7. ePP (31 points)
SOUNDS LIKE: Big L if he listened to synth pop and wrote self-help memoirs, or Drake if he learned to love himself.
NOTABLE VOTES: Wynne, Party Damage Records co-founder Ben Hubbird.
A few years ago, ePP sat on his front porch, smoking a joint and contemplating the end of his career.
"I was kind of just out of it. I was like, I don't know if I want to do music anymore," says the rapper, who chooses not to share his given name in interviews. "I was in a grudgeful state, and that's not a place I like to be in."
The Southeast Portland native had already achieved local recognition as one-third of the indie-friendly hip-hop group TxE, which placed in 2011's Best New Band poll. In 2013, ePP released his solo debut, Chrome Plated, an album that highlights his seething, spitfire flow and penchant for augmenting boom-bap beats with dreamy instrumentals.
Shortly thereafter, TxE disbanded. The death of a project that ePP had spent his entire young adult life building contributed to a period of creative doldrums, during which he considered quitting music for good. Then came the fateful moment of rumination on his front porch. "I was just like, man, this is what you have to do, there's no other way," he says. "This is what I dropped out of school for. I saw something, I believed in something, so why are you going to quit now? Just because a bump is in the road? I just had to call myself out, and I'm happy that I did."
Last spring, ePP released There's a Place for People Like You, his first album in six years, after scrapping two versions. It's a sharp departure from his comparatively minimalist past work. There's a Place is lush with gospel organs, wobbly synths and jazzy interludes. His music has always been pensive, but There's a Place sounds like a therapy session. Filtered through watery Auto-Tune, ePP's delivery blurs the line between singing and rapping—it's so melodic and effortless, you almost don't notice how hard he's going. The crux of There's a Place might be "Out of Place," a confessional, emotional balm of a song backed by soft pianos. The hook is a summation of the album's wisdom: "Maybe you should get to know ya/Because ain't nobody gonna do it for ya."
There's a Place is an album about cutting out the noise and searching for internal validation. So it's fitting, and somewhat ironic, that it has had the widest resonance of any ePP release yet. "Some kid hit me up from France the other day and was like, 'Man, this album just does something, I've been playing it on nonstop.'" he says. "It's just crazy, I don't know. I'm just some cat from Portland and now the world is listening to this album."
There's a Place might have energized ePP—he's already written six songs for the follow-up—but he's still not interested in commercial success if it means pandering to others' expectations. "It's super-corny when people say this, but they'll be like, 'Don't forget about us!,'" he says. "First of all, I'm not going to be famous. Second of all, I'll probably definitely change, but it will be for the better."
NEXT SHOW: See facebook.com/epp1999 for news of future shows.