Less than a minute and a half into The Reign, MC Raquel Divar comes at you full force. "Me, I'm with that flame oil/I claim royal," she raps on the second verse of her new EP, rhyming at breakneck speed over a beat that's little more than a subtle, bassy thump.
On The Reign, Divar's voice is front and center. But tucked into the corner of a cafe on Northeast Alberta Street, Divar says her auteurism is newly found. Until recently, she didn't even like the sound of her own voice. "Now I do, but I used to not," she says. "You just listen to it a lot and learn to make it better."
Though Divar has already released an EP and a mixtape, this year has been her most prolific yet. The recently released single "Dopamine" is one of her strongest works yet, a melodic noir that showcases her hard-hitting, effortlessly shape-shifting verses.
The Reign is due in early July. On the collaborative EP with producer Cory O, there are bare-bones beats and nebulous, metallic synths. But Divar's voice is what propels the EP—she lays down verses with both force and precision.
Though it's not her first release, in many ways it's Divar's proper debut. The title comes from the chorus on the smoky "Smith n' Wesson." But it's also an ode to Missy Elliott's "The Rain" and a general claim to power. "There's a lot of references about just like running shit and being boss," says Divar.
That raw bravado is new for Divar. "My friends used to make fun of me, like, 'You only rap about weed and spaceships, you need to think about a new subject,'" she says. "Good thing they told me that, because all of my songs would have been like that forever."
A hip-hop purist with a thirst for forward-thinking music, Divar has been honing her sound since she started rapping at dubstep DJ nights in her native San Francisco. But the fusion didn't mean that Divar immediately came into her own. "There's definitely times where the dubstep kids don't like vocals on their music and the hip-hop kids are like, 'What the fuck are these beats?'" says Divar.
Five years ago, Divar left the Bay Area for Portland. "I loved the hip-hop community here, the electronic community here, the POC community," she says. When I moved here is when I started executing my ideas."
Thanks to rappers Vince Staples and Princess Nokia, more mainstream listeners are used to hearing bass music and amorphous synths backing up MCs. But even as liked-minded rappers rose to prominence, Divar remained determined to devise her own sound. "I would always pick these crazy beats that would end up not fitting well with the vocals," she says. "This is one of the first times I've hit exactly what I wanted to do."
On The Reign, the understated backing tracks serve Divar's slick verses, rather than the other way around. The subtle drops and shifts in the beat exist to punctuate her rapping rather than pin it down.
Divar plans to release even more material this summer, and hopes to begin working on her first full-length soon. But when Divar heard the final mix of The Reign, she says it felt like a revelation. "I'm like, 'We finally did it,'" she says. "I've never sounded better in my life."
SEE IT: MC Raquel Divar plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., dougfirlounge.com, with Fritzwa and Scooty, on Wednesday, June 20. 9 pm. $10. 21+.