Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.
In 2017, hip-hop and R&B officially became the "most consumed genres" in the United States, according to data from Nielsen Music. Really though, I don't think you need data to know that. Just walk outside and listen to what music you hear coming through car speakers and playing in bars and restaurants. Ask your friends what their top albums of the year are and count how many times you hear the words, "Kendrick Lamar - DAMN."
There's a rightful pouring of love for MCs, who've taken the mantle of rock stars and American idols. But we're not just living in the age of the rap superstar, producers have started to ascend in their own right. Acts like Metro Boomin, Kaytranada, and numerous others have all built their own followings, helping shape the sounds that are defining the modern era of music. And while it's easy to spot this on an international level, there's a groundswell of producers who are helping create the Pacific Northwest's musical identity. From hip-hop and R&B to house and ambient, 2017 in Cascadia was largely in debt to these artists (among many, many others) crafting future classics on beat pads and progressive visions.
Stas THEE Boss
We can't take Stas THEE Boss for granted. Since she first emerged with the inimitable THEE Satisfaction, her beats have helped the groundswell of spacey, soulful rhythms that have caught the ears of listeners beyond just our region. No one sounds cooler on the mic than Stas, but her you'd be remiss to forget just how influential of a producer she continues to be. This year she dropped two projects — her solo debut S'women and the instrumental gospel-inspired tape Voices that just dropped days ago. Between both of these releases, you get a sense of the brilliance she contains. To be able to craft a sound that sounds so alien and yet remarkably human and passionate is not an easy feat, yet she does it with remarkable ease. This is all before you get into her constant DJ sets around town and her hosting of Street Sounds on KEXP. Stas isn't just a tastemaker, she defines what the taste will be. It might take the rest of us still a few years to catch-up.
There's a lot to take in with Lushloss' Asking/Bearing tape. It's one of the most emotionally complex records of the year, tying in Skype interviews with her mother and opening up with emotionally candid lyrics that feel like she's ripping her heart open for all of us to see. A lot of this is a testament to Olive Jun's willingness to open herself up, but her production is also a major factor in making these complex revelations work so well. Jun uses everything at her disposal, pitching her voice up and down while building dreamy, startlingly beautiful beats. She even brings in acoustic tracks to juxtapose against the shimmering rhythms. It's in the second half of the tape that we really get to see Jun showoff her instrumental prowess with tracks that edge into hip-hop without forsaking her delicate, otherwordly style. This is what a singer-songwriter looks like in 2017. It's not with an acoustic guitar, sitting on a stool in the corner of a coffee shop. It's behind the boards, pouring out your soul over an MPC and searching for the sounds that echo how you feel.
If you've been paying attention to releases from some of Seattle's most promising rappers like DoNormaal and Taylar Elizza Beth, you're bound to come across Brakebill's name. It's easy to see why so many artists are working with this versatile producer. Every beat Brakebill drops sounds ready to upset the charts. He veers between delicate and aggressive beats fluidly, creating tasteful arrangements with each element serving a key purpose. There's nothing extraneous on a Brakebill beat, making them deceptively minimalist while still sounding full and rich. Personally, it's the way he utilizes bass tones that I think really makes his music so captivating. He can find the intricacies within the frequencies and timbres that can drastically change the mood. Compare the languid musings of his solo cut "Two Weeks" with the tenacious shiver of DoNormaal's "Buckle" and you can get an idea of how ambitious and widespread his sound really is.
It's not just Brakebill that's been a go-to for Seattle rappers. Wolftone has emerged as a dominant force in nailing the foreboding, fearless production that's started to takeover the Emerald City. Among his peers, Wolftone is the one most likely to stare into the abyss and embrace the bleakness in his beats. Producing the majority of AJ Suede's brilliantly hazy Gotham Fortress as well as a several tracks on RVN's genre-bending GREYNEON, Wolftone expertly takes elements of industrial and punk aesthetics and reinterprets them as brutal, spacious canvases for rappers to unleash their most vicious tendencies. It makes it all the more exciting when he pulls back for achingly beautiful cuts like DoNormaal's "Don't Make Me Wait."
Ambient music is tricky business. It's finding the right balance between being open-ended and giving your listener something to hold on to. Part of what makes Ancient Mariner so compelling is her willingness to break the mold. Her debut LP, Forever::Hotel, ambitiously infuses wandering swaths of synths with distant high-hats and trap-like beats. It never loses the immersive, longing that draws listeners in to ambient music while utilizing rhythm as a not-so-secret ingredient. Forever::Hotel veers between short, episodic moments to lengthy jams like the meme-inspired "Protecc:Attac" that you wouldn't mind hearing going on forever.
If there was a such thing as a "breakout ambient star", it's Portland's Visible Cloaks. His record Reassemblage drew comparisons to innovators like Ryuichi Sakamoto — which is a pretty fucking big thing to say. He warrants the praise. There's a startling, cold feeling to the record. It feels inhuman, like a distant transmission reinterpreted through lines of code. But that seeming absence of humanity opens up room to feel new things. It's detached, yet still attached. The space between his stabs of synthesizer and syncopated vocal samples are ambitious, letting the listener imprint themselves between the notes.
Vancouver's house scene is a bottomless pit of incredible production, with labels like Pacific Rhythm and 1080p helping curate this ever growing movement. Among the numerous excellent releases was D. Tiffany's impeccable Blue Dream. Over the course of 25-minutes, D. Tiffany possesses the listener with endless rhythms that surge forward with remarkable attention to detail with splashes of synths and looped bass-lines that feel endless. It's energizing, thoughtful, and constantly searching for the next switch-up. Her playful vocal sampling on "How Ru Plush" with a chipper voice declaring "Excuse me," Thanks," and "I'm trying to dance," feels like a transmission from the future transmitted back to our timeline. Whether you're dancing to it our just getting lost in your headphones, D. Tiffany's brilliance will continue to shine through.
DJ NHK Guy
After some time spent abroad in Japan and immersing himself in Chicago footwork, DJ NHK Guy moved to Seattle and emerged with a remarkable cross-genre opus At Your Door. The moniker of Jesse Lopez, the project is pure sugary enthusiasm over some of the most joyful beats you're likely to come across. Lopez masterfully fuses regional styles to create something uniquely his own. It's a marathon sprint through drum and bass and hip-hop with flashy samples of Japanese pop. He's onto something here and it shouldn't be overlooked.
Fish Narc's influence extends well beyond the Cascade region. While he showed up on local releases like DoNormaal's Third Daughter (how many times can we shout out this album?) and Mackned's Hollywood Dropout, he's tirelessly crafted trap beats that veer into avant garde territory. Perhaps no local artist has embraced Soundcloud quite as well as Fish Narc, linking up with emerging talents like Lil Tracy and notably working with the late Lil Peep. Fish Narc somehow manages to remain elusive despite his growing profile, which just adds to the allure of excellent music.
As one half of Sendai Era, Sendai Mike embraced the allure of pop in some of the most compelling ways of anyone this year. In Sendai Era, he matches Enrico Abadesco enthusiasm and shows how authentic of a partnership these two have crafted. He's not one to veer away from them introspective either, contributing the standout "Storm" beat on Taylar Elizza Beth's Fresh Cut Flowers. He isn't afraid to let his production glow and radiate love.
If Fountaine wasn't on your radar in 2017, get ready for him to became a major force in the next year. The Portland-based producer and rapper dropped the wide-ranging H.F.I.L. (Hell For Infinite Losers) this summer, with delightfully weird experimental beats and all the Dragon Ball samples and references you could ever want. It never feels like a gimmick either, he's just expressing a potara fusion of his personality and interests into his music. The Last Artful, Dodgr's feature on "Backyard Baseball" proves that these aren't just beats for him either. He's as weird as he want to be and I can't wait to hear more of it.
Ruler Signs to Barsuk Records, Shares New Song and Music Video for "Easy Life"
When Seattle's Matt Batey isn't supporting acts like Cataldo and Rocky Votolato, he's crafting ear-worms under the Ruler moniker. Now the project is poised to breakout with news that Ruler has signed to Barsuk Records. In his latest single, "Easy Life", encapsulates just how undeniable his music is. It's a poppy ode to maintaining your sanity, complete with visuals of Batey trying to make it through a day in Seattle. He goes through the daily inconveniences of a dying phone, a car that won't run, missing your bus, and opening your wallet only to find a bunch of leaves (who hasn't been there?). No word yet on when the new album is coming out, but this video is enough to get excited about it.
The Last Artful, Dodgr Hops on The Flavr Blues "Top Down" Remix
The Last Artful, Dodgr came through earlier this year with an incredible debut, Bone Music. On that record, she delved into an onslaught of dark, feverish beats courtesy of Portland producer Neil Von Tally. Now she's showing just how versatile she is, hopping on Seattle party-starters The Flavr Blues' "Top Down" remix. While The Flavr Blue vibes elegantly on the laidback beat, Dodgr punches through and adds just a dash of intensity that helps elevate the track into a perfect soundtrack to, well, driving with the top down.
Street Sounds Host, Rapper, Producer, and DJ Stas THEE Boss reflects on Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, and using music to tell stories for Black History Month
Vancouver DJ Jayda G has been on a steady ascent to disco dominance and her latest 12-inch single, Disco Bitch, seals the deal.
David Bazan's Pedro the Lion project returns after an eleven year absence. Playing three shows at the Tractor Tavern in December.
Every week, KEXP features a new local artist with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. This week we're highlighting Seattle children's band Recess Monkey, who play KEXP's Deck The Dock this Sunday from 2 to 4 PM.
On his latest album, Gotham Fortress, AJ Suede is filled with negative energy. It looms in the boom of his voice, in the foreboding rumbles of Wolftone's spacious beats (as well as cuts from SpaceGhostPurp and Brakebill). He cements the atmosphere of the record early on with the stand out track, ...
Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in th...