Old Fire House (Redmond), Fri Jan 4, $5, 7 pm (all ages).
(Street Level Records)
"Man, I'm so sick and tired of all these rappers in Seattle, these so-called emcees, everybody wants to be divided," Byrdie shouts at the beginning of "Dirty Politics," the fourth track from his solo debut, Poetic Epidemic. "There is no rap scene in Seattle! There is no hiphop community!"
This form of trash-talking is not new to hiphop, but calling out Seattle hiphop is a shock to the system. With one "Mix-A-Lot" exception, Seattle's hiphop community has been so small and insulated that it speaks of itself as deserving only support and protection. In my conversations with Byrdie and D-Sane (the album's producer), it appeared as though people talk endlessly about supporting Seattle's hiphop community, but it often amounts to people pushing around a wheelbarrow of bullshit.
"Hiphop in different cities made it because people stuck together," Byrdie told me on the phone, classifying the local scene's diffusion as "the only reason Seattle hasn't reached the level that it should." When I pressed Byrdie on his claim that "there is no rap scene in Seattle," he conceded that Seattle has a somewhat functional hiphop community, but it's nothing to cheer about, and it's certainly not above critique. "I'm not going to paint a pretty picture," Byrdie said. "I'm telling you exactly how it is."
This unforgiving attitude is exactly what Seattle hiphop needs to break out of its perennial lull. So far, Byrdie has shown that his brash approach to the mic can work: Poetic Epidemic has been selling well, and the most lamped-out mack song on the album, "Player's Policy Pt. 2," is on KUBE's regular rotation. Traditionally 93.3 FM has been the Goliath of Seattle rap, the terrible, unjust despot that keeps local talent down by not giving locals fair exposure. This is an obsessive complaint, and one that saps the energy of local hiphop.
Poetic Epidemic is the sound of Seattle hiphop flourishing. Over the course of 18 tracks, Byrdie ranges from rapping about social ills to lady-chasing to ego-buffing, compulsively referencing Seattle, and rapping with a rhythmic intensity that creates long, enduring verses. D-Sane's tracks are full and synthesized, influenced by "space-age electronic music and old-school electronic funk," as he described via e-mail. "I'm just trying to do something that sounds different than what you're used to hearing around here," he continued, referring to Seattle hiphop's propensity for a mellow, acoustic sound.
Byrdie's and D-Sane's music is different, but what has most defined Poetic Epidemic's outsider status is the support the record's been receiving from the traditionally dismissive KUBE. D-Sane relayed this story: "KUBE 93's Christmas party, which featured Byrdie as the headliner, is a perfect example of lack of support from the Seattle hiphop community. We could literally count on one hand the number of other local artists (besides those performing) and industry folks in attendance to give their support, even when the place was packed. The coldest part about it is, everybody talks down on KUBE for not supporting local artists, but when they finally do, nobody cares!"
In our interview, Byrdie made it clear that his push to get on KUBE was an effort on the behalf of Seattle hiphop. "I'm trying to break barriers for everyone in Seattle. I want to see Seattle hiphop as a whole make it." Considering his "no hiphop community" defamation at the beginning of "Dirty Politics," this might seem like a wild contradiction, that he talks about working for the betterment of Seattle hiphop. But isn't it always the one who kicks your ass the most that benefits you the most? Byrdie is able to work for the hiphop community by first discounting the ideas that insulate the hiphop community, like the myth that local rappers can't get on KUBE. "Ultimately, I make music people like," he told me, as if it was just that simple. And maybe it is.
On "Dirty Politics," Byrdie begins to rap immediately after shouting that there is no Seattle hiphop community. This gesture says there may be no Seattle rap scene, but there is definitely Seattle rap. The strong, provocative, humorous rap from the mind of Byrdie won't protect the Seattle hiphop community as if it were a fragile, precious egg. Byrdie wants to rap, get on KUBE, and blow up.