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.
In the second part of our very first two-part feature, we pick up the story of KHRIS P by diving into his return to Tacoma, the release of ILLFIGHTYOU’s (long-awaited) second album, the group’s immediate breakup thereafter, and the leveling up of The Fireman.
“2018, I came back with the battery in my back,” KHRIS P told me over cans of Rainier in the back room of Post Office Studios (thanks, Glenn). He spoke of the environment of the studio, feeling inspired by his friends and competitive in equal measure. Bujemane was in the thick of a remarkable run that included I Quit, Thank You This Has Been a Very Fun Experience, Sorry We Couldn’t Wait For U, and Pretty Bitch of the Year, all released in the span of about eight months. There was another studio around the corner in the bowels of Courthouse Square, Suite A. “Aramis [Johnson] and [TBG] Scoob [Hefner] had a studio next to us, so [producer/engineer] Gary would work in their studio and we would be in ours,” Khris says.
Iron sharpening iron, as the cliché goes. Fostering community. Competition bringing out the best of these Tacoma stalwarts creatively. Everybody was consumed with finding success based on their own merit and talent, rather than playing the game of handshakes and networking and gathering up industry co-signs. “I think that’s when it got weird,” Khris adds. But nevertheless, it felt like an exciting time for Tacoma’s hip-hop community.
Khris described the sessions for ILLFIGHTYOUTOO as fraught with complication. Larry says, “They would have trouble getting on the same page in a lot of ways, you know?” He mentioned members falling off the grid occasionally, and his tenure as the group’s manager came to an end due to the trio “pushing it further in terms of their audacity” regarding their subject matter, especially during a time when the aforementioned Odd Future were cleaning up their act to the tune of enormous mainstream success. Larry and his partner Tanya Lutman hadn’t signed them to an official contract, and after a disagreement over a label wanting to re-release a single from Frank’s Bobby Hill, the group decided to part ways from management.
Larry expressed, “It kind of hurt because we’d put some energy into them and to help get them poppin’. We can’t take credit for their talent, their music, but did[n’t] it benefit from connections and a reputation that I had at that point? It was ultimately no hard feelings. I wished them the best and I still do.”
Regardless of the tense personality clashes barnstorming through the camp, ILLFIGHTYOUTOO stands as an improvement upon the trio’s full-length debut in every conceivable category. GLENN’s confrontational, drug-addled persona (which, truth be told by all accounts, for many years wasn’t merely a character) sounds more palatable than ever here, especially over Khris’s most expansive and musically diverse set of beats yet. Not to mention he was infinitely more confident in his abilities and enjoying the increased depth of his flows and wordplay. UGLYFRANK, no stranger to rattling off dazzling verses with ease, bolsters his rep as one of the Northwest’s very best rappers pound for pound. (And he’s been getting buff.)
But the album’s biggest surprise was KHRIS P going from the very good rapper in league with heavyweights to a truly formidable presence on the mic in his own right. (For evidence, check “BLACKREVOLVER,” “YOYO,” and the sublimely laconic “FLORIDAMAN,” the latter worthy of the notoriety of the term, as explained with great eloquence on the opener of Atlanta Season 2.)
“I came up with this saying that he definitely has instilled in me: ‘You don’t have to be the best rapper in the room to be the best rapper in the room,’” Glenn says about how Khris operating from the mixing boards has helped him evolve as an MC. “He’s built my confidence up in a whole new way.”
Khris specifically notes his emphasis on improving upon what ILLFIGHTYOU were doing by the midpoint of the previous decade for their 2020 stunner. On the production end, he plays with texture and lays down new explorations of melody over the bounce of both his hometown of St. Louis and a style that is uniquely West Coast. He pushes to get the best verses out of Glenn and Frank to spectacular results. Creating such a stellar product was not without its challenges, as previously noted.
“You had Glenn, who [was] hype; he hadn’t been rapping, so he’s ready to go,” Khris says. “But Frank, dealing with life himself, had been burnt out for a second, and was like, ‘Man, I need time.’” The chief producer of ILLFIGHTYOU lays out the scenario of telling the other two members to let him know when they were truly ready to work on the album, so the group can be prepared for anything that may come their way this time around. The substantial — and admittedly, rather premature — hype was the albatross hanging above their heads for the better part of a decade, especially during the period when they were conceptualizing their next swing at the world.
There were concepts for four or five music video treatments already in the can. A couple of them were fully shot. The group had plans to release a new music video for ILLFIGHTYOUTOO every two weeks. And then, in the thick of the album rollout, UGLYFRANK — exalted from the beginning as the golden child, the star, the centerpiece of ILLFIGHTYOU — left the group.
“When Frank left the group, I was truly devastated,” Glenn says. “I didn’t understand why he left and I still don’t. He disagreed on some of the ways the group was moving. I felt like we had a world of opportunity with the ILLFIGHTYOU band and the way it came to a halt was so unexpected. It was just so out of character for Frank to do it in that manner.”
Khris mentioned to me he hadn’t spoken to Frank since a week after he left the group. “I’ll keep it small,” he says. “He left the group because he said he felt his direction was different from what me and Glenn wanted to do. I mean, that’s pretty much how he voiced it.”
Frank declined an opportunity to be quoted for this feature when I reached out to him for comment, but essentially agreed that creative differences were what caused him to depart ILLFIGHTYOU.
Glenn acknowledged that while there was now a bit of distance between him and Frank (even after his departure they spoke regularly for a time), there is still a lot of love for Frank on his end. As far as the group that put all three of these talented artists on the map?
“You know, people shout us out and people ask me for new ILLFIGHTYOU music. It’s always just bittersweet. Thanks for the flowers, but those flowers are dead.”
Culture moves so fast in the Year of Our Lord 2023 that even dumping song after song after song after song on Soundcloud seems like an arcane creative practice, like recording tracks on a reel-to-reel or pressing singles on twelve-inch white label vinyl. But in 2021, years after its moment as rap’s premier medium for unfiltered creativity, Khris started using Soundcloud as a forum to express himself through rap music, as a place to get his 10,000 hours of practice, as a canvas to deepen his craft.
“I got a lot of encouragement after ILLFIGHTYOUTOO came out,” Khris says. “It was the most love and encouragement I got for my raps. I never got that type of love before, where people were like, ‘No, you can rap, dude.’ I’ve always felt like I could, but I didn’t feel like it was acknowledged because I was in there rapping with Tyson and fucking Butterbean, you know what I mean?”
Khris dove into the archive of songs he’d been recording since 2018 — the year where the proverbial Energizer was shoved into his back like that damn bunny — and realized he had made over 100 songs in that time period. He was inspired by Lil Wayne, referencing how in the influential New Orleans group Hot Boyz, Wayne was known for coining the term “Bling Bling” on wax and his great hooks, but not for the fact that, even as a teenager, he actually could rap.
So just like Wayne’s dazzling mid-career mixtape run in the late-2000s, Khris dumped raps into the world to show people he could get busy with the pen. And then, just like Wayne, Khris got rid of the pen altogether. “I was gonna be Lil Wayne for real,” he says.
The results proved to be rather remarkable once he started gathering songs from those Soundcloud loosies for his 2022 album KHRISPIANO RONALDO!, his first of two outstanding full-length projects from that year. On opener “JEFFBEZOS FREESTYLE!,” his free-associative mastery feels fun and improvised (not to mention begging for a Bujemane remix). The line, “Getting d’oh like a nigga named Homer” is one of those turns of phrase too clever to touch a piece of paper; the entire verse elevates the track far past all of the tightly written verses passed off as “freestyles” on rap radio appearances or vintage DJ Clue tapes.
Who knew the artist fully intended to be merely the producer for Tacoma’s greatest hip-hop group would turn out to be part of a small handful of its top tier rappers?
“You’ve seen that with three-man groups like the Lox,” Larry says. “Everybody was like, ‘It’s gonna be Jada[kiss],’ and everybody knows Jada’s the shit and he’s the guy, right? But who really broke out in a way that you never expected? Styles P.”
Throughout KHRISPIANO and TRACKBURNERS VOL. 1 — the latter produced entirely, in all its Southern-inflected splendor, by DJ QJ — Khris slides in and out of pockets and shadows of the beats in imaginative cadences, replete with the charisma and wit that serves as hallmarks of his personality. Not to mention the scores of pop culture references: including but not limited to Monica and Phoebe from a (dubiously) popular sitcom, animated talk show impresario Space Ghost, somewhat obscure syndicated dating show Elimidate, and iconic laboratory-created triplets the Powerpuff Girls.
Khris employs a variety of styles on both of these full-length releases and the Soundcloud loosies they sprung from. He sings emotively on “BELiEVE iT (HEARTBREABREAK iNTERLUDE),” he employs a flow inspired by Michigan’s contemporary rap scene (which has been having a big moment in the sun for the past couple years) on “NOBODYBOUGHTTHIS??,” he and GLENN bring back the scuffed knuckle energy of ILLFIGHTYOU on the exceptional “LOOSECHANGE.” The Fireman’s imagination, presence, and humor lights up every track in a way that makes it enormously simple to believe these songs were just as much fun to record as they are to listen to.
“I haven’t seen him write lyrics in years,” Glenn says. “Khris is creating his own waves and that’s just not how most people approach the game, you know?”
This is an opportune moment to peek through a hole in the fourth wall for a second and appeal to a fun, low-stakes project that the general KEXP crowd might appreciate: Last year’s lighthearted collaboration between Khris and Glenn, titled GIMME INDIE ROCK. With beats looped and curated by Andrew Matson — former Seattle Times music scene beat writer and current editor-in-chief of music and style blog Finals — the six-song EP features breaks from sources such as Wet Leg, Snail Mail, and Soul Glo, among others.
In a different generation, bands like Big Thief and Arlo Parks would have been called “blog rock,” so it’s probably pretty appropriate that Matson, one of the leading proponents of bringing music blogs back to cultural relevance (a noble feat) would be responsible for cultivating this sound.
Khris notes he’s a big fan of rock music and traces back to his St. Louis roots to illustrate its impact on his love of music. “The whole emo wave was big when I was growing up in the Midwest,” he says. “Emo hit all of us, even the Black kids, everybody. Just from the way it sounded, it was cool.”
After expressing his excitement about the forthcoming Paramore concert in July, Khris said, “I hadn’t listened to rock in a minute when [Matson] started sending shit. I didn’t know about Wet Leg or Arlo Parks. Or Big Thief! I didn’t know Big Thief was a big deal! I didn’t know until we put the song out and motherfuckers were like, ‘What? You on a Big Thief song?’ And Glenn, we both like punk, we both like hardcore shit, but [we were] not tapped in on that [indie] side at all.”
Never mind the DMCA takedowns; GIMME INDIE ROCK is a potent blast of quick raps that illustrate the chemistry between the former members of ILLFIGHTYOU.
When speaking on the “big brother/little brother” chemistry between Khris and Glenn, the self-described skeptical little brother (the former), says, “This is a secret. If you want to get Glenn to do things, you have to tell him he’s not going to do it. He wants to prove you wrong. The dynamic I learned from getting to know people [as it pertains to Glenn] was, ‘Yo, he’s a guy who works off of doubt.’”
“One time he told me I was rapping with no neck and I was so offended,” Glenn remarks on the subject about how he is produced by Khris. “I had no idea what it meant. But what it really meant was I was [rapping] like a football player with two big pads on and couldn’t turn his neck. Or like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story when he walks down the stairs in the big snow suit and he can’t even move.”
Khris notes that the fun of working on GIMME INDIE ROCK sparked something that had been missing for a bit, and between that project and “Odd Jobs” — the standout track from Travis Thompson’s 2021 album BLVD BOY — he and Glenn became recharged and resumed working on music. A streak that has continued and remained ongoing through my visit to Post Office Studios.
In discussion about what makes Khris a unique artist, Larry said, “Khris has the thing that he carries from St. Louis. He has that St. Louis swing and it’s off-kilter. It’s dirty.” Larry speaks to Khris’s taste and mentions that he could be someone hired to help Drake find his next new sound — along with the dozens of people already on his team.
“It might sound like a dis, but it’s not. He’s a cool-hunter. I remember how Khris was explaining how vaporwave was the next thing [ten years ago].”
A lot of the waning minutes of my conversation with Khris was based around the philosophy of his production style, finding characteristics of the artists he works with to emphasize their music. Really getting inside the personalities of his collaborators is important to him, and an essential component to why their music turns out the way it does. Glenn says, “What’s really impressive is that he has a whole vision before the song is made. And he consistently pushes you to step outside the box.”
Khris talks to me about the “triangle” approach to his production work, where he tries to bring three particular characteristics out of his collaborators while he works with them. His three keywords for Glenn are “unexpected, weird, and tough.” When asked for other examples, he brought up Thompson, also blaring yet-to-be-released songs in the studio as we talk in the little room.
“Besides unexpected, ‘adult’ is the thing I’m pushing for him right now, and ‘smooth,’ because he has a lighter voice,” Khris says. “I think when people hear him, they place him like a youthful-type rapper or [because] his fanbase is youthful, when he’s clearly an adult and he can rap, you know what I mean? In order to bring the respect out of people, you have to bring out certain things.”
He adds,” I use ‘unexpected’ for everybody, you’ve got to have that unexpected [quality].”
It would have been dreadfully easy for KHRIS P to rest on his laurels for the past decade, to coast on the hype he, Glenn, and Frank garnered as ILLFIGHTYOU, to be that proverbial vending machine for every Tacoma rapper with a decent recording budget. But the fact that he wants to create new and unpredictable work every time out is the mark of a true artist. And that desire to not fall into the trap of inertia or become a factory of same-y soundscapes is not just a matter of personal gain.
“I’m working both sides and making sure that not only I push myself forward, but I help push the community forward, know what I’m saying?”
The times they are a’changing, like they always do.
When I was brainstorming with my boss, close friend, and the creator of Throwaway Style, Dusty Henry, about the expansion of the “New and News” section back in 2020, I was feeling the pressure of shepherding one of the only Pacific Northwest-centric music columns in the entire region. So I introduced the idea of turning it into “New, News, and Notable” as a way to shine more light on Northwest artists at a time where there was a real dearth of local music coverage.
But now, as KEXP as a whole rededicates itself to spotlighting local artists (although if you’re a devoted reader/listener to our Editorial portals, you already know we’ve been leading this charge for years) and our friendly rivals at The Stranger find themselves on the same path, there’s not really a need for me to carry that weight alone in a section dedicated to Northwest news, premieres, recent singles and albums, and great old albums buried underneath the churn which feeds the content monster.
So, as you might have heard last weekend, “New, News, and Notable” has moved to Sound & Vision and reimagined itself.
As for our “Live and Loud” section, with the inception of The Ticket and Showlist Seattle — as well as local music advocates and community members like Suman the Seattle Hypewoman and Nate Louis, there’s not really a dire need for me to run a dedicated list of recommended shows every month. So I’m going to leave those tireless efforts to all the great people doing that work — the sources from which I curated those monthly lists anyway.
But there will still be a bottom section of Throwaway Style, as this is a column, after all. And here it is!
To say UGLYFRANK, the prodigal son of the Tacoma rap scene, has been resting on his laurels since he left ILLFIGHTYOU would be a massive misinterpretation. Since 2020 (even predating his IFY departure), he has released over a dozen singles and co-stars on this great 2022 buzzer beater with yet another among Tacoma’s most talented MCs, SWANKS. Over an array of overcast sounding beats, splitting the difference between languid bounce and twilit boom-bap, Swanks and Frank forgo traditional employment by setting fire to each beat they touch here.
After a fairly long layoff since her great debut LP Ripening, the longtime local star-in-the-making teams steps to the forefront of the scene alongside the veteran Beacon Hill DJ/producer for an absolutely dream-like (and compulsively danceable) effort about the hope for love in the face of the sort of heartbreak that threatens to cut you off from it. Perfect for the small moments after you’ve finished crying at the crystal shop. (The Stranger’s Jas Keimig wrote a great feature on Taylar and WD about this release, which you can read here.)
Before a couple crucial guest spots for burgeoning Throwaway Style Hall of Famer AJ Suede, the restless creativity of Astral Trap was one of the better kept secrets in the Pacific Northwest music community. On his January release, Trap drops flows over a glittering array of styles: disco, house, dream-pop, what was once called “cloud rap” to spectacular results.
After a somewhat unceremonious departure from Sleater-Kinney, a car accident that injured her severely, and the start of an ongoing global health crisis it feels redundant at this point to name, Janet Weiss — the world’s greatest living rock drummer — eventually reconvened with Sam Coomes for the first Quasi record in nearly a decade. Coomes’s songwriting is as sharp as ever and Weiss’s drums land like an Aja Kong kick to the chest. Not even the heavy ideas of death and gravity can weigh down the guitarless rock duo’s tenth record, as it might very well be their best album since 1998’s enduring classic Featuring “Birds”.
A reimagined version of their outstanding November album, the Portland-based rapper/producer combo — both of whom you might be familiar with if you’ve Suede Watched along with this column and poured over rap album credits over the past couple of years — enlists a team of A-list rap producers below the mainstream line. AJ Suede himself, Blockhead, Messiah Musik, Khrist Koopa, Small Professor (joining the three other members of the Wrecking Crew clique, harder than J Dilla's "Geek Down" according to Zilla Rocca), and Child Actor (providing the truly amazing instrumental for the “Turbulence” remix). For his part, as he does on the album’s original version, Milc asserts his status as one of the top MCs in Portland today with searingly insightful bars brining back a slice of Portland before "they turned Mississippi and Alberta into Disneyland."
After being annihilated by their great set opening for Murder City Devils last year, I waited and waited for the debut full-length from this trio of weird and heavy Seattle punks. Much to my surprise about a week ago, I found it after it had already been out for nearly four months. Deaf ear to the streets be damned, Placate Boring Flesh stands as one of the most exciting rock records to come out of the city in a while, all bleating, moaning guitars and ominous flutes and sludgy tempos and funky drum beats and nightmarish lyrics and the type of bass that makes my entire office rattle and sends my girlfriend’s twelve-pound dog to seek shelter in the living room.
In the first installment of a special two-part Throwaway Style feature, Martin Douglas explores the Tacoma rapper's origins and the swift rise of ILLFIGHTYOU.
Nearly a decade removed from being courted by mainstream music media, the Tacoma rap trio continues to utilize what brought them to the mosh pit. Martin Douglas explores.