Portland MC Serge Severe has always had an appreciation for the “golden age” of hip-hop. He released a tape of himself rapping over DJ Premier beats. He refers to himself as a “lyricist” rather than a rapper. His songs have titles like “Classic So New,” “Back on My Rhymes” and “Spit Rounds.” For many MCs, this comes off as a playing it safe, but Severe has so far managed to channel the mindset of mid-1990s East Coast hip-hop without sounding clichéd.
His newest project, Boom Bap & Bars Vol. 1, a collaboration with local crate digger 5th Sequence, is no different, sporting a raw, vintage sound. But unlike Serge’s past projects, which were laced with hard-hitting backdrops, 5th Sequence develops a warmer, jazzier sound here—more Gang Starr-era Premier than, say, his work with M.O.P. The soft horn and subtle piano suit Severe well.
In the past, the combination of Severe’s vicious
lyricism and his ear for grimy beats could become tiring at times.
Here, his vocal dexterity has room to maneuver, making it one of his
most accessible projects yet. That’s not to say his fiery passion or
skills on the mic have diminished—Severe is still out for the heads of
weak MCs. But on Boom Bap he sounds more relaxed than ever, which
helps make his messages of authenticity and lyrical supremacy easier to
SEE IT: Serge Severe plays Rotture, 315 SE 3rd Ave., with Goldini Bagwell, Illmaculate, DJ Sparks, Halfmanhalf & DJ Ozroc, Chill Crew, and DJ Wels, on Thursday, April 25. 9 pm. Free. 21+.