[FRESH HIP-HOP] Northwest hip-hop is most often derided for lacking a distinct regional aesthetic. But the Sandpeople crew—and by extension, iAMe, one of its premier MCs—has a sound. The squad relies on wobbly, carnivalesque beats strung with synths and half-sung choruses that are often both soulful and hauntingly distant to craft its hallmark sound.

So what happens when a Sandpeople MC wants to break out of the Sandpeople mold? Lame happens. Portland MC iAMe's new record—named in part for how his name looks in print sans its unique capitalization—doesn't look like a Sandpeople album (the cover looks like something a metal band would come up with). Produced by forward-thinking, reclusive local producer Smoke M2D6 of Oldominion, it doesn't sound like a Sandpeople record, either.

But most tellingly, iAMe's subject matter has expanded to encompass everything from nightmare sequences ("Felt So Real") to theology ("Thy Will") and the kept life ("Domestikated"). The MC's flow hasn't changed much, but the expanding thematic horizons do lead to a refinement of tone (see the lackadaisical, gooey and masterfully written "Ninja Defense").

It's not a complete transformation: iAMe opens his album by framing it as a rather depressing drinking game, and songs like "It's Not Always Pretty" and "Carlin List" are pretty classic Sandpeople-style calls to arms. But from time to time—see the minimal, futuristic "Keep the Change"—iAMe completely reinvents his sound. Still, the real challenge presented to other area artists here is in iAMe's lyricism: Everything in the rapper's life—his problems with (and celebrations of) drinking, his relationship, his politics and his self-doubt—is on the table on Lame. That's what makes this a record rather than a collection of songs. Northwest hip-hop is growing up, and iAMe is maturing faster than most.

SEE IT: iAMe plays the Mount Tabor Theater Lounge on Saturday, June 4, with Onry Ozzborn, Hives Inquiry Squad, Cloudy October and Void Pedal. 9 pm. $7. 21+.