Throwaway Style is a monthly 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, the first Thursday of every new month on KEXP.org.
Four years ago this month, Bujemane was planning his exit as a rapper. Not from making rap music, mind you, but from the limiting characterization being a rapper entails. To speak this proverbial retirement tour, he released two albums I Quit and Thank You This Has Been a Very Fun Experience, full of the rambling wit and bass-heavy bounce he would perfect on his near-immediate follow-up Sorry We Couldn’t Wait For U.
Bujemane writes about choppers like Georgia O'Keeffe painted doors; how gripping them makes his hands sore and calloused, the way they sound like a quick procession of high-fives, acquiring new ones on layaway. His off-kilter sense of humor guides his casual delivery, like on the title track of PBOTY (an acronym for Pretty Bitch of the Year) where he notes he’s masked like Daft Punk. A very elaborate way to rob someone.
Buje quit the rat race of being a rapper, not the creativity of being a rap artist. Subsequent releases like the aforementioned PBOTY and two volumes of Cry & Mingle found the Federal Way-raised artist honing his craft and doubling down on his singular charisma. Somewhere between free-associative Based raps and the surrealist, candy-coated world of Lil Yachty, Buje coasts over bright synths and submarine bounce with a discursive, image-laden, witty style. Truth be told, all Buje did was quit the expectations of others. He may have left the title of “rapper,” but while he continues to make id and groove oriented music, he is also on the design team for Tacoma’s legendary streetwear label (and officially unofficial hub of the town’s rap scene) eTc Tacoma and runs his own clothing imprint Redzone Worldwide, which regularly does pop-ups and collaborations with other brands.
As his visual instincts extend to the realm of music videos, Buje has found another lane to plow through, with striking, stylish videos like “PINK!” and “Shorty.” In “Shuffle,” he famously appears in an Evel Knievel one-piece amidst a shimmering disco ball and strobe lights, ending up in the parking lot of Tacoma landmark Frisko Freeze. “Soulja” is an alternate version of NES shooter Contra where its protagonist gets a shape-up and raps that his money is the same height as Ludacris’ blowout. “Damn,” released just this week, is washed out and dreamy, littered with crisp $20 bills (lots of them) and Zaria rocking a North Face jacket and clutching an iced coffee.
Each video highlights Buje’s attention to detail, even if its images aren’t clear to people trying to decipher what they mean. Sometimes the meaning isn’t as important as the image itself. Sometimes the substance is the style.
Bujemane told you to stop calling him a rapper, and now he’s here to make you look dumb for continuing to do so. As he pulled up to KEXP Studios, we had a great chat about being a multifaceted artist, growing up in Federal Way, his lifelong love of clothing design, and proudly driving Toyotas.
KEXP: What are some of your earliest memories listening to music?
Bujemane: In general, I remember listening to basic funk stuff with my parents. I remember listening to "Riding High" by Faze-O; that's the earliest song I have a memory of. When I fucking started rapping. I remember I had one of those black and white cow [print] composition notebooks, and I was writing raps in sixth grade. My mom found it and she was like, "Yo, you're wildling. You're lucky I don't tell your dad about this." You know, because I just had a bunch of wild stuff in there.
Just like rapping about being a gangster, and hoes and bitches, shooting... in sixth grade. [laughter] Those are probably like the two earliest, the fondest memories I can get into.
What middle school did you go to?
I went to Illahee.
Oh dope, oh yeah. So you're from Federal Way.
I'm from Federal Way, for sho'.
Tell me what Federal Way was like back then.
It's crazy because people think of Federal Way as like — I mean, it is super suburban. But people think it's super basic, but it's wild. I was always having a bunch of fun. There's always stuff going on. Whether it was little things like people beefing, or big things... like people beefing. It was just like it was a cool little micro-community. Everyone from Federal Way, I'm sure will attest to that and be like, "Yeah, it was fun." Yeah, it goes wild, you know, to be an adult and look back like, "Oh, it was a cool and crazy place to grow up."
It's crazy because now there seems to be more of a division in Federal Way; the south [side of the city] is more like the quiet suburb and North Federal Way is like where the crazy shit happens.
Yeah, Federal Way is turnt up. I like to tell people "I'm from Federal Way." I hang out in Seattle, I go to Tacoma, but I'm from Federal Way, though. So yeah, it's cool to see that. It's progressing, it's being more identified as somewhere people are coming from, you know. People are from there. Cool people.
Yeah, they're building a light rail [stop]. They got their little performing arts center now.
They took out our thrift store to build the light rail.
Yeah, [and] the Outback [Steakhouse] and the laser tag.
[Asian grocery] Pal-Do World was over there. I skateboarded. I be at Steel Lake.
When did you start recording music?
Probably 10th grade. I got a homie whose dad is a Punjabi artist, and he's famous in India. So, he had some really cool equipment and he allowed me to come record. It was luck, I would say, to have a close friend who would let me come and record his expensive studio when we were hanging out. Not a lot of people had that.
Who made the beats?
He made the beats; he mixed and mastered everything. Because like his dad is super good at the one-string and super good at singing. So, some of that was passed down and he could mix and engineer and sample anything. I'd bring super crazy samples of stuff I'd and be like, "Bro, can you please make a beat out of this?" And he would just... do it because he could. You know what I mean? He just was like able to do that.
So tell me about that Tacoma/Federal Way rap scene going down as you're developing your style.
Me and the homie Forrest — that's my best friend — we would rap, and we had a group called SPG, Savage Playgrounders. And we would just rap, you know, and record at the homie's. And I always be telling people, "Bro, I'm just cool, so I'ma make cool raps." I'm not good at rap. But even back then, I was just kind of like, whatever; I just made niche songs. So it's like, "Yo, that's cool, you made a super house beat song," you know? Yeah, it's just like, "Oh, that's different, so it's cool." I was trying to bar up, but it's not like I was barred up, you know?
Were there any other artists in the area that you were paying attention to?
I don't want to say no, because I'm going to sound like a hater, but not really, you know? [laughter] If you ask anyone. I'm super shitty when it comes to listening to music. I have a super-pigeonholed view of what I listen to and it's not for any reason [other than] I'm just like ... I just got Apple Music literally like a week ago. For the first time in my life, I've had a streaming service, just because I didn't care [before]. It's like SoundCloud cool to me; [I can] go run the same songs back I've been listening to for two years. Still listening to Die Lit by Playboi Carti.
I just told Aramis [Johnson, of Enumclaw], "Yo, I just listened to Whole Lotta Red by Playboi Carti. [laughter] I told him this like two weeks ago. I was like, "This shit kinda slaps!" He was like, "Bro, you just listened to it??" And I'm like, "Yeah, this shit slaps, though." [laughter] And then I did the same thing with Die Lit like a year ago. I'm like a year late to some music. So, not to sound like a hater, but no, there wasn't really anyone from Federal Way.
When did you get linked up with eTc? Were you with them from the beginning or did you get scouted?
I'll dial back to say, like I had a teacher when I was in fashion design school, in high school, who was really influential and taught me to get internships. So I just went to eTc a lot. When they were talking about an intern, I was like, "Hey, you know, you guys already know me." And then I just stayed there; now they pay, you know? Yeah, now I get money, so. It's like when you hear [entrepreneur and public speaker] Gary Vee saying, like, "Yo, if you're 20 or 30. Go spend all your time... [and energy creating something of value to the people you're asking for money]," that's pretty much what I did and ended up where I wanted to be, without knowing that's where I wanted to be.
You said you were interested in fashion design in high school.
Yeah, I had my brand Redzone prior to working at eTc. So I would go to eTc with Redzone and give it to Umi [Wagoner, co-founder] and P [Perris Wright, co-founder]. And, you know, be like, "Yo, here's my brand! Like. Do with this what you will." Then when they hired an intern, I'm like, "Yeah. You know, I already can do everything." So it was easy to get the internship. I don't want to say it was easy to stick around, but it was easy to be like, you know... You just make yourself important somewhere. And then they'll keep you around.
While you were coming up [alongside] eTc, you were also already planning your exit as a rapper. In 2018 you dropped those albums. I Quit and Thank You This Has Been a Very Fun Experience. Tell me about the idea of continuing to be a musician, but quitting rap.
Shout out to you, for real, because I feel like even then you understood the whole premise of it, and you understood like where I was going with it. And so, you know, shout out to you for being there the whole time. You know, it's cool to be like, "Oh, someone fucking was there the whole time.".
I think I just learned the term "pigeonholed" recently because I keep wanting to pull it out the vocabulary, but you get pigeonholed as a rapper and it's like, "Yo. I drive a Toyota." I have no shame saying that because I'm like, I always tell people like, "Yo, dude, I'm just a normal suburban dude. Like, I'm trying to get to the bread." You know? I'm not really worried about being the best rapper. Shout out to Drake, but it's like, I'm not going to be the next Drake. That's not my goal. So when I was making those [projects], it was just like, "Yo, stop expecting me to do things that the best rapper does." It's like, if I put out a mixtape, just listen to it and just be like, "Yo, that was cool. When's the next one coming out?" Don't expect me to try to play Summer Jam. It's like yo, I'm not going to Summer Jam, y'all know that.
So I made those albums to like — obviously, I'm a marketing genius — to kind of stir up the pot and it stirred the pot. It's like, "Hey, Martin saw what I was doing," you know what I mean? So really, it was just to kind of stir the pot. I think it did a really good job really early and then it allowed me to even grow into the artist I am now, because I can just do whatever I want without people questioning. They know it's authentic when I wear the Elvis suit or when I wear the army pants. It's like, "Yeah, this is, this is who this guy is. He's not a rapper. He makes good music videos and songs."
As you're extending your musical life, you're starting to do Pretty Bitch of the Year and Cry and Mingle. Do you have specific ideas for these projects or do you just record a bunch of songs and you're like, "Yep, that's it."
So yeah, at that time, me and [longtime producer] Gary were just like... People don't like the word "luck." When I say luck, I don't really mean "four leaf clover" luck. I just mean, I don't know, not everyone gets these opportunities. So I'm calling myself lucky because I'm identifying that the people around me have helped me and not everyone has people around them that are willing to help. So, Gary and I are super close friends; we're like best friends. We just record together. It's like some people fucking go hoop, some people go to the gym. Some people go golf. Me and him make beats and rap. So it's just easy to crank out ten songs in a day, five songs in a day, 20 songs in a month, when you're just like smoking weed with your homie. And then it's like, "Oh shit, bro.Let's drop Pretty Bitch of the Year!" "Yup, that's filthy."
And obviously I'm big on acronyms. Because it's just like. "This is cool, you know, what does that mean?"
I feel like you started that wave. You were on the early end of cats doing these acronyms because, you know, now every rapper's got an acronym in their name and you had the crazy acronyms for your projects.
Yeah, it's like people would be like, "Yo PBOTY's cool." And I didn't even ever call it PBOTY, but I wouldn't correct them. And they would see the Russian [Cyrillic Alphabet] at the top and think that that was [the title] Pretty Bitch of the Year. And it's like, "Nope, that's just 'worldwide' in Russian." The acronym just allows the mystery, but it also allows a common thread through the whole thing. Some people are like, "Oh, Pretty Bitch of the Year. What's PBOTY? Some people [call it] PBOTY. Two years later, they're like, "I never knew it was Pretty Bitch of the Year."
You asked. If there was a concept, and I would say nah. I was just running and gunning, just like a lot of running and gunning.
So, a couple of minutes ago you mentioned the Elvis suit and you mentioned the army pants. Tell me about these videos you've been putting out.
If you know me, you know I'm like a person who hates labels, I'm just like, "Yo, just do some shit. If you want to do some shit." If you want to start shooting photography, don't start putting "photographer" in your bio, just shoot photos and people will know that you're a photographer. It's super simple. So I never really was like, "Yo, I'm an artist." It's just like, I just be doing shit because it's fun. What else am I going to do? I like shooting videos and I like movies, and I like the visual aspects of stuff a lot, and I think that's where the whole I Quit and I'm done rapping part kind of came in, because there's so much more that you can even do with your rap. I shot my own videos a lot of the time and I edited them myself, and it would kind of make me upset when people wouldn't identify that, I guess, you know, when people wouldn't be like, "Hey, you make good videos too."
Yeah, because when there's a director attached, if they've got a name, then it's like —
Quentin Tarantino could do anything and people would fuck with it!
Yeah, exactly. Or, you know, like whatever, Hype Williams, whatever they're like, "Oh yeah, Hype Williams did your video!" I'm sure you get the same thing with Grxtty, like, "Grxtty did your video." But when you were doing your own videos, people... yeah, I get it.
Yo, I did all this though. So now I think, that whole saying "I quit" allowed me to be like, yeah, I'm the dude who — I went to fucking Spanaway with Lil' Phil and bought those military pants. And paid $140 altogether for props. Not everyone will drive to Spanaway with their lil' homie and spend $140, so they can re-donate those camo pants to Goodwill because you don't really want them, you just needed them for one day, for two hours. But that shit makes a difference.
Shout out to all those army surplus stores all around, all around the border of the [Joint Base Lewis McChord].
And then I got the dog tags that said, "Pretty Bitch Army, Redzone Worldwide." I directed that, you know. I made that video and Grxtty helped me make it. Subtracting the rap part out of it is fine with me, because you don't need to call me a rapper when you can look at this as a whole and be like, Oh, this guy's just fucking he's he's a badass fuckin superstar, cool, he can do anything he wants, man. I'll go to the Moon if I want. I don't want to, but if there's bitches there, I will. [laughter]
I feel you. And that's the thing about you putting out those albums and saying, "I quit rap," is that you didn't quit being a musician, you didn't quit being an artist. In fact, everything expanded. Redzone, which you had been doing forever, expanded. Your work for eTc, same thing. Out here directing your own videos. So now it's like, you are an artist. So to pigeonhole you as a rapper, to put you in one box or maybe two or three boxes —
There are so many stigmas with being a rapper. It's like, yo, I drive a Toyota because I paid $4000 in cash for it. I can afford a monthly car payment of, however much a 2015 Kia Soul, but it's like I drive a Toyota because it's good on gas. Most rappers probably won't drive a Toyota, probably won't say in an interview and be like, "Yeah, I drive a Toyota. I paid $4000 in cash for it." I haven't had to put any money into my car since. I bought it besides gas. I buy other shit. I can have a cool car if I want. Most rappers need to have a cool car, so it's kind of like —
It's image enhancement, bro.
And as a young person, I was really affected by that. At the time I was like, in a Subaru. I was like, "Yo, I hate pulling up in my Subaru. I think I'm going to get a cool car." But in my mind, I was like, yo, I can't afford a cool car, but I can get one. I could lease one, but I'm like, "Yo, the Subaru's fine." Yeah. So then I kind of had to grow up and be like, "Yo, I'm not a rapper. I don't want to be a rapper" Think about Drake, I keep bringing up Drake. He was renting a car. He said it, because he wanted to be the biggest rapper. I'm just like, "Yo nigga, I'm hella cool." Me and Drake would probably kick it because we're both cool.
Shout out to Toyota. I'm driving my lady's Prius around; before I was obsessed with pulling up old school. I had a Caprice, I had an El Camino. I had a Nissan for a while and then it broke down. So now I'm driving my lady's Prius and it's like, "Man, what? 400 miles I can get on a full tank of gas?"
I had to get gas before I drove up here. And I didn't even fill up my tank because I didn't feel like waiting in the cold. And I was already late, but I was just like, "Yo, gas is expensive." And I didn't care because I knew, however much gas I put in my car. I'd make it up here because I got a Toyota. I was like, yo, I could put in half a gallon and I'll make it to Seattle and back, because I have a Toyota. If I had a cool car, I would have to sit there and fill up my tank because it would only financially make sense to do it right then. But Toyota? I'm already late, man; let me just go put a couple dollars in. I'll drive to Fred Meyer later and put in my family phone number. For the points. [laughter] You know what I mean? Just keep it simple.
Shout out to my Fred Meyer/QFC gas points, I be using them shits too. Last question: What's next? What are you working on that you feel is significant and about to come out imminently?
Honestly, I mean, I'm just running and gunning with the clothes, with the red zone. I'm running and gunning with videos. I'm pretty much just going to drop more videos and more clothes, but kind of thinking like, "Yo. I probably need to step out of my comfort zone and fail at something, or do something that's not as big. I'm going to just say this in the interview, so people can hear me saying, “Oh, I want to work with Bogey Boys, I want to design some shit for them.” They were in a Japanese magazine, and I seen it and I was like, "[smacks teeth] I make those." They're really in it, and it didn't make me mad, but it was just like, "All right, maybe I need to just pull up and go do some Bogey Boys shit." Maybe they won't say yes the first time. Maybe they will. Maybe I need to go do something different. Not that I'm bored, but I feel like I've been doing well, so I'm ready for a punch in the chest or something, you know?
It feels like it has been forever since we’ve had the promise of new music from R&B/funk/jazz stunners Breaks & Swells, but they are finally back with a new single! With new album Entomology on the way, “Murder Hornet” is rousing, soulful, and confrontational all at once; a blistering call-out of those who commit violent acts from behind the safety of a police badge. As the band’s horn section swirls around her, singer Marquetta Miller can barely conceal her anger while rallying together a community perpetually underneath a city-issued boot. The song was produced and mixed by Robert Cheek and mastered by Adam Straney. Here’s what Miller had to say about “Murder Hornet,” listen to the song below her thoughts:
“Murder Hornet is a song of frustration.
The feeling that our enemies have always been here; that they are timeless and inevitable.
The constant reminder that to some people, the lives of Black people in fact do not matter.
The idea that someone else's fear could cost you your life, simply because you exist.
The sense that the truth has ceased to matter, that maybe it never did.
The urge to hope that something, anything will change but to also despair that it never will.”
I’m not above personal bias, but I assure you it’s purely objective when I (rather frequently) prop up Tacoma as having one of the most plentiful rap scenes in America. This month’s featured artist Bujemane is proof positive of that, but also the MCs I talk about all the time on this website and in personal conversation. Since emerging onto the Tacoma rap scene, Blake Anthony has proven to be a standout talent, equipped with a versatile flow, evocative writing, and a natural sense of melody. His latest mixtape Intermission packs an assortment of his talents like dynamite into its brief runtime, with the languid bounce of songs like “Astral Bounce” and “Kiss My Spliff,” the elegiac boom-bap of “Ego’s Song,” and the surefire summer jam “Yes.”
An early moment in Intermission that made me say “huh!” was on Intermission’s title track when Blake rapped about how some Tacoma cats rep Seattle when they leave. As proud a community as Tacoma is — Day One Entertainment co-founder AP once tweeted that people from Tacoma will tell you they’re from there before they tell you their first name, which was the realest shit ever told — it’s sad there’s still people who don’t feel compelled to rep where they’re from. Thankfully we have artists like Blake, who not only rep the T proudly, but emphasize the embarrassment of riches that is the city’s rap scene. Intermission dropped just yesterday on DSPs, so find your favorite one and stream it!
There’s a chance that some readers of this column may not know that La Luz — for my money, the greatest rock band in America today — formed in Seattle and were based here for years before moving to California. The band recently heartbreakingly announced on their Instagram that they have to cancel the East Coast leg of their North American tour in support of their outstanding self-titled album because frontwoman Shana Cleveland (who has also released two excellent solo albums) was diagnosed with breast cancer. Without getting into a long rant about the United States’ healthcare system, obviously the process of treatment is a harrowing and expensive ordeal. The band has set up the La Luz Family Fund to help Shana with costs. Please donate if you have the means.
The fun thing about obsessively following AJ Suede’s career is not just basking in his prolificacy (in 2021, he released only five projects, his most measured release schedule since moving to Seattle), but also unraveling the collaborative projects he drops regularly. Though I’m frequently wont to mention Suede has become an outstanding beatmaker in his own right, it’s always a treat to hear what he can do over other people’s productions. His latest opus, Metatron’s Cube, was produced in full by Televangel (best known for his work with Blue Sky Black Death), who leans into the sort of psychedelic head-nod rap Suede sounds absolutely at home over.
Augmented by dope guest verses from Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, Philly mic dismantler Premrock, and others, Metatron’s Cube finds Suede ruminating on gentrification over Kidd Valley garlic fries, reminiscing over his childhood cameo in Redman’s video for “I’ll Be Dat,” and questioning the IRS’s new initiative to tax any PayPal annual income over $600. Even in the midst of high alcohol tolerance, “Terror” is wracked with tense caution; “3 Hours Late” is an resplendent ode to the logistical and emotional challenges of living a bicoastal life. Televangel’s shuffling instrumental for closer “5 x 10” ends the album on a vivid, melodic high note as Suede waxes poetic on redlining, DMT highs, and your main squeeze bumping his shit.
Robbie Hill has been a Seattle fixture for decades. In addition to being a fixture at Seattle Central Community College before his retirement, he’s best known as one of the drummers for Black on White Affair and bandleader of Robbie Hill’s Family Affair; essential in the realm of Wheedle’s Groove, both the documentary and the Light in the Attic record series. Hill was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and reported to be in rapidly declining health. A GoFundMe page has been set up for him, and I would again urge you to contribute some funds if you can.
Tacoma's Buje Mane doesn't consider himself a rapper, but he's finding a way to pave new territory in the genre.