WHO: Bryson the Alien, Mai Mae, SHK THT.
SOUNDS LIKE: Amy Winehouse joined your favorite hip-hop group.
FOR FANS OF: A Tribe Called Quest, MF Doom, Banks.
2016 will be remembered as the year hip-hop broke in Portland. There are greater opportunities to see rap shows today without fear of a police crackdown, but there is still little crossover between the local hip-hop scene and the city's music scene—which makes a group like Sumalienz something of an anomaly.
"The name 'Sumalienz' came about partly because we all feel a little separated or alien from the scenes we're part of individually," says rapper Bryson the Alien, who formed the trio in early 2016 with singer Mai Mae of synth-pop outfit Fringe Class and electronic producer SHK THT.
The trio met not long after Bryson moved to Portland from Ohio in the summer of 2015. "When I moved to Portland, I sort of landed right in the DIY scene," Bryson says. He met Maddie Goldstein, aka Mai Mae, at a house show later that fall, and the two began working on material shortly after. They then met electronic producer SHK THT through mutual acquaintances, like-minded local genre-benders Tribe Mars.
Sumalienz have ambitious plans, including two EPs titled Fried and Flooded respectively that will be released jointly on cassette later this winter. Fried will center on Bryson the Alien's material and features production by Portland producer Johnny Cool. "New York," the first single, offers a breezy take on classic hip-hop, with Bryson using his methodical yet carefree delivery to weave a tight, structured narrative about a meaningful missed connection over a laid-back, jazzy beat.
Flooded, meanwhile, will showcase Goldstein, long one of the most powerful pop vocalists in the city. Within Sumalienz, her vocals become more contemplative and understated. The group's dynamic is captured perfectly on the track "4 AM," which was written essentially as an improv with Goldstein ad-libbing verses over a beat SHK THT was composing in real time—a standout moment during the group's live performances. "These memories burn like the summer sun," Goldstein croons, surrounded by warm synth washes.
In contrast to the other Sumalienz members, SHK THT has been active within the Portland hip-hop community for a few years, and he's hopeful about the future—not just for the group, but for the scene itself.
SEE IT: Sumalienz play Lola's Room at Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., with Deafmind, Mic Mar, Sean P B2B Approaching Sanity, Pennyweight, and Sling, on Thursday, Nov. 10. 8 pm. $6 with student ID, $8 advance, $10 day of show. 18+.