture icons?

Not really. I appreciate a lot of art [and] artists out of Warhol’s generation but those songs were more just a product of my thoughts that day prior to hitting the studio. And it was most likely just a regular day.

You just had your wisdom teeth pulled. Can we expect a Kanye, through-the-wire-type rap soon?

Never, haha. That shit hurt way too bad. It was all about applesauce and Tumblr. I wrote a haiku about a burger I wanted the second day, though I don’t think it’ll make any album.

Finally, tease your next upcoming project(s) for the readers.

The Doughnuts EP, July. Wake that ass.

Interviews The Six

THE SIX: Featuring Avatar Darko

Photo courtesy the artist’s website.

[THE SIX is a regular interview feature on 206UP.COM with a simple format: One local hip-hop artist and six questions. For past editions click here.]

Avatar Darko (formerly Avatar Young Blaze) has the baby-faced looks of a boy band member and maybe in a different life he could have been. But the Estonia-born, Central District-bred rapper prefers the trap life in this current incarnation, and his relentless brand of “emo grunge trap” has earned him a worldwide underground following. This blog was slow to come around to Av, initially labeling him a pretender, but his cinematic rhymes about street life and around-Town co-signs turned us into believers. We attempted to catch up with Av in his element.

I think a lot of your fans have a certain idea about what a day in the life of Avatar Darko might be like. For example: I imagine you tapping out answers to this set of questions on your iPad, cruising at 35,000 feet, off to somewhere exotic for business and pleasure, like Dubai or Beijing. Set the record straight and tell us about your day so far, or about a typical day-in-the-life of Avatar Darko.

Well right now as I type this on my iPhone with a shattered screen, I’m sitting on a bench outside of the hub at UCSB [University of California Santa Barbara] overlooking this dope little island and water. The homie Araab [Muzik] randomly texted me at six in the morning like, “Yo I land in a couple hours, I gotta show in Santa Barbara.” Duke and him scooped me in a Challenger and told me to drive, so I red-lined that bitch the whole way out here. I love Dodges. I use to have a Charger when I was 17, I mashed that bitch. Anyways, I  just ate some bomb-ass wings and tomorrow afternoon I gotta flight to Seattle — oh shit I got court in the morning before that. Anyways, when I’m not doing random cool shit like this I’m in the studio working on projects. Sometimes I can be really emo too, then I just drink lean and listen to Max B to feel better. Yerp.

It took me a while to come around to enjoying your music. Have you found that that’s a typical response by some listeners?

Yeah a lot of people seem to say the same thing. I think I go over a lot of people’s heads.

“Authenticity” is a word that gets thrown around a lot by folks who write about you. Given how the internet can be used as a handy veil of anonymity, how important is authenticity in hip-hop these days?

When you’re authentic, everything comes from the heart; you don’t have to try too hard. In this day and age, a lot of music lacks authenticity and genuine emotion. I’m trying to capture that [and] convey it on a worldwide level. I will soon.

You’ve not once asked people to pay for your music. Why is that your preferred business model thus far in your career?

I got some precious projects on iTunes but lately I’ve just been releasing music to accumulate my buzz. I’m thinking about putting this upcoming EP on iTunes though. We’ll see.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

Art Of War. I need to get back on my book game. My pops use to read a lot of books, I’ve been slackin’ on my book game lately.

Any upcoming projects you’d like to tease for the 206UP.COM readers?

Gonna release an EP entirely produced by Megaman and a mixtape with Nacho this spring/summer.

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THE SIX: Featuring Dice

Photo courtesy of artist's Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of artist’s Facebook page.

206UP.COM is happy to feature R&B singer/MC Dice in this edition of THE SIX. Reflections in Broken Glass is Dice’s recent album, a self-assured collection of mid-tempo grooves that deals heavily in matters of the heart. Love for your neighbor, your romantic partner, your self, and your ‘hood are all touched upon by the talented vocalist who operates at an easy and mellow pace. Contemporary R&B/hip-hop can often shoot off in aimless, haphazard directions these days. Reflections in Broken Glass is a calming influence among the chatter.

What’s the origin of your stage name, “Dice”?

I chose the name Dice when I was 14. Originally the full moniker was Pair-A-Dice. Literally, I was flipping through the dictionary one day reading the definitions of words [and] I wanted something with meaning — multiple if possible. Due to my tendency to be all over the place stylistically I didn’t want to be stuck in a box with my name, I wanted something timeless that expressed my variety. Under the definition of a die roll it said something [about] lacking predictability but not lacking cause or purpose, I felt it fit perfectly. I have old school homies that still call me Pair-A-Dice, but it got shortened to Dice over time and through casual use as a nickname by friends and family. My mom has even taken to calling herself “Mama Dice”.

Reflections in Broken Glass, like your past releases, is a more dynamic listening experience than a lot of local albums because you sing and rap. What did you originally start with, rapping or singing, and do you prefer one over the other?

I was raised in a musical household. My mother sang in an all female barbershop chorus throughout my childhood and her long term boyfriend played in a rock band. When with my mom it was all about oldies and Motown, with pops, everything from AC/DC to Bob Dylan; we would sing in the car and my mom would teach me how to harmonize. She got me involved in choir from a very early age, so there has always been singing. As for the rapping aspect, both parents were avidly against hip-hop/rap and I was for the most part not allowed to listen to it around either of them; that came later.

Who is your favorite R&B/soul singer of the moment?

I don’t have a favorite singer “of the moment”. Admittedly, I don’t listen to a lot of current music as the content doesn’t interest me much of the time. The vocalist, and writer, I have had the most recent listening infatuation with is Adele, though I’m giving both of [her] records a rest at the moment. For the record, Erykah Badu will likely be my favorite of all time, forever.

Reflections is appealing because it sounds so composed and well-intentioned — you’re moving at your own musical pace, not trying to cater to current radio expectations. Do you ever feel artistic pressure to drop a club track, or something that’s not otherwise consistent with your vision as an artist?

I feel that pressure constantly. Whether or not I allow it influence the music I make is another matter. “Celebration” was borne of that pressure. I felt I had nothing “feel good” that people could actually move to at a party or a show. The challenge for me was finding a topic I found suitable and uplifting without becoming cliche or corny, something gangsters and grandmothers alike could two step to in the same room. In regards to vision, that is the one thing I would never sacrifice. I have my musical morals, all artists do, mine are just based in the belief that my music can be detached from today’s pop music-palooza, still be relevant and garner a diverse following.

“Celebration” – Dice (prod. by DJ El Grande)

Talk a little bit about your relationship with Vitamin D. How do you two know each other and how did you come to work together?

Vita and I have known each other a few years now, I honestly don’t remember how we met. [Laughs] He is a great friend and mentor [who] has taught me a great deal about myself as an artist and [someone] I hold in high esteem musically, as so many rightfully do. The man’s ear is wild and it still makes me giddy when he DJ’s Hip Hop Kitchens. I had done some vocal work for a few town artists at the Pharmacy when it was still up and running, a while later we connected to record “Things I Couldn’t Say”, produced by Retro, and since then have gone on to work on many things, most recently Reflections, which he produced four joints for.

“Flat Tire” – Dice (prod. by Vitamin D)

Any new projects or shows coming up soon?

There are always new projects in the works, but nothing I’m ready to announce just yet. As for shows, the next few months are going to be busy, several shows and some traveling. Headed to Oakland March 3rd for a show with my WBMG family then back home for a March 8th evening at Lucid Jazz Lounge in the U-District with my band The High Rollers. I will be performing covers of some classics as well as my smoother original material. [It’s a] very intimate venue with limited seating so that will be a blast. [I’m] also juiced to be opening for Ryan Leslie at Neumo’s March 26th with my guys Nate Vibez and Zach Bruce, also with my band.

Interviews The Six

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