It's difficult for artists to create something truly reflective of who they are. Fountaine dealt with that recently.

"I scrapped my whole album and started over because it was just an album full of anger and anguish that wasn't good for my mind state or anyone else to soak in," says the 26-year-old rapper. "I want to create something that's going to make you reflect."

Fountaine, born Michael Stewart, had an R&B-influenced album slated for release last October. The release was highly anticipated—Stewart's producer cred runs deep, and his ability to masterfully blend everything from jazz to soul to anime references is distinct. When the brawn of his beats meets his adept lyricism, the payoff is undeniable. His last release, H.F.I.L (Hell for Infinite Losers), goes into detail about Stewart's experiences as a creative black youth born and raised in Portland. On the album, his diarylike verses, narrating his experiences with depression and racism, are juxtaposed with dance-inducing, grooving rhythms and catchy hooks.

With H.F.I.L, Fountaine showed his emotional hand. But just before Stewart's follow-up was set to drop, he announced on Twitter he was abandoning the entire project. Ultimately, he felt it didn't convey the version of himself he wanted his fans to connect with. The album was more of a stressful "death note" when Stewart wanted to release a love letter.

"I want to be able to speak to you as a therapist for anything that you've got going on in your life, whether it's negative or positive," he says. "I felt the album that I had ready to go out was full of hate and anger based off the life lessons I was learning and what I was running away from."

Now, all of that running has led Stewart to a place of focus and willing vulnerability—all of which he seeks to embed in his career going further. With this next album, he's over the "sugarcoating" he feels he's done in the past.
For his next release, he plans to go in harder with his lyricism and rhymes, while still staying close to the softer roots that encouraged him to begin with. Stewart is heavily influenced by his friends, family and community and, in particular, by his namesake, his Uncle Michael, a talented musician who frequently sang along to Marvin Gaye and Luther Vandross records during family get-togethers and parties. Seeing that realness—and how it could create bonding—inspired Stewart's approach to his next album.

"I'm kind of tired about rapping about how much I've got and how better I am than some other artists," he says. "I'm more into telling a story and meeting you heart to heart through music. A lot of people don't feel these days, and I want to make sure that whatever you get out of this, you're feeling your emotions and feeling open."

His next album—which he expects to release "after March but before September"—is sure to do that. Though it'll still have some of the same sonic elements, it's a far more personal vibe than the R&B album he discarded. "I want this album to feel like you're just playing a really good radio station, with all the crazy classic jams and good new jams," Stewart says. "I want to bring back those memories of seeing your favorite cartoon come on in the morning and you have just the right amount of cereal in your bowl with the milk combo. I want people to be able to come back to the places they love the most about themselves."

That fuzzy, nostalgic warmth will be met with a "non-artificial" authenticity Stewart feels a lot of rap lacks nowadays. He likens much of his upcoming output to his favorite song he's ever written, "Yamchas Thoughts." The track has a mellow, smooth flavor like a top-shelf whiskey. Lyrically, it hits you with a punch. Stewart raps about not yet finding real love, while also throwing in lines about rolling with the chaos of his life. His new material has a similar openness. "A lot of people will be able to vibe with me and reflect with me without actually meeting me," Stewart says.

Eventually, Stewart looks to expand outside of Portland's hip-hop scene. Local hip-hop shows still experience difficulties with venues, but he points to the success of female rappers like KayelaJ, the Last Artful Dodgr and Karma Rivera, as well as the wider variety of ethnicities in attendance at shows, as evidence of progress. While things are getting better, his brushes with fame—he recently met Kendrick Lamar and Thundercat at the listening party for Anderson Paak's new album—have got him pining for a life outside his hometown.

Still, Stewart isn't in it for the renown. "I don't want the diamond chain, but I would love a gold necklace, though," he says. "I just want people to feel and reflect, that's all."

SEE IT: Fountaine plays the Paris Theatre, 6 SW 3rd Ave., theparispdx.com, with Clear Soul Forces and Mighty, on Thursday, Jan. 31. 9 pm. $15. 21+.