It's well established that 2009 was an unusually creative and productive year for local hiphop. It's also not unconventional or surprising to say that the main groups behind all of that excitement were Shabazz Palaces, Fresh Espresso, and THEESatisfaction. Each brought to the moment a defining album; also, each was a major node in a web of crews, rappers, and producers who made significant contributions to the moment. Maybe the most connected of these nodes was THEESatisfaction, and one of its main connections was Helladope, and both crews played a leading role in bringing a new and very talented producer into Seattle hiphop's growing network: 10-4 Rog.
In 2008, the year 10-4 Rog (aka Roger Habon) graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in English, he was practically unknown. The following year, almost within hours of posting his remix of Helladope's "Just So You Know," he became the talk of the town. The first blog to mention the work was BlogsIsWatching.com; soon after, Matson on Music was spreading the news about the exceptional remix. What made it exceptional? 10-4 successfully (or even convincingly) blended Helladope's funky hiphop with elements of modern dub (1974 to 1981).
"I'm into the Scientist, Mad Professor, Lee Perry," explains Habon by phone while driving home to Renton following a meal with a friend in Seattle. "But the way I did the remix was not by first thinking of dub. When I got the a cappella from Helladope, it was first natural for me to just slow it down. I thought of the problem as a DJ, you know, I wanted to cut the tempo down. But when you slow anything down, you also change the mood. That change is what inspired me. So I was not actively saying: I want to make a dub-type song. But as I was making it, and slowing things, I started going in that direction."
10-4 also contributed two tracks to THEESatisfaction's Snow Motion, "Snow Motion (for Tyrone)" and "Cabin Fever," the best track on the album, and one of the best tracks of that year. You will find little that is similar between the Helladope remix and "Cabin Fever." The former is raunchy and rich; the latter is spare and minimal. The former draws from the liberation fantasies of dub, the latter from the futurism of electro-funk. Like many of the producers who emerged in 2009, 10-4 is not about one thing, one sound or approach, but about being as open as possible.
"My interest in music began when my mother brought a piano to the house," explains Habon, who is 24. "I was 8 years old. It was 1994. I took lessons for a few years. Then stopped. Then I started listening to jazz music. I took a bit of jazz piano in high school. I studied for a year and got a very rudimentary experience of theory. Then I turned to drums. I got a set and played by myself. On top of all that, I was making beats around seventh grade. I've been making beats since I could download beats. But it wasn't until a year ago that I started taking it seriously."
Almost exactly a year ago, 10-4 Rog produced bootleg remixes of Mobb Deep's classic "Shook Ones (Part II)" and Nas's "You Won't See Me Tonight." "No one paid attention to them," he says. "They were old a cappellas... But it wasn't a waste of time, because I feel that doing a remix is a way to practice production. You have to work on the vocals; you have to figure things out, make it sound right. It's great practice, and it prepared me for the work I did with THEESatisfaction, which got some attention." (10-4 has so far done 12 remixes, the most recent for rap acts Mash Hall and Clockwork and the indie-pop band Multo.)
A final complement to 10-4's emerging gifts as a producer is his commitment to and support of the scene. He is a big fan of folks such as Dyme Def, OC Notes, Vitamin D, Orlando (of Pocket Change), and DJ Sosa, with whom he recently produced a tribute to J Dilla. "There's a lot of good music coming out of here," he says. "We have a growing variety of tastes developing just within our own hiphop scene; a lot of new artists are coming into the fold, and established artists are continuing to grow. It's great to see all of that happening right now." It's also great to see 10-4 at the center of all that is happening right now.