[TIMELESS HIP-HOP] To hear Toni Hill and Sabrina “Syndel” Britt, of singer-rapper duo Siren’s Echo, discuss their artistic relationship, you’d think they were twins separated at birth. Or perhaps the better cliché is to say they are each other’s biggest fans. That’s close to the truth: Before coming together to form one of Portland’s only female hip-hop groups in the early 2000s, the two admired each other from afar. Hill’s way with a hook had long impressed Britt, who saw Hill perform often with the band Hungry Mob. And when Hill first encountered Britt, delivering fiery rhymes as the lone woman in Seattle’s sprawling Oldominion crew, Hill knew she’d found someone special.
“When I grew up, I had Queen Latifah, I had MC Lyte, I had Salt-N-Pepa—Syndel’s not any of those things,” says Hill, 37. “She had a spitfire delivery and more of an aggressive presence. And there was a stark contrast between herself and the guys. Oldominion had a dark kind of sound, and she was a ray of light.”
“It was like yin and yang,” says Britt, 35, of eventually meeting and collaborating with Hill, “and I found the yang.”
Considering their close bond—which, they claim, has caused a kind of sisterly ESP to develop between them—and the way it reflected in the group’s warm, soulful music, it must have surprised fans when, after recording a well-received debut album and playing shows all around the Pacific Northwest, Siren’s Echo seemed to fade from existence a few years ago. But Hill and Britt insist the group never actually ended. Instead, life events—namely motherhood—forced an extended hiatus. With both members living in the same area again (Hill recently moved back to Portland from New York, and Britt is raising her son 45 minutes away in rural Kelso, Wash.), they decided it was time to take Siren’s Echo off ice. Their first order of business: finally put out Supa Soul Sistas, an album that’s been sitting on the shelf, completed and unreleased, for three years.
Exhuming old songs and passing them off as fresh is a risky proposition, especially in the trend-conscious world of hip-hop. Luckily for Hill and Britt, Supa Soul Sistas has aged well. Opening with a funky clavinet sample and turntable scratches, the album exudes the timelessness of a classic soul record, moving from hand-waving party tracks (“Ride Wit Us,” “BBQ”) to flirty sex jams (“Hot Hot”) to weightier message songs covering suicide (“Rain Drops”) and women’s rights (“Hard Times”). Now years removed from the actual recording, it plays like two longtime friends reconvening to reminisce about their glory days.
“This album feels like a slumber party,” Hill says, her voice rising with sudden revelation. “Because it’s like, ‘Wow, we were really giddy’ or ‘We were really pissed’—whatever the range of emotion was, it’s funny to look back on, especially when you’re wearing your mom hat.”
As for looking forward, the “mom hat” complicates matters. For one thing, extensive touring is out of the question. But it’s safe to say, regardless of what happens or where they go in the future, Hill and Britt will remain connected.
“Even when we’re doing our own thing,” Hill says, “we’re still doing Siren’s Echo.”
SEE IT: Siren’s Echo plays Ash Street Saloon, 225 SW Ash St., with Nafisaria Scroggins, A’Janae and Rose Bent, on Wednesday, Nov. 14. 9 pm. $12 includes three-disc Siren’s Echo collection, $10 includes new album, $5 general. 21+.