On "Afri-coast," local rapper Yirim Seck paints an excellent self-portrait: "I'm six-one in height, young in my prime/If you're curious, Aries be my zodiac sign/Hair faded, lookin' plush/With all the right lines/Brown eyes, pearly white teeth/Never mind my size/I'm a skinny brotha, weight about one-six-five/And it's my pride like a time bomb/That ticks inside/It keeps me movin'..."

Yirim Seck is 28, was born in Seattle, and is second-­generation Senegalese. Hear Me Out is his debut album, and on the flyer for its record-release party, Seck wears a leather-and-bead necklace with a pendant of Africa. This artifact takes us all the way back to the Afrocentric moment in hiphop: Queen Latifah, X Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers. From this distant past rise the phantoms of Schoolly D's Am I Black Enough for You? ("Are you somebody?/You are damn right I'm somebody") and Jungle Brothers' Done by the Forces of Nature.

But Yirim Seck's raps are not on the Afrocentric tip. They are all about his life in this city, his closest friends, his difficulties with the law, his love for his family. There is no anger or major political gripe in his work. He wears the African pendant mostly because he identifies with the music and mood of that mode of hiphop (more about this in a moment).

When I met Seck a few days ago (and he looks exactly like his self-portrait on "Afri-coast"), I asked him who his biggest influences were. "For me," he said without a second thought, "it's instrumentals. That is what I like most, instrumentals. That's the kind of thing my parents played when I was growing up—Roy Ayers, Thelonious Monk, that sort of thing."

I was a bit mystified by this answer. How can instrumentals inspire a rapper? A hiphop producer, yes; a language artist, no. But after listening to Seck's album six or so times, I have come to understand what he means. Seck's raps cannot be separated from his beats. The unity of his rap meter and phrasing with the beats is so complete that each track has the feel of an instrumental, of pure music.

Back in 1998, K Records released one of the most important local hiphop compilations of that decade, Classic Elements. Tracks like Arson's "Back Home" (the slick ancestor of Jake One's recent track "Home"), Black Anger's "Third Eye," and Blak's "Only When I'm High"—all were classical in the hiphop sense. Meaning they approached hiphop not as something new but as something solid, something with a tradition, a history, an essence, an ethic. Between '89 and '94, between Def Jam and Death Row, between Hank Shocklee and Jay Dee, hiphop achieved a state of stability, a certain groundedness. This was its sound: beats that pounded boom-bap pattern; lots of space between the beats; samples that were spare, melodious, and drawn from jazz, soul, blues, and classical music; and raps that were more smooth than complicated, more measured than manic. Seck, a 21st-century rapper, continues the classical tradition of hiphop.

Hear Me Out is hiphop with no tricks, no special effects, no dependency on R&B hooks. Not one track sticks out; all are kept within the same mood (somber, thoughtful, reflective) and register (simple, minimal, melodic). At the center of the work is the jewel "Three MC's RIP," a hiphop elegy in the tradition of Intelligent Hoodlum's "Grand Groove," Pete Rock & C. L. Smooth's "T.R.O.Y. (They Reminisce Over You)," and Gang Starr's "In Memory of..." With great warmth, Seck raps about three rappers (Larae Brown, Papa Jona, Young Raw) who have passed away: "Something about G that I can't quite touch/Though I know he had fam that he loved so much/I'm like, yeah, JO, man talk that stuff/Unlike you, a lot of niggaz couldn't talk that tough/Rough around the edges with the smoothest swag/When he bust he had the kickback of a four-four mag/I remember thinking, Iese, yo don't flash/Along with a lot of folks, now I'm so, so sad..." (The track is produced Phil Baum, who, along with Darius Emadi, made most of the beats on Hear Me Out.)

On this rap, as with the others ("New Change," "Run It," "Trust"), the meaning and emotion of the line slides into and fills up the rhyming word. This is why Seck's pace is slow, controlled, and smooth. He wants you to feel the classical "knowledge of his raps," to hear him out. recommended