Supporting black artists (and black-owned businesses) is essential every day, and Seattle is brimming with talented black performers and bands that Stranger critics have written about again and again, from sibling duo the Black Tones to jazz institution Industrial Revelation to young star Parisalexa. With nationwide protests demanding justice for black lives, the online music publishing platform Bandcamp is waiving their revenue share from midnight to midnight on Friday, June 5, and again on Friday, July 3, meaning that all proceeds will go directly to artists. (Plus, while you’re writing down dates, know that Bandcamp will also donate 100% of their shares to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in honor of Juneteenth on Friday, June 19.) Below, we’ve rounded up active Seattle musicians whose music you can buy directly on Bandcamp and other platforms (meaning we haven’t included artists like Jimi Hendrix and Riz Rollins, whose work is also essential to Seattle’s music scene). Did we mention that June is also Black Music Appreciation Month? Go forth and buy tunes.
We’ve done our best to make this post as comprehensive as possible, but please email us at [email protected] if we’re missing anyone!
Afrocop is a spectral jazz trio whose sounds go into outer space, with moods and styles varying greatly, from cuts that feel like they should be scoring the chase scenes in the original (1980s-era) Terminator (like “Sci-Tropics”), to “Upward Bound,” which starts out with vague NOLA jazz vibes before venturing into cosmic grooveland. LEILANI POLK
(Originally appeared in a November 2019 Timbre Room show preview. Founding member Noel Brass Jr.‘s solo work is also available on Bandcamp.)
Ahamefule J. Oluo
We turn to Ahamefule J. Oluo, whose name you might be familiar with from pieces he’s written in The Stranger. Or maybe you know him from his work in the band Industrial Revelation (more on that below). Or maybe you know him from the stand-up he’s done at venues like Comedy Underground. Or maybe you saw his show Now I’m Fine at Town Hall or On the Boards or the Moore. Remember when we all used to be able to go see shows at Town Hall, On the Boards, and the Moore? We thought nothing of it. We had no idea how lucky we were. You can now attend a virtual screening of the production of Now I’m Fine at On the Boards here.
(Excerpted from a May 8, 2020 Message to the City.)
It thrills me to say that Archie, no longer known as PSA (Pop Star Archie) has—to use an industry phrase—blown the fuck up. This girl has been bobbing and weaving all over the Seattle music scene this year, dropping hauntingly beautiful tracks left and right. Her latest EP, 613, dropped in late November, and it contains some of my favorite songs to come out of 2019, most notably “Bad Bitch,” featuring Stranger favorite DoNormaal. It’s a community read, letting everyone out there know that Archie and Dodo have been on it for years and aren’t stopping anytime soon. You’d best listen. KIM SELLING
(Originally appeared in a January 2020 Chop Suey show preview.)
Ayron Jones and the Way have a stronger all-of-us-together band sensibility and a more traditional sense of soul music, fuller and further from the bone. But he can sing, strum, throw in Hendrixian guitar solos, and put it over. ANDREW HAMLIN
(Originally appeared in a January 2017 Triple Door show preview.)
The Black Ends
Led by guitarist/vocalist Nicolle Swims, Seattle trio Black Ends recently impressed a large Chop Suey crowd while opening for the Black Tones at the latter’s album-release party. Further impressiveness arrives with Black Ends’ new Sellout EP. Its four odd rock songs bear a subtle darkness and sense of unease. Swims’s guitar seems to be tuned to a cool, strange mode that generates faded twangs and muted chimes while her voice has a downered, Chrissie Hynde-esque nasality that’s distinctive. Swims’s song structures gently skew in a manner reminiscent of obscure, women-dominated groups such as Quix*o*tic and Oh-OK. I can imagine Black Ends—who include bassist Ben Swanson and drummer Jonny Modes—signing to a respected label such as K or Kill Rock Stars in the near future. DAVE SEGAL
(Excerpted from a July 2019 Inbox Jukebox).
Raw, honest, and soulful, Black Stax will make you smile, cry, and punch at the air with their masterful hip-hop genre-bending. KIM SELLING
(Originally appeared in a May 2017 Upstream show preview. Read more about founding member Silas Blak in Charles Mudede’s 2016 profile, when he was nominated for a Stranger Genius Award.)
The Black Tones
KEXP’s Audioasis DJ Eva Walker and her brother Cedric know how to punkify the blues and blues-ify the punk. If you’ve ever witnessed their high-octane rock and roll shows and the dynamic of Eva’s infectious and idiosyncratic quirks matched with the band’s avalanche-like force, then you know you can’t experience their shows enough. Their 2019 chart-topping Cobain and Cornbread is easily one of the strongest full-lengths (a debut at that!) to come out of Seattle this year—not to mention one of the more culturally salient bands to break out in the rock genre right before the new decade. ZACH FRIMMEL
(Excerpted from a December 2019 Neumos show preview. The Black Tones are also continuing to stream episodes of their TV music show Video Bebop on the Seattle Channel.)
Breaks & Swells
Soulful, classy, expressive, percussive—just a few words you can use to describe this funky, fun, seven-piece Seattle band. They pack the stage — people let loose and dance up a storm to good old jazzy and blues riffs as lead singer Marquetta Miller’s sugary coated vocals give a sweet flavor to the sound. AMBER CORTES
(Originally appeared in a 2017 Capitol Hill Block Party show preview.)
If you want a night of the purest African headcharge out there, do not miss this show, which features two very progressive African bands, Mokoomba and Chimurenga Renaissance. The former is based in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and the latter is based in Seattle, but it features a member, Tendai “Baba” Maraire, who is Zimbabwean by blood. (Maraire is also one-half of Shabazz Palaces.) Mokoomba’s sound is like nothing I have heard before—a swinging mix of Afro pop, Brit pop, American rock and soul, and Jamaican ska. Chimurenga Renaissance’s direction is Afrofuturist. In their music, one hears the ancient ruins of Great Zimbabwe transformed into a spaceship guided by spirits. This show will take you there. CHARLES MUDEDE
(Originally appeared in an April 2019 Town Hall show preview.)
A former member of the classic Jamaican reggae band the Gladiators, Clinton Fearon is the only real roots rocker in the Pacific Northwest. His first Seattle band, the Defenders, was beloved by all black immigrants, who were moved by his sense of authority, his command of important issues, and his determination that Africa would one day rise again and destroy monolithic Babylon. The Defenders’ “Chant Down Babylon” even became a local hit. The Jamaican expat is still alive and well. CHARLES MUDEDE
(Originally appeared in a July 2019 Volunteer Park show preview. He will also host a streaming concert this Sunday, June 7.)
Currently occupying the throne of local queer rap is Da Qween, the hard femme with harder bars and a hunger to establish themselves as not only the queen of Seattle, but the queen of everything. KIM SELLING
(Originally appeared in a July 2019 Capitol Hill Block Party show preview.)
Listen, y’all, Dave B is good—really fucking good. Hailing from Renton, the rapper won MoPOP’s Sound Off! competition in 2013, performed Macklemore’s hit “Corner Store” alongside Travis Thompson on The Tonight Show in 2017, and dropped a new album in June called Bleu. Dave B’s third LP finds the rapper doubling down on what makes him such a standout: witty lyrics, a flow that alternates between soulful singing and incisive rapping, and excellent production. Be sure to listen to “CPU LUV,” a funny rumination on love in the digital age. He’ll be joined by Seattle-born, LA-based comedian Jak Knight. JASMYNE KEIMIG
(Originally appeared in a June 2019 Showbox show preview.)
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio
It didn’t take long for Delvon Lamarr to take his killer Organ Trio worldwide. Really not a surprise, because while Lamarr tickles the traditional Hammond B-3 jazz grooves, he can drive it into some kind of soulfulness in a blink. It’s something I’m not sure if contemporary Seattle deserves, but that’s another story. MIKE NIPPER
(Originally appeared in a preview of an August 2020 Jazz Alley show, which is still listed as originally scheduled on the venue website and has tickets available to purchase, though we’re not confident that indoor, in-person concerts will be allowed to take place this summer.)
Before you read another word, I highly recommend that you download or stream DoNormaal’s second album, Third Daughter, and listen to this masterpiece of indie, gritty post-hip-hop at least three times. If you are already familiar with the album, and if, like me, you can’t get enough of it, then let’s get right to it. The first thing that needs to be said about DoNormaal, a Seattle-based MC (ed. note: DoNormaal is now based in Califonia) whose born-name is Christianne Karefa-Johnson, is that she has a style of rapping that’s at once mesmerizing and original. Often the two attributes do not meet in one rapper. DoNormaal swings effortlessly as she constructs dense rhyme patterns that negotiate an unusual emotional space for a hip-hop artist—between anger and hurt. The anger in her work relates to her social situation (a black woman in a racist and misogynistic society), but this anger is tempered by hurt that is profoundly personal (her childhood tragedies, the challenges her family faced). As a consequence, the mood of her raps on Third Daughter is that of a slow or controlled burning. CHARLES MUDEDE
(Excerpted from a June 2019 piece, “DoNormaal’s Not-So-Normal Hiphop“)
Blood, who is also a composer and musician, has worked with Shabazz Palaces from their inception, back in 2009, produced a number of local indie bands (most notably the Moondoggies), and in 2012 released his own album, Touch Screens, a masterpiece of 21st-century pop. Each track on this album is broadly catchy, but also carefully, thoughtfully, deeply organized. Indeed, his best work can be described as a big and gorgeous flower whose creator is only visible in the small details, the intricate patterns, the subtle structures. CHARLES MUDEDE
(Excerpted from a June 2014 profile, when he was nominated for a Stranger Genius Award. Read more about him in Dave Segal’s September 2016 profile, when he won a Stranger Genius Award.)
It’s no secret that Seattle is spilling over with gifted musicians, but even given that relatively high bar, Evan Flory-Barnes is a standout. The veteran multi-instrumentalist is probably most visible in his role as bassist for the formidable Stranger Genius Award-winning ensemble Industrial Revelation, but his many appearances on his own and with others have made it clear that he is a major talent no matter whom he’s playing with. SEAN NELSON
(Originally appeared in a March 2018 On the Boards show preview. During quarantine, he has also been streaming a Cooped Up on the Couch Concert Series.)
Falon Sierra’s soulful voice draws comparisons to Ari Lennox or Amy Winehouse—but make no mistake, it’s her dreamy storytelling flair and quirky twists (like sampling a Lars von Trier film) that prove she’s doing her own thing. Also, that girl can emote. AMBER CORTES
(Originally appeared in a 2018 Capitol Hill Block Party show preview.)
If you haven’t seen a Fantasy A poster, then you’ve never lifted your eyes from your smartphone while walking around our fair city. Fantasy A is Seattle’s undisputed king of hustle, a title earned from stapling and taping every damn vertical surface in this town. The 25-year-old on-the-spectrum rapper struggles with his flow, but his self-deprecating style is sui generis. His debut film, Fantasy A Gets Jacked, is not about his admirable physique, but about getting robbed repeatedly. GREGORY SCRUGGS
(Originally appeared in a 2018 Capitol Hill Block Party show preview. Read more about him in Jason Josephes’s 2015 profile, “Meet Fantasy A—the Rapper/Writer Whose Flyers Are All Over Town.”)
The Folks Project
The Folks Project, a side collective of local talents D’Vonne Lewis, Darrius Willrich, Evan Flory-Barnes, and Owour Arunga, pay tribute to the legacy of jazz culture and music that came out of the Central District, honoring artists like Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Ernestine Anderson, Floyd Sandiford, Buddy Catlett, and Anthony Ray, whom you may know as Sir Mix-A-Lot. KIM SELLING
(Originally appeared in a February 2020 Triple Door show preview, a recording of which is available on Bandcamp.)
Respect where respect is due: Gabriel Teodros has been a fixture in the local hiphop scene for well over a decade, officially making him an old head at this point, known almost as much for his affable hustle and connections in the community as he is for his formidable back catalog. Through his work in Abyssinian Creole (with Khingz) and CopperWire (with Meklit Hadero and Burntface), along with his solo material, Teodros molded and refined the socially conscious journeyman steez popularized in the Seattle underground through the ’00s, becoming the goodwill godfather of backpack rappers everywhere in the process. KYLE FLECK
(Originally appeared in a January 2015 Crocodile show preview.
Gifted Gab is one of the best rappers in the game, period. Her lyrics and flow are incisive, precise, even gravity altering. On 4/20 (ay!), Gab released her latest album, Cause & Effect, which only solidified her exalted status here in her native city. On “AND 1/Hurricane G,” Gab is out for blood. “He Gon’ Roll” finds the Central District rapper instructing a lover about how to roll a joint over a sensuous beat. Gifted Gab is the king and the queen MC of Seattle. JASMYNE KEIMIG
(Originally appeared in an April 2019 Crocodile show preview. She also featured in Lester Black’s 2018 piece, “Getting High with Gifted Gab and Thunderpussy at the Gorge.” She has a new album, Talk About It, coming out June 26 with her new rap duo project, Blimes & Gab.)
Seattle vocalist/lyricist Grace Love is best known for her time fronting the True Loves, a powerful group of soul/R&B revivalists who made a big splash around town throughout the 2010s. Her new project, Grace Love & Reset, veers into slightly different territory. Their self-titled debut album is a well-oiled hedonism machine whose every moment is geared toward facilitating romance and sex. So, it’s the ideal Valentine’s Day sonic artifact, and the local We Coast label perfectly timed its appearance for this most conflicted of holidays. DAVE SEGAL
(Excerpted from an Inbox Jukebox column from Valentine’s Day 2020).
Pulling from hella goth lineage (the horror and pleasure of 19th-century phantasmagorias), local musician Guayaba’s latest record, Fantasmagoría, reflects their Afro-Latinx roots as well as their keen eye for the world that runs just parallel to this one, that consists of our desires and deepest fears. As such, their album encompasses genres like horrorcore, bossa nova, psychedelia, and hip-hop, as Guayaba raps in both Spanish and English, creating a sonic world ripe enough in which to see your own soul’s surreal reflection. JASMYNE KEIMIG
(Originally appeared in a January 2020 Timbre Room show preview.
Hanna Benn (Indianapolis via Seattle)
Former Pollens vocalist/guitarist Hanna Benn moved away from Seattle a couple of years ago, which was a huge loss to the local music community. But at least we can feast on the fruits of her relocation and creative battery-recharging in the Big Apple. For example, “Unfasten,” an orchestral ballad of steely fragility and insular beauty. Old mofos like me will think of gently psychedelic folkies like Linda Perhacs and Vashti Bunyan for comparisons; younger mofos may flash to Julianna Barwick and Ian William Craig. Not to say that “Unfasten” is blatantly derivative of any of those fine artists; rather, it wafts in the same exalted air as their best works. (The lyrics come from a poem titled “Boneless Bird” by Melanie Noel from her 2013 volume, The Monarchs.) DAVE SEGAL
(Excerpted from a December 2017 Inbox Jukebox).
Jazz is now considered America’s classical music—meaning, it’s music for institutions like the university and the museum. That’s not how Industrial Revelation think of jazz. The group has four members—D’Vonne Lewis (drums), Evan Flory-Barnes (bass), Josh Rawlings (keyboards), and Ahamefule J. Oluo (trumpet). All are trained primarily as jazz musicians and play in a number of jazz bands and venues around town. However, IR’s 2013 album Oak Head makes it clear that when these four men make music together, they cannot be classified as a jazz band. IR have a sound that is not determined by one genre, but instead is overdetermined by multiple genres—hiphop, indie rock, punk, soul, and so on. But here is what makes IR truly unique and worthy of the status of Stranger Genius: Their mission as musicians is not to save jazz or to be relevant to younger audiences. Absent from their live shows and two albums is exactly that kind of desperation and scheming. What we hear instead are tunes composed and performed by four very talented musicians who are naturally, effortlessly, constantly inventive. CHARLES MUDEDE
(Excerpted from a 2014 profile of the band when they were nominated for the Stranger Genius Award, which they later won).
Oakland-born, Seattle-raised MC J’Von’s [music is] terrifically soulful-warm basement-level boom-bap very much in the vein of his contemporary Amora. Can I say that I’m loving this throwback underground vibey-vibe going around again? LARRY MIZELL JR.
(Excerpted from an April 2015 My Philosophy column).
Beacon Hill native JusMoni (aka Moni Tep) is bringing her dreamy, R&B-inflected tunes back to her home turf. On 2018’s Sweet to Me, her voice—sweet and ethereal—transports you to other dimensions on spacey, bass-heavy “Linked In,” much different from the corporate hellscape that its named for. “Got It on Tape” features the one and only Stas THEE Boss, where JusMoni’s voice floats like smoke over tight electric guitar and Stas raps deftly over the retro beat. JASMYNE KEIMIG
(Excerpted from a March 2019 Clock-Out Lounge show preview).
Kimya is a celebrated writer and singer of songs and an all-purpose force for good in the world. First making her artistic mark as half of the antifolk duo the Moldy Peaches, Kimya soon turned to solo work, where the twisted punchline poetry of the Peaches was deployed in the service of Dawson’s gem-like personal narratives, creating such singular works as I’m Sorry That Sometimes I’m Mean (2002), My Cute Fiend Sweet Princess (2004), Hidden Vagenda (2004), Remember That I Love You (2006), and Thunder Thighs (2011), and earning her a 2009 Grammy for her work on the soundtrack for the film Juno. More recently, she joined forces with hiphop artist Aesop Rock to form the Uncluded, whose debut record Hokey Fright was released to critical acclaim in 2013. She frequently tours the world, often with her kid Panda by her side.
(Excerpted from a June 4, 2020 Message to the City).
Knife Knights is essentially a project by two wonderful musical minds, that of Ishmael Butler and Erik Blood. The two first met in 2003—but in 2009, Blood produced and mixed the two debut EPs by Shabazz Palaces (a duo made up of Butler and Tendai Maraire, read more below). In 2017, Blood and Butler finally came together in Knife Knights, which is less a cultural/music project like Shabazz Palaces and more of an exploration of sound itself, like Explosions in the Sky. With Knife Knights, one gets lost in the infinities of processed and reprocessed music. CHARLES MUDEDE
(Originally appeared in an October 2019 Langston Hughes show preview. Read more about them in Gregory Scruggs’s profile from last fall, “Knife Knights’ Medieval Futurism.”)
Kung Foo Grip
The MCs of Kirkland’s Kung Foo Grip—the Afro’d Greg Cypher and the dread-shaking Eff Is H—are classic-minded, upper-range-voiced spitters in the vein of prime-time Hiero, but they’re no real-rap revivalists. Since their quickly embraced appearance as teens upon the scene some years back, they’ve been as committed to progression as they have to their incendiary live presentation. Their production has morphed from jazzy loops and boom bap to cloudy trap, their couplets from merely impressive rhymes to naked emotion (particularly on 2013’s Growing Up in the Future), they’ve never once sounded out of their lane, always honed their trajectory, always remained fans first of the area’s illest shit—very based. LARRY MIZELL JR.
(Originally appeared in a 2019 Capitol Hill Block Party show preview.)
Led by vocalist/guitarist Jenn Taranto, Seattle quartet Medejin have been creating beautiful, ethereal rock for over a decade. Their more recent recordings have leaned toward the Angel Olsen/Weyes Blood/Shana Cleveland school of poetic songcraft that delicately probes intimate emotional terrain. Medejin’s new single, “World’s Fair,” is probably their most engaging and fully realized song to date. As drummer Matthew Cooke tattoos the skins with a complex pattern, guitarists Rebecca Gutterman and Taranto pluck a constellation of gorgeous spangles. Taranto’s voice is a silky, languorous delight, and the whole thing recalls Cocteau Twins, but without the booming beats and million-dollar production values. “World’s Fair” is a dreamy sigh of a song. DAVE SEGAL
(Excerpted from an August 2019 Inbox Jukebox. Read more about them in AJ Dent’s December 2019 piece, “Medejin Premiere a New Video for ‘World’s Fair.'”)
Originally a quartet encompassing guitar and drums, Mirrorgloss underwent a series of lineup changes that eventually led to their current incarnation as a duo, though it wasn’t easy to get here. Their latest release, 2017’s Something New EP (Swoon Records), is a five-track collection of dance songs about breaking up, falling in love, and moving on. The title track is a thumping ode to a rebound, “It Goes” is a thoughtful disco cut about losing oneself on the dancefloor, and “Heartbreak Roadtrip” recounts the beginnings of a relationship that feels doomed from the start. It’s not difficult to understand the duo’s growing popularity when you sit down with them. Both women immediately come off as the kind of friends you’d want to have—bold, caring, unpretentious. They speak loudly and without hesitation. Both of them are excruciatingly funny. Their sheer presence, you suspect, would make you feel unstoppable on a dance floor or while trying to talk to your crush at a function. SAM CHAPMAN
(Excerpted from a January 2018 piece, “Mirrorgloss Serves Charisma and Confidence with Electro-Pop Flavor.”)
Sorry We Lost You is a stunning debut for musician MistaDC. The Tri-Cities native’s recent musical efforts even caught the eye of Ebro, an Apple Music DJ, who played “Get Out,” a song off the new album, during a segment on the Beats 1 radio show, telling the now-Seattle-based rapper, “I like your waves.” “Waves” or “wavy” encapsulates DC’s music better than any other label could. D’Angelo-meets-Badu-meets-Daniel-Caesar-meets-a-guitar is a mouthful. So is indie-neo-soul-R&B-hip-hop. And who likes to be hemmed in by the discographies of other singers anyway? Or some arbitrary system of categorization that’s been used to separate artists based on skin color? I love a musician that eschews genre. That’s why “wavy”—rhythmic, constant, all-consuming—seems to capture what makes DC’s music so damn good. Listening to it is like the best body high, the type that blooms in your chest then spreads to your shoulders, relaxing you into the sound. JASMYNE KEIMIG
(Excerpted from a January 2019 piece, “MistaDC’s Debut Album Is Wavy as Fuck.”)
Wachira’s understatedly powerful songs of resilience, identity, and empowerment would seem to be the perfect fit for a night about internal strength, without ever getting preachy or melodramatic about it. It doesn’t hurt that she’s got a wallop of a voice, all the better to deliver her casually catchy ballads. KYLE FLECK
(Originally appeared in an October 2017 Jazz Alley show preview.)
OCnotes (Tucson via Seattle)
Years ago, OCnotes, a musician and sound engineer whose reputation is huge in Seattle’s hiphop scene, conducted an experiment in his basement studio in the OK Hotel in Pioneer Square. In a small space filled with people drinking wine and beer in the semidarkness, he projected on a white wall fragments of one of the strangest movies of the 1970s, The Wiz, which stars Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. The original Motown soundtrack of The Wiz, however, was replaced by a spacey, dreamy stream of beats produced by OCnotes (the professional moniker for Otis Calvin III). He had not only completely remixed the original soundtrack but also the images and scenes of the blackened musical. The result of this work, called Emerald City Sequence, was 25 minutes of pure magic in what I can only describe as Notes’s cave. The feeling of liberation experienced while watching and listening to Emerald is consistent not only with OCnotes’s politics but his whole approach to music, which can range from the rawness of punk to the impressionism of house music. The rawness comes from his early identification with skateboard culture and the impressions from his musical education in the choirs of black churches in Tacoma, where he was raised by parents in the military. After completing his official education in sound engineering in Arizona at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences, Notes opened his studio in the OK Hotel in the ’00s. It’s here that he produced the stream of beats that established his name locally. CHARLES MUDEDE
(Excerpted from a June 2015 profile, when OCnotes received a Stranger Genius Award. Read more about him in Trent Moorman’s March 2015 piece, “Seattle’s OCnotes Aims Deep on Color Wheel, His Best Record Yet.”)
For the musician featured on tracks with local and high-grossing rappers Macklemore and Sol, along with indie stars like Gabriel Teodros, Otieno Terry, winner of the 2014 Seattle Sound Off competition, is now taking the mic unaccompanied. It’s a way of showing the world that he can be the main attraction, not just the support. With a voice like Bruno Mars mixed with Prince and a rap flow like Pharrell, Terry lands another stellar project onto the Seattle terrain, as if a UFO touching down at the base of the Space Needle, opening up its doors, and its driver saying, “Check this out!” before a mesmerizing light display. JAKE UITTI
(Originally appeared in a 2018 Upstream show preview. Read more about him in Jake’s 2017 piece, “Seattle R&B Singer and 2014 Sound Off! Winner Otieno Terry’s “Jaguar Stupid” Hints at a Great Debut LP.”)
Parisalexa first nabbed my attention (and my heart, tbh) when she sang “Cashitis” in the semifinals of Sound Off! 2016, an annual music competition at the Museum of Pop Culture. She gave a pitch-perfect vocal, wielded it perfectly, and showed an obvious knack for creating organic, intuitive song structures. To this day, I still get chills. So I’ve been waiting patiently for Parisalexa’s star to rise (and subsequently explode into the mainstream consciousness), and I think it might finally be that time. Her KEXP set from last year was an impressive, jazzy delight; in October she appeared on NBC’s Songland, pitching her song “Pity Party” to Charlie Puth and wowing all the judges in the process. JENNI MOORE
(Excerpted from a January 2020 piece, “Parisalexa Is in Bloom and Deserves Our Attention.” She’ll appear in a livestreamed concert on Friday, June 5 to benefit Black Lives Matter.)
Seattle-based rapper-painter Perry Porter’s second album, Bobby Ro$$, pulls audio clips from black painters like Kerry James Marshall and Carrie Mae Weems, and weaves them into his songs to create a vivid musical portrait of Porter’s visual inspirations. It’s dope as fuck. JASMYNE KEIMIG
(Originally appeared in a November 2019 Crocodile show preview.)
Pink Lotion (LA via Seattle)
Let’s not beat around the bush: Pink Lotion’s debut release, LUSTERS, is an orgy of late-night, boudoir-bound funk. Imagine a languorous four-way among Prince, Parliament, Brides of Funkenstein, and Patrice Rushen, and you have an idea of how these six tracks Astroglide® through your sensorium. Track titles such as “Sex on Mars,” “Slick Inside,” and “Moisturebate” telegraph the intentions of Erik Blood (Shabazz Palaces, Knife Knights) and Rachael Ferguson (NightraiN, Clutch Douglas): they want to help you get laid. You’d be churlish to refuse such a magnanimous offering. DAVE SEGAL
(Excerpted from a January 2020 Inbox Jukebox Track of the Day.)
Once dubbed “the golden child” by Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler, the kid Porter Ray Sullivan is grown, and, as a matter of fact, has been older in spirit than his youthful face and shimmering soprano have let on all along. The late-20s Seattle MC compounds nocturnal ruminations on past traumas and altered toasts to the high life’s seductive mirage. “MLK, Rainier, shit just ain’t the same here/I fantasize of foreign flights, foreign women snortin’ white,” he raps on “Bless Me”—“may all my pain be champagne.” Ray has a lot to say, and a million ways to say it, and each verse he writes only lifts him toward the heights he dreams of. TODD HAMM
(Originally appeared in a November 2017 Tractor Tavern show preview. Read more about his debut LP, Watercolor, in Amber Cortes’s March 2017 profile.)
Solomon Samuel “Raz” Simone is a Seattle rapper who in another life would’ve probably been a preacher or a bluesman—his penchant for gold jewelry would befit either. His recorded voice creaks like an unoiled barn door, his stark lyrics, dark subject matter, and musical arrangements lend him a gravitas both worldly and consecrated. Raz’s raps are unfailingly dead-serious and personal, sharply ricocheting off race, gentrification, and gun violence (just to pick a few) on the way to the hook. His forthrightness on the issues this city is going through give his words an urgency that’s lacking throughout the scene. His tendency toward big, string-heavy orchestral backdrops reminds one of a couple other well-known Seattleites; there’s Kurt Cobain—in particular the pained covers of Lead Belly and Meat Puppets from the MTV Unplugged performance—and, of course, Macklemore. Raz, a local fan favorite with a growing national following, went hard against the grain in 2015, spending a lot of it shaking up Seattle rap’s mostly picturesque snow globe by actively targeting Macklemore and Sol, the vanguard of local posi-rap. LARRY MIZELL JR.
(Excerpted from a December 2015 piece, “Raz Simone Isn’t Trying to Be the Greatest Rapper of All Time—He’s Just Trying to Drive Home.” Read more about him in Jake Uitti’s 2017 piece, “Seattle Rap Altruist Raz Simone Methodically Builds a Musical Empire in Sodo.” Thursday morning’s Slog AM also includes video of Raz leading the protest crowd on a megaphone, deescalating tension and providing needed energy.)
Renee Holiday (formerly known as Shaprece)
Seattle’s Shaprece ranks among the Northwest’s most radiant, soulful vocalists and producers of torch-song-centric electronic music. DAVE SEGAL
(Originally appeared in a 2015 Bumbershoot show preview.)
On his most recent release, Ro, Federal Way rapper Romaro Franceswa speaks of both the trap house and the church. He bridges the gap between these two selves over vibey trap beats, calling out fakes on “Loose” and bringing gospel-inspired runs on “Blessings.” JASMYNE KEIMIG
(Originally appeared in a November 2019 Crocodile show preview. Read more about him in Larry Mizell Jr.’s November 2015 piece, “Romaro Franceswa’s Near-Perfect Balance.”)
If you’re not into Sango yet, that’s tragic as hell because it means you missed one of the best releases of 2016. Seattle-based, Brazilian-influenced, and Soulection-cut producer Sango teamed up with local heavy hitter Dave B. for Tomorrow, an album notable not only for Dave B.’s hazy harmonies and elastic bars, but for Sango’s capacity to lay down a Seattle-specific, and thus instantly classic, sound, as well as pull emotional tangibility out of seemingly minimalist design. For baffling reasons, Seattle is rarely heralded as a quality source for ground-up hiphop (as we’re remarked on usually only for our pop-culture crossovers like Macklemore or Sir Mix-A-Lot), but Sango’s work alone should prove to change that with releases like Tomorrow, Hours Spent Loving You, his collaborative album with Xavier Omär that also dropped last year, and his upcoming solo album, In the Comfort Of. KIM SELLING
(Originally appeared in a January 2017 Showbox show preview.)
A graduate of Cornish College of the Arts, Sassy, aka Catherine Harris-White, who first started performing in clubs at 18, hit the public consciousness in 2008 with her hip-hop duo, THEESatisfaction, releasing two records on Sub Pop. Since, she has fostered a solo career, writing and producing all of her music and releasing 11 projects since 2015—with melodies often compared to Herbie Hancock and a voice often compared to Sarah Vaughan. Sassy released her third record, Ancient Mahogany Gold, in the fall of 2019. As she says in her Message to the City, she’s been using her library card to find resources online, and she’s been reading a lot—Walter Mosley, Octavia Butler. “And I’m obsessed with Malcolm Gladwell.”
(Excerpted from SassyBlack’s Message to the City from May 20. Sassy will also host a livestreamed event on Saturday, June 20.)
Shabazz Palaces mastermind Ishmael Butler walks and talks as if he’s just had the best sex of his life. His voice, a laid-back drawl, exudes radiant cool, and even the slightest movement—a tilt of the head, a handshake—is chill. He has the unparalleled nonchalance of Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, and Lou Reed—people so gifted, they don’t ever need to get in your face about their talents. They vivify the air in any room they occupy, rivet you with their charisma and the laid-back sagacity of their utterances. Even when Butler murmurs an offhand “yeah,” it’s musical. Butler won a Grammy Award for Digable Planets’ 1993 smash hit “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)”—but instead of doing what other 1990s rappers did, fading away or slipping into irrelevance, Butler has flipped the script on the usual artistic trajectory and created his most adventurous music 20 years on with Shabazz Palaces, which also includes producer Erik Blood and percussionist Tendai Maraire. To date, they’ve released four albums and two EPs. DAVE SEGAL
(Excerpted from a May 2019 piece, “With Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces, Ishmael Butler Has One Foot in the Past, and One in the Future“)
Seattle prodigal son Sol continually re-emerges on the PNW scene throughout the years with surprise track bundle drops, essential humanitarian actions, and underwhelming beef with other local notables, but he always manages to make time for the occasional high-energy, sunshine-filled set in the city that raised him. KIM SELLING
(Originally appeared in an April 2019 Showbox show preview. Read more about him in Charles Mudede’s June 2012 piece, “Sol on a World Tour.”)
Perpetually and unjustly under the radar, Seattle MC/producer Specswizard raps like he’s confiding in you in a private spot and trusting you to savor his words and take them to heart. His productions subtly twist golden-age-hiphop beatmaking into more subdued and warped realms, but he’s also fond of going expansively orchestral, like any true appreciator of David Axelrod. Back in 2010 in The Stranger, I wrote, “Specs exudes a confidence that doesn’t need bellowing, chest-pounding, and nut-grabbing to make its impact felt. His sly braggadocio rides mostly laid-back, funky foundations that are marbled with wonky keyboard tones and unconventional samples, often lifted from prog-rock wax.” In other words, Specs is defiantly out of step with modern hiphop… but you know, he hasn’t given a fuck about that for over two decades. He’s not about to jump on any fashionable bandwagons now. DAVE SEGAL
(Excerpted from an October 2018 Inbox Jukebox.)
Stas THEE Boss
Seattle hiphop is in capable, diverse hands—if this bill is any indication. Stas THEE Boss, of course, formed half of one of Seattle’s deepest and most pleasurable rap/R&B units, THEESatisfaction, as their two Sub Pop LPs proved. Stas has continued to grow as a solo artist, with the excellent S’WOMEN, whose lyrics Stranger freelancer Jake Uitti deemed “noble, poignant, and revelatory.” DAVE SEGAL
(Originally appeared in an October 2018 Nectar show preview. Dave Segal also highlighted Stas in a 2017 Spun Out column.)
Taylar Elizza Beth
In the rap game, often the loudest voice with the most brawn behind it gets the attention. In Seattle, though, there’s a new wave of emcees preparing to flood the market. At the forefront is White Center’s Taylar Elizza Beth (aka Taylar White), a loquacious but soft-spoken talent looking to sonically solidify a new space for herself in the Seattle hip-hop movement. JAKE UITTI
(Excerpted from a May 2017 piece, “Taylar Elizza Beth Puts the Fresh into Her New EP, Fresh Cut Flowers.”)
Wilson moved from Memphis to Washington when she was very young. At 19, she signed with Hendrix Records and toured with the Seattle-based gospel group SOUL. After that she moved to L.A., where she worked as a singer and songwriter. When she moved back to Washington in 2009 she released Music Therapy, which was composed of a lot of the songs she was working on in California. [At the time of writing] she’s about to go on tour with 2016’s #SeeSharp, an record that marks a political turn in her songwriting. RICH SMITH
(Excerpted from an October 2017 piece, “Seattle Singer Tiffany Wilson Talks About Funk’s Power to Change Minds.” Her new single, “Hollywood,” is out now.)
Whitney Mongé got her start busking on the streets of Seattle. Understandably, she wants off the streets. She’s got a fair chance to get there, judging by the online clips—understated but emphatic, tough but a bit of a frightened shake in her voice, a voice that’s seen and sat down with hard times, ground out sidewalk life one minute at a time. ANDREW HAMLIN
(Originally appeared in a January 2017 Triple Door show preview.)
Veteran Central District MC Yirim Seck is a classic-rap leaning, second-wave conscious, clearly spoken lyricist who echoes the style of another talented Seattle enunciator, Khingz. Seck, whose primarily positive subject matter moves through topics like family life and hard work in the studio, has always been able to convey his positive outlook well enough, though he has struggled to dig deep enough into his persona and life experience to demand the kind of close listening he seeks. TODD HAMM
(Originally appeared in a May 2017 Upstream show preview. Read more about him in Charles Mudede’s 2009 piece, “Back Home.”)
OTHER NOTABLE BLACK ARTISTSWe haven’t written about these artists yet.
Eric Blu & the Soul Revue (Livestreaming on June 5)
Filthy Fingers United
Marshall Law (Livestreaming on June 5)
Olivia Thomas (LIV†)
Stephanie Anne Johnson (Livestreaming on June 5)