Anointed early on as the “golden child” of the Black Constellation, Porter Ray’s gifts as a rapper and storyteller skyrocketed him as one of the most exciting young artists to come out of Seattle.
Porter Ray’s career has been marked with great promise and potential. Anointed early on as the “golden child” of the Black Constellation, Porter’s gifts as a rapper and storyteller skyrocketed him as one of the most exciting young artists to come out of Seattle when he first emerged on the scene. A decade on Porter’s promise still shows no ceiling.
On this final episode of Fresh off the Spaceship, Porter shares his story navigating grief, building toward his future, and using his music to build up his city. Like his Constellation peer Ishmael Butler, Porter has emerged as generational talent of the Central District. His work celebrates the neighborhood’s under-heard stories and extends the wisdom bestowed upon him from those he’s lost. From deferred NBA hoop dreams to the enlightenment of fatherhood, he’s already gained a lifetime of wisdom – but he’s not done yet.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Far Light (Interlude)” from Eye of the Beholder ]
LARRY MIZELL, JR.: Ish always kind of regarded you or my impression of it was always kind of like the golden child. You're not a child. You a grown man, you know what I'm saying? Did you ever feel pressure around that?
PORTER RAY: Yeah, I used to struggle with that a little bit. In terms of feeling like, you know, I want to live up to his expectations even though he doesn't have any. I want to live up to the city's expectations and I want to live up to my own.
PORTER: I guess I just haven't fulfilled my full destiny just yet, because there's still much more to do.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Far Light (Interlude)” from Eye of the Beholder ]
LARRY: Welcome back to Fresh off the Spaceship. I’m Larry Mizell Jr. DJ, writer, and your guide in this podcast.
MARTIN DOUGLAS: And I’m your co-host, Martin Douglas.
LARRY: Throughout each episode of this podcast, we’ve been diving deep into the story of the Black Constellation. On our last episode, we took a look at the work and life of Nep Sidhu. If you haven’t listened back to that or any of our previous episodes, please clear some space out and give those a listen.
MARTIN: You’ll definitely want to go back and check out our past episodes if this is the first one you’re hearing, because you managed to skip all the way to the end! We have reached the finale of this limited series; it’s almost time for us to touch back down on Planet Earth. Before we do, here on the final episode of “Fresh off the Spaceship,” we’re taking a look at Porter Ray, poet laureate of the Central District.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “5 Mics” from BLK GLD ]
SUB POP PANEL MODERATOR: Porter Ray is a rising emcee — dubbed The Golden Child by Ishmael Butler. He's recorded three EP's, a few mixtapes and his debut for Sub Pop, Watercolor.
JUSMONI: Mr. Porter Ray Sullivan. Porter Ray. There's nobody touching P's deliveries and metaphors and flavor and style and grace. Nobody, not in my city, don't nobody make me feel like Porter Ray, You know? A light. Just like gifted and smart.
STAS THEE BOSS: That's my baby boy. He's wavy, poetic P.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Get Your $ Luv” from WHT GLD ]
MAIKOIYO ALLEY-BARNES: Porter is, like, eloquent without being pretentious. Porter's gift with the language is is really special, but it's also extremely honest and vulnerable. Some might even say to a fault. I wouldn't.
JONATHAN ZWICKEL: That's a guy that has always seemed to have a really it's a dumb word to use, but like kind of literary angle on hip-hop, you know, like a real sort of storytellers eye and like a great knack for metaphor also. And yeah, he like seemed to be like gifted in that regard, you know, in terms of his lyricism and his like sort of songcraft ability.
NEGARRA KUDUMU: There is this expectation always placed on black artists, but also P.O.C. artists that we always have to be talking about politics, that we always have to be talking about something respectable instead of making things that look and sound good. And what I like about Porter, is that the voice lands so nicely.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Waves” from Watercolor ]
ISHMAEL BUTLER: You know me, I like a lot of niggas from the Town, a lot of rappers, but to me, he's the best that Seattle ever produced.
ISHMAEL: You know, his essentialness brought something out in me that was awakened, really excitement in me that I had, like, sort of thought maybe was a thing of the past.
LARRY: The idea of potential or promise comes with a heavy weight, because the failure to live up to it is a distinct possibility. At various points in his career, many people have touted Porter Ray as the future of the city. From his very first full-length projects — mixtapes, as they used to be called — Porter revealed himself very early as a singular talent in Seattle’s fertile rap scene. Even prior to his dreams to excel in the field of hip-hop, Porter had aspirations to become an NBA star. With lofty ambitions always come debilitating setbacks, and Porter has certainly had his share of both.
MARTIN: Porter’s writing not only articulates the weight of high expectations, but also the weight of grief. Losing his father, then his brother, then the mother of his eldest son. The sense of mourning that never leaves him. He recites gorgeous words about regular brushes with violence, the stress of co-parenting, love, sex, the allure of the outlaw lifestyle. Bullets lodged in the passenger door of a sedan. Safe houses in Federal Way. A vivid eye for detail appears all over Porter’s songs, but also a sense of place. Seattle and a few of its surrounding areas serve as a striking backdrop for all of his narratives.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “How the Blunt Feel” from BLK GLD ]
LARRY: Even with the talent Porter has already exhibited, even though he’s dropped some of the most graceful music the city has ever seen, who knows if he’s even in his prime yet? At 34 years old, Porter is still a young man with many more stories to tell in an art form where its practitioners are figuring out how to age gracefully in their art. A far cry from a young Ishmael Butler pushing 30 and feeling as though he was going to age out of the rap game. Even with a decade’s worth of projects under his belt, Porter is still being lauded as the future of Seattle hip-hop. Appropriate for a gifted artist born, raised, and still living in the Central District.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Back Then” from BLK GLD ]
LARRY: Throughout this podcast, the CD has been described several different ways. Descriptions of the neighborhood hit differently when they’re written by Porter Ray. Born in Group Health Central Hospital on 15th and John, he went to school in the area and discovered his love for basketball through various community centers and ball camps. The CD not only shaped his writing, but the person he would become.
PORTER: Regular kid from the District. Garfield Community Center. Uh, you know, Miller Community Center. Um, you know, Bob Bender's Basketball Camp. Jason Terry Basketball Camp, playing aau ball playing CYO ball. Uh, and just growing up in that melting pot of the CD, you know, from the Valley, um, to the south side of Jackson. And that's where all my friends are from. That's where I got my style from. That's where I got my language from. Uh, that's where I got my morals from, the people that were older than me, whether it was at school, whether it was on the court, just walking through the neighborhood on the block, wherever. I absorbed all of that like a sponge. And it was, uh, it was a luscious time. It was a luscious environment to grow up in. I feel very, very blessed and privileged to have grown up in the CD at the time that I did.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Sometimes” from When Words Dance ]
LARRY: The Central District has historically been redlined, and then gentrified, nearly into oblivion. At one point in Seattle’s history, it was the city’s most racially diverse neighborhood.
PORTER: That's the interesting thing, too, about being an MC from here is cause and, and another thing that was important to me in terms of documentation was because it's our culture as Black people. Yeah. And outside of Seattle, you wouldn't really know that. And that's what was crazy about growing up in the CD, because it's always been a small percentage of black folks here. But it was so. Such again, just a luscious village, black folks in such a close knit, tight knit community. And it was all black folks, you know, and like, of course, you know, like white folks, too, but it was like a black neighborhood definitely in you got people that are doing not doing what they do, but you also got people who are doing really well. Yeah. And so that was another beautiful thing to see. Um, and you know, you try to convey that to somebody now or even when we were growing up, trying to convey that to somebody on the East Coast or anywhere, as an emcee, feelin like. Man. Are people going to care about what we're dealing with and what we're struggling with here? Are they going to think it's soft or are they going to think it’s fake or it’s watered down or whatever? You know what I'm saying? for sure. And so that was that was another one of my conquests was trying to provide the stories and the imagery and the reality of what was really going on here without even but without trying to, like, overdo it or anything like that. Just do it vividly, right. So that it's undeniable.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “My Mother’s Words” from Watercolor ]
LARRY: Porter was born to a Black mother and a father of Irish descent. His mom moved to Seattle from Arkansas at the age of three and his father was born in the city. Music flooded Porter’s household, as both his parents had a voracious appetite for spinning records. Many of his relatives were musicians themselves.
PORTER: My father and my mother shared a huge vinyl collection and so music was something that was always going on in the house and something that was always talked about, spoken about. On both sides of my family, my father's side of the family, most people play guitar, sing. And that was something that we would do when we got together as a family. You know, somebody is going to pull out the guitar. People gon start singing when I'm with my Pops family. Also, one of my uncles is a, A jazz trumpetist. I think he plays trumpet. My Uncle Lee is a jazz musician on my mother's side.
LARRY: Porter recalls listening to rap and R&B with his older cousins, trying their hand at freestyling. More musicians in his family crop up in his memory. For some of us, music is as essential as oxygen, and Porter’s family was no exception.
PORTER: On my father's side, my older cousins, most of them were very much into hip hop, not even most, all of them were super into hip hop, R&B and just music in general. So there was a lot of freestyles and I was that that's when I was getting like when I would get out of the old school hits and it wasn't Frankie Beverly. And, and and, you know, Aretha and then it got into now I can hear Big for, for the first time or like and the unedited version and Pac. And, and also my cousin Thad too is a jazz musician. So I grew up around a lot of music, where it's just natural for people to, to know how to play instruments in my family and on top of my parents, just having a very eclectic taste in music and just always having music on. Whether they're cleaning the house, cooking, eating dinner like anytime it's on.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Circled by Candles” from RSE GLD ]
LARRY: A big narrative thread in Porter’s early music concerned his hoop dreams, his aspirations to become an NBA star. After participating in various youth leagues and basketball camps, he played ball in high school, inspired in part by one of his biggest inspirations, his father.
PORTER: My father played ball at Western. He was a walk-on. Something I'm really proud of, actually.
LARRY: Both on record and during our recent chat, Porter has mentioned his father’s coolness and good taste. He also spoke about how his parents first started dating.
PORTER: It's a ill story about my moms and my pops. My mom is, I think, 16 at the time. And she's a lifeguard down at Mount Baker Beach. And she's doing her thing. She's at work. And my pops is walking around with his boombox, with his radio on his shoulder and is pumping "Who’s That Lady?" by the Isley Bros. And he stops at her and waits for a sec. And she looks at him. They exchange a glance. And then he, um. I think my mom's is like, you know, like what? Or whatever, because he's. He's taking a gander and he says, “I'm not going to leave until you answer the question.” And this is the introduction of my parents. And, you know, then they end up getting married, having me. My Pops was a slick dude. Yeah, slick dude. Very smooth. Real classic, Classic dude, you know, was driving me and my brother and sister around in his Delta 88 Oldsmobile, always was well-dressed. Taught me and my homeboys how to iron our clothes and stuff real young, how to keep ourselves proper and just was just one of those. Always playing ball, very active and again, tunes. Lot of tunes all the time.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Delta 88” from WHT GLD ]
LARRY: Sometime after that day on Mt. Baker Beach, Porter’s parents ended up having three children. He describes the supportive and well-traveled upbringing he and his siblings had.
PORTER: I'm the oldest of three, my younger brother and my younger sister, Aaron and Siobhan. Where I'm six years older than my sister. Three years older than my brother. Yeah. Grew up in an environment with all the potential you could ask for. Yeah. Loving parents, always family around, we got to travel when we were younger.
PORTER: I remember going to Mexico when we were younger, going to Hawaii and things like that. I was the only kid with my basketball in Mexico because everyone's playing soccer. I'm the only one with my basketball and the only black kid around trying to hoop. I remember. I came back from Mexico, I had the fake FUBU backpack coming in the fifth grade. Those things, little memories like that were very, very precious to me.
LARRY: Porter treasuring memories of his childhood comes from a life of grieving lost loved ones, which started with his father when he was just a teenager. Porter remembers being a caretaker for his father when he was in high school and ultimately when his father passed away.
PORTER: My father got sick with M.S. when I was around 11 or 12. And so that was a ill time for me too, ill time for me and my siblings, for my whole family. And then lost my father when I was like 16. Ended up losing my brother when I was 18. And that both of those events were very huge part of my artistic journey. When I lost my father, I stopped being so into hoop, I was, super into hoop, I was at O'Dea. This was my junior year and he had already been sick and was slowly deteriorating. And it was a tough time. I had to at a young age, I was helping my father walk, go up and down stairs, eat his food and taking care of him. Just someone who needs care at the house. And I remember he was still even though he was sick, he would be like, first, he was not his cane. He would still come to my hoop games. Then he was in his walker, then the wheelchair, then like just in the bed. But he would always come to my hoop games. It was a tough time. And as he was getting sicker and there was more responsibility on me and and it was just opening my mind to real life and maturing in a lot of ways and just dealing with real life. And that got me into tapping into my artistic side a lot more. I was talking about hoop and how he used to come see me because eventually he passed. And then it kind of tore me away from basketball because I didn't feel like I had someone watching me anymore or someone to play for.
LARRY: Right, in your corner.
PORTER: In my corner at all times, no matter what, you know, even at his worst in my corner still and saw that that was the first event that really started steering me towards. And I was always into poetry and into drawing. I could draw real well and just love art, you know, I love photography and film and that really got me into writing more and expressing myself and trying to get those feelings out in the same with my brother. My brother passed. That's when I really finally decided like, I got to put this out in and talk about my story and. Express myself, and my whole plan was to just put something out and try to connect to people just because I just felt the need to do it. Yeah, but those two events specifically, you know, kind of all two alter my whole universe and set me on the course that I'm on now.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “5 and a Deuce” from BLK GLD ]
LARRY: It comes through in your art, you know, the spirits of your brother and your dad. Our big part of the narrative you weave in all of your music, you know, you mention the Delta 88. I recognize that song right away.
LARRY: You talk about your brother in very stirring ways in many songs.
LARRY: Kind of talking about the folks you lost. And those aren't the only folks you lost. I assume you're of a certain age from the central, so.
PORTER: Yeah. Yeah. There was a lot of people that we lost young, whether they were incarcerated or we just lost them early to the next life. But, uh, it's crazy to me because I feel like those people are chosen and, um, because they were just everyone I think about that I lost in either of those ways. They were just, like, the best of the best. Hmm. Just some of the illest individuals that I've ever had the pleasure to meet. I like to look at it like they were chosen. And that's something that I've also had to deal with in general, because when you start losing people and when you lose a lot of people, I mean, you have to make sense of it. Yeah. And so you tell yourself that, you know, these people have chosen this. They're better for it. They're making you better for it. They're in a better place. I mean, it's like VIP. Right? Yeah. And even then, in the right to get in there. Yeah, you got to. Right. You got to get your Zelda hearts up a little bit. Right? Right.
LARRY: Your heart containers.
PORTER: Yeah. And so I also, um. Yeah, I lost many friends. I ended up losing my best friend. Um, also, my first son's mother, Joy. And that was a week after watercolor come out. And so it's been a lot of loss. But it's again, it's such a huge part of why I feel like as a writer and as a a writer, that I need to capture those mommies, highlight those people and celebrate and encapsulate like the time period, the things that we did, the things that we seen. Like these people were so ill to me that I can't help but just tell everybody about it.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “East Seattle” from Watercolor ]
LARRY: Porter lost a lot of his people. His friends, his family. Ended up finding newfound family right up the hill at a boutique on Capitol Hill called Laced Up. Which eventually evolved into Pun(c)tuation, a gallery, community space, organized by MAB, which would set the stage for the formation of the Black Constellation.
MAIKOIYO: I first met Porter when he was in middle school at St. Therese. It's me and my and my collaborator and good brother, Christophe Roberts went and did a like a art class, like a kind of one off art class at my old elementary in Madrona, and he was probably in like the eighth grade. And him and his little brother were around there. And they were. Yeah. They were a little too cool for the art of the art project [laughs], but they were funny dudes, so they had a good time. That's the first time I really remember him.
LARRY: Many years later, the two would cross paths again…
MAIKOIYO: Porter was just off the block in the district all the time. Now that I think about it, even before I realized that, you know what I mean, put, you know, kind of put the two and two together. It was the same dude from middle school. He was, you know, running around, um, participating in different entrepreneurial ventures [laughs] in the neighborhood.
MAIKOIYO: When we started punctuation, he was kind of like perennially there, man was always like, you know, we had this collective of people who would be extremely helpful. But inevitably when it came time to hang a show, people, a lot of people would have other things that they needed to get done. But Porter was like clockwork, was there like every exhibition to help hang shows.
LARRY: Porter quickly established himself as an essential part of the team at pun(c)tuation, ingratiating himself with MAB.
MAIKOIYO: The thing to me that has always been endearing is dude, you know, would always ask me if I had eaten or if I needed anything. And it's funny because, you know, you when you're in certain realities, people, I think, always assume you're good. But the reality was in some cases man I hadn't eaten and were it not for him, you know, sliding next door to the Honey Hole and getting me a sandwich, I probably wouldn't have eaten. Whether I had money in my pocket or not. It was more just about the fact that time wise it wasn't, you know. Right? It wouldn't have happened, and I honestly wouldn't even have thought about it.
PORTER: This is my first, like, point of initiation with these people. You know, I'm still like a young teenager, but I'm at the end of my teenage years, kind of. And out of high school and starting to develop myself in that way. And that was my, my introductory point. Started a link with Maikoyo and started building with him. He took me under his wing. Ish would come around every once in a while.
ISH: The first time I met P was at punctuation. He was working there. The second time -- I was going to say, one thing about P that's amazing because I'm a forgetful bro, like. But I remember every time I've ever seen Porter. That's how much of an impression he always leaves on me.
PORTER: I remember I was asking is at the time if he had a picture of him in Digable that I could use to put on a t shirt and he gave me this photo that that we actually never ended up using to do the shirt. But I was again just starting to be around these guys, build with these guys. And so then that's kind of like genesis of like the Constellation for me.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray featuring JusMoni - “Vice Cloud” from Electric Rain ]
LARRY: For Porter, being around Laced Up, and later Punctuation, surrounded him with examples and mentors which only fueled his then secret passion for rhyming. Now of course he knew Vitamin D from around the way. Vitamin D is a Seattle legend. Absolutely intrinsic to anything hip hop from here. He's also the host of Street Sounds here at KEXP. Porter grew up around some of Vita’s cousins. During a road trip to L.A. with Maikoiyo, Porter heard Vitamin D’s production work on a release from Seattle hip hop duo Narcotik.
[ MUSIC CUE: Narcotik - “All Up In My Mix (feat. Infinite)”] ]
PORTER: And, you know, instantly after a second, when I'm hearing what they're saying, I'm like, Yo. Fuck is this, you know? And again, it was the first time for me that I was hearing people talk about my neighborhood and specifically talking about my neighborhood in a way that like… they're talking about the streets, but also how they talk. When they're painting the picture for you and what they're seeing and how this person dresses or how they dress. Totally It was like looking in the mirror.
PORTER: It was just it's just something that we do, like, we all play ball, you know what I mean? Like, if I tell somebody, I'll play ball. They wouldn't think that was specially unique or something like that. And that's how I think about rap in my neighborhood, like everybody on the rhymes. But that was that was yeah, that was that was a pivotal moment for me. They really influenced me and inspired me.
ISHMAEL BUTLER: It's the Central District all the way out to the south end. The amount of people that that we grew up around that had the abilities and talents that are similar to the ones that we are up here talking about now and people interested in us now for - everybody was a talented like that. Everybody was funny, everybody was courageous. Everybody could play two or three sports, everybody could dance.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Retrospect” from Fundamentals ]
LARRY: Writing music was just a afterschool activity at first for Porter, but soon he began to take it very seriously. He met his boy, Cesar, who began helping him record and produce tracks, and soon they were off and running, stacking demos and tracks. For what? Nobody was sure yet.
MAIKOIYO: When I first got hip to the music, he handed me over a file that had like 80 or 90 songs like, you know, which for somebody you didn't even know was making music was [laughs] it's a statement, you know what I mean? that's significant. And some of them were just sketches and they weren't finished. And some of them, you know, I've come to know as other songs or, you know, but a lot of them I haven't heard since.
LARRY: Maikoyo also introduced him to Geoff Gillis, a music industry veteran who would eventually become his manager…
PORTER: I started hanging out around Geoff more during the punctuation era. And then, you know, I would. I sell weed to them and shit at the time. Working at Laced Up has been the most beneficial thing that's ever happened in my career because I got to meet all the promoters, all that were coming through and dropping off fliers. I got to meet all the emcees who were coming through and dropping off fliers for other shows. I met all the deejays, I met all the just music heads or tastemakers of the city. And that was something that when I started rhyming, everyone already knew who I was. And that was something that I think has been like probably the most beneficial thing in my career because that's what tapped me into all the individuals that I'm name in and start to put me in these situations. And eventually, you know, got me sitting here talking to you, got me to, to be able to be a part of this collective.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Paper Money Pyramids” from RSE GLD ]
LARRY: When Porter began to pursue a rap career in earnest, he released a trio of projects, titled BLK GLD, WHT GLD, and RSE GLD. Those releases immediately brought Porter to the forefront of artists to watch in Seattle. The sessions for BLK GLD produced such good work that the project had to be extended into two more EPs. As a result the GLD trilogy hit the Seattle streets to rapturous acclaim.
PORTER: That was me. Trying to. Put out something that I felt like was when an artist puts out their first piece of work and it's like you just try to make it as pure as possible. So I’m super influenced by nineties hip hop and by that golden spot in history, and also the jazz influence of Seattle, the rainy day. I was also trying to really really encapsulate and like define what our sound was. Yes. Like, what was the Seattle sound? West Coast got a sound. But we're talking like Cali or NorCal or socal. Yeah, it's got a sound. Yeah. East Coast got a sound. Midwest down South everywhere got a sound. So it was like, what's ours and what can I, what can guide me? And so that that was me trying to pay homage to 90’s hip hop and just have it be nostalgic. And so I was using a lot of Dil Withers beats and these just inner, just grimy, just beautiful loops. And I was also trying to define the sound for myself. And I'm not trying to define Seattle sound for nobody else, but for me that's what it was I try to speak to the listener like they're a friend of mine and I can just bring them in and I like to document what's going on in my life. And so when I go back and listen, I can like oh yeah I was there. This was what was going on at the time.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Pavement” from RSE GLD ]
LARRY: I remember riding around with Ish and he's playing me these tracks from Porter and I was just like. Yo. What the fuck? This guy is crazy, talented and like poetic. That word comes up a lot, but P is just, like, gifted. Like, he uses his voice like a paintbrush.
LARRY: P thinks so much about what Seattle could and does and should sound like and like. I feel like he really nailed it, too. To a high degree. On on on BLK GLD in particular.
MARTIN: Yeah, absolutely. I think the first time I heard it, it was mindblowing. How? Accurately. He captured not only like the sights and sounds and happenings and neighborhoods of Seattle, but like the feel. Yeah, like you can you can feel it overcast on on the album just listening to it. Thought that was incredible is an incredible thing to do with words and with music.
LARRY: Absolutely. Like you have to have a lot of a high degree of emotional intelligence to be able to convey that feeling and be able to get to the heart of all of these characters he's talking about, you know, people living in the city. These different you know, these different cities, that's the same city. He does that so well because he straddles these worlds so well. I always think of Nas when it comes to Porter, the classic like, you know, project window, you know, looking, looking out at everything going on. And he's not just an observer either, you know what I mean? He's got such an amazing sensitivity for the soul of this place. And I think that's so important at a time when the soul of this place is disappearing. I, I always trip over, and he's probably sick of me talking about 5950.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “5950’s” from BLK GLD ]
LARRY (continued): And I love all of Porter's catalog, but that song is absolutely one of my favorite Seattle hip hop songs of all time.
LARRY (continued): The way it captures the feel of this place, the tragedy of being from this tiny community that's torn apart by gun violence. And, you know, seeing people he grew up with murdered and treated like, you know, disposable garbage and. Him reminiscing and talking to the people he lost while he's driving around Lake Washington like you can't not feel it if you're from here.
MARTIN: Yeah, absolutely. I think of “Checkmate.” I think “Checkmate” is like my quintessential Seattle song. “On pretty days. I see your five fifties gray slotted down Denny way smooth like when Penny played. But anyways.”
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Checkmate” from BLK GLD ]
MARTIN (continued): And just the neighborhoods that he rides through. And not just the neighborhoods that he rides through, but like the gear people are rocking like North Face fleeces and Pendleton Flannels like, you know, is very incredibly specific to this city.
LARRY: Yeah. He talks about, you know, he's got a fresh pair griffey's on. Like, you just see Seattle uniform, you know, coming through his pen and. His gift of collaboration and the way he bounces off of his collaborators, like. He finds where he is in that room, sort of like Erik Blood talked about, you know, putting sound in a room. He's in that room with his collaborators and he figures out exactly where to move his sonic furniture, where to put his voice, which way to come at it. And he's always unique. He's always fresh. You don't hear him reusing cadences. You definitely don't hear him imitating anybody.
MARTIN: He's such a gifted memoirist, too. Like, that's the that's the thing that sets Porter apart from most rappers is that not only can Porter really rap. He sketches out his life in this very, very graceful, very soulful way.
MARTIN: Like a line like "Miss my pops, miss my bro, Twist the top, hit the dro, niggas lock. No, he missed the block. No, he missed the hoes." Like, I could just. I could just quote Porter all day, like the episode, in fact. Thank you. Thank you all. This has been fresh off the spaceship. I'm Martin Douglas.
LARRY: I'm Larry Mizell Jr.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “5 Mics” from BLK GLD ]
MARTIN: Also a great thing about Porter is that he. He plays. He plays with nostalgia so well, like an it's not like in a in a cheesy way, like, oh, the times were so much better back then. It's like he sees things the way they were and he's able to sketch that out gracefully and like almost like a Gordon Parks photograph.
LARRY: Absolutely. He's a classicist like that. He's a traditionalist who's totally contemporary. He sees things the way that they were and he sees echoes of those things in the people that are outside today, in the buildings that are still standing, even though if those businesses or what have you are gone.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “5 Mics” from BLK GLD ]
LARRY: Porter has this gift of going back in a way that makes you hear his influences and make you realize how kind of futuristic they were. When I hear him, I hear how he reflects on cats like Infinite and Narcotik and and Ishmael, and how all of the music that they made was actually ahead of its time.
LARRY: He points to the past in a way that takes you to the future, and it's really cold blooded. And he does it with such humility and grace in everything he does.
MARTIN: Yeah. We can bet all this Drake Junior talk to man.
LARRY: Nah, man, come on.
MARTIN: Let me tell you. Let me tell you somethin. Porter would wax Drake and all of his ghostwriters for Dolo, and I would stake my reputation on that.
LARRY: Absolutely. I think that it's like a a testament to how people took P when he came out that they immediately started comparing him to, like, the newest, hottest shit. Mm hmm. It wasn't just because he was a wavy, light skinned cat. It's because he's clearly very gifted in a way that breaks through. That, to me, is part of that comparison. And he doesn't like it doesn't seem like he feels any kind of way about it. But would he wax Drake? Like, a million times over. There's no question. And with style, his own style from his own place, he wouldn't have to take styles from Houston, and Atlanta, and Jamaica, and London, and then try to colonize it and serve it to you. You know what I'm saying? The way that Drizzy does. He comes from his own block and will take you out. That's a beautiful thing.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Envy and Greed” from BLK GLD ]
LARRY: Talk to me about the process of linking up with Sub Pop and everything.
PORTER: So the process with Sub Pop again. Ish got a hold of the music, of the tunes, and we already have rapport with each other and kind of were aware of each other. And I think actually. I think it impressed him probably that I wasn't reaching out to him or trying to send him my music. Yeah, he just happened to stumble upon it. I think it might have turned out differently, maybe, if I tried to send it to him or something like that or whatever. Maybe not even much, but just a look. I think it was. It was perfect. I meant to be that. He just kind of stumbled upon it and at the time, too, I had an offer from Interscope on the table, and I ended up taking the Sub Pop deal over the Interscope deal. Because I was worried with Interscope that it was going to be a — shout out Jake. Shout out to Jake One. Oh, yeah. That it was going to be sort of a. Like it would be beautiful to see it mass produced, but then maybe it would get watered down or there would be a sort of, oh, I don't know, some there would be a blemish to the image that I was trying to present.
LARRY: Some kind of disconnect.
PORTER: Some like that, you know, they just maybe had their own marketing ideas that and the artistic freedom that I had with Sub Pop that I wouldn't have got with them.
LARRY: If you'd even gotten to come out.
PORTER: You could have just been shelved and just been in the void.
LARRY: In development hell and locked up, not able to put music out because we've all known cats and they've gone through that.
PORTER: And I was shook about that. I was scared. And so I ended up going with Sub Pop, but also it was, you know, like I said, man, what a time. Ish is signed, you know, with Dai and Shabazz and Stas and Cat are signed with THEESat and so. And it's the local juggernaut. Yeah. And the local legend with the the history and the the folklore that surrounded it for sure. And so that was legendary to be able to sign with them and do it for the city of the city, you know, by the city. Right.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Bulletproof Windows” from Watercolor ]
LARRY: Were you hip to all of that lore and everything about that label when those talks first started?
PORTER: Yeah. A little like I've learned so much more and I've learned about so many more artists that are a part of that roster that I love that are dope. But I was, you know, I'm can't help but be hip to the Nirvana folklore, and what comes with that.
LARRY: Were people around you hip to it like that? Because and you're talking about—
PORTER: No! [laughter] No, no. It was interesting because I feel like it took a second for it to catch on, and people got real excited, but not at the initial time. And I think it was exciting that like I signed a quote unquote record deal, that I had a record potentially coming out but saying that I signed to Sub Pop to like my homies, they're like, "To who?" Like, "What do you mean?" And so it was interesting trying to like really get people to be excited about it just in my life, like, like around me, in friends and family and stuff like that who weren't hip to it and hip to that, to the folklore and the history of a and and trying to explain to them, like how monumental and just legendary this is, this moment is. And they weren't getting it at the time. A lot of a lot of people weren't it wasn't it wasn't that big a deal for a little bit.
LARRY: That's so interesting because I mean, there is such a huge music industrial complex has sprung up around everything associated with the bands that Sub Pop is associated with from that time. But there's so much of our Seattle that doesn't have any connection to that and doesn't know anything about it. And so you have these two Seattle's kind of thing.
PORTER: Yeah. That's Seattle in a nutshell right there for you. Yeah, it's two totally different realities taking place every day. All day. And I grew up. Right in the middle about those worlds and was exposed about those worlds. So something that I've always experienced. Throughout my life is. You know, you be in the hood with your guys. And it's a totally different reality. You know, the conversations that take place, the interests, the hobbies, the musical tastes, the fashion. The food is all different than being outside of the neighborhood and, uh, being with my other friends who’re livin totally different lives and not. And neither are privy to the other's life or even concerned. It's like, you know, it's interesting growing up in the middle because I'm seeing both and I see how that in a lot of ways they're interconnected. I mean, obviously interconnected and intertwined, but they really are so separate. And that's. Yeah. That's that's Seattle for you.
LARRY: It really is. And it feels like it's gotten even more stark. Yeah. Over the years.
PORTER: For sure. much more.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Russian Roulette” ]
LARRY: With the addition of Ishmael Butler on their A&R team, Sub Pop signed Porter Ray in 2014. Sub Pop executives Megan Jasper and Tony Kiewel give all the credit of Porter’s signing to his mentor.
TONY KIEWEL: there's no scenario where Sub Pop, I think, would have had that conversation without Ish, like bringing that conversation to us. He was he was a huge advocate and supporter of Porter Ray. And I mean, could a true believer of what Porter was doing
MEGAN JASPER: He was so excited and said Porter was making some of the most important music in the city. And and he was psyched. Ish was psyched for Sub Pop to document it. And and we also felt like after chatting with him and and getting to know him a little bit better, that it would be good for us to do that. It would and it would be fun and it deserved his music deserved to be documented.
PORTER: Yeah. In terms of, uh, Sub Pop in the Constellation, I think that, um, Sub Pop has been, uh, you know, has provided a platform for us and I look at us allies as comrades you know and they've almost been like, you know, like the vessel in a lot of ways, you know what I mean, to push our art.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Touchstone” from When Words Dance ]
LARRY: We’ll get deeper into Porter’s story after a short break.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Touchstone” from When Words Dance ]
LARRY: After signing to Sub Pop, it’d still be years before he’d make an official release on the label. But that didn’t hold Porter back from continuing to put out new music and coming into his own. Shortly after the deal, he put out a mixtape called Fundamentals.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Dice Game Diagrams” from Fundamentals ]
LARRY: Fundamentals was both a victory lap for the Sub Pop signing and a reaffirmation of Porter as a herald of the Central District. As the title implies, Porter was tapping into old school aesthetics and flow on the record. His voice is a bridge between the CD that Ishmael Butler grew up in and the one Porter experienced.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Ruthie Dean” from Fundamentals ]
LARRY: Constellation family and spiritual practitioner Negarra Kudumu equates Porter’s style, and hip-hop at large, to the legacy of the blues.
NEGARRA: I've listened to enough hip hop to know the difference between poor delivery and great delivery, and Porter has amazing delivery. He tells a story that is. Not palatable, I think, always. And that's a conversation within hip hop that I think will continue to happen. But. I think that. For young people, there is a necessary space that needs to be held for them to figure all of the messy stuff of life. And I think for that, Porter's music will continue to have a space. If we're looking within African-American music, hip hop in some ways has been a continuation of many of the topics that were always broached. Within Blues music.
NEGARRA: And, you know, I have again through my spiritual practice, particularly as a practice practitioner of conjure, you know, gone back and listened to a lot of these blues musicians. And listened to the stories that we're telling, and them stories were wild as hell. And I think that is a necessary part of our story that deserves to be told and there deserves to be a space for it. And but again, to those conversations that are about us and for us. Mm-Hmm. That is why I think those spaces are important to continue to have and to hold for and. Hold space for and for us to have multi-generations within that to contextualize it and course critically assess it for ourselves rather than having social mores and. Ways of being and doing that are not ours imposed upon us.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Mind of a Mack” from Fundamentals ]
LARRY: While still waiting to make his proper debut, Porter continued to experiment. If Fundamentals was back to basics, 2016’s Electric Rain was a practice in looking toward the future. Linked up with producer Tele Fresco, Porter was now rapping over lush, electronic beats that feel more like something you’d hear on a Four Tet record.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray- “2 Keep You” from Electric Rain ]
PORTER: When I first was introduced to Tele and started hearing these beats, I really enjoyed them. But it was such a puzzle to figure out how to rhyme over these things. And so and ended up becoming a full project because I really was trying to just crack the code on every one of them. And I felt like it was this experimental phase that I could go through that was also music that I was trying to create, to perform, laugh. Because, you know, you got the L Loops and everything like that, but it doesn't always translate. And we started doing some festivals and things and so I felt like I needed. A different texture to bring.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Cognac Aphrodisiac” from Electric Rain ]
LARRY: While he continued to refine his sound and build up his reputation, Porter still had some lingering self doubt. Particularly around the sound of his voice. Something he says he still struggles with.
PORTER: I'm real uncomfortable with my voice. Okay. I still struggle with trying to hit the right pitch I want or get it to sound how I want when I hear the record you know the first time you hear like and when you hear the voicemail. Yeah. Yeah. And then you hear yourself for the first time. And so I've always been, like, uncomfortable with my voice, which has played a part in like how I approach it when I'm rhyming. Because on different projects, my voice sounds different. Sometimes it's high, sometimes it's lower. Sometimes it is. It's yeah, more singsong. Sometimes it's like more serious or whatever. And it's something that I'm still trying to get used to. But again, it's so saying that is because I've had to embrace that and I embrace it as something that's unique about me. But I wish I sounded like Big or Jigga or somebody you know, or like, you know, or had the voice. But, you know, I always felt like my voice was so soft and so light and kind of airy. And so it felt at times it was a struggle to feel confident as an emcee it’s something that again I've had to adapt and accept. now I just lean into a fully and in try to make my voice as distinct as possible.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - Daily News” from When Words Dance ]
PORTER: I think all artists got to deal with that. I think it's especially difficult in hip hop because the so competitive and there's so much machismo and bravado and arrogance that comes with it. And I got much insecurity and doubt about it the way, the way the battle for me with the shows, number one is preparation. If I can perform it. Back to front to back. When my eyes closed, my hand tied behind my back. Upside down in a tank of water then. Then it's good. And I've had to learn. Don't get too fucked up. Get out there and embarrass yourself. But also, it is like a thing that I've had to get over in that you got to get over where you put something out there, and you got to realize that there's going to be people who don't like it and there's going to be people who do like it and it's going to be hella people who don't care at all. And as I eventually got to the point where like I like I anticipate, like, I wanna know what people are going to say about it. Like, I like put my art in the world because I want to hear what people going to say, good or bad. And I realized that's kind of part of the purpose of it is like to give them something to talk about. Not everybody needs something to talk about. That's right. We're going to give them some. And I like being the creator of that.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Pisces” from When Words Dance ]
PORTER (cont’d): But it it is tough you know, trying to be quote unquote, cool or down or whatever, you know. Trill. You start to feel those pressures. But I've also learned to. Lean into what's unique about me. And if I like it, if I like how I dress. And it's something that maybe the next. Next man won't wear. That's okay. Yeah. And I, you know, and I have to remind myself that, like, that's, again, part of the strength, because uniqueness and honesty is so much of the strength. But, yeah. When I find myself in those moments of. Of feeling insecure, feeling like, you know, um, unsure about who I am or what I represent, then I got to remind myself to just lean into my uniqueness. Or I talk to the homies and we talk about like how we grew up and the experiences that we've been through. And then it recharges me and gives me the shield that I need.
LARRY: A constant in Porter’s early life and career was Joy Brannon. His one time girlfriend, mother of his child. Joy and Porter had a bond that went beyond romance.
PORTER: Joy and me met in high school. At Cleveland. I had left O’Dea. This is after my father passed. I stopped going to O’Dea and I started going to Cleveland. And I kind of known who she was prior to that just because, again, Seattle, we all kind of bump into each other and grow up around each other. And I met her at Cleveland. I remember the first time I met her. She was walking in into school and I opened the door for her and she said, I don’t need nobody to open the door for me” and started yelling at me, you know, whatever. She took offense to it and I just laughed at her. And ever since then, we we started bonding. So we started hanging out in high school. I enjoy it all. It's very musical. She songstress and a writer. She's always writing poetry. Just artists, true artists. She played guitar. We would cut class together. She would just play guitar and like, sing me her songs and read me her poems. And we spent a lot of time together, lived together, we're best friends, ended up becoming involved with each other and having a baby boy and being able to remain best friends. And I mean. Yeah, she's. You know, like my soul mate. She um. Her birthday is actually the day that my brother passed away. Wow. Which was always ill to me. Like it used to mess up. It used to mess it up for sometimes I remember that cause I'll be in a mood or something some years. But that was always ill to me. My son was born the day after my father passed. My oldest was born the day after my father passed, and he was actually due on the day that my father passed. So it’s ill to have her birthday on the day my brother passed, my son born from her day after my father passed. And so me and her got this. Cosmic sort of connection and man, one of the truest, just honest, most honest people, you know, like she's going to come in the room and she gon let everybody know she there. She gon tell you how she feel. man, a huge force and just a great mother, a true friend. She spent a lot of time incarcerated, like while we was friends and while my son was born. I'd visit her a lot. And write her a lot, she’d write me a lot too. That too will kind of really strengthen our bond and our relationship to each other. And yeah, just one of the illest people I ever met. And then it was truly my pleasure to spend any time that I got with her. A lot of people might say you know, maybe kind of rough around the edges or aggressive but just you know, she wore her heart on her sleeve and she was dealing with real life.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Everybody [Interlude]” from Watercolor ]
LARRY: Three years after getting signed to Sub Pop, Porter finally made his debut with the label in 2017 with his album Watercolor.
LARRY: For Porter, it wasn’t just an opportunity to establish himself with a wider audience. It was a chance for him to revel in his own artistry.
PORTER: Specifically with Watercolor and the way that I approach rap, I like to think of myself as an artist and as a painter. And I always fantasized when I was younger about going to art school and becoming a painter. So that was my way of waving my paintbrush.
[MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Past Life” from Watercolor ]
LARRY: You have always struck me as like a super craftsman when it comes to it. Your timing, your word choice, your beat choice, everything.
PORTER: Yeah, I. I definitely try to approach it as and learn about it as as a as a true musician. And so even though my voice is my instrument, I'm still trying to study as much as I can and and really take the art as, you know, as as serious as as I think it is. Again, we were talking about documentation as part of our culture, our history. And so it's a very serious thing to me in like a very serious tradition. Yeah. The I feel that I have to, like, uphold.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Sacred Geometry [Constellation Mix]” from Watercolor ]
LARRY: But there’s no denying that the Sub Pop deal meant more visibility for Porter in the broader musical landscape. And with that, a chance to put his city on the map for hip-hop. His city is all over that album. Watercolor is packed with features from folks like Ish, Moni Stas, his people like Nate Jack, Cashtro, Thad, and the legendary Central District emcee, Infinite.
PORTER: That was another big thing for me, especially with the Watercolor album, but also with all of my music. I've always wanted to work with my people and so like I was saying, with BLK GLD, I was trying to define the sound for Seattle, but also I felt like the best way to do it was to just work with the people that I'm around and saw, from you know, the vocalist to the emcees to whoever is mixing it to the producers was all people I had direct contact with that I probably grew up with in a lot of ways, and I really tried to do that with watercolor too, with the skits, with everything I wanted to put as, get as many people. I wanted to get as many people as I could to be a part of the whole project.
LARRY: With the release of Watercolor, Porter also got his first opportunity to do a full nationwide tour. For an artist who’d spent years playing venues in his hometown, suddenly he was getting to see how his music was resonating in places he’d never been to. He brought along part of his Seattle crew, including longtime producer B-Roc and one of his partners in rhyme, Bruce Leroy.
BRUCE LEROY: Yeah, we was riding together, man. We had Airbnbs and hotels in every city, you know. San Francisco, that was the first time, I never been there and performed. So that was the first time I got nervous for a show because normally I don't look out at the crowd, but I remember, walking in for soundcheck, like, Damn, this got three stories? It's a theater and shit. I'm like, Oh shit. This ain't Neumos. So I look out, I go out the wrong door and I see all these people, I'm like, Oh shit, man I was nervous for that. But we bodied that, too. We bodied that. I was watching Shabazz every night trying to get familiar with a lot of the music, because at that time, I had only heard the album that dropped whenever I met Porter, that's all they was playing over and over and over. But they was going in the catalog and I was asking, where is these songs at? And so I was just watching their performance every night and it was just icy, Ish come out with the, he got the coldest gold chain of all the chains ever made, and it's not even a chain, but it's a chain, though it's the coldest. I just ironed my shit, man, I didn't know what else to do, man. That's all I could really do, I was wearing like basic. Why even get dressed? Just wear a white tee, like these guys is wearing, like, they're just beyond my ideas of fashion, and I'm not even going to think to where even put that together, bro, like it's like watching somebody who could break dance hella good, and then they tell you to go, and you like, I don't even wanna do that. That's how I was feeling. I was like, damn, their performances was, shows.
[MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “When Cats Claw” from Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star]
PORTER: Going on the road was. A beautiful thing. It was a beautiful thing. I really felt alive being on the road. And I felt like I was fulfilling my purpose in life. And it's is very exciting. It's tough work. It's tough work. And I learned a lot. And, you know, I made a bunch of mistakes, but I also got a lot of blessings out of it. But it was very exciting being from one city to the next and meeting different people, seeing the atmosphere of the city, feeling and starting to like be able to gauge the energy of what the show's going to be. Because I'm in this city or I'm in that city connecting with people, meeting people. It's just really exciting. It's an adventure every day. I was astonished a lot at the time when people would already know who I was and or they came to the show because they'd already heard the music and were a fan of the music. Or maybe they were at the show for the first time and were transformed into a fan. When I was on tour, Shabazz obviously is packed. Most of the shows sold out. When I was on tour by myself – If it was a festival or something like that, yeah, then it'd be filled up. But there were times where we there might be like five people and people in the crowd and but there might be like four of them. They're like, Nah, but I know I knew you were going to be here and I came to listen to your tunes tonight. Right. And so it was very humbling, but also, again, very stimulating and motivating.
LARRY: In the middle of the emotional high of touring, tragedy struck Porter again. While on a tour stop in Austin, Texas, he got word that his soul mate Joy had passed away.
PORTER: Joy had passed for the watercolor tour, when I went on tour with Shabazz, Joy had passed and I would always do “Arithmetic” that’s got her singing at the end and I would let it play for every song and then kind of break down what was going on. And there was this intimate connection that I had been able to make with all of these different crowds all over the country.
[MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Arithmetic” from Watercolor. ]
LARRY: Can I ask how she passed?
PORTER: She passed in a car crash. And unfortunately, while I was on tour, I was I was in Texas on South at South by Southwest as well, because she her family's from Texas. And so, like, I think either the night before or like the two nights before, maybe. But while I was down there. She was talking about how she was going to take our son to Texas and go visit her family and stuff. And she'd never been on a plane. So I'm I'm all nervous, like, man, are you sure man? You know, she's trying to go without me or whatever. And I think it was like right before because then I ended up being in Texas when she passed away. This is a week after watercolor came out. Wow. And on and on. St Patrick's Day, which is a it's a big day for me and my family, right from my dad's side. So that was another sort of a cosmic coincidence. But yeah, she. She didn’t have her seatbelt on and the driver was drunk and they got into a wreck on the freeway and she ended up passing away. She was only one in the car that passed away.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Beautiful” from Watercolor ]
LARRY: When you write about and process about the people. Who have passed on that you've known? Does it feel? Does it still feel raw when you perform these things? Does it feel like healing?
PORTER: Yeah, both. Sometimes. It does feel like healing, especially on stage. Performing it. It's healing, but it's tough trying to capture those moments, to even revisit those moments. You got to look in the mirror, go inside yourself and really face those demons and face those fears. That's a tough thing. And. Sometimes I really enjoy again, Especially when I perform. I really enjoy hearing her voice or hearing those lyrics, performing those lyrics. But a lot of times when I'm by myself. I got to skip over a lot of those records. Because this. You know, it's my real life. Yeah. And it is it is very it is. It's very difficult at times to to face that. And it's tough to, again, try to procure that rhyme out of you that. Puts that picture together or discusses that situation. How can I say it's always ill and not just scream it or you know Say it in a cheap way. Like, how can I still make it eloquent and make it sound ill, but make it honest and make it so it still means something to me.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Eye of the Beholder (The Vision)” ]
LARRY: We talk about continuum often on this podcast. The past, present, and future in conversation through the lives of the artists in the Constellation. As much as Porter has experienced with those he’s lost, he also sees toward the future through his two sons, Aaron and Sky.
PORTER: Being a father is an ill thing. So l think, um, it's, uh. It's very difficult. It's expensive, tell you that. But it is so fulfilling. And it's changed me in so many ways, knowing that now like it's over for me, but having to embrace the future and let go of the past in a lot of ways because it's not over. And I can still do what I want and chase my dreams and be who I want to be. Pursue what I want. But I do have to remind myself, number one, to treat that with care because I got that people coming up under me, my boys. But also to create space for them within that so that they can do the exact same thing. It's something that has changed over time. How I approach rhyme. I think about. Records that I made. And. Shit that I'm saying, whatever, that I wouldn't say in front of my children, and that I probably wouldn't want them to listen to. Even shit that I grew up listening to. Where it's tough, I try to find the balance because I want them to be exposed to it, but also I want them to really retain their innocence and their purity before you start getting exposed to a different setting is to. Like hip hop is the most beautiful thing to me, but it also did like direct me in certain ways or influenced me to do certain things that I thought was cool or whatever so it’s. It affects how I rhyme it. That's what that's what defines me. I must say that that's what defines me. If I, if I, if I'm defined by anything in this life, I want to be defined by the father that I am. And so I try to do. My best to try to be the best father that I can be.
PORTER: My children are most important to me. And I'd quit rap tomorrow and. You know, work at the fucking post office, if that's what my kids needed me to do. Or whatever, you know, like, that's the most joy that I get. That's the most fun for me, even more than. Than being on stage. Anything else? Being with my kids is when I feel like that's that's real life. And it's so funny because, like, things that I love to like hoop. I love Hoop. And I grew up I mean, love hoop to death still, but I love it even more. And I have even more fun watching my my son hoop than I ever have playing ball. I spent many hours playing ball, but I get more out of it by just watching him enjoy himself. I get more out of it when you know my son's be rapping to me. Or when they got a song that they want to play me. It's that self. Being a dad is what defines me and fatherhood to me. It's like the most important thing I got going, And especially, especially at this moment, at least, you know, because my boys, my oldest is ten wassup A and my youngest is five wassup Sky. And they, they, they, they. Adolescence is fleeting. And this is, like, the sweet spot right now where I can still, you know, wrestle with tic bloom and kiss on them and how. Hug em and We're still tight and they still want to be around me.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Eye of the Storm” from When Words Dance ]
PORTER: Being a dad is difficult, but it is, is, is the most important thing to me, man. And this. It's the best. It's the best thing going.
LARRY: It must reflect growing up with your pops.
PORTER: And yeah, I was lucky enough to have a dad who was really engaging and really supportive and was around who was with my mom. I was lucky enough to have both my parents together and again, my dad was very active, you know, and set a great example for me and it's super important for me to be in my kids lives and try to be a good father and spend time with them. And I owe that to my pops. I appreciate it, Pops
[MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray featuring Ca$htro - “Starchild (93mil)” from When Words Dance]
LARRY: Intratecque is the label and crew started by Geoff Gillis, Malcolm Norris, Porter Ray. The roster includes Porter, Nate Jack, Bruce Leroy, Cashtro, all gifted practitioners of fly rhyming game that’s specific to their section.
PORTER: it really is kind of the perfect imprint for how we approach this art form and the taste level that we wanted to be at and the standard that we want to set in the esthetic that we want to bring to the game.
PORTER: I feel like within the constellation there are these different tribes that form and squadrons that form that just got specific tactics that we're trying to employ as part of the whole mission. Right. And so that's, uh. Yeah, that's. That's that's the label.
LARRY: Bruce Leroy recalls first meeting Porter Ray and his crew at soundcheck at a local venue.
BRUCE: So when I first met P at Studio Seven, it was a sound check, P comes, and he's like, Yo, what's up? My name's Porter Ray, shakes everybody's hand, but I see him shake like 20 niggas hands. And I'm like, Yo, what is he doing? Like he gotta meet everybody in here? As I did way more shows with him, that's just who he is. He's going to make sure everybody knows he's personable. He really cares, he wants to say what's up. I'm a little more reserved. I'm like, looking and shit where the exits are. It's just different from the nigga I came up there with. But any time you could test the stage with that many people on it, you know, you the nigga of the moment. He always going to take that opportunity.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Daydreamer (When Words Dance)” from When Words Dance ]
PORTER: I feel like the scene sees me. I feel like they give me. I feel like. I got more work to do and. Like. The scene is only who contributes to it. And so I've kind of been on hiatus a little bit. And so who am I to speak on the scene? Because I haven't been contributing to it in. I've been absent.
LARRY: It’s true; Porter Ray’s presence in the Seattle music scene in the past couple of years has been sporadic. In a time where artists — rappers especially — release a project every three to six months to stay active in the marketplace, it’s been almost two years since we’ve heard new music from Porter. He’s only performed live a couple of times since venues started reopening post-pandemic lockdown.
PORTER: Feeling like it's been a minute. And to be re-introducing myself onto the circuit and being able to get a chance to perform again. I've been feeling like I. I got to come out and make a statement.
PORTER: Not only am I making a statement from myself, but just a statement for live performer artists that when we get out there and get in front of an audience, you know, we got to continue to prove that that shit is magic.
MARTIN: It’s one thing to be regarded as the future of Seattle’s storied music scene or the city’s next truly significant artist. It’s another thing entirely to roll up your sleeves and make sure that promise is fulfilled. The props, the credit, the accolades are all ephemeral. The work is the only thing that lasts.
PORTER: I like to show and prove. What it really comes down to is just putting in the work, keeping your head down, showing a proven aim, and then let the people decide how they feel about it.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “French Kiss” from Fundamentals ]
LARRY: One of Porter’s objectives moving forward is to reestablish that connection to Seattle’s rap scene, to help it grow. One of the many topics we’ve touched on during this series is that Seattle has one of the most overlooked hip-hop communities in America. Porter wants to do his part to make Seattle too substantial to ignore when it comes to rap.
PORTER: I want to garner respect for the art form that I love so much. And the culture that I'm a part of and that I love and hold so dear to me. I want to continue to have a space to represent. My culture, my art form. My neighbors, my family, my people. I want to. Create a scene in Seattle that's bubbling. There's upholding the tradition that's well respected, that's contributing positively to the culture and to our community specifically. And I want to contain, to try to contribute to the individuality of the artist and the uniqueness of the artist regardless of the media. And I want to create an environment where myself and the people around me have opportunity and can live good.
LARRY: The thing about this story is that it’s ongoing. None of the members of Black Constellation have retired or stepped away from creating art. We’re all still working, we’re all still trying to contribute meaningful things to the world. The book has yet to be closed.
PORTER: I think that looking back on it as we continue in our careers and grow as humans, this would be a period that's looked back on as almost like a renaissance period from a group of people who were sort of paving the way for a golden era in a time of of just endless mediocrity. And I think that it it'll it'll shine a lot brighter. You know, someday we'll just get better with time and continue to shine brighter as time goes on. And I think that individually, all of for all of us, the sky's the limit, you know, and we're, you know, we're we're all going to surpass what even any of us think is is on the horizon for us.
OCNOTES: Porter just crushed that shit.
[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - Ham Sandwich ]
ISHMAEL: the Black Constellation is is is years in the making it it wasn't something that was mapped out because it was unbeknownst. The only thing that that cats knew was to do it, you know what I'm saying? And to find your family like that, this - it's a story of that more than anything..
[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Reg Walks By the Looking Glass” from The Don of Diamond Dreams ]
LARRY: We've been working on this podcast for months and. It's been it was so daunting and daunting to the point that it made me go into my procrastination bag to to a point where I think it held things up for sure and put us on track to like we got to crank out a new thing every week. But for us to step out the gate with our first talk based narrative podcast on the level that I feel like this, this is not to pat ourselves on the back, but like we really did that. Shout out to everybody who helped make this a living thing. Because I feel like this points to a story beyond the stories that are being told that is so important that that capture captures a flavor and understanding of this place that. Has been lost and wallpapered over in all the ways we've discussed throughout this podcast, you know?
MARTIN: Doing this podcast, it exceeded my wildest ambitions for what kind of stories we could tell.
MARTIN: And yeah, just all of the the incredible themes that we got to talk about, like the history of Seattle, the history of erasure in Seattle, about sexuality, about music, like just all different kinds of music and like. Not only that, but ancestry and grief and really heavy stuff, like
MARTIN: there were things that I had no idea about getting beneath the surface and talking to these artists and hearing you talk to these artists and. It has been such a beautiful, amazing process and so labor intensive that again, you know, I'm going to therapy. You know, this is one of those things where, yeah, it's been real, it's been real heavy. But that that heft comes with a reward.
LARRY: It's absolutely been the most rewarding creative endeavor I think I've ever been a part of, and I've been making art in some form or fashion most of my life. And I am beyond proud of this. It's. You know, it's a love story to this to this place, but not just to this place to. Connection to truth, to you know, the ancestors to the future. And I hope that inspires others to approach their art, their relationships, their their day, their families in a way that reflects all of the incredible stories, histories, passions encapsulated in this podcast. I hope that more artists find, are privileged to find community the way that the folks in the Constellation have together. And I hope that they're privileged to be able to work with a team like the people who brought you this podcast and are able to make something like this. I know that there's a lot of inspiration that people have already felt because they've been telling us that the whole time. I know I felt a boundless amount of inspiration because of the work on this, and it's made what has been a rather Herculean workload feel like. Like like flying down the highway with the top down. You know what I'm saying? And I'm really supremely grateful for it.
[ MUSIC CUE: Shabazz Palaces - “Shine a Light” from Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star ]