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Queen Feel

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This That & Th3rdz

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The People's Choice Mixtape

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Brakebill

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The Finger & The Moon

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The Blank Canvas

Filmmaker and hip-Hop musician Rafael Flores spent six years making The Blank Canvas: Hip-Hop’s Struggle for Representation in Seattle. The film attempts to document the unique identity of hip-hop culture in Seattle, through interviews with over 100 rappers, producers, DJs, graffiti artists, break-dancers, fashion designers, and promoters from The Town.

It takes us on a journey that investigates the origins of Hip-Hop in the Northwest, the legacy of Sir-Mix-a-Lot, the notorious 1985 Teen Dance Ordinance, Clear-Channel’s dominance over commercial Hip-Hop radio, the increasing popularity of white rappers in Seattle, and hip-hop’s struggle for representation in a seemingly liberal city.

The full 96-minute film is available for rent on Vimeo for $5. Watch the trailer below.

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The Otherside

The Otherside is an hour-long documentary predominantly covering Seattle’s Capitol Hill-centric “third wave” hip-hop scene, circa 2010. This was a time when MP3s and streaming were fairly new and completely reshaping the music industry. Artists like Blue Scholars were experimenting with Kickstarter and direct fan support. Everyone was trying something new.

There’s a wealth of great interviews, concerts, and backstage footage from artists across the Town. There are hella people in this movie. It’s clear the filmmaker tried to talk with anyone and everyone who was willing. There are some great long chats with Jake One, Prometheus Brown, and Sir Mix-A-Lot. There’s also lots of footage of pre-stardom Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as they prepare to drop The Heist.

Larry Mizell Jr. offers up a four-point guide to being successful in the Northwest: “Be truthful to yourself. Be respectful and knowledgeable of what’s going on and what came before you. Be good: Work on your craft. Further the culture at all times.”

The Otherside premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival and was an audience favorite, selling out two consecutive screenings. It was also chosen as “Best of SIFF” by festival programmers.

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Basementality

The Stranger picked Basementality as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

Almost exactly one year ago, Wizdumb, a local producer, dropped a seriously wonderful collection of beats and raps called Basementality. If there was a hip-hop university, and this album was a Ph.D. dissertation on the styles, methods, and aesthetics of early- to mid-’90s hip-hop production, and I was on the committee for this dissertation, I would grant Wizdumb a doctorate for three reasons: One, he displays a deep understanding of the beauty of ’90s hip-hop; two, he does not sound like he is imitating that form of music but instead contributing to its program; and three, he is both an excellent instrumentalist and a beat producer for rappers.

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Romaro Franceswa

The Stranger picked Romaro Franceswa as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

In late spring, the young rapper Romaro Franceswa dropped an excellent self-titled album that was produced by the local veteran BeanOne. The album is about the streets, and the streets that Franceswa is all about are found in Federal Way. The album is good for three reasons: Franceswa’s raps are packed with energy, and this energy is matched by the second reason, BeanOne’s beats (this cat has been in the business since the mid-’90s—probably even earlier than that—and yet he manages to sound as fresh and energetic as a young buck going for broke). Three, Romaro Franceswa kept the streets in the 2013 game. What do I mean by this? With the continued gentrification of Seattle (good-bye, Yesler Terrace), it’s important to keep in mind (and not lose sight of) the life of those who are harassed by racist cops and often have to hustle to make a living in a society that has systematically abandoned them. In short, Franceswa is keeping it real.

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The Sickle & the Sword

The Stranger picked The Sickle & the Sword as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

RA Scion had a busy year in 2013. In spring, he released Adding to the Extra, an album produced by Todd Sykes (one half of Tacoma’s CityHall), which marked Scion’s return to the “old boom-bap” and introduced a new and very talented rapper to the scene, John Crown (he is on “Amalgam X”). But in the fall, Scion dropped a huge, beautiful, and deeply spiritual/philosophical LP, The Sickle & the Sword, which was produced by New York City’s Rodney Hazard. Three reasons for loving this record: One, the dubby, ghostly, gorgeous track “Bloodletter” is one of RA Scion’s highest achievements as an artist; two, it has a unified sound (thanks to Hazard); three, it takes a lot of risks and does not fear overflowing or even failure. Hazard and Scion need to join forces again.

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Tacos on Broadway

The Stranger picked Tacos on Broadway as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

The two young rappers, Tiglo and Cole, of Brother from Another had a very good year for three reasons. First, they were correctly selected by XXL magazine as one of Seattle’s “rappers you should know,” and second, the EP Tacos on Broadway, which featured production by one of my favorite beat-creators in town, Nima Skeemz (he not only did beats for one of the best tracks of the year, Raz Simone’s “Sometimes I Don’t,” but also the local hip-hop classic by Sol, “Stage Dive”), has a consistently crisp and chill sound. When listening to this EP, one feels that Tiglo and Cole are in no rush to become famous, but are more concerned with getting their sound and rap mode down. Third, they also released the best hip-hop video of the year for “Pike & Broadway,” which expressed new urban values for the hip-hop culture of the future: the pleasures of cycling around the city and visiting/enjoying parks.

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High & Mighty

The Stranger picked High & Mighty as the very best album of 2013, saying that:

Released on the very last day of October, High & Mighty has three things that make it the top record of the year. First, the production on this album is just solid. From the first track (the darkling “Crime Waves”) to the last (the brilliantly twisted “Sounds Like the Outro”), the music keeps the listener engaged and pleased. High & Mighty does not have a single weak or lazy beat. Second, it has a unified sound that corresponds with reason three: Nacho Picasso’s rap mode. His rhymes pulsate just above the subliminal, often spiral into the surreal and pornographic, are often packed with references to deep and dark parts of popular culture, and imagine a nocturnal 206—a 206 that never sleeps but is also not really awake, existing in the twilight of the two states. High & Mighty is a record Seattle can be proud of.

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP also picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

Nacho Picasso branches out sonically on High & Mighty, which makes for his best release since 2011’s For The Glory. Nowhere to be found on H&M are common collaborators Blue Sky Black Death, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the atmosphere is lighter. Here we have out-of-Towners Swish and Swiff D providing gothic, trap-inspired soundscapes, in addition to local heavyweights Vitamin D and Jake One on more densely composed beats.

And of course Nacho, possessor of the most recognizable voice in Seattle right now, is in rare form, laying out his bleak philosophy on life on “Crime Waves”, making (ahem) fowl assertions on the opposite sex on “Duck Tales”, and laying out the skeletons in his closet on the emotionally bare “Alpha Jerk”. In 2012, it was often difficult to see the forest for the trees in Nacho Picasso and BSBD’s collabs: too many clouds shrouding the deeper layers of the rapper’s complex psyche. High & Mighty, though, is a step through the looking glass, lyrically and beat-wise, and it results in a much more intricate picture.

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The Shadowed Diamond

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

Producer/MC Key Nyata carries the Rvdxr Klvn flag in the Pacific Northwest region of their dominion, and the rap scene here is benefiting from it. Electronic howls, muted explosions, piano keys in the dark, and of course trunk-rattling low end, are Key’s calling cards. The Shadowed Diamond‘s left-of-center aesthetic is definitely the star of the show, though Key Nyata’s prayerful shit-talk adds additional shades of color. Witness him dismiss “wave riding” hipsters on the title track, and non-apologetically recount his hustler days alongside Fresh Espresso’s P Smoov on “We Dwell on Planet E4rth”.

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Adding To The Extra

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

RA Scion dropped two full-length albums this year, opposites in sonic style. His collaboration with New York producer Rodney Hazard, The Sickle & The Sword, was all meditative, ambient hip-hop experimentalism. This blog, however, preferred the grimier (by comparison) excursion Adding To The Extra, with Tacoma producer Todd Sykes. AttE featured rough-around-the-edges boom-bap, heavy on samples, and dusty breakbeats, ideal for RA’s 99 percent-leaning bootstrap rap. It can take hours to untangle Ryan Abeo’s dense wordplay, but the exercise is worth it if only to reveal how deftly he laces tales of the working class into tightly-wound, philosophical rhymes.

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33 and a Third

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

I have no insight into producer Def Dee’s Gmail inbox, but I would hazard a guess that it’s full of earnest requests for beats from rappers who probably have no business rhyming over them. Def is like that uber-talented sketch artist you see posted up on a sidewalk bench, drawing hyper-real pictures of what he sees in front of him. Except Def makes hip-hop sketches that bring to mind the producers that built the very foundation of boom-bap: Pete Rock, DJ Premier, J Dilla — you know, guys you’ve probably heard once or twice before.

Mello Music Group promptly added him to their storehouse of talented beatmakers last year. 33 and a Third is his first compilation for MMG and the guest list includes a corps of Seattle rap’s best (Mic Phenom, La, Grynch, OCnotes, Chev, Zar) in addition to a grip of national underground talent (yU, Oddisee, Black Milk, etc.). Def is that type of producer whose interludes you actually look forward to, the kind where you can practically smell the hip hop elements cooking in his kitchen. Chopped up samples and scratched records: There will never be a more satisfying combo.

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Zenith

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

There may be something about how rappers JFK’s and Onry Ozzborn’s lyrical styles, especially as they coexist in duo Grayskul, that manages to circumvent the conscious part of your listening brain and burrow into the section of gray matter that composes your subconscious. Supernatural and sci-fi themes have been tantamount in Grayskul’s musical history, but Zenith finds JFK and Onry staying closer to terra firma than ever before. As the two age, decidedly earthbound issues like children and romantic relationships rise to the forefront, but don’t dare call this “dad rap”. The trick to being Grayskul seems to lie in the unique ability to speak on just about any issue — worldly and otherwise — in beautifully oblique and coded poetry.

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Digital Wildlife

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

So you crave diversity in your music, do you? No other album on this list served up more styles than The Physics’ Digital Wildlife. Take two parts hip hop, one part neo-soul and a rich amalgam of EDM, pop, and R&B, and you have the formula for the most refined Seattle hip-hop record of the year. And I still say “hip-hop” because even though DW‘s influences run the gamut of contemporary musical styles of the moment, its spirit is still grounded in beats and rhymes.

In-house producer Justo betrays his boom-bap roots on tracks like “No Tellin” even as a 21st-century synth pulse lights the way. And rapper Thig Nat’s nonchalant braggadocio and hustle-to-eat aspirant lyrics reveal his deep lineage as an MC, even as he tries his hand at singing on “Fix You” the albums centerpiece track. On Digital Wildlife, The Physics set out to explore the relationship between digital and analog recording techniques and, in the process, created a shining example of how tremendously vital Seattle rap can be.

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Audio D'oeurves

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

Yirim Seck is an under-appreciated voice in Seattle rap. His Audio D’oeurves is a well-commissioned EP of eight tracks, a grip of which were produced by Australian Ta-Ku. The overarching theme here is forward movement, evident in the mid-tempo boom-bap and Yirim’s tireless proclamations on love for “the art” and the fairer sex. The rapper’s last proper release, Hear Me Out (2009), was the portrait of a working-class everyman with an MC skill set that outpaced most others. Audio D’oeurves is more of the same. It’s not shiny or groundbreaking, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an MC technician with as good a mic handle as Yirim Seck.

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Solomon Samuel Simone

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

Raz’s debut EP, Solomon Samuel Simone, is only five tracks in length, but it contains more raw emotion and harrowed despair than most records three times its length. That’s all due to the MC who claims he was once told his raspy voice would be his undoing as a hip-hop artist. That voice has become Raz’s official calling card, and he uses it to deliver lyrical body blows about a street life as tenuous as a knife balanced on edge-point.

On “Sometimes I Don’t”, Raz recites a laundry list of bad behavior that he sometimes engages in, and other times he intentionally walks away from. This rapper contains multitudes and, like Pac before him, his most provocative trait is often the massive contradictions contained in his rhymes. Occasionally those artists come along whom you can tell would benefit, emotionally, from escaping the confines of their own minds. Raz reminds me of that type. The hard lesson in hip hop is that it would be a much less interesting place if artists like him truly found that liberation.

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Growing Up In The Future

These dudes need to be heard to be believed, but it’s like being sent back to the great, grim days of Black Moon, Channel Live, and Mobb Deep. Add to that just the right amount of fresh, new school elements. They’re sick, and their recent mention in XXL magazine as “Ones to Watch” is way more than warranted.

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

Kung Foo Grip has graduated from a pair of highly excitable battle rappers to a duo with insight and well-constructed bars. That growth does not preclude Eff is H and Greg Cypher from making some of the most exciting, combustible hip hop in Seattle, however. Growing Up In The Future is the pair coming of age while simultaneously staking claim to being the dopest in their Eastside (Kirkland) environs. “Out Of My Element” is urban/suburban ennui as viewed through the lens of the marginalized youth, and “Tuskegee” is high-strung brag rap featuring Moor Gang’s cleanup hitter Jarv Dee and Brooklyn’s up-and-coming Kris Kasanova.

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Eye 8 The Crow

Eye 8 The Crow, an album from emcee Ricky Pharoe and producer Mack Formway is, quite simply, it’s the best thing I’ve heard from either artist. Direct and straightforward, it doesn’t waste a single bar on filler, skits, or any of the needless stuff that so often clutters albums.

The album is thematic and sets a linear course, progressing from sober beginning to end. For those out there not familiar with the American colloquialism “to eat crow”, it means to admit wrongness, to swallow your words, and fess up to guilt. A more apt title would be hard to find, as the themes of guilt, transparency, and moral decay are prevalent. Pharoe has always had a penchant for being articulate, scathingly humorous, and unapologetic. Historically playing the roles of astounded commentator and bemused informer, his previous works found him relating the absurdities of a myriad of topics from religion, to capitalism, to commercialism, to pop art; and revealed him as an ever-growing and passionate orator. Whether his storytelling placed him on the stage or on a barstool, he was quick to jab his finger at everything and everyone that pissed him off. Like a cross between Don Quixote and The Underground Man, he tilted at windmills, gleefully calling out, in turn, each of the malodorous idiots surrounding him.

On Eye 8 the Crow, Pharoe has now turned inward, throwing all the passion he once held towards the outside world away and presenting himself in a new, darker light. His usual barbed humor has been blunted down to a bitter resignation, and his finger-pointing and scorn are reserved almost entirely for himself, revealing a morally ambiguous, menacing, and dead-eyed persona beyond the typical existential crisis. He depicts himself as an indifferent and exhausted man, sickened and numb past any fear of consequence for his actions. Pharoe has not turned thug; in fact, his level of eloquence and introspective depth has never been more poetic. For we are spying on him as he bares his soul and admits his atrocities in front of the mirror, spitting acid through a mask of grinning teeth. Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine that argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Moral nihilism argues that morality does not inherently exist and that moral values are abstractly contrived.

I say this because Ricky Pharoe and producer Mack Formway have created a nihilistic masterpiece with this album. It’s a distorted, bleak, and desolate journey, both philosophically and musically. Beneath the minor-key melodies and layers of beats, there is something dark, slithery, and mechanically single-minded. Televisions hiss white noise, samples are sliced to translucent thinness, mouths stutter, and repeat mindless noise. Over this, Pharoe relates his most naked confessions and base secrets in a steady, medicated drawl, constantly employing violent imagery, sounding both detached and savage. Thematically the album is connected: Personal achievement has been cashed in for the predetermination of fame and fortune; passion is discarded for materialism, and meaning and purpose are negated by the mere image of meaning and purpose.

This is a violent and traumatic transition, and bloody imagery is pervasive. He burns his bridges, annihilates his enemies, screws his friends, sells his soul, and focuses on his empty goals to the exclusion of all else, so very people he scorns idolize him, and he becomes king of the mindless system he despises. It’s a distilled and unrelenting listen, fatalistic and grim. “I ate the crow, and didn’t even choke” he snarls on the title track – he coldly and readily acknowledges this transformation and has no issue with it.

There’s a contrast and a duality with the characters he portrays, and Pharoe’s perspective constantly shifts between the accused and accuser. He rails against himself, angry when he screws up, just as he applauds himself for the same self-sabotage. Although obsessed with the image of fame and fortune, he cannot run from the crushing weariness of basic survival. When faced with the end of the world, he’s indifferent. He arrogantly calls himself the center of the universe, but immediately follows with a shoulder-shrugging “I guess it sounds fine.”

“When I look into the mirror, it’s only time I get starstruck,” he states on “So What” – his ennui is such that his existence is bleak, that life is tiresome, and that nothing external brings joy. He is ultimately weary on this cut, disillusioned and jaded.

Where Pharoe’s words provide the blueprint, beatmaker Mack Formway’s music provides the architecture. The music of Art Vandelay has always dramatic and heavy, with layers upon layers of samples, guitars, synths, and pounding percussion. The ingredients continue with Eye 8 the Crow, but as Pharoe’s mood has changed, so has the music. Minor keys and descending melodies dominate, and hip-hop structures give way to desolate, industrial clanging, digital distortion, empty creaking floorboards, and unresolved tension. Where Ricky speaks about the monster he has become, Formway animates the golem. Oddly enough he’s also responsible for the brief, few moments of brevity in the album, with refrains emerging through the dust and rubble to shed a little momentary, fleeting beauty to an otherwise desolate landscape.

The defining moment of the album is the oddly titled “Emilio Estevez”. Naked and brutal it is the nadir of the narrative. “Who needs a family / All I need is money / And a burner just in case you try to take it from me / I passed ugly now I’m moving on to retched / Don’t make your head and neck get somehow disconnected,” he bluntly states to a tv screen in the promo video for the track. “I promise I’ll deliver if it benefits me / Through long history, it seems to me the victories / Are written by the ones who use the strategy viciously / So let’s just do it surreptitiously.” Vowing to take a page from the great tyrants of the world, and to do for self at the expense of everything else, he asks himself, almost – but not quite – hopefully, “It’s that simple, right?”

The tone of the album subtly changes during the second half, gaining energy with guest appearances from 206 emcee Matic and the one and only Blueprint; culminating with the final tracks, “The Devil’s Notebook” and “Eyeballs”. These end pieces are concerned with the concept of freedom, although existence is still depicted as very much a meaningless construct. The nihilism is still very much present, but then anything less would only cheapen the dark perfection of the rest of the album. And I wouldn’t expect different from a band who got their name from a show about nothing. Pick it up, it’s my album of the year. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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ILLFIGHTYOU

Beetbak blog’s Jack Devo described this record as “Heavy, snotty, ignorant, ass-kicking, no-bullshit rhymes and beats… A much-needed opposite to the Town’s predominant vibe right now. I’m sure it will be a favorite on many year-end top ten lists.” When I hear the song “‘92” I picture a bouncing lowrider cruising along evening streets, pre-party prep, tunes blaring and subwoofer shaking the windows. The self-titled ILLFIGHTYOU, a 2013 record from the Tacoma hip-hop supergroup of the same name is floor-shaking fun, profane, young, and convincing: You should definitely have one more drink, do those drugs, ask that girl to dance, or fuck it, just give in to whatever wanton abandon is in front of you. (“BROOKLYN”) There’s something about those drums—primal and pounding, endlessly inventive and intensified by multiple MCs slinging verses, always dialing up the energy. When I write these reviews I scribble notes on my phone and later I sometimes struggle to deduce what I meant. For this record, I wrote: “Momentum, see BATCAVE,” and I’ll leave it to you to figure out what that means.

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Treadin'

Treadin’ is a 2013 EP from Grynch and Budo. The title track finds our MC questioning whether his long dog paddle towards success is worth the hustle. “We’ve come so far… We ain’t going nowhere,” echoes Shaprece during the hook on “So Far.” This song also features a great guest verse from Brother Ali where he recalls people asking him, “If you’ve made it, why you still riding the bus?” Success is indeed an elusive, fickle lover. Included are instrumental versions of these tracks, and it’s here where we can really hear Budo’s production shine. He’s an engaging multi-instrumentalist, effortlessly mixing the textures of horns, slide guitars, and badass synths. On headphones, so many delightful audio treats await. The vinyl is an icy grey splatter and every copy is individually numbered: My copy is 500/500. Keep at it Grynch.

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terra galactica

There are moments in terra galactica, a 2014 release from local artist Kelly Castle Scott, that are reminiscent of motivational hypnosis cassettes, her disembodied tones floating above environmental noise. Songs take you on a journey and you find yourself somewhere, uncertain quite how you arrived there. Pulling from a wide and eclectic range of styles and influences–jazz, chill-out electronica, spoken word, and rap–this is ambient psychedelia for a new millennium. Production is courtesy of FFU alumni and local beatmaker Thad Wenatchee.

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BLK GLD

He’s releasing a new EP tomorrow, so today let me cast some love towards Porter Ray’s skeletal 2013 debut, BLK GLD. Mixing downtempo production with literary rhymes, spoken softly over loops and beats, this record took me a while to get into. But now it’s probably the hip-hop record I play the most, as it slowly reveals its sublime truths. (Also, beautiful cover art.)

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

Porter Ray is the most buzzed-about MC in Seattle these days. Lofty comparisons have been thrown around — “raps like Nas”, “the next Ishmael Butler” — but when it all shakes out, the best thing about Porter is that he doesn’t really sound like anyone else rapping in the Town. BLK GLD is not your garden variety rap debut, the kind of record looking to chart on Billboard and rack up hits on YouTube. Porter takes his time, laying out visceral, observational bars about inner-city life, over dense, elemental beats featuring dusty percussion and rare sample flips. To draw yet another comparison, Porter’s rhyme ethos shares much in common with Earl Sweatshirt’s: Both are still-budding MCs whose only fear seems to be making mediocre hip-hop. The youth is not wasted on Porter Ray.

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