What you may already know: The beat of this burg was felt worldwide in 2011, with acts from our little scene touring internationally, packing houses throughout the United States, making total believers out of fans and critics alike. What you may have missed, though, is something closer to home—the fact that Cloud Nice, one of our most creative and dynamic crews, was quietly behind some of the best music and movements of Seattle hiphop this year.
Arguably the first great local release of 2011 was from Helluvastate, aka Swan Coltrane and Thadwick Tristen Trevor III—that is to say, Cloud Nice scion Tay Sean and State of the Artist's TH. Their Adventures in a Helluvastate (released and promoted by the Members Only label, which SOTA call home) is rib-sticking hiphop comfort food, all billowing smoke and basement wood grain. It was hardly surprising when the two appeared in the dogged underground-scene-scouring music magazine the Fader, especially after local director Stephan Gray's gorgeous monochrome visuals for their psychotropical single "Brain Champagne."
Cloud Nice producer 10.4 Rog went from unknown quantity to substantial blog notoriety for his impeccable remix and instrumental work (such as his July offering, Scraps). Late, his album with MC The Good Sin, released a month after Helluvastate, was the next local rap essential, matching Rog's amniotic Love Movement–era thump with Sin's sober everyman ruminations. One of my favorite productions yet from Rog was his "4:20AM Remix" of the instant anthem "I Just Wanna" by "Jackin'" Jarv Dee, cornerstone of the Cloud and member of BAYB.
BAYB—the BadAzzYellowBoyz—have brought a wild new energy to Seattle street rap, a subgenre whose best participants have mastered a steely mastermind cool. Instead, BAYB's Jarv, Steezie, and Nacho rage shirtless, gold-toothed, and tatted to the wrists—something more akin to the riotous, fearless drug-user/seller trap-hop of Atlanta's Waka Flocka Flame (who BAYB naturally opened for at the King Cat back in February). Their group debut, Ziploc Hip-Hop, played best to the rhythmic instincts of Jarv—through his pinched, nasal screech, as sharp and direct as an ice pick in your frontal lobe, he spit venom like a cobra. BAYB's youngest member, Steezie Nasa, released Hella Proper—heavy on frontline East Seattle bravado and frenetic, Lex Lugerish hi-haberdashery—this summer. His defiantly "yopped-up" young-gun energy quickly got him buzzing (and courting Twitter compliments from "Gucci Gucci" girl Kreayshawn, of all things).
Speaking of buzz, YellowBoy Nacho Picasso recently took brickbat to beehive, as national press again gushed over a Cloud Nice–affiliated project: His solo debut, For the Glory, popped up on Stereogum, Pitchfork (scoring a 7.9), and even ended up on Spin's 50 Best Mixtapes of 2011 list (and was the only Seattle act—besides the Sub Pop–signed Shabazz Palaces—listed on their State-of-Hiphop infographic). It's a wicked chemistry that brought all this about. Nacho's punch-line-playful cold-heartedness found its perfect complement in the dour spaceborne menace of the instrumental-hiphop crew Blue Sky Black Death—already well established, with a deep catalog and a heap of their own critical praise for albums like Noir, which dropped in April on Fake Four. BSBD produced, released, and promoted Nacho's tooth-cracking supervillain primer For the Glory, with BSBD linchpin Kingston also creating a series of greasy-gritty videos. Nacho matched the work, amping up his already cartoonish contempt for life and his egomania to literally epic levels (just see his Greek pantheon references and Frank Frazetta–checking album art). With the skills and the bona fides in place—plus a new album already completed—Nacho and BSBD are well poised to go Conan the Conqueror in 2012.
Nacho also appeared on "No One," the new single from Cloud MC Sax G, who represents a humbler side of the collective: a hardworking father of two looking for love and meaning. Capturing so many feels and environments native to Seattle, Cloud Nice possesses a rare breadth, the kind that's made many crews great. The clique is developing into something akin to a homegrown version of Georgia's legendary Dungeon Family, an egalitarian hiphop collective full of standout artists, groups, subsets, and affiliates representing varied approaches and a generally high level of quality control. In the Cloud, it seems, every man is king. That just about brings us to Kingdom Crumbs, the upcoming Tay Sean–produced Cloud Nice LP, which focuses on the core of Tay Sean, Jarv Dee, and the witty b-boy gentleman Mikey Nice. Based on a couple of listens, it's the beautiful next step, with deep, oceanic soul and cracking, tectonic heat, their own stab at the Dungeon Fam's Even in Darkness. Cloud Nice, true to its formless namesake, takes many shapes, floating high through the clear blue canopy or swinging low to dump on your parade. Their rain (pun intended) is far from over, so put your hood up—everybody knows umbrellas are for tourists.