When an artist makes a deep album, he/she is taking a big risk. Why? Because the production of a deep record requires a reduction of commonalities and an increase in what's personal, singular, and particular. True, we always live with others, but we also always live inside of our bodies, and this internal world is continuously deepened by time and experience. In the way strange, unknown, and unclassified creatures live in the depths of the sea, strange, dark, unidentified, inexpressible emotions dwell in the depths of our being. The closer we are to the surface of our existence, the easier it is to find words and sounds that express our feelings. And a work of art that's made from known and easily communicated feelings is more accessible. And the more accessible a record is, the greater its chances for commercial success.
I bring all of this up because of the Physics' new album, Tomorrow People. But who, you might ask, are the Physics? They are a local rap crew (Thig Nat and Monk Wordsmith are the rappers, and Justo makes the beats) that's been in the business since 2007. Tomorrow People, their fifth album, follows Love Is a Business, which was released last year. Both records are strong, but also very different. Tomorrow People is a much deeper album than Love Is a Business. But how can one recognize a record that's deep and a record that's not? The deep record is harder to connect with. The deep record demands more attention from the listener. The deep record requires the listener to learn moods or feelings that are unfamiliar. I immediately enjoyed Love Is a Business upon first hearing; its pleasures and moods were apparent and easy to connect with. Tomorrow People, on the other hand, required three or so listenings for me to properly sink to the level the rappers and producers were exploring.
Before I say (or write) another word on Tomorrow People, I must point out that depth does not automatically equal greatness. As there are bad depths, there are good surfaces. Indeed, it's much easier to make a good deep album than it is to make a good superficial album. Why? Because going deep increases the chances of doing something interesting, whereas going to the surface increases the chance of making something dull. Love Is a Business is a good surface album, and Tomorrow People is a good deep album, which is why I can't rate one as better than the other. It's more a matter of how one feels on a given day. If in a profound mood, Love Is a Business will rate lower than Tomorrow People, an album whose opening track, "So Funky," is bare, bass-heavy, and sonically deep, and whose ending track, "Journey of the Drum," combines historical depth (the genetics of the globalized African beat) and personal depth (growing up as an African immigrant in Seattle).
Kingdom Crumbs, another local crew (Tay Sean, Jerm Dee, Mr. Mikey Nice, Jarv Dee) that's part of the Cloud Nice collective, recently and rather surprisingly dropped a deep-sounding record. Self-titled and mostly produced by Tay Sean, the album opens by blending Shabazz Palaces–like esotericism with Helladope Afrofuturism or sci-fi hiphop or sonic fiction (to use a term coined by the British critic Kodwo Eshun) to produce a sound that's spatially and emotionally profound. The track "Evoking Spirits" is followed by the brooding, melodic melancholy of "Pick Both Sides of My Brain." Kingdom Crumbs certainly have their moments of lightness (for example, "Red Cups"), but most of this record goes down to the bottom of things, down to the ocean floor of feelings.
Other recent and local deep records are Earthbound, an album by CopperWire (Gabriel Teodros, Burntface, and Meklit Hadero), and High Rhymes Smoking Jackets, an EP by Black Stax (Silas Blak, Jace ECAj, Felicia Loud) and the producer Rob Castro (Oldominion, Grayskul). Though the tracks "No Messages," "Seeds That Bust," and "Fallin'" take you down there, one of the region's deepest cuts ever is an earlier Castro/Stax collaboration, "Like These." That slow, dark, beautifully spare beat knows no bottom, knows only how to sink and sink the soul.