Porter Ray wants you to experience Watercolor, his debut album, like you would a piece of art.
"From start to finish," the local rapper explains, "I wanted the listener to feel like they were staring at a beautiful painting. But as you start to really look at the piece, you notice other certain subtleties within it. I really wanted to take the listener on a journey with different colors of sounds, vivid lyrical imagery, and textures of emotion. To paint a picture with my words."
Ray sees Watercolor as his reintroduction to the world, where he would forgo the "bravado and braggadocio" of his previous mixtapes in favor of an "intimate conversation" about where he's been and what he's seen.
He's been collecting the material on Watercolor for three years—scribbling rhymes in journals, interviewing his friends and family to re-create scenarios in the studio, and revisiting inspirational albums like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to shape the work in progress. Finally, 50 songs were whittled down to the 18 tracks on the album. His goal was to create a career-making classic of both performance and persona, like Nas's Illmatic, Jay Z's Reasonable Doubt, or Mos Def's Black on Both Sides. "I just wanted to push the envelope in terms of genres," he says. "But also have it be looked at as a classic rap album, and especially as a classic album coming from Seattle."
The Seattle force is strong on Watercolor, which features multiple collaborators within Porter Ray's orbit, including lifelong friend Cashtro, JusMoni, Nate Jack, Aslan T. Rife, Fly Guy Dai and The Palaceer of Shabazz Palaces, and even his cousin Thad, who sings background vocals on "Bulletproof Windows."
Below, Porter Ray provides a peek into the stories behind a few of the tracks on Watercolor.
"East Seattle is the east side of the Central District where I grew up. Just about every line of that song is solid truth. I wanted to commemorate the memories/people of my neighborhood. Multiple friends of mine were incarcerated or deceased, and I wanted to immortalize our memories through my music. The record was produced by KMTK, whom I also met in East Seattle back when I was 11 or 12 while he was working at the YMCA off East Madison."
"Sometimes I find myself reminiscing too often, wishing I could have maintained relationships/friendships from another time period. Wishing my brother and father would come back from the dead. I remember an acquaintance of mine/mutual friend LJ Sims died in a car crash when we were 12 or 13. That was my first encounter with the death of someone so young. I remember vividly how much it affected the friends around me. There's also a line in "East Seattle" that refers to one of my best friends, Donnie, being blinded by gunfire. I reference that scenario in the opening line of this song as well. Also, I've known Cashtro my whole life, he's one of my best friends—we all grew up together in the CD, and we've all been affected by each other's losses and traumas."
"The Mirror Between Us"
"The first verse is about my little brother Aaron being murdered when he was 18. I was 21 at the time. He died on July 22, which is the birthday of my son's mother. My son Aaron (named after my brother) was born January 12, the day after my father died. The mirror between me and my brother is a metaphor for him being on the other side of life. Now whenever I speak to him, it's as if I'm speaking to myself in the mirror. The second verse is about my friend Jordan being incarcerated. That's his voice featured calling from prison. The mirror between us is the glass between you and the inmate when you visit someone in prison."
"My Mother's Words"
"I wrote the lyrics and recorded the song before we added my 'mother's words,' which was a conversation that I sat down and recorded with her over a glass of wine. We talked for maybe 15 or 20 minutes. She said so many beautiful things, it was hard to chop them down into a few quotes. My mother is everything to me. It wouldn't be right if I didn't include her on this album and dedicate a song to her. My father passed when I was 16, so my mother is all I have."