These are the good times. Seattle producers Jake One and Vitamin D have built national reputations as skilled beatmakers; Grayskul (Onry Ozzborn and JFK) are about to drop what will certainly be one of the best hiphop CDs of the year, Deadlivers; and Beyond Reality, Seattle's top female rapper, recently completed a full-length CD that perfectly blends black soul with black-feminist politics. Her disc features production work from Bean One--a studio whiz fast on his way to joining Jake One and Vitamin D on a stage that is visible to those within, and far beyond, Seattle's borders.

Born and raised locally, Bean One has been making beats for the past nine years and has worked with almost every notable local rapper--Specs One, Silent Lambs Project, H-Bomb, Byrdie, and Sport-n-Life. He is also managed by Jonathan Moore (former rapper for Source of Labor and head of Jasiri Artist Management), a man considered the key connection between the Northwest talent and hiphop centers like New York and San Francisco. If you make underground hiphop or soul and hope to reach an audience outside the city limits, Moore is the gatekeeper. Bean One's emergence has so far been entirely facilitated by Moore, who last year sold Bean's beats to the Roots and Jurassic 5 and also introduced him to Dres of the legendary New York act Black Sheep. Soon, Black Sheep's return to the hiphop sphere will be launched from beats produced in the basement of Bean One's University District home.

If Vitamin D's work can be described as lyrical and contemplative and Jake One's as bold and bassy, then Bean One's is thick and expressive--"thick" in the sense that each of his tracks is a teeming solar system of samples and "expressive" in the sense that a gospel singer is expressive, emotional, and uplifting. And as is the case with all great producers, Bean One doesn't separate the mainstream from the fringe, drawing inspiration from the glittering world of Jay-Z as much as from the darkling world of Vast Aire.

"I don't want to be an underground guy or a pop guy," Bean explains, the day after he learns from Jonathan Moore that the following week he has to fly down to L.A. to produce a song for Jurassic 5 that will appear on the soundtrack for Fantastic Four. "I want to make music that works everywhere. I mean, I want to know what works best at certain times. That's more important to me than this game between thugs and backpackers. To me, the underground, where all the messages are, where the meaning is, is sad because the music is lacking. As for the guys who are making all of the money, their shit sounds great! Yet they're saying nothing. And so I try to get in between all of that. I want to make great music and also make it meaningful."

Bean One's productions do not sound synthetic; the loops he constructs from other people's music have the expressive range of a live performance rather than a machine. No matter how many times you listen to Beyond Reality's "Soul's Journey" (which features Felicia Loud and was produced by Bean One), for example, you can't shake the impression that the beats were made by a trained musician who turned in his instruments for a sampler--but this isn't the case. "I basically taught myself how to play music," he explains. "I can't tell what note is what, but I know my way around a keyboard… Vitamin D knows music theory; he knows chords and stuff. I'm just straight retarded with that. I go by ear and feel. I use a sampler, chop up all the records, filter and morph them."

Surprisingly, Bean One builds his complexly layered beats on an ASR-10 keyboard sampler, which is a basic, late '80s machine that has none of the dazzling new tools and effects available on computer software programs like Ableton Live. "ASR-10 keyboard is cut, dry, and simple," he explains. "It has eight different banks, and you can put samples on eight different keys. It's not something with too many bells and whistles, but for me limitations are definitely a good thing. I tend to push boundaries [further] with less rather than with more."

The most impressive aspect of Bean One's music is its maturity; you won't find a hint of amateurism in any of the tracks he has produced for local and national acts. His art stands as the best that money can buy anywhere in the United States, and he has achieved this high standard by simply working hard. "Since '98," he explains, "I have been in the basement, really. I don't go to any clubs; I don't go to any shows. I just make music. That is really all I do."

charles@thestranger.com

Bean One's Top Five Productions

1. Silent Lambs Project, "I Like," Soul Liquor

"I Like" is one of the greatest works of hiphop that this city, or this region, has ever produced. Indeed, the whole album, Soul Liquor, which has several contributions by Bean One, is a social document of the first order.

2. Byrdie, "Wanted," N Flight

"Wanted" is one of the few (if not only) recent local rap songs to be played with something close to regularity on KUBE, Seattle's mainstream "urban music" radio station. The track features a Reggie Watts, and is definitely soulful (in the musical sense) and emotional (in the sense of Byrdie's raps).

3. Beyond Reality, "Soul's Journey," Soul's Journey

Featuring Felicia Loud, Soul's Journey is the kind of record that Lauryn Hill would love to make but just hasn't got enough talent to do it.

4. Grayskul, "Bombs and Chemicals," Deadlivers

"Bombs and Chemicals," Bean One's sole contribution to Grayskul's Deadlivers album (which comes out mid-February and is destined to be a Northwest hiphop masterpiece) is at once nightmarish and funky.

5. Bean One, "Intro," (Black Album Remixes)

The passion and wild beauty of the opening track on Bean One's remixes of Jay-Z's Black Album recalls and improves on the passion and wild beauty of DJ Shadows' Endtroducing (local record store Platinum has copies of Bean's gem).

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