[TOMORROW'S HIP-HOP] Like an increasing number of rappers these days, Tay Sean Brown of Seattle's Kingdom Crumbs doesn't listen to much hip-hop. Not as much as he used to, anyway. Growing up, he was what might be deemed "a true head." He rhymed, break-danced, dabbled in graffiti, made beats. Asked what inspires him today, though, Brown is more inclined to mention L.A.'s Brainfeeder label—a crew of producers who smash hip-hop into pieces and filter the shards through the lens of electronic music—than any MC.
Simply put, Brown is a rapper burned out on rap. It's not that he's forsaken the culture that raised him. He just recognizes that, in order for the music to move forward, it must look beyond itself and admit that the so-called "golden era" of hip-hop, which many of his peers still cling to, is over.
"I've heard enough boom-bap stuff in my time," Brown says by phone from a hotel somewhere in Illinois, referring to the production style of early '90s rap. "I still like listening to it from time to time, but I'm just a little more moved by things that are progressive and experimental and heartfelt. Not to say that boom-bap hip-hop isn't heartfelt. I guess I just got a little bit tired of it."
Kingdom Crumbs is Brown's effort to nudge hip-hop toward its future. Formed in 2010, the group—Brown, Jerm D, Mikey Nice and Jarv Dee—is, to use the parlance of the genre, on some next-level shit. Its self-titled debut, released last year, takes the shadowy template of Shabazz Palaces—the act at the forefront of Seattle's rap avant-garde and whom Brown is currently assisting on tour—and turns up the black lights. Produced mainly by Brown, the album's airy, psychedelic beats often seem to float above ground, but the record stays tethered to earth by the MCs' laid-back, streetwise swagger. It's aggressively unique, but Brown says it's wrong to read the album as a direct response to the stagnant state of hip-hop.
"Maybe subconsciously it's like, 'We're filling in the gaps here,' but it's not a conscious effort to do that," he says. "We're just trying to make the music we like."
Live, however, is where the Crumbs deliberately try to stand out. In contrast to the typical "one laptop and a few microphones" setup, the group reproduces its beats together onstage by banging on drum machines and synthesizers, often while performing synchronized dance moves, infusing the abstractions of its album with house-party energy. In a sense, it's the forward-thinking crew's way of reaching back to an older hip-hop ideal: As Rakim once said, "MC means 'move the crowd.'"
"We went into the record knowing we wanted to do more than just grab the mic and rap," Brown says. "We'd all done that enough times that we'd kind of gotten bored with it. When an artist appreciates the opportunity they're given to get in front of a crowd and give them something, whether that crowd is 20, 30 people or whether it's 2,000 people—I take that seriously. I want to give those people a good show. I wasn't satisfied with just rapping over my beats. I don't feel that's doing enough.â
SEE IT: Kingdom Crumbs plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Magic Mouth and Dual Mode, on Wednesday, Feb. 6. 8:30 pm. $6. 21+.