Three images. All are on Erik Blood's Instagram account. All were taken in Europe during Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction's tour. (Blood—who produced Palaces' two EPs and most recent album, Black Up, and Satisfaction's second album, awE naturalE—recorded the tour.) In each image, OC Notes, the Seattle producer who effortlessly pumps out experimental beats from his basement lab in Pioneer Square, is in a different situation. In one, he is by himself, seated and leaning to the right, a wall of wheat-pasted show posters behind him. One of the posters is appropriately for Bad Brains—the band that, in the 1980s, made nonsense of any lines and distinctions that separated punk and reggae. OC Notes is wearing a T-shirt for Metal Chocolates (his Afrocentric project with the smooth rapper Rik Rude), and the surface of the table in front of him is so shiny that it reflects the shirt's words and images. There is a big smile on his face.
Another image has OC Notes and Erik Blood together. The two are in Zurich. OC's eyes are dreamy (or jet-lagged); Blood is serious and peering into the depths of things. OC's dreads are almost not short; Blood's beard is gray in parts. OC Notes looks like a scientist; Erik Blood looks like a baron. A light shines between them. In another image—this one taken in the city that killed the German philosopher Hegel, Berlin—we see the whole family: Tendai Maraire and Ishmael Butler (Shabazz Palaces), Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons (THEESatisfaction), Erik Blood, and OC Notes. There are drinks on the table, graffiti on the wall, and a radiator keeping them warm. OC Notes joined this tour for only four nights in four cities: Fribourg, Zurich, Munich, and Berlin. Though he clearly fits in with the mode of the billed artists, abroad and even in this city he is still in the shadows, still to fully emerge. But when he does make the big transition that THEESatisfaction made earlier this year, the transition from obscurity to Seattle's main stages and the pages of national mags and blogs, it will happen here, among his kind—the rappers, producers, and musicians in this Berlin image.
OC Notes recently released his second album of 2012, Pre Future Post Modern Love Songs aka Alien Booty Bass. The first album, Moldavite, released in May, is a seemingly endless stream of hiphop beats. Listening to it is much like the experience of standing on the bank of a stream—watching water approach, swirl, foam among the rocks, and pass. There is no rush, but none of the beats are too long. In a way, Moldavite is one of OC Notes' most hiphop records. These experiments, 33 in all, don't redefine or reinvent hiphop, but explore it wholly on its own terms. Pre Future Post Modern, on the other hand, is a romantic record that often departs from the limits of hiphop to explore jazz, soul, and rock. Indeed, some of the tunes on the record recall the Sea and Cake, others recall the stripped neosoul of Raphael Saadiq, sometimes we even catch echoes of Dilla's flirtations with Brazilian jazz. One tune, "The Science," is beautifully wound around "The Girl from Ipanema." Some tunes distantly remind me of Duster, others of Land of the Loops—late rock combined with post hiphop. Some of the beats sound like they come right off the top of his dome, others seem carefully considered, constructed, planned. Some beats are polished, some are raw. Some have a singer, some have samples from forgotten pop tunes, none have rappers. No two tunes are alike. All contain a surprise, and like his previous albums (Secret Society, Emerald City Sequence—his most polished recording), we are enchanted by OC Notes' inexhaustible creative energy. There is no beginning, there is no end, there is always a beat already in his head.
Now let's consider Notes in the context of the family captured in the Berlin pic. How is he like Palaces, Blood, and Satisfaction? He, too, is a concept artist—meaning each of his albums is built around a concept: Afrofuturism, urbanism, eroticism, a pop cultural icon. But unlike the others in the family, Notes generates conceptual worlds like some wonderfully drunk god, rather than developing, deepening, and reinforcing the details of very specific ones—Touch Screens, awE naturalE, Black Up. This may not be Notes' thing, but it's hard to see how he can leave Seattle's underground without constructing a thoroughly developed and produced musical world. Time, for now, is on his side.