Ryan Lewis

If Seattle hiphop up until now could be described as a series of waves, as my colleague Charles Mudede has called it, then last week's Stranger cover star Shabazz Palaces represents something like a singularity. Not a part of any wave, but a momentary break, an event outside of that time line that will nevertheless cast ripples across what happens next.

Already, there are signs of shift in the current "third wave" of Seattle hiphop. Most notably, promising young duo THEESatisfaction—who manage the rare feat of making queer female hiphop credible rather than merely novel—are reportedly recording new material with Erik Blood, the same psych/rock/etc. producer who lent his hand to Shabazz Palaces' EPs.

The immediate impact of Shabazz Palaces isn't likely to be aesthetic or ideological—don't expect Mad Rad to join the White Panther Party (whose manifesto is this column's namesake) or for Champagne Champagne to start spitting arabesque cryptograms. No, what's more likely—and desirable—is that Shabazz Palaces' debut, both on record and onstage, will force folks to step up their games in terms of quality. Next to Shabazz's lyrical density and musical depth, ring-tone-thin synths and freshman-grade party raps just aren't going to cut it.

So it'll be interesting to see what Mad Rad bring to the table when they take the Neumos stage (the same one that Shabazz lit up two weeks ago) on Thursday, January 21, for a (FREE!) concert called "Squashed"—as in, squashed beef. The show marks Mad Rad's triumphant return to Neumos after a dustup with the bar's bouncers early last year got the group banned from several clubs. The members arrested in that incident were found not guilty of all charges back in June; by October, they were playing the War Room (one of the clubs that had banned them) and being introduced by no less than soon-to-be-mayor Mike McGinn. But it's taken a while for them to come around with Neumos for this show, and that's kind of a shame. Where Shabazz Palaces felt like the start of 2010 and beyond, this show feels a little bit like finishing the outstanding business of 2009.

But encouragement can be taken from how the group actually rang out the old year, hosting the two-night "third wave" hiphop fete Go! Machine at the Crocodile. By all accounts (I was out of town that weekend), the shows were a wild success and an even wilder party. And as far as acts that look ready to elevate in the wake of Shabazz, Mad Rad are right up there. Already, their stage shows are both raucous and choreographed, and P Smoov's rapid-fire productions are increasingly omnivorous yet easily recognizable for their laser-beam style. The question now may just be: Do they have that next-level lyricism in them? (Smoov's Rik Rude collaboration Fresh Espresso may be a bit better poised in this department.)

Without a doubt, "Squashed" will be a well-deserved celebration for Mad Rad. Here's hoping it will also signal bigger and better things to come. recommended