Ever since her first single, Karma Rivera has made it clear she's a force to be reckoned with.
In 2016, she dropped her debut release, "Tacos y Tequila," which showcased the Portland MC's taste for minimal beats, sense for infectiously rhythmic verses and almost menacingly patient delivery. Live, Rivera has proved to be even more charismatic. At a recent show at Dig A Pony, she spent only about half of the performance on the actual stage. The rest of the time, she performed her set in the middle of the crowd or from the top of the bar.
It wasn't until the end of July that Rivera released her debut EP, Don't Sleep on This. The EP seems like a benchmark moment for a rising, ambitious artist, but Rivera skipped the customary release show. Instead, she opened for Snow Tha Product the day before Don't Sleep on This dropped, and this week, she'll perform a set at Cake, a queer and trans hip-hop dance night.
So it's fitting Don't Sleep on This is as aggro as it is restrained. On the album's hazy, club-banger opening track, "No Fairy Tale," she raps, "I try not to fall under someone else's spell/And I only say that because I know myself so well." Like the rest of the EP, the line mixes bravado with caution, and makes one thing clear—Rivera isn't interested in distractions.
Don't Sleep on This isn't exactly minimalist, but it's definitely exacting. Each of the six songs clocks in at three minutes or less. The drum machines, bumping bass and eerie, atmospheric synths on her backing tracks meld into a single, smoky haze. Rivera gets in, delivers a few rhythmic verses and an addictive hook, then gets out. "Let me catch you up to speed/Ya'll ain't matching up with me," she raps on the bouncy "A Game."
It doesn't seem she's worried about that changing. Most often, Rivera takes her time. Instead of rapping at breakneck speed, she delivers her verses with a steady confidence, like a marathon runner locking into a winning pace.
Don't Sleep on This values subtraction in a more literal way, too. On the bassy, slow-moving "Not Yours," she takes aim at social climbers trying to siphon off her success. On the single "Friendship," she offers the addictively rhythmic motto, "Fuck a friendship/I don't need your friendship/I'm way before my time/My presence's too expensive."
For most of Don't Sleep on This, Rivera's measured bravado almost feels aloof. But on the album's closer, "Like a Flip," Rivera really lets loose. She delivers her longest, fastest verses on the album, and leaves her low, nasal register for a delivery that's more confrontational. "Don't you test me/Don't you fucking test me," she warns over a simple beat. "I think it's clear that I don't fuck with nobody."
It's the kind of self-reliance that Don't Sleep on This professes—distilled, ruthless focus. Hopefully, that's a forecast of Rivera's career trajectory, too.
SEE IT: Karma Rivera plays Cake at Killingsworth Dynasty, 832 N Killingsworth St., killingsworthdynasty.com, on Friday, Aug. 10. 9 pm. $5. 21+.