"Welcome to Ro-vember," the voice intones. "Me and BeanOne want everything."
Romaro Franceswa, noun (Ro-mare-oh Fran-swah)—the Soufend spitter with outsize ambition and charisma who's perfected his swing on his brilliant new album, Balance. If you wanna hear it (you do), Romaro and Bean are unveiling the album track by track every other day via Romaro's Soundcloud page during this month they've repurposed as #Rovember. Over the lean, understated-to-epic beats—what might actually be my favorite production ever from Seattle's ageless, prolific OG BeanOne, who's not just one of the city's all-time best hiphop producers, but high-key one of Seattle rap's most dependable A&Rs—Ro raps butterfly-knife swift, melodic, sharp, and fluttery-light, sword as paintbrush.
He's a rapper's rapper—mentored by vets like Bean and Fatal Lucciauno—so he wants you to know the many ways in which he's better, more driven, more bound for more glory than these other guys. But he isn't afraid of his failings, either. He doesn't pretend to be free of insecurities. Rather, Romaro burns them as fuel. He begins the album with a blurred chorus of voice-mail messages, grave and concerned, seemingly trying to talk him off a ledge. Another frustrated, motherly voice lectures him about focus, about enemies he's made, tells him that he has to stay "clean for the dream." All over Balance, Romaro's woundedness disarms, shocks with a forthrightness worthy of Raz Simone, especially on the title track, where a nameless hater—possibly his own demons—harshly and very thoroughly details Ro's shortcomings. According to that voice, he doesn't have near the particular attributes, the love, or the shot that a litany of more popular Seattle MCs (including Raz himself) can claim. "Nigga, get the fuck out of this motherfuckin' Seattle game," the voice says before laughing malevolently. "We don't want you anyway."
He's playing the young black Daniel LaRusso in the face of this, mastering his crane kick for the cool-kid Cobra Kai. It's the perennial narrative of the underdog, and we all like to see them win.
This isn't dusty boom-bap revivalism, sunny college rap, or millennial internet trap—that nearly uniform global province of vaporous Soundcloudian aesthetics and narrow worldview. Balance's balance of ferocious skill, vulnerability, and musicality stands out in this moment's local landscape. We all get precisely where we fit in, but we also know that the status quo is not merely something to reorganize with ourselves on top. It's something to fucking obliterate. Romaro (like Raz Simone) is necessary because he's a contrarian, a fire starter, a fierce talent unsatisfied with how things seem to work. He's not alone, he's not the first, and you may not think him the best, but whatever stats you log, be thankful that there is still a thoughtful isthmus of heavy-lifting rap happening between the opposing, commercially-viable land masses of light-touch local hiphop that we've had on the menu lately. Which is to say: We need us all. We need us whole. And balance is everything.