TJ Love is a dyed-in-the-wool, professional hip-hop head. In this column, he offers his opinion on Portland rap releases from the past few weeks. Warning: takes can be hot.
Wisteria is the follow up to rapper-producer Fountaine's critically acclaimed freshman endeavor Blak $ushi, and it's a case study of an artist indulging their id and doing whatever the fuck they want, consequences be damned. The North Portland native's subject matter runs the gamut, from anime to police brutality to millennial angst. At this point in the game his mic skills are better than his production, but he's got great intuition as a composer. The beats on "Cowboy" and "Modern Day Piccolo" are stripped down head-nodders, placing the verses are front and center. Fountaine and company's clever punchlines are dripping with swagger ("I'm the shit, nigga ask around, even Siri know"). "Banana Nut Fuschia" is an intrepid, glittery romp that mixes trip-hop and uptempo lounge music, buoyed by horns, flutes and a tapestry of stoned, stream-of-conscious musings that has high replay value. It's refreshing to see an artist brave enough to be himself and not the character society thinks he should be.
Cool Nutz, N.P.Y.
Cool Nutz' name is as synonymous with the Portland music scene as rain in local weather reports. The Portland OG has attained his vaunted status over a decades-long career through the usual means: hard work, dedication and consistency. Cool Nutz' new project, aptly titled N.P.Y. (short for Neva Play Yaself), belies conventional notions that rappers don't age gracefully. N.P.Y. is grown-man rap, without seeming curmudgeonly or bitter. It's just straight-talk, buoyed by Nutz' impeccable ear for beats. Eight tracks deep, with West Coast-flavored production and guest shots from longtime collaborators, tourmates Slum Village and formerly PDX-based hip-hoppers that have left for cities friendlier to the culture, homie's latest LP has a persistently positive undercurrent. Standout tracks include the celebratory piano- and handclap-driven banger "Troutdale" and one of the most Portland-as-fuck songs I've ever heard, "Nigga Shit" feat Mikey Vegaz.
Maze Koroma, Osiris
North Portland's Renaissance Coalition has been compared favorably by this very publication to the Odd Future collective, and if we're going to continue that narrative, then Maze Koroma is their Earl Sweatshirt. But while comparisons are a viable tool to give people an idea of what to expect, Koroma's Osiris EP is unlike anything anybody is doing in hip-hop right now—in Portland or anywhere else. The production is eclectic, adventurous, at times intergalactic, and wide-ranging in the type of mood and mindstate it has the ability to put you in. In much the same way Del Tha Funkee Homosapien shined on Dan the Automator's beatscapes for Deltron 3030, Maze Koroma is the type of MC to not only relish the challenge but make the most unruly, off-kilter canvas submit to his artistry. That in itself is a testament to the man's talent, especially when style and substance are such an either/or proposition for so many rappers. Intricate rhyme schemes, engaging subject matter and a voice tailor-made for rap make him a commanding presence.
Jon Belz, After Hours
Jon Belz can rap his ass off. How do I know? I saw him perform at Portland's first annual Hip-Hop Day back in October, and I've been a fan ever since. Without downplaying the effort it takes to become an MC with a pen game of his caliber, he's got an almost preternatural gift for this rhyming thing. After Hours EP is Belz' fourth project in almost as many months and it's indicative of both his work ethic and hunger. Styles upon styles is what he has, and that particular attribute is what separates him from so many wannabe "rappers" with Bandcamp pages. Nappy Notez sets the mood over four tracks with beats that are somehow as hard as they are mellow and contemplative. Belz is like that homie you hit up for a post-work drink, and the more the liquor flows the more the conversation meanders, between determination, braggadocio and a reluctant—but ultimately hopeful—resignation to clock in and get at it tomorrow.
Gums, The Downside of Loving
Face it, a lot of y'all are still butt hurt and all up in your feelings because you didn't have a boo to cuddle up and Netflix-and-chill with on Valentine's Day. Rapper Gums and producer the Infamous Tito Sanchez have the salve for your bruised ego with joint project The Downside of Loving. Gums and Sanchez have a proclivity toward the cinematic (see Gums' other group Ugly Tarantino) and this 13-track project creates a narrative with a story arc so many of us have experienced before. Most songs clock in at around an average of around two minutes, with skits interspersed to propel the tale, and it's the short-and-sweet dynamic that makes The Downside of Loving all the more engrossing. Sanchez's boom-bap production is a master-class in sampling, serving as the director to Gums' poetic, introspective and brutally honest monologues.