[HIP-HOP] The greatest gift an MC can have is a recognizable voice, and Portland's Brown Caesar (formerly Santotzin) certainly fits that bill. While his lyrical stick-and-move brings some comparisons to mind—a touch of House of Pain's B-Real, a little GZA, perhaps—his voice is pretty unique: conversational, boisterous and empathetic all at once. On 4 Tha Crown, Brown Caesar uses that talent for good, coming across as that rare bully who stands up for the little guy; the introspective, thinking thug.
On "Clarity," Brown Caesar speaks to everything from his own run-ins with the law to the street community he calls home and wanting a better life for his sisters. He raps: "Killer, drug dealer, but I'm realer/ And trying to do the right things with bigger/ Vision than most who still living in close proximity to Brokesville, population me," before slipping back into self-preservation mode.
Even when he's not talking about building a better community, B.C. is more elegant than most of his peers. On "Hip Hop is Hardcore," he skitters across a throwback funk beat, painting a compelling picture of the music as a creative refuge from a darker urban reality. He explains the struggle so well on the string-fueled "Thought U Knew" that it provides a better understanding of his swag on the hard-repping, sprawling title track.
But B.C.'s finest moments come to pass when his songs' conceits match the uniqueness of his voice. The Latin-tinged "Movement" is a smart, bittersweet epic that manages to mesh a damning indictment of U.S. capitalism with a brief salute to murdered Portland MC Blue Crush. "T.W.I.O. (Working Man Anthem)" is even more radical, and it finds B.C. outshining guest MC Killah Priest by spinning rhymes about government corruption and environmental destruction that doesn't sit right with him. Having a voice is a gift, and Brown Caesar knows how to use his. That's revolutionary. CASEY JARMAN.
[DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION] For most of the aughts, Portland was known as an indie rock town. We had the A-list bands (Modest Mouse, the Shins, the Decemberists), the iconic heroes (Stephen Malkmus, Johnny Marr) and, until Sleater-Kinney split up, the group critic Greil Marcus dubbed "America's best rock band" in Time magazine. A few years ago, however, the tide started changing toward a new style of music—Copy won Willamette Week's Best New Band poll in 2006; Starfucker soundtracked a Target ad; and every other opening act was a dude with a laptop and a table of mysterious electronics.
In 2010, you simply can't ignore the widespread influence electronic music has on this city. It was only a matter of time before somebody documented the current underground sound, and PDXTC takes six of PDX's best young dance projects—Atole, Wampire, Jeffrey Jerusalem, Breakfast Mountain, May Ling and Guidance Counselor—and puts them all on wax for safe keeping.
Opening with May Ling's icy "Love Leads the Way"—which sounds like a killer Glass Candy song recorded inside a vacuum cleaner—the 12-inch record covers a lot of ground: jittery post-punk, bubbling disco, hushed dubstep. All nine tracks are among the artists' best work, but Breakfast Mountain's heavy "Love Partner" stands out, all rattling low-end and odd background coos that threaten to burst even the nicest pair of earbuds. Another highlight is Wampire's "Magic Light"—otherwise known as the point in the band's live set when Eric Phipps and Rocky Tinder strip to their undies—a near six-minute sex jam that is both silly and sincere.
Though each of the six bands on the compilation is stylistically different, PDXTC works as a collection of songs because of the record's one unifier: the love of a good beat. Portland hasn't lost its cred as a music city, but in 2010, you have to know how to dance to get here. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER
SEE IT: Brown Caesar plays Food Wars 3 on Saturday, May 29, at Bossanova Ballroom. $8 plus suggested canned food donation. 7 pm. All ages. PDXTC's release party is Thursday, May 27, at Holocene (with Atole, Wampire, Guidance Counselor, May Ling and Breakfast Mountain). 8 pm. $5. All ages.