4. Fountaine (43 points)
SOUNDS LIKE: Hip-hop beamed to Earth by an anime-obsessed alien civilization that's evolved beyond genre.
NOTABLE VOTES: Mic Capes, Portland Mercury music editor Jenni Moore, Wynne, the Thesis co-founder DJ Verbz
When Fountaine scored an invite to Anderson Paak's album release show last November, he didn't expect to meet anyone famous. He certainly didn't expect to meet Dr. Dre, or for it to happen while the Portland rapper was stoned.
The 26-year-old Portland rapper and producer had been invited to the release party for Paak's Oxnard through his manager and expected to attend like a fly on the wall. Instead, he ended up in a small room backstage, chatting with the Grammy-winning musicians and smoking a joint with bassist Thundercat. It wasn't until Dr. Dre stopped in that Stewart struggled to play it cool.
"'I've listened to every artist you ever put on, you are my role model production wise'—I wanted to say all that," Stewart says. "But in my head, I'm like, I just need to shake his hand, I might get some magical powers."
The Woodlawn native has been releasing music as Fountaine for four years, and his output is as prolific as it is shape-shifting. Hell for Infinite Losers, his third album, is dense, trippy and aggro, packed with references to astrology and anime and glitchy instrumentals. Then, earlier this month, he dropped Rain?—a smooth, blissful and deceptively effortless project. Stewart raps with percussive enunciation and an almost nasal delivery that lends a sense of defiance to his amorphous, off-kilter hip-hop. But his music is defined less by a specific sound and more by a kind of fervent curiosity. So hanging out with some of his idols, sharing a joint like equals, was a moment of belonging for a musician whose sound—and personal health—is constantly in upheaval.
"Everybody treated me like love," says Stewart. "Those guys giving me that experience, just out of being wholehearted people, made me feel like I was destined to be doing this, but at the same time, knowing that I could be stripped of it at any time."
Just months before, Stewart was confined to a hospital bed, unable to move from the pain of a critical case of meningitis, uncertain if the virus would permanently compromise his health and his career. Stewart has struggled with chronic health problems for most of his life. But this time was particularly bad. Bed-ridden after a spinal tap, he could only watch as canceled shows piled up. Stewart began to worry the missed opportunities would have a long-term effect. "I was like, if I miss PDX Pop Now and other big shows and venues, the work that I put in last year will be pretty much worth nothing and I'll have to start all over," he says. "I was just reeling in like, this is the end, and crying every day about it."
Stewart not only recovered in time to play PDX Pop, he managed to give one of the most charismatic, amped sets of the free local festival. For the entirety of the show, he bounced around the stage and threw the occasional high kick while spitting bars, and getting the crowd to repeat his rallying cry: "Fuck New Portland."
It's telling that after such a turbulent year, Stewart created his warmest, most serene, project yet. Stewart dropped Rain? on June 1. It could soundtrack a sun-drenched wake-and-bake or a zeitgeisty massage studio. Rain?'s two continuous sides dip in and out of soulful guitar licks, skits, scatting and guest spots from local musicians, like a throwback radio station filtered through Stewart's fluid sense of genre.
Stewart's new Zen-like sound doesn't mean he's become complacent, though. He recently got the Grim Reaper tattooed on his right calf. Even the seemingly nourishing title of Rain? has a life-and-death quality.
"Water is a very good thing for you, but it also can kill you. Life is like that as well; if you take too much of it in, without giving it back, it can kill you," he says. "You gotta let it flow, but you also got to let it go."
NEXT SHOW: June 21 at Mississippi Studios for WW's Best New Band Showcase.