La has been steady serving top-choice bars since 2010, with a classic one-producer- per-album model. The beats on his newest, Ocean Howell, are all by his boy Olee, whose spacious Saturday-morning quiet-storm jazz/funk provides the perfect backdrop for La's ice-cold rhymes. (La should honestly consider sticking with this guy, in this reporter's opinion.) La's studied effortlessness and classic Polo boasts benefit from the production's humid warmth, and from the high-caliber collaborations (FisH from Kung Foo Grip, Mic Phenom, Thaddeus David, KnowMads, and JFK), sure—but it's the potency of both La's venom and his stylish, smirking Hov-inspired indifference to everyone else that make Ocean Howell his best shit yet. Everybody's always talking about what a bad time it is for real hiphop, but maybe it wouldn't be if they'd just pay attention to true purveyors like this one, especially when they release some of the very best shit to drop this year, which Ocean Howell certainly is, and will likely still be 10 months from now and beyond. Which would make this album more than deserving of the word that springs to mind, the feeling that I get when I listen to it: classic.
Riding high on a recommendation from La and Chev—another Seattle MC whose bars, perspective, and instincts I trust—I checked out The KnewBook, the new album from Seattle's own young people's champions KnowMads. Both MCs, as well as Smoke DZA, the Coughee Brothaz, Ras Kass, and Sol, make appearances on The KnewBook, which makes it probably the heaviest local release with features in some time. It's definitely on that 206 feel-good that appeals to a certain generation of fresh-faced Seattle hiphop fans, with all the requisite self-serious fun-having. While these guys' underclass status is apparent next to their guests (who all deliver the goods), they nonetheless manage to capably and confidently convey some round-the-way stony-bruh personality all over Jester's airy beats. They do run some dated "conscious movement" posi Jansport flow, but it's so sincere and unabashed that I can't be mad at it, even if I wouldn't exactly study the verses. If you like a lot of popular Seattle stuff, you might just find The KnewBook way legit.
As with Kirkland's Kung Foo Grip, who appear to be in a high state of focus and determination, judging from their latest EP. They balance a sense of song structure and sharp ear for catchy mantras with their well-known instincts for mic-chewing rap-rap, instead of just tearing up the track and kicking up smoke. They've never had a more natural sound than with producer Giorgio Momurda. This is no crass cloud music cash-in for the Grip, not at all—I recently learned that they even rapped on some of the Redmond producer's earliest productions. So, unsurprisingly they sound right on time together, the sound more contemporary than most NW rappers can ever seem to manage, while maintaining a classic-era foundation. It's exactly what KFG have been hinting at with their previous juxtapositions of jazzy cipher rap and jittery trap drums. Without really trying to shoulder too much, KFG and Momurda have made the best rap the Eastside's ever produced, in my opinion. Shout-out to that.