Let’s start with a rhyme: “I’m homeless at the moment/Living off the fat of the land/Jumping from sofa to sofa/I ain’t got dirt, I got mold on my shoulders.” The rhyme, which is found on an unreleased track, “Something New,” by local duo Fresh Espresso (Rik Rude and P Smoov), reduces to an essence the state of hiphop after the decadent age of bling-bling. In the rhyme, the rapper (on this track P Smoov) not only references the leading symbol of hiphop capitalism, Jay-Z (“dirt on my shoulder”), but also mimics his style. And so we hear the phrasing of rap splendor, but the content is completely something else. When P Smoov says, “Living off the fat of the land,” it’s done with the smoothness and the sense of mack-daddy glamour of Jay-Z (“I check cheddar like a food inspector…/With the Lexus, fast-forward the jewels and the necklace”), but P’s content concerns real poverty. The glamorous style communicates a story of homelessness. The approach recalls a bankrupt aristocrat, a man who once had millions but now has nothing (the state of hiphop).
Fresh Espresso are all about the post-Jay-Z mood. The money is gone. No one can dream of selling millions of records and hiring a posse of hundreds to follow them to heavyweight fights in Vegas. Recently, Ice-T pointed out on CNN that he went to a fancy club and found it had 90 percent women. Why, he wondered? And then he realized it's because sisters can get in for free and expect booze from brothers who are bling-blinging. But the recession has hit hard, and brothers can't afford to go to "da club" and spend twenty at the door and fity for the Hennessy. The bling is out. The recession is in. And what are the brothers doing? They are in the studio, like Rik Rude, making beats and rhymes.
"I was just at the Lab, a studio at the OK Hotel. That's where to go if you want to see Specs One or Jace and Blak," said Rik, over drinks at All City Coffee in Pioneer Square. He was dressed like a fallen aristocrat—sports jacket, public-school tie, smooth shoes. "You know the Think Tank, OC Notes, Mind Movers, is across the street. Over there." He pointed to a nearby building. "It's the heart of city. We are in the center. Hiphop studios and art galleries."
Two years ago, Rik Rude released a local masterpiece, a mixtape of the music he was making with Lord Vintage, Boop Nice, and P Smoov called Cigar Rock Star. P and Rik first met on the internet in 2006 and began making music soon after P moved to Seattle in 2007, from Los Angeles—P, like Rik, is originally from Michigan. They recorded much of the mixtape in P's studio, the Robot Room (which at the time was on Queen Anne and is now in Wedgwood), and the energy of the work was something out of this world. Those who think they know who P Smoov is by way of Mad Rad must find and check out the beats he did on this compilation. Listen to them once, and your doubts will melt. And through the storm of alarms and dirty funk, Rik Rude does not miss a beat. He draws from a wide variety of rap styles: Jay-Z, CL Smooth, Big Daddy Kane, and even Butterfly of Digible Planets. Fresh Espresso, his new project with P Smoov, is, however, less volcanic and more focused than Cigar Rock Star.
"First of all, I never try to approach any project in the same light," says Rik. "What I did with Cigar Rock Star has to be different from what I'm doing with Fresh Espresso. If not, something is wrong. You know Miles Davis, he never did the same thing twice. He went electric, and Wynton Marsalis hated him for it. I'm like Davis. I want to push myself like that. Don't get me wrong, I will never do something I don't like. But I want to change. The next project will not sound like Fresh Espresso."
Fresh Espresso, a name Rik admits sounds "kind of corny" (but that is exactly the reason why he liked it), have completed an unreleased and untitled CD ("It's due summerish"), and it is extraordinary. It contains 14 tracks that are driven by a powerful sense of play and invention. "Lazerbeam" and "Right Here" bring all of the '80s and Jay-Z referencing, the retro-futurism, sick looping, and mastery of track ruptures (breaking the beat into sudden suspensions of silence) to perfection. Not since hearing Blue Scholars' eponymous debut in 2004 have I been so excited about a local work of hiphop art. It has the potential to complete what was started on Rik's Cigar Rock Star and continued on Mad Rad's White Gold.
"Me and P, that is one of the best things to happen to me," says Rik. "He is one of the illest talents I have come across on the boards. As a producer and an engineer, he knows how to make things pop. I will be working with that brother for a long time." As for Fresh Espresso, what is the future of that project? "Fresh Espresso is the new lemonade."
This story has been corrected since its original publication.