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.
Tacoma's Buje Mane is not a rapper. He forsake that title last year ahead of last year's Thank You This Has Been a Very Fun Experience (abbreviated as TYTHBAVFE) EP. Reflecting back on that record at the end of 2017, I tried to explain how following his impulses has pushed Buje Mane (real name Austin Howard) into a unique territory where he's not bound by the rules of genre. I stand by that, but Howard continues to push these dynamics. As he told Seattle Weekly last year, “I’m not a big fan of rap politics, the rap community, or being called a rapper... I just make rap music."
TYTHBAVFE was hyped, by Howard himself, as the last Buje Mane project. He made clear that he wasn't leaving music completely, but that he was done with rap. He even built it up with his pretty on the nose EP, I Quit, where he proved he can be a "rapper" if he wants to. So it was a surprise at the very end of December when he dropped a new record out of the blue called Sorry We Couldn't Wait For U. When he stopped by for an in-studio for KEXP's own Street Sounds last month, he alluded to the release and promotion around the record to being a part of some sort of "contractual obligation." Whatever the reason may be, I'm thankful that Sorry exists. It may be the best manifestation of his deparature from being a "rapper" yet. Mostly because it's such a great rap record. Howard poses an interesting question: Can you make rap records and not be a rapper? Twice now he proves the answer is undeniably yes.
So, what does a rap record sound like without a rapper (without being an innstrumental tape)? It's whatever its creator wants it to be. It's an innovative concept. Rock music hasn't been held to the standards of needing a "rock star" at the helm, so why should rap be beholden to rappers? Howard isn't the first artist to have a conflicted relationship with the genre and culture he exists within. Dr. Dre had a hit song saying, "Fuck rap, you can have it back." In that way, Buje Mane is part of a prophetic lineage of artists who are overhauling the rules of rap. The notion of "mumble rappers" or "Soundcloud rappers" speaks to this changing over the guard. Terms like that serve mostly to marginalize artists in rap who go a different way. That if you're not jumping on the mic with bars like Rakim or Kendrick or whoever dominates the conversation at the time, you're somehow less of an artist is bullshit. And that's no disrespect to "rappers" and the craft they pursue. But it's just that there's room for more roles in rap now than being a rapper or a singer. What artists like Migos and Future are doing on the national scale, Buje Mane is helping define for the Northwest. He's not the only one, but he has maybe addressed the issue most head-on.
Sorry We Couldn't Wait For U feels even more liberated from the confines of genre than even TYTHBAVFE (which is still excellent). It's not that he's jetting out into experimental directions, fusing obscure sounds or trying to create something unfamiliar to listeners' ears. To put it simply – Sorry is fun to listen to. Yeah, I know that sounds super vapid, but I don't intend it to be. Howard's vision to create without restrictions is part of what keeps Sorry from being bogged down. The way he vocalizes on his tracks is so fluid, seeping into the tone of the song. It's like he's sinking his teeth into the beat, extracting the mood and carrying out its will. The swells of lead patches against high hats on opener "Anytime" demand Howard's performance. It's a chicken and egg scenario. Is the beat dictating his flow, or is his flow dictating the beat? The fact that the lines are blurred almost proves his entire point. There's no separation between the rhythm and voice. They're one in the same, executing an idea together.
Since he doesn't call himself a rapper, it's hard to speak on what he's doing with his vocals on the record. I'm tempted to just call it "vocalizing," lying somewhere between singing and rapping. It's like a new iteration of the style Andre 3000 helped spearhead on Stankonia, but instead of crooning he opts to settle into the groove and let his drawl carry the song. He feels embedded in the production on "Come to My Senses," as if his voice is just another tool to flesh out the composition. It's effortless. It's catchy. It feels pure and celebratory of the art Howard wants to be making.
I don't know what Howard's plans are next for the Buje Mane moniker. While it sounded like he was getting ready to make his exit for other musical ventures, he's already released two new songs in the last two weeks, including a track called "Ray J" (just in time for Valentine's Day!). I'm not complaining. These new songs continue that same spirit he's carried on his last two records. There's something comforting about it too. To have music this fun and so unconcerned with outside perception is refreshing. Howard's talent exudes in this format. Sure, he could rap in the traditional sense. He's done that before. But it's a beautiful thing to see an artist follow their whim and their enthusiasm from doing that is going to be infectious in the music. Howard's referenced doing a punk project next, which sounds undoubtedly like an awesome idea. But what he's doing right now already feels pretty punk. Fuck the rules. Do what you want. That's the spirit of Buje Mane.
New and News
Chong The Nomad Shares New Track, "In Conclusion"
It seems silly to say something like, "It's been a while since we heard from Chong The Nomad" as she's been constantly gigging around town and expanding her presence within Seattle's growing electronic scene. But, it's been five months since her last official release, "You're Really Pretty," and that drought is finally over. Her new song, "In Conclusion," is maybe the most adventrous and thrilling thing she's released yet. Expanding off of the phrase, "I fucked up, I'm in love," the song steadily builds and explodes with thuds of blown out bass and trickling piano lines and even some beatboxing. It feels like a sonic collage of Chong's musical leanings, coming together into something even bigger than the sum of its parts.
Monsterwatch Share New Song, "Big Sin"
Seattle rock outfit Monsterwatch is preparing to relase their new record, Z O T, on March 2. Ahead of that, they've shared a new single called "Big Sin." As the hethonisitc name implies, this is twisted affair with warped distortion and watery vocals that feel like they could've made it on Sub-Pop 200. The trio feels positively vital on the track. It's an incredibly promising look at what's coming ahead.
Darto's Nicholas Merz Announces Solo Album, Shares "Bulled Rose"
There's no real hierarchy in Seattle band Darto's lineup and roles are interchangable, so it'd be unfair to call anybody a "lead singer" in the group. But for the songs he does sing on, Nicholas Merz's voice is a distinctive bellow that's really unmistakable once you've heard it. Now we're going to hear it in full force on his own with a new solo album called The Limits Of Men, out May 1 via Aago Records. The album's first single, "I Want To Feel," dives head first into Merz' proclivity for "cowboy songs." Steel guitars, fiddles, and a march of drums back up his croon as howls anthemic lines like "I am now man." As with anything Merz or Darto does, this is something worth sitting with and ruminating on the layers of orchestration and the philosophies stirring in the lyrics.
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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 …